PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- Video games have been popular since the 1970's.
The U.S. military has tried to capitalize on this trend by creating a training program for their military members after realizing the gamer culture has become ingrained into this and future generations of citizens.
That change transformed most major simulation training in the military to create a fighting force capable of handling their real-world counterparts.
Practicality has always been an issue with training military members: scheduling for ranges, transportation to the sites, acquiring necessary equipment such as ammunition, and most important--time.
Time is something the students at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center need in order to pass their classes and ultimately the Defense Language Proficiency Test.
Training around seven-hour school days that require another several hours of study or homework can be hard on the students here who have to keep up with not only their academic work but their tactical prowess.
So the Army brings in the next best thing, simulators. For the Presidio of Monterey and DLI, they are the Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) and the Virtual Convoy Operations Trainer (VCOT).
Located behind one of the barracks, the EST and VCOT are easily accessible, near-authentic training aids for the students and other military members who need to brush up on specific tactical tasks -- as long as Lisa Jewett knows about it.
Jewett, a former Army pilot currently working as the POM/DLI training/instructor, coordinates and operates the virtual simulation systems.
"We see a lot of students just getting out of basic training that have probably only touched their weapon once their entire career," she said.
The EST can simulate most of the military's firearms, from the basic rifles to the heavy duty machine-guns, said Jewett.
"They have sound and recoil so that the Soldiers can have a reaction like real weapons fire," Jewett said.
Jewett said that the EST has more functions than just "practice fire" for marksmanship qualification.
"There's more to it that just marksmanship, there's scenarios like "shoot - don't shoot," where they test their ability to not fire on non-combatants, urban operations in Iraq, domestic disturbances and even Naval Maritime Operations on a boat," Jewett said.
After months of training with the simulators and basic rifle marksmanship tasks, the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion accomplished something noteworthy in Army student marksmanship: 133 out of 135 Soldiers qualified with their weapon, with 50 percent of the battalion making it past the Sharpshooter level of marksmanship (hitting over 30 out of 40 targets).
The simulator is limited only by what type of program has been uploaded into it and is tailored somewhat to the Joint arena, language-skills-based atmosphere and current wartime activities, Jewett said.
"Especially good for the students here, we have the enemy combatants speaking foreign languages, like Arabic," said Jewett. "So it can help with their listening skills to understand what the enemy is saying."
"It is also a collective trainer, where you can have all the lanes participate in all types of weather like snow or rain," Jewett said. They can also progress from there and plan out things like sectors of fires."
The VCOT takes collective training a step further by allowing the military members to assume different roles in combat scenarios. From driver to convoy commander, turret gunner to dismounted combatant, the students do all this in real time in a virtual scenario, using communications and tactical prowess to get them through the course.
"We can simulate the operations in places like Baghdad, Tikrit and set up the scenarios by levels, novice to expert," Jewett said. "Drivers and gunners are also in a 360-degree real-world scenario."
The training is used for the students' familiarization in those roles, so when they get to their units after graduation they won't get lost Jewett said.
Staff Sgt. Nathan Early, a F Co., 229th Military Intelligence Battalion platoon sergeant, said he believes the simulators present themselves more realistically versus just going out to a field and pretending you are in a vehicle or out in the desert.
"It gives the Soldiers a small taste of what it's like to be in a hostile environment in combat," Early said
Because of the interactive nature of the simulators, most of the students of the "X-box" generation expressed their preference for using the simulators, rather than playing with their own game consoles, Jewett said.
"They aren't using joysticks for control, but have an actual (weapons) station."
However, Jewett said the simulators are used basically as stepping stones for students to help build confidence.
Experienced platoon sergeants can watch the students as they perform and give advice or correct actions via a video wrap-up style after actions review.
"(Plus) it's fun, because it is like a video game," Early said. "Even though it is not, it is a training tool."
"It is (hard to get away) from the fact that it is like a video game," he added.
Even with all the advances that technology has to offer the newer generation of military members, Jewett said that the value of going to ranges or participating in a vehicle convoy can't be replaced.
"Nothing beats the real thing. Hands-on training is the best way to teach," Jewett said.
"But if you can't have that, this is the next best thing."