The Augusta Chronicle
FORT GORDON — Lying face down with an assault rifle tight to her chest, Fort Gordon 2nd Lt. Katie Christensen-Holliday took in a deep breath, exhaled and fired three rounds at an enemy soldier as he peeked over a grassy mound 150 meters away.
Each bullet was a direct hit.
The bad guy was killed.
“Way to make it count,” Christensen-Holliday’s commander said.
But this battle was fought inside and the dead enemy was a digitally-enhanced silhouette.
At Fort Gordon, firing-range instructors can replicate more than 175 scenarios in its “strike house,” a jungle-camouflaged room the size of a large classroom where it trains with a new weapon: virtual reality.
The Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, a small-arms simulator, allows a unit of 10 soldiers to engage the enemy in swampy jungle or urban terrain, firing infrared laser light beams instead of bullets at ducking and running soldiers on an 8-by-25-foot screen.
The soldiers — who fire M-16 rifles, 9 mm pistols, automatic grenade launchers and .50-caliber machine guns — feel a compressed-air kick and hear a report for realism, and during a film run-back, see where their shots landed, with green for misses and red for hits.
A company from the 442nd Signal Battalion blazed away Monday, getting a feel for the sound of battle.
The air conditioning and drop-ceiling compete a little with the camouflage and artificial boulders positioned here and there, but when the lights dim, it’s combat.
“I had to visualize and be one with the weapon,” Christensen-Holliday said of the challenges the video-based program present that are similar to modern warfare. “It’s a whole mental process.”
Fort Gordon has offered 30 lanes of digital firing practice since 2006 as a cost-effective way for soldiers to take marksmanship training and other weapon exercises in numerous environments without ammunition restrictions, said Ken Lundy, the branch chief of Fort Gordon Training Aids, Devices, Simulators and Simulations.
On average, Lundy said soldiers exhaust 58 rounds of ammunition in qualifying for deployment - 18 rounds to adjust a rifle to their stance, grip and aim, and 40 rounds to score 23 hits on a 4-foot-tall pop-up target.
“Prior to advancing to the actual weapons range, soldiers typically come through a simulator because chances are you are going to qualify when your training is at its highest level and also because if you fail to qualify the first time, you have to keep shooting until you do,” Lundy said.
At the close of each training session, shooters receive a score card that shows a history of his or her aim from their time shooting at a three-dimensional plane 50 meters to 300 meters away.
Christensen-Holliday, of Fort Hood, Texas, completed the simulation for the first time in three years Monday after a brief tutorial.
She hit the target close to 30 times.
“It’s fun, but I do not know how helpful it is yet,” she said. “I imagine it will be a little bit different on the range.”
Christensen-Holliday said she expects to do better, saying the screen obstructs her reaction time.
Second Lt. Detlef Loyd, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., has been to the digital range four times this year and said he knows he will do better on the actual range.
At first, the soldier said, he pulled his trigger too aggressively and that the violent movement shifted the barrel and threw off his aim.
Now, with a more sensitive trigger finger, he hit the target 27 times Monday.
“It’s a great device to work out some of the kinks in your shot,” Loyd said. “Instead of wasting ammunition, I can focus on anything I may have forgotten and hone my skills.”
Lundy said the system is also great for advanced individual and military police training.
This video-based system has more than 30 friendly and enemy targets, 14 different terrain sets, variable climatic conditions and special effects combined. Weather conditions, including, rain, snow, wind, fog, dawn, dusk, day or night, are simulated. Special effects include explosions, smoke, flares, bullet splash and tracer firing.
Each scene has 12 to 18 outcomes; however, individual instructors can edit settings to include shoot-don’t-shoot judgment training as well as squad-level collective training. Because the system can be networked, up to three five-lane systems can be working in concert, allowing 15 soldiers to train together.
“The technology is very useful tool that’s well liked at Fort Gordon,” Lundy said. “By the time soldiers get to the range and pass their qualifications, they’re experts.”