The Infantry Immersion Trainer at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows will get updated props, such as signs, that recreate an Asian-Pacific town rather than a Middle Eastern one. (Cpl. Jody Lee Smith / Marine Corps)
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Marines who go through Hawaii's Infantry Immersion Trainer will see significant changes to match the Corps' new focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
Infantrymen who prepared for deployments at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows in recent years experienced a setup resembling an Afghan village. But after a $280,000 makeover, to be completed by the middle of 2014, the immersion trainer will more closely resemble a village found in the Far East.
Because the trainer's permanent structures — which include 19 two-story buildings and 62 one-story buildings — are representative of many developing nations, there's no plan to do a major facelift on them, said 1st Lt. Diann Olson, deputy public affairs officer at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. But some of the more cosmetic features will change.
"Marines who train at MCTAB will notice changes in the languages on signs, a shift from Southwest-Asia style furniture to a more generic Asia-Pacific style of furniture, carpets, throw rugs, curtains and market dressings," Olson said.
The 2014 timeframe aligns with the normal cycle of replacing rugs, signs and other items due to wear and tear, she said. Since MCTAB is used approximately 340 days per year for training, it gets a lot of use. In addition to Hawaii-based Marines, the Hawaii Army National Guard and state and local agencies all train at MCTAB, she said.
The décor won't be the only change Marines see. In the past, the majority of role players they encountered were probably Afghans or Iraqis who live in Hawaii. But those changes depend on leaders' requests. Olson said members of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, who will be participating in Island Viper, a battalion-level exercise, will encounter Korean role players.
While the physical aspects of the immersion trainer help prepare Marines for the environment in which they'll be operating, the simulation screens prepare them for a wide range of possible occurrences. The trainer is equipped with 342 cameras, and Marines are observed as they run through various scenarios. There are then after-action reviews, Olson said.
Maj. Gen. Tom Murray, commanding general of Training and Education Command at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., said the combination of simulation and live training teaches Marines a great deal.
Murray pointed out that as people get ready for work in the morning, they do a variety of mindless tasks, such as walking to their car, throwing stuff in the back seat and driving away, without really thinking about it. Putting Marines through the repetition of the immersion trainers allows them to eventually get to the point where they do some things automatically, without thinking, he said.
"Then, when the other things come up, it allows more of your brain to focus and function on that, while still continuing to do those other things that have to happen," Murray said.
The experience Marines have at MCTAB even uses their sense of smell. The facility is equipped with 20 odor generators that emit different scents. For Afghanistan pre-deployment training, Marines might become accustomed to the smells of livestock or meat markets.
Hawaii's immersion trainer is one of three facilities established for each of the Marine Expeditionary Forces. Similar infantry immersion trainers are set up at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C.