Fort Stewart’s new virtual-training facility officially opened for business Tuesday afternoon with a ribbon cutting.
The new facility combines all of Fort Stewart’s Engagement Skill Training simulator devices into one facility, according to virtual-section supervisor Dan Quinlan.
He said the facility supports small-arms and crew-served platform training to include drive-in capabilities up to Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.
A fact sheet released by the facility through the Fort Stewart Public Affairs Office said the EST simulator provides marksmanship and combat-scenario training for 10 of the most common small-arms, crew-served and individual anti-tank weapons in the Army’s inventory. These “virtual” weapons have the same feel, weight, recoil and sound as the real thing. Quinlan joked the only things he cannot simulate are environmental conditions and the smell of expended propellant when the weapon is fired.
PAO spokesman Kevin Larson said even though the facility’s construction and virtual equipment have a price tag of $8.2 million, the facility saves the Army $1.4 million a month by not firing live ammunition. It also limits wear and tear on tactical vehicles.
“I have 523 scenarios that are part of each 10-lane EST simulator,” Quinlan said. “Each scenario provides the capability to operate in three modes of training — marksmanship, collective and shoot-don’t-shoot situations.”
Quinlan said the marksmanship scenarios concentrate on individual small-arms weapons like the 9mm pistol and M4 assault rifles, and crew-served weapons such as mortars and machine guns. The collective training incorporates both squad-level and anti-tank training.
The shoot-don’t-shoot scenario is one guest speaker Col. Kevin Gregory, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Garrison commander, pointed out to those in attendance.
“It puts soldiers in that scenario where they have to make split-second decisions to shoot or not to shoot,” he said. “This facility is another training tool in the commander’s kit bag. Soldiers can now train without having to fire a live round.”
Gregory thanked Quinlan, Larry Durrence and the staff at the facility as well as Georgia Southern Construction Company, who built the facility. He also recognized Fort Stewart’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security and Directorate of Public Works, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their part in making the new facility happen.
Gregory told guests that Fort Stewart would continue to set the standard for state-of-the-art training equipment and facilities.
Following the ribbon cutting, guests toured the multi-room, two-story facility. Several guests congregated in a large room where two MRAPs were set up for an EST simulator. It was the first time some had been that close to an MRAP. Most guests wanted to see how the .50-caliber machine gun operated in a simulated scenario, but no such demonstration was made.
Others worked their way upstairs where a simulated squad fired its M4s on full-automatic at moving targets in a desert environment. After a mad minute of firing, there appeared to be no targets to engage, though some “riflemen” still were firing. Finally, the firing stopped.
“I think we got ‘em all,” a woman shouted.
When asked if the facility might someday replace live-fire training, Quinlan was skeptical.
“The old soldier in me says that’s not going to happen,” said Quinlan, who retired from the Army in 1997 then started working for the Army as a civilian trainer in 1999. “I’ll always believe live-fire training is primary. This facility saves a lot of money for some training, but there’s no replacement for hands-on live-fire training.”
Quinlan supervises a staff of 23 people, which includes active-duty military, Army civilians and contract personnel.