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Marine Corps immersion trainer gets makeover

Nov. 12, 2012 - 07:16PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 12, 2012 - 07:16PM  |  
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HONOLULU The $42 million high-tech immersion trainer at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows is getting a makeover to go along with a new mission.

Gone are the Afghanistan influences. So too are the 50 to 85 Afghan role players who once populated the infantry immersion trainer on Oahu the military's version of a Hollywood set, according to Monday's Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The trainer is getting a $280,000 makeover to reflect new regional priorities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Bellows will keep its 1,149 acres of thick brush and training grounds spread among 87 structures with 20 avatar projection rooms, and 342 cameras watching the action. But Hawaii Marines with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who are heading to Okinawa, Japan, in December will face Korean role players when training at Bellows.

The Corps said new signs will be in Tagalog, Chinese, Indonesian and Korean.

The atmospherics at Bellows will be updated to be more representative of the Asia-Pacific area, Marine Corps Base Hawaii said in a statement.

"We're not going to put in fake palm trees or fake triple canopy (jungle)," said Dan Geltmacher, a retired Marine and range and training area manager for the Marine Corps base.

The Corps has used Iraqi, Afghan and Asia-Pacific nationalities as role players at Bellows since 2006.

The immersion trainer, which debuted in October 2011, was built from a series of mock Afghan villages that were fashioned from shipping containers and were arrayed along dusty gravel roads in Bellows.

Training events now last about 10 to 14 days, and battalion-level exercises incorporate 50 to 85 role players. Geltmacher, the range and training manager, said Afghans who lived on the mainland were brought in two to three times a year over the past several years to be role players.

"It definitely gives you the feeling of being in an Afghan village," Sgt. Scott Whittington said of the training in 2011. "Those little doors into the shops, people hanging out it's like no detail was left out."

Geltmacher said the wall-projected avatar people can be reprogrammed for other nationalities. The signage and markets will be changed over the next year, he said.

The upgrade is being done as part of an "atmospherics refresh" that's scheduled every two years.

The Bellows trainer was the last of three similar facilities established for each of the three Marine Expeditionary Forces, with the others at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C.

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