Training center takes soldiers into high-tech scenarios

Program gives military a sense of war long before they get to the battlefield

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2004

FAIRBANKS - It's an adolescent's dream and an enemy's nightmare.

They may look like video games, but some 700 computers at the newest state-of-the-art training facility at Fort Wainwright give soldiers a taste of war long before they step onto the battlefields.

"This is what you need in your living room," Dennis Jones, an engagement skills trainer, said as he walked into a large room used for target practice: Camouflage netting hangs from the ceiling, guns sit on a platform with the muzzles propped up on sandbags and pointed at a screen that covers a roughly 20-foot-long wall.

After Jones - an Army retiree with more than 21 years as a field artilleryman - brought up the program he wanted on a computer, a jungle scenario was projected onto a large wall. The trick was to try to hit the uniformed people running in and out of brush in the live-action scenario.

The guns - an assortment of M-4 automatic rifles, M-60 machine guns and a rocket launcher - have the same weight and kick as the real guns, and tiny cannon hidden by fake shrubbery in front of the shooting positions can launch small foam balls to simulate live fire.

"It forces the soldiers to keep their heads down and gets rid of that video-game mentality," Jones said.

The system tracks lasers the guns emit onto a screen and scores the aim and the kills. There are two other weapon-system simulators - one for the portable anti-tank missile Javelin system and another for calling in support fire.

"This is saving Uncle Sam a whole lot of money," Jones said. "They can learn to call for fire without the expense of real ammo."

The Terry L. Wilson Battle Command Training Center is the first of its kind, said center chief Hoyle Cook. The training center is just part of the $1.2 billion construction that is included in the transition to the Army's third Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

The brigade has roughly 4,000 soldiers - 700 of whom are stationed at Fort Richardson with the rest claiming Fort Wainwright as home.

"It's a way of training that we haven't done before. It's a way of training that many of our kids, like my son and daughter, are pretty much used to, but folks in my generation are just learning the real potential of some of this capability of what we have," said Brig. Gen. James Hirai, who spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, just 24 hours after taking command of the U.S. Army Alaska.

The center is named after Terry L. Wilson, a former Chena Hot Springs resident, who died in 1986 after surviving wounds that almost killed him in the Vietnam War.

The center cost roughly $24 million to build and has about $1.2 million worth of computers under its roof. There are 15 formal classrooms, two formal boardrooms and several computer rooms.

Soldiers will even use some computers to practice piloting a remote surveillance plane the 172nd is scheduled to get this month. A flat monitor screen shows a bird's-eye view of what the remote plane is flying over and can pick out a target in areas ahead of troops.

"They will pick out a moose at 8,000 feet," said instructor Bob Skelf. "Every hunter would love to have one of these."

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