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Simulation helps troops train

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April 16, 2003

FORT STEWART - Americans watched for weeks as Coalition forces roamed the Iraqi countryside in tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Hum-Vs. But this is what it looked like for many of those same troops just a few months ago at Fort Stewart, getting their first taste of Close Combat on virtual reality tactical trainers.

"Coming up through here, finding the enemy, they are the ears and eyes of the entire division that's behind them," Site Manager Ronnie Banks shows the grid that Military reconaissance missions work hard to map out in the field.

The terrain you see on the screen is accurate to every hill, valley, and desert oasis troops would see on a specific site. But what's always changing, is the location of the enemy.

"Keep going right, there's another one" Commander Thompson shouts out. "Put it center mast and fire."

I got in the driver's seat to see just what it's like to operate an M1 Abrams. The engine controls are much like a motorcycle, except you are laying down. The hatch is closed so you see the world around you through periscopes. The other three positions in the tank are in the turet. They are the ammunition loader, tank commander, and gunner.

"This is how they communicate with guys in back," Sergeant Thompson said.

Guard units, 3rd I.D. members or others in training like me take control of the trigger, while Sgt. Thompson has experience sitting in the commander's seat.

"I was in Desert Storm, I was a tank commander," Thompson said.

He learned on the job, calvary members now in Iraq got the benefit of fighting in different weather conditions here at Fort Stewart.

"Put the night site on there, and have him drive at night before he actually does it yes its a great learning tool." Learning from a team of trainers with more than 200 years between them doesn't hurt either. "Reengage, fire on the way, i see flames , you got a direct hit" Even I was able to hit the target.

The Army spent $40 million to build their Close Combat Training Facility at Fort Stewart six years ago. They say it's saved them money on ammunition and equipment repair, and it's probably saved a few lives too.

posted at 5:20 p.m. by dave.d'marko@walb.com