Fort Leonard Wood troops use virtual reality to help train for combat

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SPRINGFIELD — Troops at Fort Leonard Wood are using new technology to help them train. Back in 2018, former defense secretary, James Mattis, established a task force to improve basic solider skills before they ever go into combat.

If you have a family member that has gone through basic training in the last few years, they probably have trained on the ‘EST’. It’s a virtual trainer to help soldiers learn how to shoot. But the new task force thought it could be improved. So they came up with a new platform called the squad Advanced Marksmanship Trainer, or SAM-T.

The hardware was recently on display at Ft. Wood. The company that runs it wouldn’t let us record the screens, but we did get to see soldiers practicing on it.

Sergeant David Hooper, a military police officer in the Army, says, “it’s a giant simulator to get us use to the weapons that we use.”

A virtual shooting range is displayed out on giant flat screens from several projectors. The training uses real weapons, like machine guns and rifles, with special magazines that have compressed air, which simulate the recoil of a round being fired.

“A lot of it is fundamentals. Getting people to understand how the weapon works before they go out to an actual range or before they go into combat. Some of its targets. Some of it’s a simulation like we’re being attacked. For one of them, we would face the opposite direction. He would tell us to turn either left or right and give us a certain target. We have to be able to look at it, identify it, and then engage,” said Sergeant Hooper.

Staff Sergeant Michael Trumble is an Infantryman in the Army. “You see where all your shots hit. If your group was bad, you can see why or where. Just like when we do normal ranges, how you got trigger pull, breathing, all that stuff. You can see it on here.”

One of the advantages of the SAM-T is free range of movement, unlike other virtual trainers that are tethered down with wires and cords.

“When you do this one, you have the freedom to move, you can go anywhere you want. If you’re practicing team movements, a couple of NCO’s can set up in the middle of everything and monitor dudes and use it as a mentorship tool. You can sit an entire platoon on the side, work on one team at a time, and everybody can see their critiques and learn from other peoples mistakes. It saves the units money on ammo. To where you don’t have to restrict yourselves to a few thousand rounds. So if one person is not getting it, you have hours to work with them. They can do the same general thing on the ‘EST’. It’s just I feel like this the ‘EST’ of the future,” said Straff Sergeant Trumble.

The technology is being demonstrated on military bases all over the country. Right now, it’s only at Fort Leonard Wood for a short time. But if enough leaders like what it can do, it could come to the base permanently, to train the next generation of soldiers.

Robert Jehle reporting.

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