Civil Affairs Soldiers seize initiative and leverage technology
September 17, 2011
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan., Sept. 17, 2011 -- In today's budget-constrained environment, Soldiers have to be flexible and adaptable to ensure the training mission is fulfilled. That perfectly describes Kansas City's 418th Civil Affairs Battalion's response to the news that they would not receive their range ammunition for their September Battle Assembly.
"Our ammo was cancelled at the last minute," Battalion commander Lt. Col. Kevin R. Wiley said, "But our Battle Assembly wasn't. Soldiers need the training to develop and maintain their proficiency, and it's up to us to figure out a way to make the mission happen."
The answer was age-old NCO initiative and the modern technology of the Fort Leavenworth Essential Skills Trainer, or EST. The 418th Civil Affairs Battalion and Sgt. 1st Class Mark Johnson, the D Company Training noncommissioned officer has supported the EST personnel at Fort Leavenworth in the past and were able to quickly coordinate time in this state of the art facility.
The EST is a "range in a box." It is a computerized system that takes any type of weapon -- M-249, M-240B, MK-19, shotgun, M-16, M-4, M-9 -- and connects it to a virtual range. Soldiers can qualify on their assigned weapon, using actual weapons, without expending a single round. Instead they connect their weapons to the computerized system, shoot zeroing rounds, and then conduct the same qualifying course they would on the range: prone, kneeling, standing.
Johnson has coordinated with Fort Leavenworth for years, having attended training on the EST in 2009. He quickly "trained the trainer," building a team of Soldiers who knew how to use this capability. He explained how the computerized backdrops can be selected from many real ranges, such as those at Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Dix. Soldiers can select a variety of conditions, including fog, darkness for night fire, wind, and different types of recoil.
The EST does not just allow Soldiers to qualify on the range, it also has force protection scenario training involving crowded markets, panicked hostages and rioting civilians. Soldiers must quickly decide to shoot or not shoot and operate as a team, making split-second decisions that have life-or-death implications.
"The scenario training is very Civil Affairs related," Johnson said. "We can practice rules of engagement and escalation of force. These are the situations we're going to be facing in theater."
First Lt. Shayla Sparks, the battalion supply officer and one of those trained by Johnson, demonstrated the range and a variety of scenarios.
"The EST is time and cost efficient because you're not burning actual rounds," Sparks said. "You can get everyone qualified and then move on to the real world scenarios like dealing with angry villagers and hostage situations."
Ninety percent of the Soldiers trained were qualified on the M-16, making this a successful training day for the 418th CA Bn.