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Digital battlefield

    A five man Fire Support Team from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, takes on the task of dealing with a platoon of enemy tanks. The simulator, is at Kaneohe Marine Base.
    Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Steve Hurse, seated, was the simulator controller yesterday during a virtual reality trainer combat exercise for five Marines with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who are headed to southern Afghanistan.
    Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, seated left, commander of the Marine Corps Forces Pacific, and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, also seated, were briefed on virtual combat exercises yesterday by Maj. Andrew Husman, right.

The Marine Corps showed off a new high-tech virtual reality trainer yesterday that gives grunts on the ground practice calling in airstrikes.

The Corps spent $18 million for the six Supporting Arms Virtual Trainers at six locations, including Kaneohe Bay, officials said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye participated in the dedication honors along with Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, commander of Marine Corps Forces Pacific.

The 15-foot-tall wraparound screen provides a variety of artillery, mortar and airstrike scenarios for ground-based controllers.

A fire support team of five Marines with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, a 1,000-member unit about to head to southern Afghanistan, was arrayed in front of the screen yesterday with a laser target designator, laser range finder and communications equipment as a desert landscape sprawled out before them.

The Marines called for 155 mm artillery fire on a tracked vehicle with missiles near a village about a mile away, and on a tank in a separate location.

The team also contacted two AH-1 Super Cobra helicopters that fired rockets at the enemy tank. The targets were small on the screen because of the distance.

"Is this as realistic as it is in Afghanistan?" Inouye asked after seeing the demonstration.

"We’re cool and comfortable (here)," Thiessen said, "but in terms of techniques and procedures, this is 100 percent — in other words, what’s required to do their job."

Col. James Bierman, commander of the 3rd Marine Regiment at Kaneohe Bay, told Inouye that for future deployments to Afghanistan, Marine attack controllers will use the simulator and then refine their skills at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island and in the desert of Twentynine Palms, Calif., for "Mojave Viper" exercises.

"We see this as an incremental step, not meant to replace that real live-fire training," Bierman said.

Inouye also asked about the Marines’ gear, including how much weight they carry.

A Marine said the load he carries is about 60 to 80 pounds.

The weight is about 25 to 30 pounds less than gear previously worn in Iraq in part because of lighter "scalable plate carrier" armored vests that still can stop an AK-47 round, officials said.

Inouye noted that when he first visited Iraq, U.S. troops were toting around about 90 pounds.

"That’s too much, especially if they have to traverse long distances," Thiessen said.

Inouye also asked what he could do for the Marines.

"The way you’ve stepped forward, step in harm’s way for us, there’s nothing that we can do to thank you enough," he said.

There was a request.

Maj. Andrew Husman, senior forward air controller for the 3rd Marine Regiment, said the base has barracks for two infantry battalions, but there are three battalions on base.

"So every time they deploy, they have to pack up their stuff and put it in storage," Husman said, adding that one sergeant in the room had to move seven times in 1 1/2 to two years.

"We have three battalions and two sets of barracks, and that just necessitates a lot of rotation," Bierman added.

Inouye took note of the comments and wished the Marines his best on their upcoming deployment.


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