TWENTYNINE PALMS, CA, UNITED STATES
TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. - Digital ghosts stalked the platoon of Marines as their six-vehicle convoy braved a landscape of artificial dunes and improvised explosive devices. The troops knew any number of threats could appear in an instant as the machine gunners scanned the horizon … and waited.
An explosion erupted over the crest of a hill. Charcoal-black smoke streamed into the sky as the Marines with Engineer Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, reacted to computer-based realities dreamt up by operators at the Combat Convoy Simulator during their pre-deployment training here, May 3.
"You can encounter anything at any moment," said Sgt. Jerod M. Upchurch, a native of Rogersville, Tenn., who served as one of the platoon's radio operators. "One of the things that I learned is to always keep your eyes open. You're vulnerable at all moments."
For nearly two hours, Upchurch and his fellow Marines cautiously navigated an IED infested route set up for them at the simulator, which incorporated casualty evacuation, direct enemy fire, and non-hostile civilian scenarios.
Each vehicle crew manned a realistic model humvee or 7-ton truck complete with wireless small arms and mounted machine guns. A 360-degree video screen displayed a full view of computer-generated deserts and villages as the convoy progressed through the course.
"The advantage here is that we are able to populate any scenario, Johnny on the spot," said Randy D. Stevens, the supervisor who helped manage and run the simulator for the Marines. "We can bring in the civilian and foot traffic behind the scenes. We're basically the Wizard of Oz, the director who gets our actors, who are the Marines, to do their role playing."
Stevens joined forces with the unit's leadership to test Marines on their ability to respond to IED blasts and ambushes. The convoy even called in helicopter support, which relied on the Marines in the vehicles for grid coordinates.
The platoon commander for the convoy, 1st Lt. Chris E. Wilkerson, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., monitored every move the Marines made from six separate video cameras stationed throughout the simulator.
"This is the point where they can make their mistakes and correct them," said Stevens. "They have a lot of information they need to pass back and forth. Communication is the big thing inside the Combat Convoy Simulator."
Radio chatter broke the occasional silence within the command operations center, where Stevens and Wilkerson monitored the Marines' progress and sprang occasional ambushes and IEDs to keep the servicemembers on their toes.
For the Marines in the vehicles, the detailed video screens displayed everything from the actions of their peers to disturbed dirt, where possible explosives lay in waiting.
"A lot of people freeze up when they're just thrown into the fire," said Lance Cpl. Elliot D. Prudhomme, a combat engineer with the battalion who served as the driver for Upchurch's humvee. "If they just get used to the set up before they have to go out there on the boots on the ground type deal, then they feel better about the flow of things."
The company will use both simulated and real-life convoy training to help support engineering missions when the unit deploys to Afghanistan, noted Prudhomme, a native of South Lyon, Mich.
"Engineers will go out with whatever kind of convoy you have," said Upchurch, who additionally helped coordinate communications with simulated explosive ordnance personnel during the exercise. "If we pull up onto anything that looks suspicious at all, whether it's IEDS, [unexploded ordnance], or anything like that, they will call us forward, and what we will do is come up and help investigate the possible threat."
Further actions will be determined through close communication with the unit's leadership, he added.
The simulator marks the beginning for the battalion's servicemembers, who recently embarked on more than a month of training exercises meant to hone their abilities prior to deploying.
The next step for the Marines of Engineer Company will be to take their operations into the barren, rocky terrain surrounding the Twentynine Palms training area -- where role play combines with some of the largest live-fire exercises on the planet.
||TWENTYNINE PALMS, CA, US
||BROOKLYN, NY, US
||FARMINGVILLE, NY, US
||ROGERSVILLE, TN, US
||SOUTH LYON, MI, US
||TUSCALOOSA, AL, US
This work, Digital enemies test CLB-6 Marines before deployment, by Sgt Paul Peterson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.