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 September 10, 2010


Engagement Skills Trainer prepares Soldiers to react to threats

Story & photo by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems & Services

Soldiers, with their weapons ready, are at a stationary base camp check point, or along a Central Asian roadside, or other combat theater situation, and encounter approaching people, apparently civilians. But the Soldiers haven’t left Fort McCoy. They are training at one of the installation’s Engagement Skills trainers (EST).

PHOTO: Soldiers use their M16 rifles to fire  “laser bullets” at targets on a projection screen at one of Fort McCoy’s Engagement Skills Trainers. Photo by Tom Michele
Soldiers use their M16 rifles to fire “laser bullets” at targets on a projection screen at one of Fort McCoy’s Engagement Skills Trainers.

The EST is a computer-simulated, live-action video projected on an 8-foot by 13-foot screen that tests the Soldier-shooters on how quickly and accurately they react to one of several scenarios.

One of the primary scenarios teaches Soldiers to correctly react with their weapons to friendly civilians and hostile threat forces.

The EST helps Soldiers improve their weapons skills, John Kumpf explained.

Kumpf is a supervisor in the Training Support Branch (TSB) of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. TSB instructors operate the EST system with the assistance of weapons trainers from the Weapons Qualification Section of the 340th Training Support Battalion, 181st Infantry Brigade. The 181st conducts the mobilization training at Fort McCoy.

“It makes Soldiers think. In one EST program, ‘Shoot-Don’t Shoot,’ civilians, including children, walk close by and threat forces may or may not spring into action.”

“One of the nice things about the EST is that the Soldiers’ reactions are recorded and then played back minutes later in an after-action review to show them what they did right and what they did wrong,” Kumpf said.

The EST is available to all personnel training for deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn, which has replaced Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Weapons used in EST scenarios include the 9 mm pistol, M16/M4 rifle, M249 squad automatic weapon, M240 light machine gun and M2 heavy machine gun.

Instead of using bullets, the weapons are linked up to a laser system with a screen that has thousands of receptors in it to read the exact time and location of the weapon being fired.

The intricacy and extent of the scenarios is determined by the control room operator who may “escalate” or “de-escalate” the scenario from its normal script, and can do so at several intervals in the play so the Soldier-shooter cannot anticipate what may happen.

The EST is designed to both help the individual marksman and the entire group, as collective training. A team leader is assigned by the trainer-controller, and the team-squad works with that leader, exactly as they would in real life.

“It is all part of what we do to simulate what happens in present-day, real-combat situations,” Kumpf said. “The EST and its scenarios are designed for fire team through squad operations.” Many Army fire teams have about six to eight Soldiers, and squads normally are composed of two fire teams.”

“The EST helps train Soldiers in techniques before they go out on the actual live-fire range,” Kumpf said. “This helps correct any bad habits a Soldier may be forming, such as in their stance, positioning, muscle memory, holding a weapon, accuracy or weapons-handling. All of this saves money on live ammunition on a live-fire range.”

Weapons malfunctions, inclement weather and even nighttime conditions can be programmed into a simulation to replicate real-life conditions.

Fort McCoy EST operators continuously have upgraded and updated the various scenarios to provide training Soldiers with the changes that occur in the various theaters of operation, Kumpf said.

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