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Virtual Battlespace at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Virtual training helps soldiers improve their combat skills

A 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, soldier takes part in Virtual Battlespace training at JBLM, Nov. 25. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Justin Naylor

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There's no denying that video games are here to stay. As gaming consoles become more prevalent, the technology behind them is fast becoming an important part of our modern Army.

Soldiers with Company C, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, took a breather between field training exercises while continuing to hone their combat skills during Virtual Battlespace (VBS) training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Nov. 25.

The VBS training incorporated a multitude of real-life information, allowing soldiers to train in the video game setting using the same type of equipment, weapons and vehicles that they would use during traditional field training exercises.

"When we go in there, they want us to simulate it likes it's a real-life experience," said Pvt. Christopher Hedgepeth, a Philadelphia native and squad automatic weapon gunner. "Here you get more visual aspect, out in the field you get more hands-on."

The soldiers practiced a number of different combat skills with an emphasis on working together as a team while incorporating their Stryker combat vehicles into the scenario.

"It definitely does simulate being out there in real life because you have all the right equipment that you're actually going out there with, you have the vehicles you are actually going in," Hedgepeth said.

For the soldiers, this training came after spending several weeks at Yakima Training Center, Wash., where Stryker crews were evaluated on their proficiency during live-fire training exercises.

Although the training lacked some of the hands-on aspects of a real-life training scenario, it helped conserve valuable land and resources while allowing soldiers to practice both basic and advanced combat skills.

"You actually really learn something," Hedgepeth said. "You're not wasting ammo, you're not going out there wasting valuable time."

For the leaders, this training served as a cornerstone for more advanced techniques that they practice in the field.

"This is an initial step," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Barstman, a Los Angeles native and vehicle commander. "It's safer. The guns are not real; out there it's the real thing. It's a little bit different than hands-on experience, but it kind of gets you an understanding of what's going on ... the bigger picture."

The training also allowed leaders to more closely observe the individual actions of their soldiers and to evaluate how they handled themselves as a member of a team.

"I think it's a great benefit," Bartsman said. "[We practice] how to communicate to each other, crew commands, basically how to work as a team, moving Strykers as well as having dismount personnel on the ground attacking an objective and targets."

Bartsman also recognized that many of the young soldiers in his platoon relate well to video games.

"A lot of kids in society are really into playing video games, so from a video game perspective, it shows what it is really like, you're actually applying all the skills that you learn in the military," Bartsman said. "It's virtual reality for the younger generation."

For the soldiers who took part, the training helped improve teamwork and identify areas that they need to focus on before the next round of live-fire training.

"They were writing down the information that they want to change, so when we screw up in here we can go out there and fix it and make sure that those mistakes don't happen," Hedgepeth said.

Staff Sgt. Justin Naylor is with the 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.

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