As technology continues to expand, the United States Army is taking advantage. Video game-like systems help soldiers to learn, train and stay safe. But at Fort Drum, training is taken to a whole new level. In the second part of Brian Dwyer's series, Engineered for Battle, we take a look at what technology is allowing both pilots and convoy units to work with.
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FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- As he would on most convoy routes, First Lt. Jerome Mercer, Jr. is trying to make sure everything is ready to go and maintain control of several vehicles. While it certainly seems like his team is headed out on a mission, Mercer isn't even moving.
He is inside a simulator with a large 360 degree screen and computer graphics identical to the true terrain of Iraq.
Communication, awareness and staying safe are some of the points that First Lt. Jerome Mercer Jr. are trying to make.
"We've been doing a lot of training getting up to this point. We've got a lot more to tackle," said Mercer. "I think a lot of the soldiers are starting to become aware of the what the point of the exercises are."
Mercer is referring to the simulator they are using at Fort Drum. This simulator is a real MRAP with controls, real weapons, real sounds and real landscape. The only thing fake about it, are the screens and wheels.
"When they get over in the country, it's not going to be the first time they see this road, or this intersection, or these mountains, or these streams. They'll be able to identify with them a little more," said Pete Conklin, RVTT Instructor/Operator.
Conklin studies the Taliban non-stop. He learns their tendencies and abilities and makes sure to add danger to the program. According to the instructors, the simulation becomes very real.
"You'll know how a guy, especially when he's reporting, how he'll act under pressure," said Robert McNeely, RVTT Site Manager. "It gets so loud that some of the guys who have been downrange have a little PTSD reaction to it, and we've got to pull them out and tell them to calm down. It gets to them, realistic, and brings back those feelings."
On these simulators you do have the ability to pull someone out, but in real life you cannot do that. To most of us this might seem like a lot of fun, but to these men and women, it is very important work.
"In a video game situation you have cheats. There is no cheating here. You've got to perform the task to standard," said McNeely.
Mercer said, "I love the fact that we can train this way, but I also want them to realize that you're training through the system, however, you're training for a real-live event."
From ground to air, thousands of soldiers from all over the northeast also come to Fort Drum's Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield to use a simulator that has every control a blackhawk helicoptor would have.
Jeff Guler, Flight Simulations Branch Chief, said, "The simulators of ten years ago when you would look at the visuals and you'd see a triangle for a tree; now you're dealing with actual satellite imagery and it's like real-time."
"It's one-hundred percent accurate," said Chris Dickerson, Blackhawk Pilot. "It's basically a blackhawk in a building that they can move around."
"We are able to put them in the simulator and go anywhere in the world and train realistically against the threat in that arena, without leaving Fort Drum," said Guler.
Although the simulation is dead-on, when it comes to training, it is actually better than the real thing. It allows the pilots to be put to the test.
Dickerson said, "We call it task saturation. When things start to add up and you're laying problem, on top of problem, on top of problem in a combat environment."
"Task saturation can be a big problem for pilots," said Jonathan Bourland, another Blackhawk Pilot. "As you can see, there's no second chances in the actual aircraft, and the stimulator provides that for us."
In the air and on the ground, it's about using technology to save lives.
"I know what it feels like to go over to a country and lose soldiers," said Conklin. "It's one of the worst feelings in the world. We hope that here with the training that we're able to give them, they can bring everyone home safe."