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Demonstration Showcases Emerging Technology

By Army Sgt. Josh LeCappelain
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., March 8, 2010 – Thirteen Marines here tested a U.S. Joint Forces Command interactive training simulation during a demonstration Feb. 23 to March 4.

Future Immersive Training Environment, or FITE, is a virtual reality-based training system to improve team decision-making skills through a series of realistic scenarios that challenges warfighters to read and react to situations and signals they may encounter in combat.

Jay Reist, FITE operational manager, said the system has four scenarios drafted from warfighter experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and designed by professional writers and medical professionals.

"We want to focus on how young men, ages 18 to 24, think in complex environments,” he said. “Through this virtual experience, we can engage that and prepare them for deployments. We want their first firefight to be no worse than their last simulation."

Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, participated in the training here. They were strapped into their gear, with sensors added to their helmets, weapons and knees to track their movement in the training world.

FITE organizers also tracked medical feedback, such as heart rate and other factors, so that experts could monitor how immersed they were becoming in the experience and how stressful or excited they became during the exercise.

Marine Corps 1st Lt. Stephen Lind, platoon commander, assessed the efforts of his Marines throughout the training by conducting after-action reviews following each scenario to explain what they did well and pointing out areas that needed improvement.

"They're doing well. They're doing a great job adapting and learning their [roles]," said Lind, who recently returned from Afghanistan. "This training is a good, valuable tool. I had my doubts about it, thinking that it was just going to be a video game. But I've been really impressed by what it brings to the table."

Lind said he was impressed by the realism of the digital towns, people, terrain, buildings and behaviors, adding that they closely resembled what he remembers from his experiences.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Craig Fazenbaker, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he thought some things missing from the scenarios, but that overall he thought they were a valuable training tool.

"There were a couple of things that I think they should add, [such as] more people in the towns, as well as the loudspeaker that called people to prayer. When that thing went off, no matter where you were, you heard it," he said, adding that grenades also would be a useful addition.

"Overall, my heart was pumping and the squad had really good communication with each other,” Fazenbaker said. “That last part we went through was really intense," he said, noting the realism of a direct engagement.

An additional testing of this first phase of testing is scheduled for later this month at Fort Benning, Ga. The next phase, scheduled for September at Camp Pendleton, Calif., will feature mixed reality programs in which trainees will interact in immersive environments and engage physical and mental obstacles, with more emphasis on live training instead of the virtual training experienced in the first phase.

(Army Sgt. Josh LeCappelain serves in the U.S. Joint Forces Command public affairs office.)

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