Soldiers learn to 'lock and load' at Fort Rucker
January 29, 2010
FORT RUCKER, Ala. - "Lock and load your weapons," echoed throughout a dark room. Future warrant officers took aim. As M-16 rifle shots rang out and .50-caliber machine guns thundered, those firing anxiously awaited their results.
Those shots Jan. 21, however, didn't take place at the firing range, but at the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000. Weapons are electronically modified and targets are displayed across large computerized screens during the training.
EST is a portable firearms training simulation system used to provide marksmanship, tactical and close-range mock battles for Soldiers to become adept in firing for a variety of weapons, according to EST Senior Instructor Robert Murray. The program has been housed in Bldg. 6007, off Andrews Avenue, since 2002.
Up to 10 Soldiers take aim with electronic model weapons, using lasers to "fire" at targets during battlefield scenarios projected on large computerized screens in dimly lit arenas.
Air compressors provide recoil, which "gives the Soldier a more realistic experience with the weapon," Murray said. "Sharpening skills prior to combat is probably saving lives."
Warrant officer candidates are among the Soldiers fighting battles tailored to their units' training needs with maps and situations designed by EST staff.
Practicing at the EST facility instead of a live range saves the military significant money, Murray noted. No ammunition is wasted, weapons are not worn out and transportation costs to move troops to and from the facility are much lower, he said.
The Warrant Officer Candidate School sends each class of up-and-coming officers to EST to sharpen not only their marksmanship skills but also their leadership abilities, according to CW3 Matt Metcalf, WOCS training, advising and counseling officer.
"It puts them in shoot-don't-shoot scenarios and ethical dilemmas," said Metcalf. "It finds their strengths and weaknesses in (their) thought process."
Instructors monitor candidates for timely decision-making processes, leadership qualities and abilities to handle stressful situations calmly.
WOC Christy Eddington said she felt better trained in all those areas after her EST experience, which also helped her develop camaraderie with her fellow candidates.
"You're able to adjust to different leadership styles and personalities and become a team," said the Paris, Texas, Soldier.
Practicing on common Army weapons was important to WOC Tom Johnson.
"It's very realistic as far as putting the weapon into action," the Sunnyside, Utah, native said. "The weight's about the same. The kick back is a little less."
This is critical for Soldiers preparing for deployments because EST real-life scenarios teach WOCs how to handle problems they may encounter in the Middle East, said CW3 Johnny McClain, primary TAC officer. The training teaches students how to react in combat situations involving civilians and unconventional warfare.
In addition to the WOCs, Murray said Advanced Individual Training students, active-duty Soldiers, chaplains' assistants and civilian tour groups also utilize EST services.