By Army National Guard Spc. Dan Lograsso, Spc. Dorian Daily, and Sgt. Robert Adams
Illinois National Guard
SPARTA, IL (2/8/2012) – What may look like normal semi-truck trailers to any passer-by, are actually a portal into modern warfare, giving Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers a chance to experience what they might encounter overseas before they ever leave the Midwest.
"Come to Sparta in the morning and we can take you to Iraq for lunch, Afghanistan for dinner, and have you home by bedtime," said Army Sgt. Edward Singletary, the range scheduling noncommissioned officer at Sparta Training Area.
Singletary recently guided Soldiers from Company F, 634th Brigade Support Battalion, through a new state-of-the-art training system Feb. 4. The Virtual Vehicle Trainer is a combat simulator capable of putting over 25 Soldiers into the same massive virtual environment.
Soldiers break into teams of three and man their "vehicles," which are nearly identical mock-ups of a humvee interior – complete with gunner's turret – and don headsets or look into high-resolution screens to see past the trailer and into the digital world beyond.
Army Spc. Leo Stofferahn with Company F, 634th BSB, a veteran of three deployments, said the simulator's terrain and movement were accurate and effective.
"The training was a good refresher for veterans and good for setting up accurate deployment expectations for new Soldiers," Stofferahn said.
From a multi-screen command station, Singletary can control the entire VVT – the most advanced system of its kind available. With the push of a button, he can change the weather, the terrain (which is based on actual satellite mapping), or zoom into any part of the 3D environment. Soldiers are no longer represented by blinking dots; every image interacts in real time, and even the digital representation of the gunner swivels along with the Soldier in the turret.
The software is also very flexible. While it can run preset scenarios, Singletary has the ability to drop in many kinds of enemies, obstacles, helicopters or other interactive set pieces at any time.
The VVT also has a huge catalog of vehicles that it can run; almost every model of humvee, most models of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, unmanned drones, and even a remote-controlled reconnaissance robot, the Talon.
Singletary said he believes this ability to customize is one of the biggest strengths of the VVT.
"This is the latest, greatest, most up-to-date system that we can train in," Singletary said. "We can put you into a theater-specific environment.
The control trailer also has benches and a projector, allowing units to conduct an immediate after-action review. Soldiers can watch the playback of the scenario on-screen and even hear their recorded radio traffic, allowing them to see what they did well and what needs improvement.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Greg Anselment, a platoon sergeant with Company F, 634th BSB, said the real-time cooperation required by the VVT scenarios was great for exposing shortfalls in teamwork for future training. He also said it would be difficult to get this training without the VVT.
"[Individual units] don't have to have the resources," Anselment said. "We don't have up-armored vehicles, but we can still come down [to Sparta] and train."In addition to the Virtual Vehicle Trainer, Sparta has virtual marksmanship training for rifles, machine guns and mortars, paintball gear for live maneuvers, and roughly 2,300 acres of open land available for field training exercises.