Editor's note: This is the second installment in a three-part series about the second annual Warriors on the Water bass fishing tournament, where bass professionals spent a weekend with armed forces personnel at Fort Bragg, N.C.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bailey slid into a prone position and rested his M-4 atop the small stack of green sandbags in front of him.
He moved his head over the top of the gun and closed one eye. It was dark and his focus was in front of him, but he knew he had four allies close by, aiming with a similar purpose. Through his sight, he saw three hostiles that's bad guys to you and me standing behind a bomb on a table.
The hostiles all were screaming mad, but it was the one in the center who held Bailey's attention. The man had his left hand wrapped around what looked to be a detonator. Bailey understood the stakes.
A lethal shot to the head would relax the bomber's body, sending the trigger safely to the floor. But a miss or a hit anywhere else, and it would be game over. Even a shot through the heart would cause the man's body to contract, press the trigger and ignite the fire.
Bailey steadied his weapon, slid his right index finger over the trigger and squeezed. The sound from the round echoed off the walls and the gun butt rammed into his shoulder. The scene in front of him went white.
"Oh! Who took the shot?" asked weapons training expert Keith Carr as he flipped on the light. Camouflage and fake leaves lined the walls and floor leading up to the massive screen at the end of the room. Each of the 10 M-4s in a row roughly 30 feet from the screen were connected to the floor by a thick wire.
Carr sat at a computer, running the $200,000-plus simulation program designed to put a soldier as close to the battlefield as possible without getting on a plane. The M-4s were all functional guns in their younger days, and the kick and noise from the fire are comparable to the real deal.
"You missed," Carr said.
BASS Elite Series angler Glenn DeLong stood up with a non-combative, childlike smile, shaking his head to acquit himself. Professional angler Alex Ormand and an ESPNOutdoors.com photographer stood beside DeLong, looking for the guy who just blew up the room. Bailey raised his hand to fess up: "It was me."
"Well, let's take a look," Carr said. He replayed the scene in slow motion, showing exactly where the shot landed and who took it. Bailey looked ashamed. "High and wide," he said. "I knew it was a little off."
For DeLong and the rest of the men in the room, it was an error to laugh about, but for a soldier on the battlefield it would have meant disaster. Lucky for the tour, they were in a room that was built for making mistakes as many as it takes to get the task right.
The anglers had met some of the soldiers the night before in an "icebreaker" at a sports bar on base, and a tough but memorable day of fishing was only a day away. Today was the anglers' chance to experience the life of a soldier a touristy day, but a taste nonetheless.
The weapons training was the second stop on what Elite Series angler Marty Stone described as the "dog and pony show" tour of Fort Bragg, set up for half of the pro anglers participating in Warriors on the Water. The rest of the pros were at Pope Air Force Base for the morning and would finish on Bragg in the afternoon.
The Bragg tour started in the Gavin Room named after General James Gavin, a famous paratrooper from WWII on the third floor of an office building that used to be a hospital.
"The PR department is in the old morgue. Kind of fitting, I guess," tour guide Frank Hanan said as the anglers took a seat around a horseshoe table for a briefing from Cols. Dave Fox and Bruce Parker.
"When the nation calls 911, the phone rings at Fort Bragg," Fox said, emphasizing that his soldiers always have to be ready. The base is strategically located near the coast on the southeast side of North Carolina and is the housing and training center for paratroopers (most famously the 82nd Airborne) and Special Forces units. And from the moment that emergency call is placed, a division of the 82nd Airborne can be anywhere in the world in 18 hours.
"I'll take any questions you guys have, but I'm not going to get into politics. I'm a soldier, not a politician," Parker said right before he took the conversation political. "We're building schools and making lots of positive progress, but you won't hear that in the media."
The soldiers on base weren't shy in voicing their displeasure of the coverage of the war, and Elite Series angler and former Angler of the Year Marty Stone said it's not a new topic of conversation.
"They don't mind fighting for us and they consier it a privilege but to a man and to a woman, their biggest fear is coming home to find out that there is no support for what they are doing," said Stone, who lives some 30 minutes from Bragg.
The Bragg tour piled into a white, 13-passenger van and began exploring the grounds inside the barbed-wire fence. With about eight hours to cover the 161,000 acres they call a base, the group had to be selective. Bragg has its own gas stations and grocery stores, seven elementary schools, 11 churches, 11 shopping centers and 28 restaurants. It's just enough shopping for the lonely wives on a base that house more than 55,000 soldiers.
After a quick stop in front of "Iron Mike," the huge iron statue of an 82nd Airborne paratrooper that greets all who enter, the group made its way to the weapons simulator. While the Bragg anglers were filling the enemy (and way too many civilians) with holes, the anglers at Pope Stone, Gerald Swindle, Keith Phillips, Mark Rogers and Steve Daniel were getting chased down by angry German shepherds.
"I tell you right now, I wish I had one of those dogs at my house," Stone said. "I wouldn't ever have to worry about security."