By Ann Roosevelt
The Army is using simulations to take advantage of the fact that today's recruits are Internet savvy and multi-task oriented, according to the service's top recruiter.
"Absolutely we're using more simulation," Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commanding general, Army Accessions Command/ deputy commanding general Initial Military Training, said at the Defense Writers Group yesterday.
"We're continuing looking to use simulations to put our soldiers in a virtual environment before the go into a live environment, so they get more repetitions," he said. "It's about building muscle memory it's about building reaction prior to actually being in the actual live environment."
Cultural awareness was an area where the Army was deficient going into Iraq, he said. When the Army was in Bosnia in the late 1990s and 2000, combat training centers tried to get troops to think about culture, but it was really "a pretty thin veneer."
That has changed. Freakley was recently at Ft. Benning, Ga., where soldiers in their third week of training were sitting in front of a simulator. The action was somewhat similar to the computer game parents often play with their kids, "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego." In the game players walk by people and ask questions or not asking questions collecting points and hints.
"It's the same thing," he said. "The soldiers were on a street in Iraq and there were people up and down the street and the soldiers could stop and ask questions, differentiate between different people and get feedback on how well they read the situation and were engaged in that."
A lot of Army money goes into live fire shooting. This is where a soldier is introduced to a weapon and then goes to the range to fire at targets learning about the weapon.
"Now we have Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 where this simulation shows the soldier their breathing pattern before they pull the trigger, it shows them how consistently they squeeze the trigger," he said. So soldiers practice, learn how to breath correctly and fire correctly and zero their weapon. So when they get to the firing range with real ammunition, they've done it enough times that when they do it for real, it's very close to what they did in the simulator. Thus they can move on from there.
The simulator therefore actually saves training rounds, so they can be moved to more live fire in the environment soldiers will be in--Iraq or Afghanistan, as opposed to just spending time shooting at a paper target.
There are also very complex shoot-don't shoot scenarios in simulation where soldiers enter a room and face situations--all filmed at the National Training Center. There will be actual Iraqi people, dressed and responding appropriately, he said.
"The soldier has to make the decision as to whether he takes action or not," Freakley said. "Men in these long robes and their hands are behind their robes and they pull their hand up quickly and the soldier has to determine if there's a gun in it or not."
Something else new involves urban warfare, and keeps troops' attention.
"We used to take soldiers out to the Military Operations On Urban Terrain (MOUT)--the Army's name for a village--and we'd sit them in a bleacher and some sergeant would say this is a village defined by square buildings and square doors and square windows and three buildings make a village--and the soldiers were falling asleep," he said.
"We put them on a game in the barracks with their drill sergeant, actually fighting through a village," he said. "And then when we took them out to the field we just loaded them up with blanks and they went right into the village. No lecture. No boring time spent in the bleachers. Just straight into the environment."
The old way to teach soldiers receiving fire was that there were three appropriate movement techniques: a three second rush toward the fire then trying to dive to cover; a high crawl--up on hands and knees, or a low crawl, as close to the ground as possible. Fields had logs set about three seconds apart so this could be done.
Today if you go to the training centers there are lanes with walls, windows, cars, and barrels that soldiers must negotiate, Freakley said. And, they have to do it in a buddy team under live fire with pop-up targets. Soldiers have to cover one another and decide where to move next as they negotiate the training lane. At the other end, the drill sergeant has to give soldiers feedback on whether they made good cover and concealment decisions and also on how they did covering their buddy.
"Some of them do it rote and so they get to do it over again and over again because they're not making good choices," he said. For example, if the only thing around is a car, use the car for cover and concealment. However, if the enemy shoots an RPG at the car, there will be shrapnel as well as the explosive RPG, so if there's a choice between hunkering down by the car and using a building, go for the building.
"We're trying to teach them that in the first four weeks of basic training," he said.
The Army is looking at all sorts of simulations, from cultural to fighting in cities to the use of firepower, the escalation of force and medical.
"Some of our medical mannequins are driven by computer so you can induce any kind of fault into the "person" that you want to," he said. At the end of the 16-week combat medic course, they respond to a "bomb" scene and deal with casualties, and get an after action review on how they treated that manikin.
"These mannequins can die," Freakley said. "It's very real." For example, if a medic must do a tracheotomy and intubates the mannequin incorrectly, only one lung on the mannequin will inflate and deflate, not both lungs. If he intubates too deeply, the stomach goes up and down, not the lungs. Meanwhile the realistic mannequins moan and their eyes open and shut.
"We're working with industry to get as realistic as we can," he said. Simulations give soldiers more repetitions to be ready before they get into the fight, which saves lives, and makes them better thinkers in a counter insurgency environment.