Virtual Training Gets Ft. Leavenworth Soldiers Fired Up

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FT. LEAVENWORTH, Kan. --  It's one of the most sophisticated video games you'll ever see. But you won't find it in any store. It's only on Army bases, where it's being used to train soldiers to better prepare for combat.

Sensors on their bodies keep track of soldiers' positions and display their actions in a computer-generated world. You can be in an empty room at Fort Leavenworth but feel like you're fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan.

"All right, I've got one of the guys on top," barked a solider in the virtual environment.

A soldier fights for his life in a world far away from the comforts of an auditorium at Fort Leavenworth. Once you strap on a helmet and flip down special goggles soldiers are fully-immersed in a three-dimensional combat zone, complete with avatars, where they can see themselves and other members of their squad fighting alongside each other in the same scenario.

"It doesn't look exactly like me," said Staff Sgt. Lee Kimzey of the Mission Command Training Program. "I asked them if they could do that. But they said they couldn't yet. The facial features of it are just like a human. You look around, you see everybody to your left and to your right."

This virtual training environment is transforming the way our soldiers prepare for battle. Designed for use with small units, soldiers carry replica M-4 carbines and can even throw grenades. In the real world soldiers mostly stand and talk to each other while in the combat zone, there's much more going on.

"Though you may be standing in a certain square foot area in the simulation you might be maneuvering hundreds of meters," said Dan Miller, a military analyst. "It will raise your heart rate and perspiration level."

The first-person shooter simulation costs $470,000 for each squad of nine soldiers. It provides a safe way to train for very risky operations, where locations and terrain of an actual target can be programmed into the virtual world so troops can realistically prepare for what they might face.

"We've both been shot a few times in it and realized what mistakes we've made," Kimzey said. "And you know we run through it again and correct our mistakes."

This is not a substitute for real-world training. But soldiers say they believe it's another useful tool to help them prepare for whatever our nation asks of them.

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