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Originally published Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 9:15 AM

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4th Stryker Brigade training at Yakima Center

The mortars are heavy and cold to the touch, but the winter weather doesn't stop 4th Stryker Brigade from its mission at the Army's Yakima Training Center.

Yakima Herald-Republic

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YAKIMA, Wash. —

The mortars are heavy and cold to the touch, but the winter weather doesn't stop 4th Stryker Brigade from its mission at the Army's Yakima Training Center.

However, the cold air sends the aftershocks of the mortars and artillery fire pulsing across the Upper Valley, prompting questions and 911 calls from residents.

The booms started in earnest last week and are expected to continue for much of the month.

The cold weather brings down the cloud cover, causing sound to bounce more between earth and sky and travel farther before dissipating. For those standing right next to the muzzle, the noise is significantly worse.

"If you don't wear your ear protection, you're going to feel it going off. It feels just like a grenade going off," said 1st Lt. William Fastenau, platoon leader for the 1-38 Infantry Battalion soldiers who were training during Wednesday's exercise.

A lot of work goes into each boom.

The mortars are based on the Strykers, eight-wheeled combat vehicles that are sort of a cross between a tank and a personnel carrier. Artillery rigs, which are louder than the mortars, are towed into position.

On Wednesday, an observer called in coordinates and other information to the crew of the mortar carrier. The crew members then must reset the mortar, all while communicating among themselves and with other mortar carriers in the exercise.

On the instruction to fire, the loader drops the round down the hole. It self-detonates, flying into the sky with a whoosh and a flash of fire. Somewhere on the impact range, a target has just been destroyed.

Ten booms later, the crew is done for the afternoon.

Army officials know that the loud sounds may prompt questions from the community. Leaders of 4th Stryker Brigade, Second Infantry Division, invited reporters to the training center Wednesday so that residents could learn more about what was causing all the noise.

"We really appreciate their patience with us as we conduct this essential training," said Maj. Jenny Willis, a brigade spokeswoman.

Training center officials say it's the first time in five years that brigade-level training has taken place during February.

That means 3,200 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord are spread across the training center and firing rounds both day and night.

Residents may also see occasional tracer rounds at night, but booms and distant echoes are the more likely after effect.

This is the brigade's second trip to the training center since the Stryker troops returned in 2010 from their latest Iraq deployment. The first was in October, a sort of warm-up to the current work.

The brigade -- nick-named the Raiders -- is refining soldiers' abilities and bringing their equipment up to speed for a final certification exercise, to be held in June at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

With its open terrain and isolated firing ranges, the Yakima Training Center is a good place to hone skills that will be put to the test at Fort Irwin.

After the certification exercise, the brigade will again be qualified for a combat deployment, although orders have not been issued yet. Another one of Lewis-McChord's three Stryker units, the Third Brigade, is already in Afghanistan.

Army officials say a little extra noise is the price of military readiness.

"The object of all this is to be ready to deploy, to be ready when the nation calls," Willis said..

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Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, http://www.yakimaherald.com

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