By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 20, 2008 - A year ago, it was a tomato-sorting shed on the north side of this sprawling base. Today, Marines are using its 30,000 square feet to learn how to survive in Iraq. After accompanying a squad as it went through the Infantry Immersion Trainer here yesterday, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he's impressed with the facility and what it brings to Marine training.
"It's great preparation for the Marines as they prepare to go to Iraq," Mullen said. "It's very impressive, very realistic, and in the end hopefully will contribute significantly to a better way to execute the mission and save lives."
The trainer puts squads and fire teams through as realistic a scenario as is possible without live rounds. The purpose is to inoculate Marines with the sights, sounds, smells and chaos of close combat, said Tom Buscemi, the director of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force's Battle Simulation Center.
"These young men have got to make the right choices in combat, but how do you practice that?" Buscemi said. "How do you rehearse making split-second moral and ethical decisions?"
The trainer is one answer, and it is a multimedia experience. Squads meet both holograms and actors playing Iraqis. As they enter the building, they hear the sounds of the Muslim call to prayer from the local mosque. As the squad enters a market, the sounds change and they need to look for warning signs. They go past the local sheikh's house and down narrow alleys. The Marines have even managed to duplicate the open sewage smell of a bad neighborhood in Baghdad.
In one scenario, a rocket-propelled grenade wounds an Iraqi woman and kills a Marine. The squad members attempt to deal with the wounded Iraqi woman, who is covered in blood and screaming. At the same time, other members attempt to assess the Marine's condition and evacuate him to medical care. As all this is going on, insurgents begin firing on the squad's leaders. A Marine ducks into a room – there are women and children there. Then a hologram pops up of an insurgent with an AK-47. Fire or not? The scenarios present many choices, all intensified by the chaos.
"We want to ensure that Marines are exposed to this chaos here, that they have seen it before, and maybe this will prevent another Haditha," said Marine Col. Robert Coates, assistant chief of staff for the training and experimentation group. U.S. Marines were accused of over-reacting to a roadside bomb attack in the Anbar province city and killing a number of noncombatants.
Marine Sgt. William Jones, noncommissioned officer in charge of the trainer, has served a tour in Afghanistan and three tours in Iraq. He said the trainer comes very close to duplicating the chaos of combat, and presents a learning experience for the Marines. In one recent case, he played one of the insurgents. He shot at a Marine and was shot himself. He fell, and the Marine came in and shot him in the chest. "I stopped the exercise immediately," Jones said. Had that been a real situation, he explained, the Marine would have committed murder.
The trainer has cameras around everywhere, so Jones was able to dissect the performance and hammer home the lesson to the squad. "And tapes don't lie," Jones said.
The Marines are talking with Hollywood studios to get more realistic effects for the trainer. Ultimately, they would like to build a far bigger facility that would allow vehicles, taller buildings and better holograms. They also want a technology that allows them to dispense with the paint-ball masks the Marines wear for protection.
"Reading facial expressions is key," Buscemi said. "And you can't do that with these masks."
The facility is the only one of its kind in the Marine Corps, and the people at Camp Pendleton put it together on a shoestring budget, using Office of Naval Research technology, the tomato shed and $2.4 million they diverted from other projects. The Pendleton team also worked with Marine Training and Education Command, the Marine Warfighting Lab and the deployed forces.
The Marines here believe far more can be done in infantry simulation. Coates said that "only one-tenth of 1 percent of simulation funding is spent on infantry simulation. The technology works and is improving all the time." The Marines want this training to become an integral part of the pre-deployment training program prior to the Mojave Viper battalion-level training exercise at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
"For all the services there is a great deal to be learned by simulation," Mullen said. "This is important, breakthrough stuff, and we need cross-talk (among the services) to come out with best practices."
Article reproduced by Hi Tech Criminal Justice.