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Picture Show: Iraq in the Mojave Picture Show: Iraq in the Mojave

Picture Show: Iraq in the Mojave

March 30, 2009

Army soldiers prepare to role-play insurgents during the Medical Trauma Lane. The green straps are part of a complex "laser tag" system worn by every soldier, role-player, and civilian in town.

A mock-Iraqi village serves as a U.S. Army training facility in the Mojave Desert

The photographer Peter Bohler recently toured the Fort Irwin training facility in California's Mojave Desert, where a mock-Iraqi village has been "populated" by role-playing Iraqis to help soldiers practice their Arabic and prepare for situations they'll face overseas. It's a stunning recreation, and a source of income for a number of Iraqi refugees. As troop withdrawals begin, and as the United States shifts its military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, this fort, too, will see a shift to Afghan role-players and scenarios. For now, however, we offer a glimpse at the fort as it's been.All captions by Peter Bohler.

Warning: This feature contains a few violent images that, while not real, may not be suitable for children, the faint of heart, or some work environments.

Soldiers wait in their tank before a nighttime attack on a mock Iraqi village at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. There are now about a dozen mock villages spread out across the desert.

Erica Smith role-plays an Iraqi civilian at the village of Medina Wasl. During the day, 300 soldiers and civilians create a bustling village. Many are spouses of soldiers stationed at Fort Irwin.

Soldiers pack into a Humvee at the end of the day to head back to the base. Fort Irwin sprawls over an area as big as the state of Rhode Island in the Mojave Desert of California.

New buildings on the outskirts of Medina Wasl. Originally comprised of a few shipping containers, the village has grown to include realistic facades of several mosques, many stores, and a working hotel and cafe.

Nadja, an Iraqi national who lives in the village during the two week long training rotations. About 20 Iraqis live in the village to recreate authentic language and customs for the training scenerios.

An amputee in full makeup before role-playing a casualty during a run of the Medical Trauma Lane. He role-plays having his legs blown off in a Humvee explosion four times a day.

Soldiers hunt for insurgents during a scenario in the village. A cameraman films the action from the turret of the mosque for later analysis.

Medics bandage casualties during the Medical Trauma Lane, a scenario where a platoon travels through the town and encounters an insurgent attack. Makeup and pyrotechnics make the scenario as realistic as possible.

Muyuad, an Iraqi who role-plays the Iraqi Police Chief,  in his room. He shares this shipping container with a roommate.

A BBC news crew films tanks outside of the mock village of Medina Wasl. The training program has caught the attention of the media and military dignitaries and the village sees many visitors.

Painted Rock at the entrance to Fort Irwin, covered with the insignia of units that have trained here.

The bathhouse at the outskirts of Medina Wasl.

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