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Dress Rehearsal

Inside Central Louisiana's Fort Polk military base, 100,000 acres of snake-infested pine forest is designated as a training area, known as "The Box", where, each month, about 5,000 soldiers readying for tours in Afghanistan or Iraq, are trained in a full dress rehearsal for war.

Mock towns built by Hollywood set designers are constructed from shipping containers covered in painted and sculpted polystyrene. The towns are filled with details -- mock fresh fish on ice, mock fruit stands, even mock butchered animal heads. Dozens of actors work around the clock, acting out their designated status of green (friendly), amber (neutral), and anti-coalition (red). The actors try to take cover during regular skirmishes between the U.S. forces and Taliban fighters, and between raids, they piece together jigsaw puzzles, play cards, or cook gumbo and cajun beans.

Kenny Brister, 53, from De Ridder, Louisiana, role plays as an Afghan villager named Yasir Ladhi in the mock Afghan village called Janan inside the Joint Readiness Training Center, or JRTC, at Fort Polk, Louisiana on September 25, 2009. During downtime, or between attacks, he tries to complete a jigsaw puzzle. The village of Janan is close to the mock border with Pakistan and comes under constant attack. The JRTC covers 20,000 acres and has over 12 villages, some which were built by Hollywood set designers, that emulate those found in Afghanistan and Iraq. Role Players, mostly locals from the surrounding area, and some expatriate Afghans or Iraqis are bussed in to the base and inhabit the villages around the clock as the army conducts a variety of training operations to prepare the soldiers for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan. The parts of the opposing force, in this case the Taliban and Al Qaida, are played by soldiers of the 1st airborne Infantry battalion of the 509th Infantry Regiment. © Ashley Gilbertson
© 2010 Ashley Gilbertson - All Rights Reserved

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