IN THE MILITARY
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Staff Sgt. Maurice Marshalleck helps Spc. Cathy Mathes drive her virtual Humvee around another one hit by a roadside bomb.
Virtual training helps soldiers bound for Iraq
2,500 Schofield troops face realistic scenarios before they deploy this summer
FOR THE NEXT few weeks, 10,000 soldiers -- including 2,500 from Schofield Barracks -- will be going through a virtual training exercise as if they were already deployed to Iraq.
It is the first major test of Schofield Barracks' $38 million Battle Command Training Center, said Lt. Col. Mike Staver, who is in charge of the test. It is also the last major training before the 25th Infantry Division soldiers go to Iraq this summer.
About 7,000 soldiers, including 3,900 from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, will deploy to Iraq in the largest deployment for the Tropic Lightning Division. A deployment ceremony is slated for July 7.
The intent of the battlefield simulation, which involves 4,000 computers and a satellite network, is to better prepare Brig. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of the 25th Infantry Division, and his staff.
Mixon will command 28,000 to 30,000 U.S. forces in northern Iraq -- an area the size of Utah running north of Baghdad to the Syrian border.
Staver, who spent one combat deployment in Afghanistan with the 25th Division two years ago, said this exercise gives Mixon "the opportunity to exercise (the division's) battle commands not only with his major subordinate units, but also with his higher headquarters -- which is 3rd Corps at Fort Hood in Texas."
"It gets us practicing to what we will do in country, rather than take the first three months figuring out things like how do you send a report, who do you talk to ... It's a warm up so we are not going in cold," Staver said.
That way Mixon, who served in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War with the 101st Airborne Division, has some idea what he will be facing and the strengths and weaknesses of the units he will command.
Participating in the two-week exercise are the commanders of the six brigades, three from Schofield Barracks -- the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 45th Sustainment Group and 25th Aviation Brigade -- which will be part of Mixon's task force.
Also at Wahiawa for the exercise are the commanders and staff from units on the mainland -- the 3rd Brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division in North Carolina, 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division in Texas and 3rd Brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division in Washington. These three units could fall under the control of Mixon when he succeeds Maj. Gen. Thomas Turner, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, who now heads Multinational Division North -- a region with a population of 10.2 million that extends north of Baghdad to the borders of Iran, Turkey and Syria. It includes Tikrit -- the home town of Saddam Hussein -- and the city of Kirkuk, where the 25th Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team served in 2004.
Don Bennett, civilian director of the Battle Command Training Center, said the computer simulation exercise carries a "secret" label since the information being used comes from current active intelligence sources. Visitors to the training center must sign in, surrender some form of government identification and turn in their cell phones and PDAs. Everyone wears a badge signifying the wearer's level of security clearance, with "purple" the highest.
Staver, who served a combat tour in Afghanistan two years ago with the 25th Division, said that 54 computers are used in what the Army refers to as the tactical operations center or "TOC." The Schofield Barracks TOC was described to be about 75 percent the size of Forward Operating Base Speicher, where the 101st Division has established its headquarters.
THE OPERATIONS center is supported by smaller tents called "siccups," where staff members work on solutions for "battle drills" or problems presented to Mixon. For instance, on Friday, Mixon had his medical officers assess the potential danger dealing with a breakout of spiral meningitis among his soldiers. At the same time a car bomb exploded at one of Mixon's Iraqi posts, injuring several soldiers, killing at least one. The war games were developed by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Joint Warfighting Center in Virginia and the 25th Division.
Sgt. Maj. Daniel Alltop, the head enlisted soldier in the operations center, said it operates like it will in Iraq --- 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "Every 12 hours," Alltop said, "there is a shift change -- at 8 a.m. and at 8 p.m."
At every shift change, Mixon gets an update on what has happened during the past 12 hours and what he as a commander can expect to take place until the next shift change. "Every two days, his staff will give him a fuller briefing on current operations."
While Mixon and his headquarters staff refine their skills to control the battlefield in the two-story command center, nearby in air-conditioned trailers, his soldiers and aviators are training on the latest virtual reality equipment. They sit before monitors displaying three-dimensional color depiction of the roads and the skies over Baghdad to get a feel of driving truck convoys or flying over Iraqi cities.
Six helicopter crews each flying a different type of aircraft can train at the same time. Each of the six cockpits can be configured to provide virtual-reality training for the three types of helicopters flown by the 25th Division -- UH-60 Black Hawks, OH-58 Kiowas and CH-47 Chinooks. About 100 helicopters were sent to Iraq from Schofield Barracks.
The air crews all wear specially rigged helmets and the images gives the aviators a 360-degree view from the cockpit.
Two other trailers are configured to train six Humvee vehicle operators and gunners.
ON FRIDAY, members of Headquarters & Headquarters Company of the 25th Special Troops Battalion practiced being part of a four-vehicle convoy driving through Baghdad. Behind the wheel of one Humvee was Spc. Cathy Mathes, accompanied by the vehicle commander, Sgt. Norma Arellano. In front of their "Humvee" were three LCD screens projecting images of what they would see if they were in Baghdad. There is great attention to detail, including left and right rear-view mirrors on the bottom of two of the screens.
Their "gunner" was armed with a .50-caliber machine gun. He wore 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 "fired" his simulated machine gun, the computer recorded his "hits" and "misses." During one of their exercises a roadside bomb took out one of their Humvees and Mathes was told by Staff Sgt. Maurice Marshallek that she had turn her Humvee around to see what assistance her crew could render.
Also participating in the two-week exercise by satellite links and computers were Air Force jet fighters from the Davis-Monthan Air Base in Arizona and Marine Corps jets from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.