Marines simulate convoy training

15 Aug 2006 | Pfc. Christopher D. Lyttle

Marines of Bridge Co., 8th Engineer Support Battalion, performed simulated convoy operations training at II Marine Expeditionary Force Simulation Center Tuesday to prepare for real life convoys during deployment.

2nd Lt. Mark C. Baleskie, 25, of Naperville, Ill., 1st platoon commander with Bridge Co., 8th ESB, said this is the first convoy training these Marines have had, as well as their first upcoming deployment.

The convoy simulation is great for working on the basics like keeping dispersion between humvees, said Baleskie. It allows the younger Marines to practice many scenarios and serves as a good rehearsal tool, he said.

David A. Salzman of Richlands, N.C., is one of the military analysts with II MEF Simulation Center that has developed the terrain resembling Middle-Eastern territories and cities like Bahgdad.

“During the convoy, we provide the stimulus against the training unit. The exercise director, which is usually the commanding officer or staff noncommissioned officer with the unit, controls the intensity of the stimulus. Several things are evaluated. If we place an (improvised explosive device), will the Marines see it? Will they respond to small arms fire? How good is their unit leadership,” said Salzman.

“Personnel with II MEF, operate all the noncombatants, medical evacuations, police and terrorists. We can also provide helicopter and gunship support, fire laser guided bombs, mortars and more,” said Salzman.

Cpl. Ryan J. Henderson, 22, of Armada, Mich., has been the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the II MEF Simulations Center for four months and acts as the opposing force against the Marines during the convoy training simulation.

The two rooms that we train in are the Opposing Force Center and the Training Room, said Henderson. “When setting up opposing forces, I assist the exercise director with dictating how force will be applied against Marines with events that they’re likely to actually encounter,” he said.

“The characters in the simulation are completely controlled by Marines, meaning there is no artificial intelligence. The benefits of training partly depend on the tactical proficiency and experience of the exercise director. I set up events on the terrain realistically,” said Henderson.

8th ESB began their training becoming familiar with the controls during a period of instruction. The main controls they use are a combat controller, or “Z Board”, and a mouse. The simulation could be viewed in first or third person and the Marines were tasked as drivers or machine gunners. The Marines were briefed by their officer-in-charge, stations were manned and radio communications were opened.

The convoy route began from a forward operating base and ended at another FOB in a downtown area. The first obstacle encountered was a sniper that engaged from an overpass as the convoy passed halfway through. Afterward, the Marines were critiqued on the situation as they learned different ways to maneuver away from a kill zone.

Another incident that occurred en route to their destination involved two civilian cars speeding erratically and zigzagging through the convoy. Baleskie responded, “Marines, be advised you will use escalation of force if vehicles break in convoy.” The drivers did not become hostile but in turn heightened the awareness of the Marines on the move.

Just short of the town entrance, an IED exploded on the left roadside. Baleskie directed movement and increased the convoy speed to clear out of the kill zone. The Marines reported their casualty and equipment status. All was clear and they ventured on.

The opposing force II MEF Marines had plotted a final diversion before the convoy reached its destination. A vehicle was blocking an underpass with a man waiting alongside the road. The Marines exercised alertness but concluded that the man was not a threat and was possibly waiting for a tow truck.

8th ESB completed their first convoy operations training successfully without injuries or damage. Although they operated in a virtual world, the learning experience they gained from it is very real and better prepared them for deployment.

“Last year, we saved the Marine Corps an estimated $9 million on the cost of ammunition, fuel and equipment maintenance,” said former infantryman Glenn Spradling of Hale County, Texas, military analyst, II MEF Simulation Center. “Equipment, like nearly $200,000 humvees, are spared as well as lives, which you can’t put a price on,” said Spradling.

“I’m completely sold on this system. Many Marines learn a lot and use this as a foundation for convoy training. They learn to communicate better with each other in a controlled environment. Experienced trainees use it to hone their skills from previous deployments and set up accurate scenarios they’ve been in before,” said Spradling.

Although the simulation’s configuration and graphics are based off of the Cold War era video game Operation Flashpoint, the analyst’s and II MEF operators look at the simulation center strictly as a training center that will sustain lives and equipment in the fight against terrorism.

Spradling encourages units to take advantage of the simulation center before their next deployment. “The value of simulated training will only get better with time, and helps Marines in their decision-making process. Even in a simulated process, organization is only half the battle.”