Guardsmen use computer simulations to prepare for deployment

Soldiers of the 1138th Engineer Sapper Company use Virtual Battlespace 2 to create realistic route clearance scenarios and practice team building.

By M. Queiser

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - To prepare for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Soldiers of the 1138th Engineer Sapper Company use Virtual Battlespace 2 to create realistic route clearance scenarios and practice team building.

"The simulations allowed our Soldiers to operate vehicles and weapons while getting an idea of a real world scenario," said Sgt. 1st Class James McClarney, a platoon sergeant for the unit.

In the battlefield simulation, Soldiers must ensure the freedom of movement of NATO forces within their area of operation. Using nine vehicles in a convoy, Soldiers worked as a platoon to look for improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, along a highway between two forward operating bases.

The Soldiers have everything they'll use in theater available in the simulation: two Husky Mounted Detection Systems, or Husky, a one-man vehicle with ground penetrating radar; two Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles, or Buffaloes; gyro cameras for long-distance spotting, and several rifle systems.

The benefits of using the technology allows the Soldiers to not go into situations blind and can use all the tools to see ahead and surprise the enemy and not the other way around.

"It's good to use the equipment because it saves lives," 2nd Lt. Perry Hoffman told his Soldiers. "But you have to be sure to use it to the best advantage."

With each mission, the Soldiers get to fulfill and switch between different roles, from driver, passenger, Husky or Buffalo operator, or gunner.

The simulation gives the Soldiers the opportunity to see the different jobs and perspectives while on a mission, said McClarney.

"Sometimes you get to see something happen," said McClarney. "Sometimes you're in the back vehicle just listening."

To make the simulation as realistic as possible, the Soldiers gave call signs for every vehicle and used a radio system to relay information between team, squad and platoon leaders.

"Everybody sees something different and nobody sees everything at once," said Spc. Jason Dane, who was a truck commander for one of the missions.

Soldiers relay information on the condition of the road, in particular any signs of a possible IED, and movement of other people on or off the road around them.

When approaching bridges, culverts and villages the Soldiers have to use extreme caution while following the rules of engagement.

On one mission their convoy is attacked while approaching a small village. The Soldiers had to quickly react to the threat but maintain their security and situational awareness. It's important they don't have tunnel vision and continue to watch for signs of IEDs that they could be distract from and lead into.

One of the greatest benefits the simulation offers is the opportunity for the Soldiers to learn at their own speed the correct way to investigate possible IEDs.

They also get to share each other's knowledge and experience.

"You want to leave the explosives in front of your vehicle," Staff Sgt. Mike Johnson advised his Buffalo drivers.

As they approach an IED, the drives use the vehicle's fitted remote arm to get a closer look.

"If it goes off, it takes out the arm and the shrapnel has to go through the engine," said Johnson.

The vehicle may be lost, but the Soldiers increase their chances of survival by following his advice.

McClarney was impressed by the Soldiers' positive response to the simulations.

"They talked through everything," said McClarney. "They made sure to identify problems and come up with solutions."

With each mission, the Soldiers were faster and better and spotting suspicious activity or materials, inspecting and reporting everything up their chain of command.

"The training was really good for our team building," said Spc. Chris Hawkins, who was a Buffalo arm operator for one of the missions. "This was the next best thing to being out in the field."

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