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Fort Drum soldiers train with new simulation technology

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FORT DRUM — Thanks to new simulators made available to them Wednesday, soldiers on post will get a chance to prepare for difficult route-clearing missions they may face overseas.

The Virtual Clearance Training Suite allows soldiers to maneuver a handful of vehicles realistically through routes that can be customized by command leadership.

Robert E. Rhoades, a senior virtual training instructor, said the training allowed soldiers to learn and make mistakes without putting lives at risk.

“It’s more like a rehearsal,” Mr. Rhoades said.

The suite is housed in a small group of mobile semi-trailers on the southern portion of the post, enough space for a series of one- and two-soldier dashboards and computer screen setups. The system also trains gunners, providing them goggles that give them a full 360-degree view of their surroundings as they swivel at their stations.

On the system’s opening day on post, soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team moved in a convoy through the course, built from Google Earth data in areas where soldiers travel in Afghanistan.

“If they move a port-a-john, we can track it on here,” said Ronald D. Cooper, training support branch chief.

Spc. Christopher R. Grinstead practiced leading the artillery unit’s virtual convoy while using a dashboard representing a smaller, vehicular-mounted mine detector, also known as a Husky. In the exercise, he brought the group to a halt upon seeing a buried 155 mm howitzer round, which when found by insurgents was converted into an improvised explosive device.

Marking the spot with dye, he moved forward to allow the long arm of a trailing mine-protected clearance vehicle, also referred to as a Buffalo, to inspect the spot. As a medium mine protected vehicle, known as a Panther, guarded the convoy, a mobile robot was pushed forward by Spc. Adrian Roman to dispatch the explosive device.

Though an error in the system prevented the robot’s arm from picking up a piece of C-4 explosive to place next to the IED, the group’s observer said the group had completed enough to continue moving through its mission.

The soldiers’ progress can be viewed from multiple angles in a separate trailer. During training missions, operators can increase the difficulty by altering weather conditions along with the condition of the vehicle.

“After a few hours of driving, they may have an overheated engine, and they have to react to all of those things,” said Michael J. Smith, one of the facilitators of the training.

Spc. Francis R. Garvis, who served in the brigade’s deployment last year, said the simulator was “as close as you can get to driving in a convoy without driving in a convoy.”

He said the experience would be helpful for soldiers who had not been deployed before. “It gives you something to work from when you go out there,” he said.

Fort Drum has other simulators, such as the Close Combat Tactical Trainer vehicle, which has been on post for about two years and recently received upgrades.

Though the training suite will be based on post, the route-clearing simulators will be taken on the road temporarily starting in mid-November for use at other installations.




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