By Spc. Michael Pfaff, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kentucky Army National GuardJuly 21, 2009
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (July 21, 2009) -- Sweat is beading off his forehead. Sgt. Joshua A. Blazonis, a truck driver with the 41st Transportation Co. here, has located several threats of chemical attacks and it's of dire importance that his command and anyone else in the region know the location of such a deadly threat. Many lives are in this Soldier's hands.
He shifts in his seat and eyes the rugged-looking, green box next to him. A medusa's head of thick cables juts out of the casing and the vivid blue glow of the display illuminates Blazonis' face. Housed inside this green box is the U.S. military's most advanced global positioning technology, known as the Blue Force Tracker.
Blazonis takes the stylus pen clinging to the side of the box and begins to quickly stab the touch-screen display with it, navigating through a series of menus. When he's finished, he has just input the location of the chemical attacks and yellow blips start to populate the map on his display, pinpointing the locations of these possible threats.
Via satellite, this information is networked back to his command, and to other trucks and coalition forces in the region. Thankfully, they avoid the chemical attacks and it's quite possible Blazonis just saved someone's life.
Or, at least he would have if this were a real mission.
Blazonis isn't in his gun truck. He's in a classroom at Joint Multinational Training Command's Digital University, Europe's premier training site for digital systems used in theater by all branches of U.S. Armed Forces.
Today is day three of the five-day Blue Force Tracker course and Blazonis has just conducted an ultra-realistic training simulation designed to develop or enhance servicemembers' knowledge of operating the BFT system.
"The BFT system is used for tracking vehicles, targets, enemy positions, and other things as they appear on the battlefield," said Eddie Hill, a training instructor for digital systems at the Digital University. "The training here is extremely realistic. We put them into positions so they can actually use the system to help analyze the situation and make informed decisions about what is actually going on in the battlefield."
Training is done using the military's crawl, walk, run method and by the end of the five days, the students are conducting an operation that lasts close to four hours long.
The first phase is dedicated to introducing the BFT system and explaining how it helps troops in their working environment and the best ways to use the system. Students learn the system on a "white box" that is identical to the green box software but is housed in a more traditional computer.
Phase two is designed to teach the students how to get the system up and running and then input data into the system. And finally, by the third phase, students are learning how to customize the use of the system for their particular mission needs.
While engineered for servicemembers without any knowledge of BFT, the training is also tailored to teach combat veterans who have used the system on previous deployments about more advanced techniques for using the system.
"Having used this system for 15 months as a gun-truck commander downrange, I can tell you this training is very beneficial," Blazonis said. "There are also a lot of things that I didn't do while downrange that would have made things a lot easier that I am learning in this class."
When Blazonis finishes the course, he's issued a DVD that includes all the training he received in the class. The goal is for servicemembers to take this training back to their home unit.
The Digital University instructors have the ability to also come to the unit in the event the unit can't come to the Digital University.
"We do have the capability to take our laptops to their location, set up a classroom at their location, and they get the same training they can get in our classroom," Hill said. "We can actually export our training to their training site."
Not just limited to the BFT training, the Digital University has a treasure trove of training for units preparing to go to war.
"In and out of the European community," Hill explained, "the Joint Multinational Training Command offers the only place U.S. military personnel can come into and get the training they need for real-time situations when using the digital systems in the theater of operations."