There is only one way to keep basic military skills sharp: practice.

But what happens when units don't have the time, money or resources to train? That's where the new age of digital simulation training comes in handy.

The Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 allows service members to replicate marksmanship experience quickly, with instant feedback on performance and none of the added costs of expendable supplies normally associated with similar training.

With a large screen that interacts with training aids and displays a multitude of training scenarios, it is easy for troops to receive the most realistic practice possible, said Jerry S. McKinney, a senior instructor for the EST 2000 at Fort Bliss, Texas.

"In today's military, simulation is the key because we don't always have money for these different things," said the retired Army veteran of 22 years. "We didn't have this kind of stuff when I was in the military. There is absolutely nothing that comes closer to live training than the EST 2000."

Unfortunately, not all service members are stationed in an area with such training facilities, so when approximately 450 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines came to Fort Bliss for Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise 2014, the EST 2000 easily found its way onto the training calendar, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Tariq J. Malveaux, a contracting specialist with the 634th Senior Contingency Contracting Team in Mobile, Ala.

"We don't get a lot of time to go to ranges, but coming here (to OCSJX-14) allows us to stay proficient," said Malveaux. "The closest installation to us is Fort Rucker in Colorado, so we'd have to go (on temporary duty status) to train anyway. So it's not a real added benefit if you're going TDY for just one basic task."

Even though the OCSJX-14 focus was natural disaster relief, the added training value of the EST 2000 was a cost-effective way to fulfill all of the participants' annual training requirements, build camaraderie and prepare them for any assignment they might receive, said Army Lt. Col. Bryan K. Preer, a contracting officer with the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans.

"In a real-life scenario, you will have to be trained before you can deploy to wherever you're going," said Preer. "By going through this training now, you're getting it out of the way, speeding up response times."

Those contracting specialists can arrive anywhere in the world and start working as soon as they get there, he added.

"Preparation -- that's really what we're doing here," said Preer. "Even if they had to take this training again for some reason, they will already be practiced and will spend less time."
For some OCSJX-14 participants, this was their first time ever getting to use the EST 2000, and the feedback was very positive.

"For all the places I've ever been stationed, we've never had these types of facilities," said Navy Lt. Ben M. Li, a supply corps officer for the Fleet Logistic Center at Bremerton, Wa. "It's awesome. A 10 out of 10. There was a huge variety. They had a moving target, popup target, flashing target, things you can't do with a paper target."

Beyond that, there was also a huge advantage to bringing all of the different military services together to train as one, Li added.

"Everybody has different skill sets," he said. "If I never had my counterparts in the Air Force and Army, then I would probably never have learned all of the things I know now. Being here, I learn something new each day."

Perhaps the true benefit of OCSJX-14 and all of the training accompanied with it is the joint-force training experience each service member receives, said McKinney, who has witnessed three iterations.

"The benefit is that you have every force here, and everybody is doing the same exact thing," said McKinney. "You just don't get a chance to do that at your brigade or at your unit. By everybody coming here, they get to interact with one another, so when they deploy, they deploy as a team."

When all was said and done, every OCSJX-14 service member received a chance to use the EST 2000 and refresh their military craft by utilizing Fort Bliss' training facilities, before switching gears to hone their operational contracting support skills during the formal OCSJX-14 exercise the following week.

"The exercise as a whole, including the warrior tasks training, is a huge benefit, especially to newer contracting specialists," said Malveaux. "This is my fourth time here, and I always leave feeling more confident."