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Afghanistan on a Saugus movie set

Soldiers train for rescue mission, fight ‘terrorists’ at Blue Cloud ranch

Posted: July 20, 2008 12:16 a.m.
Updated: September 19, 2008 5:04 a.m.

"Afghani terrorists" watch for an advancing American rescue force during Saturday's training in Saugus. The ruins of a downed American helicopter sit in the foreground.

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Who would have thought Afghanistan would be a five-minute drive from Central Park?

Answer: More than 100 soldiers and “future soldiers” taking part in war games at the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch Saturday.

Using toy guns weighing and responding much like their real model counterparts — firing biodegradeable BB pellets — about 80 men, two women and at least one “enemy” boy endured almost triple digit temperatures Saturday to stage a mock battle overlooking Lombardi Ranch.

Saturday’s mock combat was in honor and celebration of the 233rd anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Army, staged by the U.S. Army Recruitment Brigade and the Operation Lion Claws Military Simulation Series.

“We put together this one-day in Afghanistan celebration of the U.S. Army; they brought out about 30 to 40 future U.S. soldiers we brought in about 60 hardened Lion Claws alumni who really know their combat skills,” said John Lu, President of Best of USA Marketing Production, the company behind the Lion Claws team which proudly supports the United States military in its recruitment efforts.

The event wasn’t filmed or recorded by the military but was staged and celebrated in earnest by the more than 100 participants willing to don full battle gear under a sweltering sun, to do in spirit what thousands of military personnel do every day protecting the country’s freedoms.

Although there were no live rounds used in the imitation AK-47s and other fully automatic firearms, there were hundreds of pea-sized biodegradeable pellets.

Saturday’s mock mission was simple: rescue a captured American from the 20 “freedom fighter” enemies holed up in a bomb-shattered village somewhere in Afghanistan.

The real mission behind the staged event was to entice potential Army recruits into signing up to serve their country.

“About 20 of them have seen actual combat, some in Iraq,” Lu said of the Lion Claws crew taking part in the mock battles. “All chipping in to inspire (the recruits).”

Rene Veluzat, owner of the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch, is proud to list to all the movies and TV series, which have chosen his 100-acre site to be the Afghanistan featured in those productions.

The list includes TV shows such as: “JAG,” “The Unit,” “Medium,” “Bones,” “Without a Trace,” “Reno 911” and “Ugly Betty.” Movies include: “Iron Man” and “The Shaggy Dog” starring Tim Allen.

Veluzat bought the ranch in 2000. “I was building my sleepy little Mexican town when along came a fire and burned all the brush and, suddenly, everything was brown,” he said, reducing his set to a barren wasteland. “Everything was brown, no trees, no brush, no nothing,” Veluzat said.

Shortly after the fire, however, producers of the TV series “JAG,” who found the barren wasteland appealing, approached Veluzat wanting the burned-out set to be the backdrop for barren Afghani-looking hills.

“The 'JAG' TV series people saw it and said, ‘We want to rent it,’ and it was still smoking, and I said ‘Wow. cool!’ They said we want to re-do your buildings to make it look like Afghanistan. “I said, ‘OK’ and then I thought, ‘Where the hell is Afghanistan?’ Then I was watching CNN and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh.'”

Veluzat told The Signal just prior to the staging of Saturday’s second “battle” that he jumps at the opportunity to rent out his ranch to the U.S. military.

The U.S. Los Angeles Army Recruitment Brigade, in cooperation with the Operation Lion Claws Military Simulation Series, stages the “war games” in order to inspire young men and women who are considering a life in the military.

“We already had a big battle this morning, and this is the second half, this is Round Two. In this one, the Army’s commander, their CO, Captain Choadd, has been captured kidnapped by the so-called Freedom fighters,” Lu explained.

The two combatants were made up of equal numbers, with the same number of real-action soldiers helping out on each side, he said.

“In the battle this morning, the freedom fighters held these green GIs at bay for quite some time,” he said.

The California-based Operation Lion Claws Military Simulation Series started in October 2002 and has since become one of the favorite “war games” among military personnel.

In its promotional material, the simulation “provides a proper venue for men and women who crave action and excitement the opportunity to test his/her physical and mental strength.”

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