How do Soldiers stay ready while maintaining social distancing? For the Tankers of D Troop, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, you turn to online gaming.
Simulations and gaming are nothing new to training in the Army. Tank crews train in multiple virtual environments including using the Close Combat Tactical Trainer and Advanced Gunnery Training Systems. But with the current pandemic, leaders had to find inventive ways to train their Soldiers.
Over the last few weeks these Troopers have been conducting various training events using an online game which simulates various military equipment including tanks.
“The idea came about after limitations were placed on training opportunities in order to protect the force,” said troop commander Capt. Mike Manougian. “We have a lot of Soldiers who enjoy video games on their free time, talking with many of them we found out that a lot played tank games and so we began exploring opportunities.”
The leaders got together and looked at the various options available and after testing a few determined which games met their needs and gave them the best chance to train and maintain readiness.
“We are able use the game as a teaching tool for each crew member,” said Staff Sgt. Tommy Huynh, a section leader in 3rd platoon. “For example, drivers can train on maneuver formations and change formation drills. Of course online games have their limitations, but for young Soldiers it helps them to just understand the basics of their job.”
A typical session will start with a brief from the section leader or platoon leader followed by rehearsals. It will also include required readings from training manuals. The crews then will meet up online and execute the training for that day. Following the training they will conduct an after action review to discuss lessons learned and ways to improve.
“It’s great, we get a lot of questions and feedback,” said Huynh. “I’m not sure if it is because of the distributed nature of it or if it is because they are seeing things from a different perspective, but my Soldiers are speaking up and sharing their thoughts and ideas.”
There are restrictions placed on the Soldiers, after all this is a training event meant to develop skills. So they use a free gaming voice app and leaders give voice commands just as if in a real simulator. They also have to use proper call-for-fire procedures before actually using artillery in the game.
While a good substitute, the online experience doesn’t replace the simulators that the Army uses according to Sgt. David Ose, a section leader with 1st platoon. “It does help our younger Soldiers get an idea of the bigger picture,” he said. “While things like CCTT are good for learning your job and switchology, this experience helps them see the why behind what we do.”
The game gives the perspective from the commander’s hatch and from the gunner’s seat. Ose said that, for instance, a young driver may not understand why he must move the tank forward and backward in the battle position rather than staying up. “But being exposed to other viewpoints through the game is extremely helpful.”
“It also helps their understanding of some of the tactical decision making of their leaders,” Manougian said. “I was talking with a young gunner the other day who was using a tank with limited gun depression and he saw how other players were able to use that against him with reverse slope defenses.”
The Troop recently turned in its tanks upon its return from a rotation to South Korea. They are currently awaiting the newest version of the M1A2. So, for some of the newer Soldiers to the unit there are greater limitations on building knowledge.
“The game uses historical tanks so I have taken this opportunity to help my young Soldiers understand the M1A2 and the history of tanks in general,” said Spec. Zachary Henson a tank gunner. “I watched my loader play the other day and I have been able to teach him some of the things that maybe aren’t apparent in the game such as the basics of the M1 like protection and maneuver capabilities.”
According to Manougian the training has had an added side-effect by keeping Soldiers engaged and interacting with each other even while separated. “In addition to training in controlled private matches many of our Soldiers have been playing the game together outside of the duty day," he said.
The Troop is preparing for its culminating event in the game with a platoon versus platoon fight. One platoon will be in the defense and have to conduct engagement area development while the other platoon conducts an attack. The Troops’ headquarters element will even be involved by taking reports and tracking movements and battle damage.
“This offers an excellent opportunity to improve crew-level proficiency for each crew member as well as repetitions in the troop leading procedures and orders process,” Manougian said. “It will allow us to come out of shelter in place more proficient as tank crews and ready to maximize training in CCTT and new equipment training when we receive our new tanks.”