BY JENNIFER WEINGART
This past Saturday marked the 100th Birthday of Michigan's Camp Grayling.
Camp Grayling is the main Army National Guard training camp in the Midwest. Soldiers from all over the country come here and train on a regular basis.
Camp Grayling is huge, I got lost on base just trying to find the celebration.
Colonel Erich Randall is the Commander of Camp Grayling.
"Camp Grayling is the largest Army Guard installation in the country, we're 147,000 acres, which is pretty darn big if you ask me, we span over three counties and we go all the way up to Gaylord and way, way down south of here too," Randall said.
I had the opportunity to tour the camp, and see some of its newer additions.
Over the last hundred years, Camp Grayling has made a lot of changes. Staff Sergeant Helen Miller been working and training at the camp for 30 years
"In the beginning I slept in a tent, you know, on the ground, maybe on a cot, where now I have the opportunity to sleep in a barrack with a bed and air conditioning and bathrooms, I mean it's a huge difference, times change, and so does the base have to change, so does the way the troops train have to change," Miller said.
Apart from a new set of Barracks, a mess hall and a new classroom, Camp Grayling is investing lots of effort in the construction of new training facilities.
A state-of-the-art Infantry Squad Battle Course has been put in, the first of it's kind.
It's a square building, and the inside is set up like a house, with rooms full of foam furniture that are occupied by dummies armed with fake guns.
Speakers, cameras and sensors allow soldiers to play out scenarios and track their progress.
Lots of other training happens here too. Staff Sergeant Miller said at Camp Grayling you can learn to do just about everything.
"You can learn how to shoot, you can learn how to drive, like special vehicles, you know, humvees the different vehicles that we use, any kind of training, we have distance learning centers, you can do online training, we can do computer training, any kind of Army training that needs to be done here can be here and any kind of weather because we have four seasons in Michigan," Miller said.
Another part of the tour takes us into what looks like a ghost town; it's a simulation of a village with concrete shells of buildings, a church, an apartment building, a school, jailhouse, an embassy building, and others.
This town is set up for training exercises so that real situations can be replicated.
Colonel Randall said soldiers that have trained at Camp Grayling over the last hundred years have gone on to fight and defend our country in many ways.
"This goes back the whole hundred years of Camp Grayling. We've trained soldiers here who've fought in every one of our nation's wars, every single one and in this last set of wars that we've had going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Michigan National Guard's contributed significant numbers of the troops for that, thousands and thousands of soldier have gone and fought for their country." Randall said.
From overhead in a Blackhawk helicopter, you can see just how big Camp Grayling really is, and all the firing ranges, buildings, facilities and wilderness that surrounds it.
The camp was open to the public for its one-hundredth birthday, and shows and tours were scheduled all day. The event was completely corporate sponsored, in what Colonel Randall says is an effort to be fiscally responsible.
He said Camp Grayling's operating costs are, on average, less than one third of those an ordinary Military installation. Despite the low costs, Randall said the camp is still one of the best in the country.
"The installation is among the Army's best, and I'm not just bragging here but it really is, when we rack and stack against every Army installation, there's hundreds of them in the country as you can imagine and around the world, 27 of them were nominated to become regional collective training facilities and Camp Grayling is one of those, so were one of the Army's top 27 installations," Randall said.
The Camp's long history and impressive credentials make it an important asset to our country. Staff Sergeant Miller said the camp also becomes like a second home to soldiers.
"When you've been coming to the same place for 30 years, you don't live here but it's like you live here. Where you're from you say where you're from but also say Grayling because I've come here every year for 30 years," Miller said.
The centennial celebration of Camp Grayling will continue in August with Operation Northern Strike, a training exercise that will bring soldiers from a number of units together.