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Virtual Trainer Saves Time, Money, Increases Skills

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Gamers fire virtual bullets with hand-held controls from the safety of their homes for entertainment. At Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., service members engage targets with real weapons using similar virtual bullet technology but with a very different purpose in mind.

As part of their mobilization training for worldwide deployments, Reserve component service members use the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, a visual weapons simulator computer system involving compressed air to replicate a rifle's kick. The system saves resources including ammunition while it allows service members to become familiar with different weapons system. Using the EST 2000, service members can train on several small arms and squad weapons systems including the M9, M4, and M2.

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Sgt. 1st Class Katura Moorer, trainer/mentor with the 174th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, discusses shot placement and grouping with Staff Sgt. Stephanie Pham, from San Francisco, Calif., who is heading to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan in February to assist an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team.
The simulated environment and weapons-fire images project onto a large screen inside a dark room, creating the atmosphere similar to an oversized arcade arena.

"At first I didn't think that it would be effective," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Walker, a cyber-systems operator with the 352nd Special Operations in Mildenhall, U.K. "I heard that it was like a video game."

Once the Warner Robins, Ga., native heard the instructors' explanations of the training and its benefits, he said he learned new information and techniques to improve his firing.

The EST 2000 provides service members the ability to work on the fundamentals of marksmanship before heading to the weapons range. This results in saving the military valuable resources, time, and money.

"It gives immediate downrange feedback used to group and zero [a weapon] prior to going out on a live-fire range," explained Sgt. 1st Class David George, a native of Burleson, Texas. "It's cost effective."

George, EST 2000 trainer/mentor assigned to 1st Battalion, 314th Infantry Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade, explained the system benefits the service members because the downrange feedback shows them every small mistake they make and how that affects target precision.

The simulation displays a very clear representation of the users' shot patterns, said George. After firing three shots to zero the weapon, the system produces a card for each shooter that shows their shot-group -- much like the paper targets they would see on a live-fire range.

Walker said he likes having that tangible shot card.

"I like to see something that you can take back and go over," he explained.

In addition to shooting targets, service members can engage in realistic combat situations. This training is useful, even for those who have deployed multiple times. Air Force Tech Sgt. Carrie Todd, who is preparing for her third deployment, agreed.

"I think I am more so prepared than my other deployments, because now I know what to expect," said Todd, native of West Bloomfield, Mich., and a paralegal with the 355th Fighter Wing, Office of the Judge Advocate at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. "They gave us a lot of knowledge on what we could encounter [in theater]."

The EST 2000 allows service members the opportunity to train and receive valuable weapons marksmanship feedback without ammo restrictions.

"There is no waste if you need to [fire] multiple times," Walker said. "You have the ability to infinitely shoot."

Virtual ranges like the EST 2000 and other virtual and simulated training systems provide an economically efficient way to train.

Once service members are familiar with their designated weapons systems and have practiced the fundamentals of marksmanship, they head for a real, live-fire range and qualify on their deployment weapons.

First Army Division East uses virtual trainers to replicate vehicle convoy training, crew team react-to-contact training, and even simulate vehicle rollovers. Each virtual training range helps make better use of mobilization training time, money and resources by negating the need for ammunition and other training resources.

The skills acquired here keep us from sending needless rounds downrange, agreed George.

Time spent pulling triggers on video games can earn gamers higher scores. Time spent pulling triggers on the EST 2000 can help bring these Airmen and other service members home safely to their families.

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