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PEO Soldier trainers offer integrated training at Fort Polk

October 31, 2011

By Chuck Cannon, Fort Polk Guardian staff writer

FORT POLK, La. -- Night vision sights that allow a Soldier to see in darkness; thermal weapons systems that offer an infrared look at the enemy much like the alien's view in the Predator movies; laser aiming pointers that eliminate the need for looking through sights -- just place the red dot on the target and squeeze the trigger.

No, these are not the latest gadgets for a new sci-fi movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger or Vin Diesel. It's equipment available to Soldiers today, and trainers with Program Executive Officer Soldier were at Fort Polk Oct. 17-21 to bring observer/controllers with Operations Group, Joint Readiness Training Center, up to speed on how to use the three systems -- AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggle, AN/PAS-13C, D and E Thermal Weapons Sight and AN/PEQ-15 Advanced Target Pointer Illuminator Aiming Light --to get the most benefit.

"This training is about integrating all of our systems and their proper employment," said Maj. Theo Kang, assistant product manager for PEO Soldier Maneuver Sensors at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Kang said there are "tons of" these systems in the field.

"We need to make users aware of the capabilities and limitations," he said. "We need to let our Soldiers know what these systems -- ENVGs, aiming lasers and thermal sights -- can do if used properly."

Bill Reagan, a former JRTC Soldier, led the team of trainers. He said PEO Soldier conducts research and development for the Army at Fort Belvoir.

"Anything a Soldier wears or carries -- uniform, boots, body armor or weapons systems -- they have a hand in," he said.

Reagan's crew works with Product Manager Soldier Sensors and Lasers.

"We offer instruction on any system that emits a laser or has NVG capabilities," he said.

Reagan said that in the past, new equipment was fielded to units and trainers followed to show how to use the equipment.

"But there was never any follow-up training to show how different systems worked together," he said. "When training was offered, units declined because it was piecemeal. As a result, they wound up not using the equipment or not getting its full benefit."

That's where Reagan's team hopes to make inroads.

"We incorporate all of the sensors and lasers in a single training event," he said. "It's fully funded, saving the unit about $35,000. Units can come to us at Fort Bragg, N.C., or we can come to them."

Kang said the staff that provides the training is top notch. Not only do they conduct training, they also provide feedback to the research and development team at Fort Belvoir.

"All of the instructors are combat veterans and know these systems inside and out," Kang said. "They bring a lot of expertise and experience. The ratio is no more than one instructor for three students."

That's in line with the team's mandate from PEO Soldier: Train the force and provide feedback to engineers. Kang said training Ops Group O/Cs was a strategic decision.

"Everyone who deploys to Afghanistan or Iraq comes through Fort Polk," Kang said. "By training the OCs in the capabilities of these systems, they can help rotation troops use them properly. It should enhance our Soldiers' warfighting skills."

The first day of training was spent in a classroom, learning how the three systems work independently and together. Students were given the opportunity to use each system and see its capabilities. Days two and three were spent at Fort Polk's Range 15 and Shugart-Gordon training area, learning first-hand how the systems work in the field.

Staff Sgt. Jason Wells, Task Force 2, JRTC Ops Gp, was impressed with the thermal weapons system after the first day of training.

"In Afghanistan, a lot of the enemy is up in the mountains, in trees," he said. "You couldn't see them with NODs (night optic devices). You can see them with this. It will definitely save lives. If it was up to me, every combat arms Soldier should have one."

Trainer Victor Combes said Wells' comments were what his crew usually hears after their class on the thermal weapons system.

"We teach them how to properly use the system and how to integrate it with other systems in the Army inventory," Combes said.

The second day of training was conducted on Range 15. Soldiers learned to employ the three systems independently and together, while both stationary and on the move. As the day's activities moved into night operations, Staff Sgt. Jacob Bobo said he wished he had known how to properly use the thermal weapons system in Afghanistan.

"We had them over there," he said. "We just didn't know how to use them. We would carry our thermal weapons systems on patrols, but kept them in their carrier until we thought we needed them."

"That's exactly what I wanted to hear and why we are teaching this," Kang said. "The Soldiers are saying how great it is they can see through vegetation with it and how handy that would have been in Afghanistan. They are seeing what we're teaching -- how to integrate all of these systems together."

Capt. John Mabes, TF2, said that although the systems have been in the Army inventory for four or five years, very few Soldiers know how to properly employ them.

"We had them in Afghanistan, but no one knew how to use them properly," he said.

Mabes said one lesson he learned during the course dealt with zeroing the optics to a weapon.

"There is a prevailing mindset that you can't take the optics off of your weapon without losing their zero," he said. "We've learned that is not true."

Mabes said that in his opinion, every platoon sergeant and platoon leader should go through training on the systems.

"Optimally, every squad leader should also receive the training," he said. "We'll be able to pass on the knowledge to rotational troops. If JRTC gets on line and starts supporting the training, the rest of the Army will be more apt to follow suit because they all have to go through us."

On day three, the Soldiers began on Range 15 before heading to Shugart-Gordon to put their training to practical use in a patrol exercise. The Soldiers had to move through a street, clearing buildings -- some with smoke -- and facing pop-up targets -- both friendly and combatant -- during day and night operations. They also patrolled through a wooded area.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Janis, TF2, said he is more confident now that he's had training on the systems.

"I knew we had this equipment, I just didn't know how to use it," he said. "Now I know its capabilities; I've got the knowledge how it's used."

According to its website, , PEO Soldier was developed by the Army with one primary purpose: To develop the best equipment and field it as quickly as possible. By viewing the Soldier as part of an integrated system, PEO Soldier ensures that the Soldier and everything he or she wears or carries works together as an integrated system.

Project manager soldier sensors and lasers provide Soldiers with improved lethality, mobility and survivability in all weather and visibility conditions. Soldier-borne sensors and lasers enhance the Soldier's ability to see in all battlefield and lighting conditions, acquire objects of military significance before the Soldier is detected, and target threat objects accurately for engagement by Soldiers or guided munitions.

Should a unit desire to host training on ENVGs, TWS and ATPIAL, Reagan said log on to Facebook and run a search for "Advanced New Equipment Training Team."

Janis said every unit -- battalion and above -- should consider hosting the training.

"It's going to take breaking down some unit SOPs (standard operating procedures) and making them realize how valuable and important this training is," he said. "But if they do, it will most definitely help survivability on the battlefield."

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