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Marines role-play Iraq missions

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 3/11/2004

Story by Lance Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.(March 11, 2004) -- It's Saturday morning and a bunch of Marines are huddled around computers in separate rooms, battling each other. But this is no arcade, and they're not playing video games. They're preparing for redeployment to Iraq by using computer-aided, combat simulation systems at the I Marine Expeditionary Force's Battle Simulation Center.

"The BCS is an effective initial training tool with lots of real-world applications," said Thomas Buscemi, BSC director for I MEF.

It's all about preparing Marines for combat, he said. Or, in the case of redeployment to Iraq, force-protection and antiterrorism roles. The training benefits those who man combat operations centers, or war rooms. It also benefits front-line warfighters by providing "virtual small-unit tactical training," Buscemi said.

The simulation center comprises a series of rooms, each dotted with maps, phones and a set of simulation workstations showing terrain and the forces being commanded. Commanders determine the best course of action in accordance with their missions, then tell their subordinates what to do.

Marines man the computers or pick up a phone or radio to convey a command.

When a command is given - for example, an intelligence mission, a call for fire, or movement of troops - the computer operator carries out the command in cyberspace and the computer displays the outcome.

If the enemy is attacking or making movements that are picked up on radar or observed by friendly forces, those movements are reported as well.

Meanwhile, commanding officers use radio gear to pass information, just like they would in the field.

Staff officers who trained on the simulation system extensively before going overseas reported that it prepared them well for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Buscemi said. The only difference, they told him, was that "the casualty reports were real," he said.

Simulated battles are fought at a real-world pace. For every action one side takes, the opposing side will react immediately.

The simulation center's computer software and hardware can generate a plethora of different scenarios and types of missions - including the kind Marines are facing this time around in Iraq, Buscemi said.

Maj. Darrin S. Brightmon, the commanding officer of Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, was asked for his comments on the simulation center.

"I can't talk right now. I have a war to fight," he said, before picking up the phone and redirecting his attention to his battlefield map.

Although the commanders dictate unit actions, the simulator conveys a clear sense of purpose to those who carry out the orders, said Cpl. Jonathon A. Welsh, a field wireman with 4th Tanks.

"Everybody's actions affect the big picture," he said. "(The simulator) shows the importance of everyone's job."

Simulated exercises are less expensive than Combined Arms Exercises and can be repeated without logistical support.

"Practice and use of the computer-aided combat simulations allows for an effective and inexpensive method to accomplish COC staff training," Buscemi said.

Brightmon, after he finished calling the shots for his troops, weighed in on the simulation center.

"This is good training in preparation for the real thing," Brightmon said. It's good partly because it promotes situational awareness, Welsh said.

"The simulator lets you know about the other fields you deal with in a combat situation," Welsh said. "The simulation gives you a better idea of the big picture."

The Battle Simulation Center is open to all branches of the military.

"If you are going to deploy, this is the place to practice," Buscemi said.

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