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S.C. Guard troops find gaming skills transferable to combat

By Lt. Col. Cindi King | South Carolina National Guard | Oct. 18, 2018

GRANITEVILLE, S.C. - It's comparable to playing a video game, even using a video game controller from a popular gaming system. Operators watch the screen and maneuver a robot through dangerous terrain in search of ordnance, with no reset button if it explodes.

While the benefits of gaming skills are sometimes questioned by different generations, the South Carolina National Guard is demonstrating that young Soldiers who grew up playing video games are now able to transfer these skills to combat operations.

Members of the 1221st Engineer Clearance Company received the new Talon IV Reset robotic vehicle and conducted training Wednesday at their Armory in Graniteville, South Carolina. They set up a course with lanes simulating conditions with mock ordnance and explosives and practiced maneuvering the Talon IV around obstacles, with images from four cameras mounted on the vehicle projected on a monitor. The Soldiers took turns driving the robot with the control device down a ramp to a course where they had to find the ordnance, simulate destroying the target, maneuver the robot through a cone course and then pick up a mock grenade.

"From a technology standpoint and what we are seeing in our new equipment, the expectations and training for the modern day Soldier are very different from the capabilities we had in 2005," said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Shaw, operations non-commissioned officer for the 1221st Engineers.

Shaw said that the engineer Soldiers who are trained on the Talon IV receive an additional skill identifier as an engineer explosive ordnance clearing agent. He said on previous deployments, they used this type of equipment quite often, primarily in line with the three phases of route clearance. These include the use of the Husky Vehicle Mounted Mine Detector to detect, the Buffalo Mine-Protected Clearance Vehicle to dig-up, and then the Talon robot for disposal of ordnance.

The combat mission of the 1221st Engineer Clearance Company is to ensure mobility for civilian and military traffic on routes. The Talon IV is used to find, target and dispose of any ordnance that poses a threat, such as improvised explosive devices put in place by enemy forces.

"These engineer Soldiers can deploy the robot either from a mounted or dismounted position," said Adam Rider, instructor and curriculum development specialist from the Robotics Logistics Support Center at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, who was observing the robot training lane. "This system saves lives as the Soldiers can identify munitions and detonate a device from up to 800 meters away."

According to Rider, the motto of "Blow up a robot, save a life" is common when working in the explosive ordnance industry. He added that the changes in robotics for these systems are adapted to meet the current capabilities of today's Soldiers and has features many have seen from scenarios playing popular video games.

"We are seeing a transition in our ranks, as many Soldiers when I first joined are now retiring and we are seeing a lot of younger Soldiers who grew up with 10 years of gaming experience," said Cpt. Russell Brewton, Commander of the 1221st Engineers. "It motivates them when they see a piece of equipment that they are familiar with like a game controller."

The employment of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by insurgents in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have caused thousands of deaths to U.S. and coalition forces. These robots are the work-horse of the bomb disposal community and save lives, added Rider, as he watched the Talon IV successfully complete its mission on the course and secure the mock grenade.

"A lot of these Soldiers can now say, I used to play video games and now I'm in the Army," said Rider.