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Civilian Leaders Witness Life-Saving Simulation Training

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT CARSON, Colo., Aug. 21, 2004 – Educators, business owners and civic leaders from throughout the United States traveled here Aug. 20 to witness high-tech simulation training being used to prepare soldiers for upcoming deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The civilian leaders, all alumni of the Defense Department's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, visited Fort Carson during a two-day conference in Colorado Springs to familiarize themselves with latest developments within the military.

The group observed two new simulators preparing 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and other soldiers for some of the most dangerous scenarios they could face when the return for their second deployment to Iraq. The Engagement Skills Trainer tests how soldiers respond to enemy fire from insurgents and the Convoy Skills Trainer gauges their responses to everything from vehicle breakdowns to direct fire while in a convoy formation.

The Engagement Skills Trainer, introduced in January, exposes troops to enemy fire while conducting detainee operations, pulling guard duty and running checkpoints. Firing laser-equipped 9mm, M4, M16, M203 and M249 weapons, they engage the targets, projected on a wide screen. Green circles on the screen register shots fired and "kills."

While acknowledging that the trainer can be as much fun as the latest video game, soldiers using it as a tool to prepare for war say it offers realistic combat training in a safe environment.

"It's an opportunity to see and experience these situations before you're actually exposed to them," said Sgt. Jason Hole with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, who returned from a one-year deployment to Iraq in March.

Hole explained that the trainer helps teach soldiers to operate within the rules of engagement in unpredictable, high-stress situations. "You go through 'shoot-no shoot' scenarios and see how you'll react," he said.

"I got him!" exclaimed Joan Grady, an educational consultant from Colorado, who took advantage of the opportunity to "fire" a 9mm pistolthe first time she'd used a weapon in her life.

While visiting the Convoy Skills Trainer, the group watched soldiers in wooden Humvee-size models "drive" in a four-vehicle formation, made realistic through graphics, visuals, sound and interactive video. During their training sessions, typically four hours long, the soldiers encounter indirect mortar fire, direct fire, ambushes and other scenarios similar to those U.S. troops are facing in Iraq.

"It gives them the opportunity to train for convoy live-fire, which is where some of our soldiers are getting killed in Iraq and Afghanistan," Army Maj. Gen. Robert Wilson, the 7th Infantry Division commander, told the group.

For Pfc. Eric Gary from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment's Support Maintenance Troop, who lay prone on the center floor after his vehicle was "taken out," said he's learned a lot through the trainer and is confident that "it's helping get me ready for the real thing."

"It's been very valuable," agreed Spc. Courtney Donnatien, who, like Gary, is scheduled to deploy to Iraq this spring.

Larry Sheffield, president of Sheffield Development Corporation in New Mexico, said he found it "very encouraging" that the military is using simulation to help protect the troops in harm's way. "The initial feedback seems to be that it's a really valuable asset in the field," he said.

"It's just great," said Frank Pitts, CEO of Quantum Research International in Huntsville, Ala. "I can see how useful it is to help these soldiers learn how to react to different situations."

Wilson told the group that simulation is a valuable training toolbut that old- fashioned on-the-ground training is far from becoming a thing of the past. "Simulation doesn't replace training in the field, but it augments it," he told the group.

"The great thing about simulation is that you can try things in there and live another day."

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