FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Army News Service, May 18, 2010) -- In a virtual Afghan village, the American Soldier approaches the local leader aggressively, gripping his weapon diagonally in front of him. The leader turns his head sharply to the side, pushing his hand forward to signal for the Soldier to stop.

Then there's the replay - same scene with the Soldier walking respectfully toward the leader, his weapon slung across his back. This time the village leader nods toward the Soldier and gives the traditional hand-over-the-heart greeting followed by a handshake and kiss on the cheek.

More than just a video game, Virtual BattleSpace 2 training gives American Soldiers the opportunity to virtually experience both battle and peacetime scenarios - and see how their actions affect the outcome.

Chicago Public School District representatives met recently with Combined Arms Center-Training team members here, to learn first-hand about the Army's approach to virtual training. Their goal as members of the school district's Office of School Turnaround was to learn about possible approaches to help prepare teachers and administrators to succeed in the windy city's toughest schools.

Robert Munsey, an Army gaming analyst, talked with the Chicago visitors about how VBS2 allows units to focus training on their weaknesses rather than strengths. "Our Soldiers know how to shoot, but they may not always understand when to shoot - or not to shoot," he said. "Was there a hostile act' With VBS2, we train on their weaknesses."

The Chicago Public School representatives called the demonstration and discussion "very helpful." Erin Peterson, who will be developing the district's new technology approach, indicated the development team plans to start small and simple. "It's good to know what the possibilities are," she said, adding that the VBS2 examples and information will help ensure the efforts are truly effective.

The Chicago Public Schools team members appreciated the basic features of virtual training but were even more interested in the low overhead once the basic scenarios are created. For example, one or two people could run a broad scenario involving faculty and staff in multiple schools and potentially even local emergency responders.

The Combined Arms Center-Training representatives also demonstrated the Army's MilGaming Portal, (https://milgaming.army.mil), an online forum where individuals can share VBS2 and other gaming lessons learned and find helpful tools and information. The portal is open to anyone with a military CAC card. The Chicago Public Schools team members were very interested in this wiki-type approach to making resources available.

"We need to make it so people are constantly growing," said Dr. Donald Fraynd, Turnaround Officer for the Chicago Public Schools. "Our teachers and administrators need to be able to go into an uncomfortable space and know they won't get fired if they make the wrong decision," he said, adding that virtual training would offer that safe opportunity to learn.

Lt. Col. Paul E. Funk II, who directs Combined Arms Center-Training, sees virtual training and simulations as key tools to help prepare Soldiers for a variety of experiences in a range of environments.

"Virtual training will never take the place of live training, but it's a great way to focus on the fundamentals and make sure our Soldiers and units get them right," he said. Plus virtual training has the advantage of being less expensive than live training and available anywhere, with the added benefit that leaders and participants can repeat scenarios again and again until the participants master the fundamentals.

(Diane R. Walker serves with Army Combined Arms Center-Training public affairs.)

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