IN THE MILITARY
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lt. Col. Mike Donnelly got a chance to drive the streets of Baghdad in a Humvee via Schofield Barracks' latest convoy trainer, which uses actual traffic scenes from Iraq to acquaint soldiers with the conditions in Iraq.
Schofield's new training center uses computer simulations to prepare soldiers for battle
It was almost deja vu when a 25th Infantry Division soldier got behind the wheel of his Humvee.
"He said that's the same intersection in Iraq where they were ambushed," said Tom Earley, a trainer at Schofield Barracks.
But this time, the soldier from the aviation brigade wasn't sitting in the desert of Iraq, but in an air-conditioned trailer on an concrete pad next to the 25th Division's new $26 million Battle Command Training Center.
"It was emotional," Earley said. "It was a flashback even if it was in a simulator. There were the real buildings and real roads."
What the Schofield Barracks soldier experienced as he prepared for his second combat tour in Iraq was one of the Army's latest high-tech training tools designed not only to save his life, but also to save taxpayers' money. It has been slowly put into operation since November, and the Army says it will be fully operational by March. At the Battle Command Training Center soldiers can get the actual feel of being part of an Army patrol via computer simulations and three-dimensional color depictions of actual road conditions.
The trailer is configured to train six Humvee vehicle operators and gunners.
Each driver sits behind the wheel of a Humvee with three LCD screens projecting images of what he would see if he were actually driving the vehicle. There is great attention to detail, including left and right rear-view mirrors on the bottom of two of the screens.
The "gunner" is armed with a .50-caliber machine gun as he would be in a real mission. However, he wears a virtual-reality display helmet. His view is what a Humvee gunner would see if he were standing in the turret of a Humvee on patrol. When he "fires" his simulated machine gun, the computer records his "hits" and "misses."
The driver, observer and the gunners "actually see the troops, streets and buildings as if they were actually there," said Earley, whose Raydon Corp. developed the virtual combat convoy trainer.
It can be programmed for day and night convoy operations.
Also part of the Battle Command Training Center are two air-conditioned trailers that contain another virtual-reality trainer for helicopter pilots and crews. It is called the Aviation Combined Arms Collective Trainer, developed by L3 Communications of Arlington, Texas.
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Capt. Thomas Lutz got a virtual-reality feel of being a machine gunner on a Humvee patrol.
The two Schofield Barracks trailers can train six helicopter crews at one time.
Brett Newlin, communications specialist, said each of the six cockpits can be configured to provide virtual-reality training for the three helicopters flown by the 25th Division -- UH-60 Black Hawks, OH-58 Kiowas and CH-47 Chinooks.
The air crews all wear specially rigged helmets and the images gives the aviators a 360-degree view from the cockpit. The 150 computers tied into the system also can simulate night operations.
Wearing the helmets and sitting before the controls and the "stick," the helicopter aviators feel like they are actually "flying" the helicopter, Newlin said. The only thing missing from the simulator is the sense of motion, but even that loss is negligible.
From the control room, trainers sitting before six LCD screens can program what the air crews see, changing the situation, targets, weather conditions and other problems that could occur during a flight.
The convoy and the aviation cockpit simulators, however, are just a small part of the 90,000-square-foot, two-story training center.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, 25th Infantry Division commanding general, said one of the first major tests of the computer simulation center will be in June when he will run his headquarters staff and the five brigades that he will command in Iraq this summer through combat exercises.
Some of the leaders of the combat brigades will be at Schofield Barracks while others may be hooked up via satellite links. Evaluators on the second floor of the training center will feed combat problems and other situations that could occur in Iraq to Mixon and his staff, which will be operating a command center exactly as it would be during the yearlong deployment. Mixon's response and orders would then be relayed to his subordinate battalion and company leaders sitting at other computer consoles in the complex.
Don Bennett, director of the Battle Command Training Center, describes that kind of training as "constructive simulation training."
"It is a computer-generated war game that depicts commanders and staff in combat situation anywhere," Bennett said.
That means immense savings, Bennett said, since one officer sitting behind a computer screen could be representing anything from a platoon up to a battalion. "This saves dollars because you are not taking all those soldiers who would be in these units out into a field environment."
Bennett pointed out that live training -- in which soldiers are actually out in the field -- is the most expensive.
Bennett supervises a staff of more than 40 employees, including contractors and government employees. There are about 630 computer systems in the facility, and of those, 40 of them are servers.
Steve Shortt, site manager, said using simulators saves money. "If something goes wrong, we stop it and say, 'Let's go back to the position where the wrong decision was made.' Since you are recording the training, you also can go back and immediately critique it with person being trained."
Bennett said: "The bottom line behind this building (Battle Command Training Center) and the facility is basically to give the proper training to the soldiers and to save lives in the future, as well as save taxpayer money."