By Rob MartinezMarch 26, 2007
It's not quite the Holodeck on Star Trek's U.S.S. Enterprise, but it's bigger and better than your average video game, especially if you like a screen the size of a wall. With real-time video action and realistic sound effects, the Engagement Skills 2000 trainer serves as an effective training tool, and it's the realistic sound effects that are of interest to Soldiers of the 18th Military Police Detachment, Canine Section here.
Military working dog teams conducted noise sensitivity training in the EST2000 trainer, Wednesday.
The EST2000 provides interactive training enabling Soldiers to link real weapons into a system that provides various digital video scenarios, creating a sense of what Warfighters may face when deployed.
During this particular training, Soldiers hone their weapons skills and simultaneously work with their specialized search dogs, and the dogs become accustomed to the sounds of battle.
"This training is great. It helps us as a team, and it also helps us in qualifying with our own weapons," said Sgt. James Adolfson, who came to train with his dog, J.R., a German Shepherd, along with Anka, a Belgian Malinois.
These MPs and their canine comrades conduct missions on Fort Huachuca, and deploy in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, as well.
While deployed to Afghanistan, members of such a team from the Fort were injured by an improvised explosive device that hit their vehicle. Staff Sgt. Ruben Alaniz and his canine partner Anka suffered slight concussions. According to Alaniz, this may have affected the specialized search dog who has grown hesitant in performing her duties. She has also become slightly aggressive, a characteristic not conducive to fulfilling her mission.
Anka is trained to search for explosives and weapons caches, and continued her mission in Afghanistan, finding a number of explosive devices. But, her impeded performance became a concern.
According to Alaniz, the veterinarian in Afghanistan recommended that she return home to rest and recuperate, so the team returned to Fort Huachuca.
Part of the recuperation process is to expose Anka to the sounds of battle - single shots, multiple bursts, and fire from an automatic weapon as well as the sounds of IEDs, mortars or rocket-propelled grenades exploding nearby.
The EST 2000 worked out.
Master Sgt. James Knight, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the training facility, said that the canine teams' training is in addition to regular training sessions with the 18th MP Detachment.
"When we have open time ... we'll bring the dogs over and let them work. We have a couple that are deploying, a couple that are coming back, and ... the one that's in rehab, so it works out to be a pretty good situation," Knight said.
As with humans, confidence is important for performance. And dogs are no different than humans concerning the adverse affects of battle, such as the concussion Anka suffered.
While J.R.'s training is intended to prepare - becoming accustomed to battle sounds - Anka's is geared toward rehabilitation.
Within the customized building located in "Old Post," Knight dimmed the lights to heighten the effect of the trainer as it simulated a dawn attack. The Soldiers lay in a prone position; their weapons propped up on sand bags, and waited for enemy soldiers to creep out of the forest scenario.
As images of the enemy appeared on the screen, the Soldiers engaged them with fire from M-16s and an M-60 machine gun, and blasts from an M203 grenade launcher. The realistic sounds of gunfire and explosions filled the area, and Knight periodically yelled instructions, directing fire.
Adolfson and J.R. crept onto the set, in between two Soldiers. Adolfson coaxed J.R. to move forward, closer to where the Soldiers had their weapons, calming him by whispering encouraging words and petting him.
The two huddled closely behind the sandbags, and Adolfson calmed J.R. whenever he became agitated during the firefight.
Later, the two teams took turns firing the weapons themselves, still working with their dogs.
Sgt. James Adolfson and J.R. are preparing for deployment in June, J.R.'s first time.
Anka is progressing, Alaniz said, and he expects she will soon be ready to deploy.