April 27, 2017 –
Before Soldiers could complete live-fire training at Operation Cold Steel, they had to practice their skills at many of Fort McCoy's simulation facilities.
Operation Cold Steel is the Army Reserve's first large-scale live-fire training and crew-served weapons qualification and validation exercise, which took place March 9 through April 25. The gunnery exercise is critical in ensuring that Army Reserve units and Soldiers are trained and ready to deploy on short notice and bring combat-ready and lethal firepower in support of the Total Army Force and joint force partners around the world.
To prepare Soldiers for the live-fire portion of training, they first practiced their skills at the Reconfigurable Vehicle Tactical Trainer (RVTT), the Engagement Skills Trainer, and Virtual Battle Space 3 (VBS3).
Rich Mitchell, contractor with CSRA Inc. through the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security (DPTMS), was one of the technicians running the RVTT for Soldiers at Operation Cold Steel. The RVTT provides Soldiers with comprehensive and realistic combat convoy training using a variety of simulated weapons systems. The system is customizable depending on a unit's goals.
"If a unit has … some sort of training they want to focus on, we can tailor a mission either solely for that or make it part of (another) mission," Mitchell said. "All of our missions that we have were created here. We start off with a blank map."
Hazards can be added based on a unit's needs. For Operation Cold Steel, an existing program was modified to use the terrain Soldiers would encounter in the field and simulate the required firing table.
Fort McCoy's simulation facilities were the first step for all before going out on a range for Cold Steel. Mitchell said a number of the crews that came for the exercise were freshly assembled and had little or no prior experience with the equipment and procedures. The simulators provided them a chance to practice in a safer environment before handling the real equipment.
"Here, (the Soldiers) can make all kinds of mistakes," Mitchell said. "And hopefully it saves them time out on the actual range because they've already figured out the flow."
Mitchell said the simulation facilities staff members can do the same thing for other units they did for Cold Steel. They have access to Armywide databases and can program routines for other installations' ranges and training areas. He said they created a simulation for one unit that was going to Alaska to train. The program started at the airport and helped the unit find its way to its training areas and living quarters to help save time upon arrival at a strange location.
Maintenance technicians also had a hand in keeping things running for Cold Steel.
"Each exercise comes with its own requirements," said Aaron Wallander, a contractor with CSRA through DPTMS. He said their primary goal is to keep everything running smoothly and stay on top of any problems that develop so the Soldiers can complete their training.
John Braman is a supervisory training instructor for the EST. He said the Soldiers training for Operation Cold Steel used one of the standard simulation programs in the system, but the qualification table they shot was the same the Soldiers were using in the live fire.
Braman also said the EST allows Soldiers to practice their skills in a safer environment before going out on the range. It also gives them more immediate feedback on their performance.
The simulation used in Cold Steel starts with "paper" targets, then progresses to tanks and other targets displayed on an open field. "Close-ups show where their rounds hit (on a target) after firing," Braman said. The close-up views let Soldiers see exactly how accurate they were and how they might need to adjust before going out to the range.
The VBS3 was the third simulation facility used by Soldiers training during Operation Cold Steel. VBS3 is a semi-immersive, portable, virtual training system.
Dale Waggoner, contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. through DPTMS, said VBS3's physical equipment is closer to video-game equipment that Soldiers and civilians are used to, unlike other Fort McCoy simulation facilities, but the important part of the system is the programming.
"Because it's a semi-immersive system, you're only limited to the software you have in the computer," Waggoner said. "Pretty much if the unit designs a training concept, we can do it. … We will build them a scenario that matches."
He said VBS3 is not going to make a Soldier a better shooter or driver, but it is going to help them feel comfortable with the routines and procedures in firing or operating a convoy. Crew members learn to work together as a team and internalize the proper procedures to react to an improvised explosive device or an enemy unit.
"It's not going to make them a better shooter by clicking that mouse. It's not going to make them a better driver by using that gaming wheel, but as a team, they have to identify if it's a gunner or a truck (they're encountering)," Waggoner said. "All those things they have to accomplish before (the gunner) starts pulling the trigger, … it needs to become second nature. This (system) lets them run through multiple engagements and practice fire commands.
"VBS3 is a rehearsal tool," he said. "It's used to rehearse procedures, not necessarily actions."
Soldiers training for Operation Cold Steel used VBS3 to practice the commands needed for the live-fire training they'd be completing a day or two later. The same route was built into the system so they would encounter the same terrain in the virtual system as in real life.
Waggoner said another tool that was popular during Cold Steel was the virtual sand table. Sand tables are used to create mock-ups of terrain during exercises or planning sessions. Traditionally, they use models to depict equipment, units, buildings, and other terrain features. Waggoner said sand tables are often replaced by slides and maps in modern training.
With a virtual sand table, they can project those maps onto the sand and build up the terrain the same way as in a traditional sand table. They can then hook up the VBS3 system into the projector and show leadership or other Soldiers exactly what a group of Soldiers is doing on the system, displaying the virtual convoy as the Soldiers react.
Waggoner said the virtual sand table helps engage Soldiers more than slides. "With a slide projected on the wall, you might have four or five Soldiers speak up," he said. "We had whole groups crowding around the (virtual) sand table to watch."
Soldiers with the 221st Ordnance Company of Fort Wayne, Ind., made up some of the crews that trained at Operation Cold Steel.
Spc. Bryan Zinsmaster with the 221st had just finished a session at the RVTT and said the training had been excellent so far.
"It's informative, and .. it's something we almost never get to do back home because we focus on the ammo side," he said.
Spc. Jordan Rutledge Corley with the 221st said Operation Cold Steel helps prepare them by giving them a good idea of what it will be like if they are deployed and face enemy units.
"Back at our home station, we're ammo specialists, … so we don't get a lot of ground time engaging the enemy," she said.
"We practiced gunnery training, firing commands, and engaging multiple targets," said Spc. Robert Lott with the 221st. "(The Fort McCoy trainers) keep it really enthusiastic and fun. It's not dry."
Rutledge Corley said the Fort McCoy trainers were very good at providing both positive and critical feedback.
"The NCOs and cadre here really know what they're doing," she said. "They have a good idea of what to correct and what to praise and let us know we're doing well."