EDINBURGH, Ind. - Provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa, who is currently training for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, was the first unit to train on a new improvised explosive device virtual reality combat simulator here Dec. 16.
Designed to help Soldiers prepare for IED encounters, the Counter-IED Collective and Individual Mounted Training Program is a simulated armored vehicle that uses high definition video projected onto a giant screen surrounding the vehicle.
The system replicates realistic conditions of mounted combat such as smoke, noise, poor visibility, confusion and physically jarring explosions, and puts Soldiers through realistic scenarios and physiological challenges to fully engage all the senses that affect their performance and decision-making skills on the battlefield.
"It was designed because there was nothing out there to safely simulate an IED blast for Soldiers," said Michael Laughead, an observer/controller with R.L. Leaders, the company responsible for building the simulator.
In addition to IED threats, Soldiers get to practice troop leading procedures, night training, mobility kills, reporting unexploded ordinance, and medical evacuation reporting among other things.
"There is a lot being trained here, and the training device itself is really awe-inspiring to soldiers, because they've never seen anything like it," Laughead said. "It gets them excited to train, and that makes it so much easier to get them the information they need so they can be successful in combat."
Not only does the new simulator provide a realistic training environment, but it also gives a digital recording of the entire training scenario to units that they can immediately review on any computer so Soldiers can look at what they did right, what they did wrong, and how they can improve.
Army Lt. Col. Eric K. Shafa, commander of PRT Kapisa, is excited about being with the first PRT to have the opportunity to train with the new simulator.
"This simulator is more realistic than anything I've seen before, and the ability for these guys to get in there and work together and actually run through scenarios where they are leaving the [forward operating base] and being able to communicate with each other as well as work on their situational awareness, that's really the most important thing," Shafa said.
He said, "A lot of these guys have never been to Afghanistan and for them to see what the roads are like, what the scenarios are that they may encounter; it helps prepare them for what they will see when they get down range so they already have in mind what it's going to be like."
Army Spc. Darren J. Ganier-Slotterbeck, civil affairs specialist for PRT Kapisa, is no stranger to Afghanistan or improvised explosive devices. He was quick to vouch for how realistic the new simulator is.
"I deployed in 2005, 2007 and 2008 with the Marines. I've been blown up multiple times," Ganier-Slotterbeck said, "and it definitely brought back memories. I was a little shaky when I got out of that thing. I'm not going to lie."
According to Ganier-Slotterbeck, Soldiers like him benefit most from the experience offered by the new simulator by seeing such a realistic depiction of what to look for when trying to counter the IED threat in an environment that could only be more realistic by actually training in Afghanistan.
Ganier-Slotterbeck said he wishes the simulator was around before his prior deployments.
"If we'd had the ability to go through training like this at the time, those deployments would have been a lot different," he said.