On Monday, November 15, 2010 I had the honor and pleasure of visiting with PSYOP troops training at the Fort Hunter Liggett, CA Regional Training Center. As many of my regular readers know, I am normally very cynical and a very hard grader.
Having said that – I was very impressed at the level of training and high level of morale and spirits of PSYOP soldiers going through an exercise called “The Shoot House”. Employing a crawl, walk, run philosophy soldiers are taught the dangerous and necessary job of clearing rooms and differentiating the friendlies from the enemies. Training starts with rooms blocked out on the ground and progresses through a paint ball simulated live fire exercise.
The facility itself is quite impressive. (Check out http://www.liggett.army.mil/sites/aboutcstc/aboutcstc.asp). Being a technical guy I marveled at the cadre’s ability to edit video from 12 cameras into a cohesive after action report in the short time it would take the team that just went through the house to get to the AAR building. Chronologically organized video clips eliminate the uncertainty of who did what and offer an incredible learning tool.
The cadre performs an AAR with each team. The facility puts together a ‘take home’ package for the unit CDR so that he or she can take any additional remedial actions or schedule additional training needed before mobilization.
The house consists of 8 rooms and associated hallways. There are several scenarios that face each team accompanied by an array of sound effects. The OPFOR is played by a combination of live players and mannequins that are electronically controlled. The entire operation is supervised from an overhead catwalk to insure safety and to orchestrate the operation.
Instruction is done by military personnel while the facility is managed and maintained by civilian contractors. These contractors really get it! They understand how the training is supposed to work and seem to go the extra mile to see that their customers are getting first class service.
The use of paintball guns and protective gear added another dimension of realism. When you got hit – you knew you got it. Regrettably I didn’t get a chance to go through the house myself. I was hoping to be an embedded journalist for the experience, but time didn’t allow for it.
I did get the opportunity of presenting two CDR’s coins two outstanding soldiers on behalf of the Group Commander whose troops were being trained.
The CDR of the Regional Training Center (RTC) was kind enough to give me a briefing and we talked about realism in training. He explained how he is pressing for the use of Man Marking Rounds (MMR) such as those made by Simunition (see http://www.simunition.com/cartridges/fx_training_en.php).
There are some significant advantages to MMR over paintball: 1. Soldiers use their own weapons (albeit with a special bolt) and 2. Since the rounds leave different colored marks the source of the shot can be confirmed. There are some disadvantages as well one is safety since the MMR is travelling almost as fast as real ammo and cost: MMRs and Simunition rounds cost between .57 and .62 each while Paint ball rounds are only .03.
Overall this type of training is realistic and challenging. It is a great example of ‘train as you fight’ and I was delighted to take part in it!