Soldiers practice IED clearance virtually

Spc. Sean Bryant, Troop D, 13th Cav. Regt., 4th BCT, 1st AD, operates a gun station at the Virtual Clearance Training Suite at Fort Bliss Jan. 29. Photos by Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle Staff.

Spc. Sean Bryant, Troop D, 13th Cav. Regt., 4th BCT, 1st AD, operates a gun station at the Virtual Clearance Training Suite at Fort Bliss Jan. 29. Photos by Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle Staff.

By Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle Staff:

The RG-31 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle weighs 37,478 pounds – more than eight Ford Explorers – and it can easily pick up speed when going downhill on a dirt road in Afghanistan.

That fact was one of many Pvt. Jaquan Montford, Troop D, 13th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, learned about the RG-31 when his troop visited the Virtual Clearance Training Suite behind the Close Combat Tactical Trainer building on Minue Drive Jan. 28.

“You might want to slow it down a little,” Ed Torres, Virtual Clearance Training Suite site-lead and field maintainer, advised Montford. “You don’t want it to get away from you.”

Montford, with a look of deep concentration on his face, nodded and slowed the RG-31 more than he already had.

Montford and other members of his unit visited the trainer to gain practice on vehicles and devices that will help them clear improvised explosive devices. They include the RG-31 and Panther or gun trucks, which are MRAP vehicles, the Buffalo, which is a 79,000-pound mine protected clearance vehicle, the Husky, which is equipped with ground penetrating radar or mine detection panels, and the Talon III B transportable robot system, all in virtual form.

The controls are the same as the real-world vehicles and devices, but the scenarios are all conducted on computer screens, Torres said.

Ed Torres, Virtual Clearance Training Suite site lead and field maintainer, checks in on Pvt. Jaquan Montford, Troop D, 13th Cav. Regt., 4th BCT, 1st AD, as he prepares to drive a RG-31 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle at the Virtual Clearance Training Suite at Fort Bliss Jan. 29.

Ed Torres, Virtual Clearance Training Suite site lead and field maintainer, checks in on Pvt. Jaquan Montford, Troop D, 13th Cav. Regt., 4th BCT, 1st AD, as he prepares to drive a RG-31 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle at the Virtual Clearance Training Suite at Fort Bliss Jan. 29.

“It’s a good idea for us in the sense that we’re a new platoon team, and we need to know what the Soldiers know and what they don’t know,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kelechi Madubuko, Troop D, 13th Cav. Regt., 4th BCT, 1st AD.

“It’s a very good training for us to build a good team should we deploy somewhere down the road,” Madubuko said. “Some of the Soldiers have not deployed, so this is a good way to show them what reality might look like.”

Torres said the whole idea behind the trainer is to allow Soldiers to practice detecting, identifying and neutralizing IEDs.

Although Soldiers primarily use the trainer for route clearance, the trainer also helps Soldiers train for convoys, said Al Cordova, VCTS sustainment maintainer.

While clearing a route of IEDs, Soldiers usually form a convoy, Cordova said.

An example of a route clearance package consists of two Husky vehicles in the front, followed by two gunner trucks, a Buffalo and two more gunner trucks, Cordova said.

When the Husky operator finds an IED, the operator marks the spot with paint and calls in the Buffalo, Cordova said. The Buffalo operator then uses a 30-foot robotic arm equipped with a claw to dig it up. The claw includes sensory equipment and a camera.

Meanwhile, the gun trucks protect the vehicles, Cordova said.

Then, a Soldier operating a Man Transportable Robotic Systems Talon robot moves the robot out of the back of a gun truck by remote, Cordova said.

If the explosive device is a type that is seen often, the team will equip the Talon with C-4 plastic explosives and blow up the explosive device, Cordova said.

If the explosive device is unusual and Soldiers would like to study it further, a Soldier will call in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit, Cordova said. This is one of many ways to clear a route, he said.

The concept at the trainer is to make the scenario as realistic as possible.

Torres said it is his job to set up the scenarios that Soldiers go through at the simulator, and he does his best to think like an insurgent so the scenarios are realistic.

After every training there is an after action review, Torres said, and that allows units to go through the scenario again step-by-step and see what they could improve next time. Everything in the trainer is recorded, he said.

Units are welcome to go through the trainer more than once, but it is necessary to schedule visits ahead of time, Torres said.

Virtual trainers such as the VCTS are excellent for Soldiers to practice using equipment without the operating costs, said Joe Porras, senior military analyst and training integration manager for Alion Science & Technology, which operates at the Iron Warrior Training Complex at Fort Bliss.

The Buffalo, for example, gets 3.5 miles to the gallon, according to information from Strategic Defence Intelligence. It has a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour, and a maximum range of 300 miles on an 85-gallon tank of fuel.

Madubuko said he appreciates the opportunity to practice on the equipment with troop members.

The trainer helps the unit learn how to communicate with one another under stress, he said.

“It helps us learn how to work together as a team,” Madubuko said. “We learn what we do know and what we don’t know.”

Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series of six on virtual training opportunities on Fort Bliss.

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