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Virtual Clearance Training Suite teaches Soldiers to fight IEDs in safe environment

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A Virtual Clearance Training Suite arrived on Fort Leonard Wood in August, which marked the third fielding of these training systems.

TheVirtual Clearance Training Suite, or VCTS, is designed to train Soldiers for route clearance missions as well as counter-improvised explosive device, or IED, and mounted maneuver operations in a virtual environment and contains simulators for the Mine Protected Clearance Vehicle "Buffalo," Vehicular Mounted Mine Detector "Husky" with the Mine Detonation Trailer, Medium Mine Protected Vehicle RG-31 or RG-33 "Panther," and the Man Transportable Robotic System.

Soldiers of the 235th Engineer (SAPPER) Company from Petaluma, Calif., and 848th Engineer (SAPPER) Company from Garden City, Ga., were the first Soldiers to benefit from the new equipment.

Spc. Wayne Preciado, 848th Eng. Co., said this is his second time to use VCTS equipment in preparation for a deployment.

"I think this training is very beneficial, especially going back the second time. We are getting more details," Preciado said. "I have been on the Buffalo and I told the guys 'I am waiting to hear something new, I want to learn something I didn't catch the first time,' and I did."

Staff Sgt. Otis Petty, R2C2 Course noncommissioned officer-in-charge, has deployed four times, and said with his knowledge of the VCTS and deployment experience, he thinks this training is imperative for new Soldiers.

"They need to understand, this is what they might see, this is what they might encounter," Petty said. "These are the vehicles you might be riding in and sometimes the day and missions are going to be long. You just have to be mentally prepared because route clearance is not a process where you can drive on the road like you are on I-44 going to St. Louis. It takes time -- it's a long tedious process."

Preciado agreed.

"Getting this type of training, especially if you are a new Soldier is going to open up your eyes and imagination and thoughts," he said. "You are young and fresh and you want to see stuff before you get down range. You want to put your hands on it and touch it. If you don't practice it, it won't become natural and then you are going to have a bad take downrange."

Joseph Clarke, site lead and training facilitator, said he believes the VCTS will save Soldiers' lives because it allows them to train and become familiar with the equipment they will be operating downrange.

"It gets the Soldiers familiar with the inside of the vehicle," Clarke said. "These simulators are exactly replicated to the real vehicle down to the buttons, everything is functional. So, if something says spotlight, you will be able to see a spotlight through your window. It's familiarity."

Additionally, Clarke said it gives Soldier's the ability to work out their standard operating procedures they will use downrange.

"It is much harder to work in a 2D area, like a simulator is, than a 3D area. If they can be successful in here, they will be unbelievably successful out there," Clarke said. "We are here to provide a world-class training experience."

Proponent representative Sgt. 1st Class Jawn Downing, VCTS action officer and training developer, said the VCTS creates virtual training scenarios to replicate contemporary operating environments with the intent of challenging Soldiers during training rather than overseas in combat.

"This system gives Soldiers the time and ability to train on what they need to be proficient in -- clearance or convoy missions," Downing said. "If a Soldier is having trouble working the arm of the Buffalo, this system will assist them in getting proficient. The same thing goes for the Husky, RG-31, Panther, Talon IIIB and even the 50 cal. (machine gun) training."

The VCTS allows leaders to train Soldiers again and again until they have a well-oiled team, Downing said.

"This system can be used in a crawl, walk, run phase, so that leaders can start small with individual scenarios, and then move into collective scenarios," he said. "The scenarios that they choose can help them with positioning the weapons in your fire team, so that they can get max effectiveness, as well as figure out the correct (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) that they would like to run when they are out on missions."

The VCTS was set up for Engineer Route Clearance companies, but has now been opened for everyone to train with the addition of the Panther and RG-31, Downing said.

"[Explosive Ordnance Disposal] can also use the simulator to operate Panthers and Talon Robot's (and) Infantry units can come in and change out dashboards and run all four RG-31's," he added. "With having both Panther and RG-31 dashboards, we have the ability to configure the four vehicle platforms in any vehicle configuration -- meaning up to four RG-31's or four Panthers, or three RG-31's and one Panther."

The two other VCTSs are located at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colo., with more to be fielded.

"There are a total of 28 systems that will be integrated throughout various Installations Army-wide. A couple of our next spots are Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; and then off to Hawaii and Germany," he said. "(However,) any unit can sign up to use the training enabler."

The VCTS is located at the CEHC and priority goes to units currently scheduled for R2C2 courses.

Article by Amy Newcomb, Army.mil