FORT JACKSON, SC -- This is the year of the avatar.

That's according to some of Fort Jackson's premier simulation trainers, who say that just like James Cameron's blockbuster film smashed its box-office competitors on the big screen, some of the Army's newest Soldiers will learn to annihilate U.S. enemies via training they get on small screens.

Soldiers who rotate through the 187th Ordnance Battalion Advanced Individual Training, the Soldier Support Institute NCO Academy and Basic Officers Leadership Course now have the opportunity to master basic as well as some advanced combat skills using Army's most modern virtual technology on their laptops.

Using the Virtual Battlespace 2, or VBS2, a fully interactive, three-dimensional computer system resembling the modern-day video game, Soldiers train in virtual synthetic environments that mirror real world situations typically faced by Soldiers deployed in areas such Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Virtual Battlespace 2 allows Soldiers to conduct operations in a virtual environment using different weapons systems and unit SOPs, with no overhead, no costs, no possibility of getting hurt or getting equipment damaged," said James McCartney, VBS2 instructor for the Soldier Support Institute Battle Command Training Facility.

"Soldiers can train on everything from mounted to dismounted operations, call for fire, terrain navigation, language skills - various operations," McCartney said. "They're only limited by their imaginations."

Fielded here at Fort Jackson by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization about 15 months ago, the VBS2 is currently being used to teach proper convoy operations and procedures, as well as how to counter IEDs while on a mission in the SSI's BOLC. The 187th Ord. Bn. AIT Soldiers are just getting started using the program for basic convoy operations training this week.

Capt. Brian Ramirez, commander of Company D, 187th Ord. Bn. said it is a great learning opportunity for the inexperienced Soldiers.

"It's more advanced training than most Soldiers have ever received," Ramirez said. "The Soldiers get the chance to learn how things are supposed to be done, and learn in a safe setting what exactly they did, how things may have gone wrong and how they improve things in the next situation."

The training units are tasked to simulate Humvee platforms where Soldiers are divided into groups of four, role-playing drivers, tank commanders, gunners and passengers. The Soldiers don headsets to communicate with each other and use special keystrokes to maneuver or fire weapons during each exercise. The driver of each virtual vehicle is outfitted with a steering wheel and pedals, recreating the actual feel for driving.

"It's very realistic training," McCartney said. "The system itself has ambient sound and lighting, including the time of day and weather conditions. The weapons systems in the vehicles are mathematically sound; the (computations) that come into play for weapon trajectory, round-kill radius - they're remarkable.

Second Lt. Matthew Alban, a Soldier with the Minnesota National Guard who is attending the Adjutant General BOLC and participated in a virtual convoy operations exercise Tuesday, said once he put his gear on, the realism of the program put him in the mindset that he was conducting a real convoy.

"When you first put the headset on, the only thing you hear is the engine, much like you would in a real Humvee," Alban said. "And when you look at the computer screen, it's like you're actually looking through a windshield and you can imagine yourself driving in this vehicle.

"At first it's almost like you're playing a game," he continued, "but as a convoy commander it became really intense for me because I was looking at a map and at a blue force tracker, which is probably what I would really be doing in a similar situation."

Andre Jackson, lead instructor for the Battle Command Training Facility, said the main difference between VSB2 and some of the commercial, off-the-shelf gaming engines that consumers play at home is that although some VSB2 scenarios may be canned, most are actually built into the system to support a commander's intent.

"We can recreate events in theater almost identical to the actual scenario," Jackson said. "In effect, commanders can call up areas their Soldiers will likely deploy and have them practice driving the exact routes currently at those locations. They can add in things like indirect fire, sniper fire or IEDs. It has endless capabilities. You can apply it to so many things."

The Army offers a VBS2 Lite version of the virtual software, downloadable for Soldiers with CAC cards through Army Knowledge Online. McCartney said that version does not have all the capabilities of the full version, but the Soldiers can use it to become familiar with the training provided at Fort Jackson and throughout the Army.

Page last updated Thu May 27th, 2010 at 07:56