FORT PICKETT, Va. -- Convoys are an integral part of the operations necessary to support units while they are deployed.
Service members can turn to the Virtual Convoy Operations Trainer to help combat this problem. VCOT is a system designed to simulate convoys in hostile territory.
Marines with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, along with 41 French Marines with 2nd Rifle Company, 3rd Infantry Marine Regiment, recently trained on VCOT here.
“VCOT is a virtual reality based convoy trainer that can simulate various vehicle types and different weapons systems,” said Virginia Army National Guard Sgt. William Henderson, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of VCOT here. “The system is designed to be beneficial to all levels of convoy experience.”
Henderson took Marines through simulated convoys in Baghdad. Groups of 12 men at a time went on the simulated convoys in the back of a modified semi-truck trailer. The Marines broke off into groups of three, with each man assuming a different role.
“You’ll be able to look all around with these,” explained Henderson, as he held up a set of virtual reality headsets. “You’ll need to calibrate your headsets to see properly.”
The Marines filed to each of the four stations in the trailer. The simulators were in a row, one behind the other. Each station had a position for a turret gunner, a vehicle commander and a driver.
The Marines were given a destination to reach before the simulation. Their only direction was to get there. Marines treated the simulation as if it was the real thing, going through all the proper procedures before the convoy began.
“VCOT trains on interacting with allies, enemies and neutral parties,” said Henderson, a Lynchburg, Va. native. “We make the individual user differentiate between friend and foe.”
Seconds into the simulation, Marines encountered their first virtual enemy in the form of a tracked vehicle. The Marines quickly neutralized the threat and continued on toward their target destination. As the convoy progressed, one of the vehicles was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The Marines hurried back to rescue their comrades and found the insurgents on scene heading toward the wreckage of the humvee. The Marines posted security until the convoy was ready to move on.
“This training is essential to these Marines because they’re going to Iraq,” said Cpl. William Black, a machine gunner with Company C, 1st Bn., 8th Marines. “They’re going to combat, and this is exactly what they’re going to face.”
After finishing the convoy and going through a couple of scenarios, the simulation ended. The Marines left the stations and began debriefing in the classroom at the other end of the trailer.
The instructors did not sugarcoat their comments, but were not harsh either. They told the Marines where they needed to improve and encouraged them where they were successful. The training the Marines received will be a valuable tool when the battalion deploys later this year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“VCOT is a high quality trainer,” explained Henderson. “We’re more concerned with high quality training than a high quantity of training.”