FORT STEWART, Ga. - Students in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Bluffton High School in Bluffton, South Carolina, visited Fort Stewart, July 29, to get a glimpse at soldier life, and encountered a Gold Star family of a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice.The tour began at Evans Army Airfield's Mission Training Center, where the students had a hands-on demonstration of the dismounted soldier training system, or DSTS, and the Virtual Battlespace 3, also known as the VBS3.The DSTS is a software and hardware-based virtual reality system that gives the user an immersed experience of military training because it is integrated with common military equipment worn during military operations.The head mounted portion of the system provides the wearer with monitors that block out distractions and tracks head motion to allow users to explore the environment by looking around. There are sensors that are strapped to the legs, arms, and hands to direct a virtual character to do things like kneel, lie down, use weapons, and open doors.The VBS3 computer lab is designed to be similar to many popular first-person shooter video games, but the VBS3 can be custom tailored to any specific mission a commander desires. Soldiers can train on scenarios over and over, without the added risk of physical injury, and without the cost of using, and potentially damaging, vehicles and equipment.After the demonstration the JROTC cadets visited the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division's compound where they had lunch at the Vanguard Dining Facility. Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Owens, the DFAC manager, welcomed the students.When Owens learned that Bluffton's JROTC had won the Superintendent's Cup for their region, he was even more excited to tell them about the achievements of the Vanguard DFAC."Champions serving champions," said Owens. "It's what we do over here; we win."Owens went on to tell the students about some of the awards and achievements 4th IBCT's culinary soldiers have earned since their facilities opened four years ago.Following lunch, the students were given a walkthrough of the Vanguard gym, which is scheduled to be dedicated, Aug. 26, in honor of Pfc. Charles R. Johnson, a 3rd ID hero from the Korean War.The next stop was the barracks, a dorm-style housing complex provided for single soldiers in Vanguard Brigade, which was very different from what the students or their instructors expected.
"I think I may have had a room this size once," joked retired Lt. Col. John Carothers, the senior military instructor at Bluffton, "but I also had a roommate," he added.The final stop on the tour had a more bittersweet feeling as the students arrived at Warrior's Walk, Fort Stewart's living memorial to the fallen soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A tree is planted along the walkway for each soldier of 3rd ID who was killed in action since 2001.Charles and Barbara Bilbrey, a Gold Star Family who were also visiting Warrior's Walk, greeted the students. They were there to honor Spc. Charles Bilbrey Jr., their son who died in Iraq in 2007 while assigned to 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, The Bilbreys talked about their son around the tree dedicated in his honor."Our last visit every year is always very emotional and usually sad, but this was a much more uplifting experience," said Mrs. Bilbrey. "That was a wonderful group of kids and I was glad to share Charlie with them.""It is a great opportunity for a family that wants to share their son or daughter, their hero's story, to be able to do that," said Capt. Jonathan Malabre, 4th IBCT, 3rd ID's community relations chief. "It's very heartwarming that [the Bilbreys] were able to share their happy memories."Warrior's Walk marked the end of the tour as students boarded the bus for the ride back to Bluffton, with a better understanding of soldier life, and the appreciation of a fallen soldier's mother.