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Fort Jackson training new Soldiers with Virtual Battlespace 2 simulator

October 16, 2012

By Wallace McBride, Fort Jackson Leader

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Oct. 16, 2012) -- A Fort Jackson battalion is piloting a new training tool that will look familiar to many new Soldiers.

Virtual Battlespace 2, or VBS2, offers battlefield simulations that allow instructors to create new scenarios and engage the simulation from multiple viewpoints. The squad-management system enables participants to issue orders to squad members.

In other words, it works like a video game. VBS2 is descended from a game called Operation Flashpoint, which was launched about 10 years ago, said Capt. J.R. Wagner, of the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment.

"It was a simulation used by groups of people who could network computers together," Wagner said. "You could move as a member of a team or a squad, and VBS2 is the third iteration. Currently, we're fielding it for Basic Combat Training, or BCT, Soldiers. This is the first fielding I know of for any Basic Combat Training unit."

VBS2 is essentially a video game, but one structured to teach skills new Soldiers learn in BCT. The program includes realistic, customizable settings that walk Soldiers through land navigation exercises, combat scenarios and group strategies.

"It's a great tool and I think it's going to do wonders for our training," said Maj. Damasio Davila, executive officer of the 2-39th.

Drill sergeants can set up different scenarios within the virtual training area and can function in administrative roles as Soldiers learn the fundamentals of combat.

"The idea is not to replace the drill sergeant with a computer," said Lt. Col. J.C. Glick, battalion commander. "The idea is not to replace going out and doing land navigation with a computer. The idea is that drill sergeants will be able to focus on refining their learning objectives. When new Soldiers go out to the woods, the time they spend there is more productive because they've done the homework and other requirements in a controlled environment."

The program has been available at Fort Jackson for almost a decade, Wagner said, but has not been used by BCT instructors until recently. The U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School has used VBS2 for preliminary land navigation training, which uses a virtual recreation of another Army post for its primary environment.

The school is providing 52 computers and personnel support to the 2-39th for the 10-week pilot program.

"We're giving them 10 weeks of equipment and limited manpower support," said Mike Johnson, simulations officer for USACHCS. "This is the first class they've done, and I think it's going to be a success."

Johnson said he spoke to one Soldier using the program this week, who told him the VBS2 made it easier to learn from mistakes.

"She said it's easier to get lost in the computer than in the woods," he said, "but she knew she wouldn't be hurt, afraid or scared. And, when she gets to the woods, it would help her navigate better."

"A large part of [Joint Base Lewis-McChord], Wash., is already programmed into the system," Wagner said. "When you see trees, rocks and other terrain, they're how they appear at [Joint Base Lewis-McChord].

"The land navigation training allows Soldiers to bring up a compass on the computer in front of them," he said. "You can navigate from point to point digitally, just the way you would if you were out in the woods. But it allows you to do it at any time, in the dark, rain and bad weather, without having to reserve a piece of land, or transport anyone out there to do it."

"We know they learn the way we're teaching them now," Glick said. "The question is 'Can they learn better?' The vision as a commander, in accordance with the commanding general's guidance, is to make sure we're getting better and moving forward. Good enough isn't just good enough. We have to do better to train these Soldiers."

The principle of the VBS2 is the same as that of the established Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, or EST-2000, which allows new Soldiers to get acquainted with weapons on a simulated firing range.

"You can have your guys on a range in a climate controlled area," Wagner said. "You can zero your weapons system and learn their fundamentals, and even put a squad into different scenarios."

"EST-2000 was a step in the right direction," Glick said. "It didn't replace being on the range, but it made the time you spent on the range more productive because you could accomplish more, thanks to training on the EST."

"Our basic trainees are part of the millennial generation and have grown up with computers," Wagner said. "It's a new and exciting way to learn, instead of just having somebody talk to you until you're tired of listening. They get to check out a video on it, play a game, so to speak, and explain it to their buddies. I'm not using it to get away from teaching classes, but to make the classroom less necessary than it used to be."

Glick said it's time to evaluate how new Soldiers are instructed.

"Why is it that a sergeant major who's been in the Army for 30 years, and a private who's just joined, are taught the same things in exactly the same way?" he asked. "We should all learn land navigation, but why is the way I learned it the same as they're teaching it to privates?"

The first group of Soldiers in BCT started using VBS2 last week.

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