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Youth on guard

High school students cry bang bang and take orders as they try out the National Guard

Clutching M-4 carbines, Cadillac is ready to rock and roll. The team's goal is to clear a building by killing enemy troops inside a shack in the Agate Desert near White City.

The National Guard's goal is recruiting.

We're hoping to enlist some of these kids, Sgt. Mike Ferris says.

Most Cadillac members are 17 years old and from Medford. Cory Johnson saw Black Hawk Down and liked it. Alex Meyer did the Guard for a Day exercise last year and is thinking about enlisting.

Cadillac members have been given earplugs, goggles, magazine clips and their weapons ' the M-4 rifle, a 5.56-millimeter descendent of the M-16 with a collapsible stock and short barrel capable of either semi-automatic fire or three-shot bursts.

Snap the magazine in, says Pvt. Steven Hayes of Medford. Make sure you're loaded. Put it on safe.

They run through their plan in the practice area crying bang bang instead of firing their weapons.

Up to now there's been a lot of standing around with the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry on this Saturday morning at the Medford Police SWAT team's training facility, perhaps much like the regular army.

The day started at the Medford Armory with doughnuts and recruiter Ferris' pitch on the benefits of joining the Guard, which are substantial, including &

36;1,445.96 a month for college after a brief training period in return for a six-year commitment of one weekend a month and one month a year.

Then it was out to White City, with smoke from the wildfires lying on the hills and a lone turkey vulture wobbling over the fields.

Sgt. 1st Class Brian Wheaten of Roseburg explained the rules of engagement for today's MOUT, or military operations urban training. Don't go on grassy berms where hot weapons could ignite dry grass. Don't shoot each other in the face. Even with blanks, there's a muzzle blast. Observer/controllers in black hats have the last word.

Don't argue with them, says Staff Sgt. Scott Irving of Medford. War's not fair.

Most of the 30-some young people taking part are students. Some are Guard members who haven't been through basic training yet. Teams with names such as Charlie, Angel, Dominators, Unholy Terrors, Ghost Recon will try to prove they have what it takes.

There's time for small talk, but not much.

My parents aren't really big on the idea of me joining, Meyer says.

Johnson, who's never shot a gun bigger than a .22, tries to picture an operation like the one in Black Hawk Down, which showed young troops briefly trying to sort out their feelings about combat in Somalia.

I'd probably just do what I was told, he says.

Guard troops staged a demonstration attack on the shack with troops jumping out of Humvees, a smoke bomb and small-arms fire.

Told the goal is surprise, one student says, But they know we're coming.

The first student team doesn't move fast enough.

When you get inside, you got to do something, a sergeant yells. Get in, get out, they're dead.

A young woman, Angel, is incensed at being told she wasn't doing anything inside, explaining that she'd already been killed.

I was dead before I even got in, another says.

Cadillac's plan is to roar up and attack with four members in front and three in back, clear the rooms at both ends, meet in the middle, then secure the perimeter. Team leader Hayes ran team members through it with a cardboard model and toy soldiers.

Now it's time. Cadillac loads into two camo Humvees. They rumble up, piling out as card-playing enemy soldiers tip their table up and firing begins.

There's shouting.

Move it. Go!Go!Go!

BOOM! Yellow smoke billows as they go in. Firing goes on for some seconds. Cory Johnson ducks out the front door, catches an enemy soldier lurking by a corner, bang, shoots him. It's over almost before it begins.

I just decided I'd see if anybody was trying to trick us, Johnson says of his surprise move.

Cadillac has done well, but they got split up, which is not good with the enemy running around. There's some debate. Enemy troops coming around the corners would have shot them, maybe. Well, they would not have, either, because troops in the Humvees would have been supporting them.

So goes the postmortem. The guys of Cadillac will attack again and again during a long, hot day of soldiering. Then it will be time to put the guns up and be high school kids again.

Sgt. 1st Class Mark Keller of Medford drills a group of mostly students Saturday during annual Guard for a Day exercises in White City. It's a recruiting tool for the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Brigade of the Oregon Army National Guard. Click the photo to see a larger (41k) version. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven