Fort Carson soldiers are finally home after 3 weeks of intense training at Fort Irwin in the brutal Mojave Desert.
Only KRDO was invited to come along to witness how the troops battle both the enemy and the climate at the National Training Center, commonly called "The Box".
Aside from serving overseas, the NTC is the closest thing to actual combat the military offers.
It covers 12-hundred square miles of remote desert and mountains, an area the size of Rhode Island.
The agonizing heat and high winds, combined with the sand, mimic what soldiers would find in most Middle Eastern countries.
"It's the most harsh training area that we have in the continental United States," says General Robert Abrams, the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command.
The training is so important that the 4-star general arrives to personally observe the operations once a month.
"It's the crucible of land combat here, and we train that here in a very tough and realistic training condition," he says.
In addition to the harsh terrain, a dozen mock villages, some the size of actual towns, allow for intense urban combat training.
Blank rounds help it to feel and sound real, but each rifle is equipped with the MILES system that fires a laser when the trigger is pulled instead of a bullet.
The laser can set off sensors on the target's body, helmet, or vehicle.
The villages are complete with fictional mosques, IED's, simulated rocket attacks, and even government contractors paid to act like civilians at a street market, selling groceries or antiques and speaking in a foreign language.
The idea is to get troops used to this type of environment, and let them know what would happen if an innocent civilian were to be hit by gunfire, because the market workers wear the same body sensors as the soldiers.
Some villages even have a fully functional tunnel system that can be used by the opposing force to resupply their troops or smuggle items from one place to another.
The "opposing force" is actual a separate unit permanently stationed at Fort Irwin.
The job of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment is to test each rotational unit that comes to the NTC, and while it is not a win/lose situation, the 11th ACR frequently comes out ahead due to its extensive knowledge of the terrain.
For 18 days and sometimes at night, the NTC tests every aspect of a brigade, from communication to weapons systems, refueling, repairing, and responding to injuries both real and simulated.
In the field and at aid stations, dozens of patients come in every day to test the life-saving skills of the staff.
Battalion Surgeon Dr. Justin Ward says, "Trauma management, hemhorraging, airway breathing, and circulation are the things we look at, the four leading causes of death on the battlefield."
Just to make sure that every soldier every is on alert at all times, NTC coordinators will occasionally throw a curve ball at them, like an attack by insurgents who get through the perimeter of a base camp just when troops are winding down for the evening.
The cost of this particular rotation for the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team is estimated at just over $60 million, well more than the average rotation cost of $25-50 million.
The reason for the higher cost is the unique mission for the 1st SBCT.
Find out what that mission entails in Part 2 of our series on Tuesday night at 5:00 and 10:00.