Virtual Counter IED system enhancing training in Europe
April 19, 2011
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany, April 12, 2011 -- The air was thick with the stench of bomb chemicals when the Soldiers walked into the room.
Their breathing became labored, their eyes began to water and someone sneezed as he realized he was standing in a bomb-making lab.
Fortunately for them, this was just a simulation.
Soldiers from Baumholder, Germany, were attending the Multicultural Mobile Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Interactive Trainer, or McMCIT, at the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany, April 12.
The simulation cell exercise was designed to familiarize Soldiers with what bomb-making materials smell like so they are more easily recognizable when military members conduct searches in homes while downrange.
The McCIT, which has been funded by the Joint IED Defeat Organization, is a state-of-the-art mobile training system and the only kind in the world made available to all U.S., NATO and coalition Soldiers.
Consisting of four cells, the McMCIT helps Soldiers gain enemy perspective and shows them what to watch out for during convoy operations - all without setting foot in a classroom.
"It's a memory game," said Allen D. Drew, the site lead of the McCIT. "These four cells are designed to give Soldiers visual cues so they can see right away when something is not right - whether it's while they are conducting patrols or searches."
The first cell shows examples of the five components of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, with the theme "IEDs are nothing new."
Displayed on the walls, in glass cases, are bomb vests that are broken down to see each part of how a suicide bomber's vest functions.
The vest models were designed by retired Command Sgt. Maj. Hideshi Sasaki, after he deployed with his unit and lost 18 of his Soldiers from suicide bombers.
"He decided enough was enough and after studying the makings of the suicide bomber vest, developed the model for other Soldiers to study and understand, so they do not have the same fate as his Soldiers," Drew said.
The main importance of this cell is to understand the many components of IEDs and the different categories.
Drew also stresses that anything can be made into an IED and that is why Soldiers must conduct situational awareness, "Take 9/11 for example - was that not an IED'"
Proceeding into the second cell, Soldiers gain an understanding of the odors associated with bomb-making chemicals, as well as seeing the many items which are used to make a homemade bomb.
Designed to mimic the home of an al-Qaida member, the moment the door is shut, the lights dim and the Soldiers are greeted with a video image of a man in Middle Eastern garb.
He is speaking Arabic, but Soldiers can follow along with the English subtitles provided.
The Soldiers watch with solemn faces, some with looks of hatred, as the man on the screen describes how to kill the maximum amount of Soldiers with the minimum amount of force through the use of IEDs.
Once the video segment ends, the lights come back on and Soldiers walk through the cell and observe the materials used to make bombs, including examples of sacks of chemicals with Arabic on the front describing the contents.
To test what they have learned, the Soldiers must take an electronic quiz which records their answers and gives them a score at the end.
"It's a lot of information, but the visual pieces help - especially for Soldiers who have never been deployed," said Sgt. Ian Nickerson, an infantryman from the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 470th Armor Battalion from Baumholder, Germany. "Classroom lecture is not enough. Soldiers can only sit through so much of that and hardly retain anything at all."
In the third cell, Soldiers go back to their own realm, with a trailer set up to look like a command post.
The lights dim again, only this time an American Soldier appears on the screen giving an operation order, which prepares the Soldiers to execute a mission in the fourth cell.
Here, Soldiers can retain more insight into the pieces needed to complete a successful convoy mission.
From communications systems to understanding and remembering information, Soldiers familiarize themselves with replicas of communication systems used for convoy operations.
"This is not a reflex trainer. This is a motorized trainer," Drew said. "This is just to see how well the Soldier can pay attention and analyze a situation."
In the fourth cell, two simulated Humvees are set up one in front of the other.
Designed to look like a convoy, the Soldiers sit in the simulators, placing the headsets on and conduct a convoy operation together in one gaming system.
On the other side of the narrow cell is the insurgent's area.
Soldiers take turns role-playing this part to engage as the enemy, where they attempt to intercept the convoy mission.
Scrambling over who gets to play which position first, the Soldiers excitedly grab the controllers as though they are getting ready to play a video game back in the barracks.
"These might look like Playstation controllers," Staff Sgt. Amador Sanchez, a Counter-IED instructor for Theater Specific Individual Readiness Training said loudly over the commotion in the room, "but the system is designed to potentially save you or your battle buddy's life."
The Soldiers portraying insurgents in the game simulator eagerly get into their positions and watch their individual screens, while waiting to attack the convoy approaching.
On the other side, the Soldiers conducting the convoy mission are intensely engaged as they communicate on their headsets.
There are 16 different real-life scenarios to choose from, all from different parts of the world, four of which are from the U.S.
In this exercise, the Soldiers are driving through an Iraqi village in search of terrorists and roadside bombs.
One of the vehicles is struck by an IED and radio communication from the convoying Soldiers and animated voices from the "insurgent" Soldiers erupts in the room.
The surviving vehicle stops and engages in enemy fire and the simulation ends.
The Soldiers join Sanchez in front of a large touch screen monitor where he conducts their after-action review.
Both sides are scored on a point system and -- based on outcomes such as avoiding an IED for coalition members, or taking out a gunner for the insurgent role player - their point total helps assess their success in the scenario.
While the McMCIT is located in Granfenwoehr, it is capable of mobilizing and being moved to other countries to train U.S., NATO and coalition Soldiers, and currently, the course is offered in English, Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian.
Training conducted by the JMTC is unique due to its advanced technological capabilities, as well as being the only location in the world that offers training such as McMCIT, where it can be assured that U.S., NATO and coalition forces are fully capable of dominating full-spectrum operations to support USAEUR's global requirements and USEUCOM's strategy of active security.
Just like all JMTC courses, the curriculum for this course is frequently updated to meet multicultural and battlefield nuances to ensure students get the best instruction possible.
"The courses here adapt by experiences and new-found information from our units downrange," said Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Hudson, a Combat Skill Training Branch Counter-IED Course manager and instructor. "So, when Soldiers come across an insurgent's change in tactics, we adjust fire on our end and make the necessary alterations so that our training is always kept current."
Training nearly 100 Soldiers per day, the McMCIT provides them with leadership development and, ultimately, prepares them for deployments to Afghanistan.
"I'm new to the Army and have never been deployed," said Pfc. Allen Ellis, an infantryman from 218th Infantry Battalion, Baumholder, Germany. "To be able to get this kind of training where I learn to think like an insurgent, will really help me when I do go downrange."