Dave Sutor

Dave Sutor

There we stood, some 30 men and women strong of the – oh, let’s call it the Fightin’ Spring of ‘19 Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Boss Lift Program Division – guns on our shoulders, eyes staring down the lengths of barrels, waiting for the enemy to appear.

Finally, the moment of truth came when an actual U.S. Army member started a video program that projected a battle scene onto a screen.

A few nondescript shadowy figures appeared, walking through the background of a generic-looking Eastern European town. They got closer. More appeared. And we let loose.

“Ratatatat-ratatata-ratatata-ratatata-ratatata-ratatata-ratatata-ratatatat” ... for 15 straight minutes.

It was our third “battle” of the day and our second trip to the simulated firing range, since the event’s original grand finale – a flight in a Chinook helicopter – was cancelled due to a low cloud ceiling at Fort Indiantown Gap.

By this time, organizers were well aware that not quite half of the participants were from the Johnstown area and that I was a reporter following them. So, on the way out of the facility, George Mentzer, ESGR assistant state ombudsman director, came up to me and complimented the group, saying we did much better than most who use the simulator and said there must be a lot of NRA members in our area.

I smiled and said, yes, there were.

That was the final hands-on activity during our two-day visit to the Gap on May 8-9.

Earlier, we got the opportunity to take turns holding a grenade launcher, climb into armored vehicles and operate a Black Hawk helicopter simulator during which the actual pilot switched the landscape to the Johnstown area for me – so I could buzz Sunnehanna Country Club. We also attended presentations on subjects ranging from the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 to the operations of disaster relief kitchens.

The goal was to give participants, especially business owners and human relations directors, a better understanding of what their employees do when they go away for Guard and Reserve training.

It did … in a relaxed way.

Our “barracks” were at a Holiday Inn with a pool and bar.

We were fed prime rib instead of MREs. The shadowy figures could not fight back … just get gunned down.

I ended the days by texting messages “back home” with sepia-toned photos and a language style straight from Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” documentary, so I could remain “true” to the experience. And, while the 6:30 a.m. alarms did not exactly jibe with my personal circadian rhythm, I still got to spend the nights at a nearby casino during which I did quite well at roulette, but not so good at the horse races.

So it wasn’t exactly an authentic military experience.

But the two days did give me and the other participants an opportunity to gain a bit more appreciation for the sacrifices made by military personnel and the skills they need to hone, in order to protect the nation when the rest of us spend our days working as human relations directors, engineers and reporters.

Plus, you know, we got to play with the guns.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.