By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
A day in soldiers boots
Green Zone participants tour HAAF, experience simulated battle
CW3 Bryan Jacobson, a maintenance test pilot with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, shows Dorothy Kempson, assistant director of academic support services at Armstrong's Liberty Center, how to strap herself in to a UH-60 Blackhawk Oct. 24 at Hunter Army Airfield. - photo by Photo by Jeremy McAbee

Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series on the Green Zone, a program offered by Armstrong State University that helps educators understand the challenges faced by military-affiliated students transitioning to life in the classroom and beyond.

Dr. Ho Huynh stepped up to the firing line.

As he knelt beside the M4 carbine — a shorter, lighter version of the M16 assault rifle — a specialist with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade offered the professor a crash course in weapon qualification.

“This is the rear-site aperture,” the soldier explained, pointing to the small hole that Huynh would look through at a target.

Huynh, a 28-year-old professor of psychology, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and holds a doctorate from the University of California, Riverside. This was the first time, though, that he’d ever picked up a firearm.

Near Huynh stood Dorothy Kempson, assistant director of academic support services at Armstrong State University’s Liberty Center. An Army veteran, Kempson assumed a prone position behind the sandbags, picked up the M4 and thought back to her drill sergeants’ instruction from 26 years earlier.

“Steady position … proper aim … breath control,” Kempson reminded herself, mentally checking off the marksmanship fundamentals she’d learned all those years ago.

“Lock and load one three-round magazine,” the range-control officer commanded. Kempson and Huynh obeyed, preparing to fire a three-shot group that would help establish their battle-sight zeroes.

“Move your selector lever from ‘safe’ to ‘semi,’” range control ordered. “Fire when ready.”

A second passed; then, all at once, 10 shooters sent simulated rounds down range.

This was the scene Oct. 24 at the Engagement Skills Trainer on Hunter Army Airfield, where roughly 15 Armstrong faculty and staff members received up-close looks at life on the installation.

The second part of the three-phase “Green Zone” program, the trip to Hunter was designed to give Armstrong employees a sense of the day-to-day duties of a typical Army soldier.

It was an early day for the four participants who agreed to take part in physical training. PT commenced at 6:30 a.m.

Dr. Betsy Hoit-Thetford, an English instructor, said it was so dark outside she could scarcely see.

“I’m usually up that early grading papers, so it was refreshingly different,” she said.

After the PT’ers finished morning chow at the dining facility, they linked up with their comrades to be bused to the installation-command building. There, the group received a brief on Hunter’s storied past.

Following the briefing and a “windshield tour” of soldiers’ living quarters, the group was split in two; one team was taken to the flight line, while the other took on the EST.

At the flight line, participants were introduced to three models in the Army’s helicopter fleet: the UH-60 Blackhawk, the CH-47F Chinook and the OH-58D Kiowa. Pilots and crew-chiefs explained the aircrafts’ various functions and capabilities.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bryan Jacobson, a maintenance test pilot with the 3rd CAB, said he has been in the military for 16 years, five of which he served in the Marine Corps. He explained that his job is to diagnose problems on the aircraft, and then to fly the helicopters once mechanics have installed new parts to ensure that his diagnoses were correct.

“I’ve never crashed – I’ve just landed sooner than I expected to,” Jacobson noted.

Back at the EST, the civilians saw a variety of small arms and light weapons, including the Army’s newest hand-held grenade launcher, the M320.

The Engagement Skills Trainer, which looks something like a video gamer’s fantasy, allows soldiers to train with their weapons without firing actual rounds. Firearms are hooked up to electronic sensors, and soldiers shoot them while different scenarios are digitally projected onto a giant white screen.

The recently upgraded software can simulate any number of weather conditions and terrain types. The soldiers demonstrated an exercise in which their team leader assigned them sectors of fire, which they had to defend from attack using limited amounts of ammunition.

After the soldiers’ run-through, it was the civilians’ turn. The simulator was set to a desert terrain. Slowly, an enemy vehicle appeared at the crest of a sandy hill. As “bad guys” jumped from the vehicle and stormed forward, the civilians returned fire, eliminating the moving targets one by one.

The 3rd CAB soldiers applauded their guests’ efforts, proud of the “trained killers” they’d fashioned.

Multiple Green Zone participants listed the EST as their favorite activity of the day — not just for the fun of shooting, but because of the eye-opening experience.

“Just coming from a psychology background, (I was) wanting to understand some of the stresses that soldiers go through,” Huynh said. “Just shooting at a projector with fake noises was really, really stressful, so I can’t imagine some of the stuff that they go through.”

“The thing that really has stuck with me is how frightening that attack was,” Hoit-Thetford said. “We knew it was a simulation. We knew those were figures on a screen. We knew we were in a safe environment — and I still felt that horrendous fright.

“I’ll never know what people have gone through, but it helped me understand why some of my students have to sit right by the door,” she continued.

Phase two ended with lunch at the DFAC, where Green Zone participants ate and chatted with their military hosts.

Eileen Snyder, an advisor for Armstrong’s college of science and technology, said she empathizes with military personnel transitioning to civilian life after she witnessed her father go through similar struggles.

“I’m the daughter of a military guy, so he had all the issues that these young people have,” she said. “He had post-traumatic stress. He had trouble keeping a job. He had health issues, and he never addressed them.

“The gentleman who was just sitting next to me (at lunch) lost five people on his last deployment, and I had asked him, you know, ‘Have you been getting counseling?’ And he said, ‘No,’” Snyder continued. “And I said, ‘Well, you really need to do that. Otherwise, it will perpetuate itself.’”

Kempson, who served in the Army from 1988-’92, said she was highly impressed with the EST.

“We didn’t have that back then … so it was totally different, seeing this perspective for the training that happens prior to deployments and on a daily basis,” she said.

“I think, too, for someone who’s never been in the military, never experienced the whole military lifestyle, this was good for them to have one day and just be in that soldier’s boots,” Kempson continued. “I think the soldiers enjoyed us being there, too … I think we both learned something.”

Sign up for our e-newsletters