Soldiers to study the Snoqualmie Valley's strengths, weaknesses in weekend exercise

Soldiers with a U.S. Army civil affairs unit may be visible in the Snoqualmie Valley this weekend, training their infrastructure-building skills for a real-world conflict.

Elements of the 448th Civil Affairs Battalion of Fort Lewis Washington will roam the area on Saturday and Sunday, March 26 and 27, conducting studies on local police, firefighting, power, communications and medical facilities.

The study is not a similated disaster. Soldiers will not carry their standard weapons.

Bob Venters, a retired Army master sergeant, Fall City resident and current trainer with the battalion, said the unit's exercise is very close to the real thing.

"In catastrophes all over the world, they see what the strengths and weaknesses are," Venters said. "If it's war-torn, we go into consultation with the locals, find out what they need, get their infrastructure back up to speed. They try to keep civilians out of the military's way, military out of civilians' way."

In the Valley, soldiers will be assisted by local residents, stand-ins for foreign translators, who will help them navigate the area and locate people to interview.

Venters said Civil Affairs relies on professional expertise from the civilian world to get countries back on their feet.

The teams will travel in one vehicle, led by a civilian in a private vehicle, and will be based at private property in Fall City.

Soldiers will be graded on performance. While some of the soldiers will be new to the exercise, "fifty percent are combat vets who have been there before," Venters said.

Real world practice is important, Venters said, because "it's what they do. This is their mission."

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