FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Horizontal Construction Engineer trainees on Fort Leonard Wood are now able to hone their heavy equipment skills before ever sitting in the real thing by practicing in the 554th Engineer Battalion Horizontal Skills Division’s new simulators, located at Training Area 244.
The five new kinds of construction engineer visual trainers simulate operating equipment, such as bulldozers, hydraulic excavators , bucket loaders, scrapers and graders, said David Neese, chief of the HSD.
Delivery of the new simulators is coming in stages, starting in June of last year. All 176 new simulators are expected to be on post by February of 2024, Neese said.
This will be the first-time having simulators for some of the equipment, such as the scrapers, Neese explained. He said for the others getting replaced, the upgrade is significant.
“The simulators we had before only had one screen in the front. The new CEVT has better graphics and more viewing screens,” Neese said. “The new simulators have two screens in the front and two in the back. Now, the operator can see what is going on behind them.”
Neese said having screens behind the operators in training is a critical improvement to maintaining their safety standards.
“When the student can look behind them and see the screens as they are simulating moving backwards, it is training the student how important it is to look behind you when you are moving in reverse to avoid hitting someone or something,” Neese said.
An additional screen improvement allows the instructors to change conditions to make it look like it is raining, snowing, foggy or dark outside.
“That is important because operators are going to have to work in all kinds of different weather,” he said.
The new CEVTs also have motion, making the experience even more real for the students, Neese said.
“The simulators move like the equipment would move when they are actually operating it,” he added.
Neese said the new simulators were specifically designed for today’s students.
“The biggest challenge for us is getting them to overcome their fear. The real equipment is large and noisy and cumbersome,” Neese said. “A lot of our students are from urban areas; they don’t know how to drive and don’t understand watching where they are going. Most of them haven’t even driven a riding lawnmower.”
Neese said another positive thing about the new simulators is giving the students the ability to practice back-to-back renditions of the same task.
“That transfer of knowledge gives that student a head start with the real equipment,” Neese said. “Usually, the student is successful on the task in the real equipment on the first or second attempt.”
Pvt. Kavon Jones, with Company A, 554th Engineer Battalion, said this is the first time he has ever operated construction equipment and is glad he had the simulators to practice on.
“It makes it less scary. The simulators have helped me develop my muscle memory. When I got in the equipment for a test, everything came naturally for me. I had no problems at all with the equipment after practicing in the simulators,” Jones said.
Navy Seaman Recruit Peter Morrissey, with the Fort Leonard Wood Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Detachment, agreed. He has been using the CEVTs for two weeks.
“I feel like these do a good job of letting us practice every little thing with the controls. My muscle memory kicks in when I get in the actual equipment,” Morrissey said.
According to Neese, all four branches of service here will be using the new CEVTs, and the HSD is scheduled to also receive several new crane training simulators for students learning the additional skill identifier of crane operator.