For far too long there has been a disconnect between the gaming capabilities of young Marines entering the Corps and how the war fighting simulators are used to build their training.
But a group at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, is changing that dynamic with short-form courses that create limited experts at the squad and battalion level.
Until now one of the only ways for a commander to test his Marines via simulation ahead of a field exercise or during downtime would be to seek the limited resources of officers and staff at a place like the Battle Simulation Center at the Marine Air Ground Task Force – Training Command.
That’s fine for large-scale work. But to bring the capability down to individual platoons and squads would help Marines operate in the field or a real-world event.
The Corps continues to use simulators that have been in service for more than a decade and also add items like Tactical Decision Kits, a combination of drones, cameras and laptops that allows Marines to scan an area ahead of a mission and do dry runs virtually.
Maj. Jesse Attig, modeling and simulations officer for the Battle Simulation Center, spent years training and using the concepts needed to create simulations and use them to build realistic training models.
He did work at the Naval Post Graduate School and now oversees such work at 29 Palms. There is no way to go so deep into simulations for a corporal.
But, drawing on the Army’s Simulation Officer Course, which lasts about two months, they’ve shrunk the major themes down to a two-week course called “Simulation Professional Course” and a one-week course called “Simulations Specialist Course.”
The two-week course gives a deeper dive into simulations and is focused on creating a battalion-level expert who can translate a commander’s needs into a simulated training package. The one-week course gives a Marine as junior as a private first class the ability to show other Marines how to operate the simulations.
Hector Viramontes is the Modeling and Simulations deputy for the Marine Corps Logistics Operations Group, also at 29 Palms. He and Attig have helped lead the creation of the courses.
“The idea behind the course is to have an enabler who understands what it takes to put together training objectives, understand simulations and put training together for any level of staff or Marines,” Viramontes said, referring to the two-week course.
“This isn’t just us playing video games in a Sim Center somewhere,” Viramontes said.
Cpl. Zachariah Chavez and Pfc. Brandon Shane attended the one-week course in March. Chavez is a rifleman by trade while Shane, only a few months into service, is a mortarman.
Chavez said that using the simulations helped him better understand his place in a combined arms exercise.
“Lower level personnel could utilize these systems or be able to do these tasks, normally three promotions ahead of their rank,” Chavez said.
Instead of waiting on a fire team leader or squad leader to give them a task, a private or PFC could build their own brief and see how their team and squad would maneuver within the large MAGTF, he said.
Shane checked out the simulations equipment to work with in his spare time and built a scenario that broke down the basic elements of a call for fire mission.
He used that module to show two fellow privates in the barracks how to do the call for fire steps in about 15 minutes, he said.
Cpl. Trevor Ferguson attended the two-week course earlier this year and now works as the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines simulations liaison, bringing such training to individual squads and translating commander goals into simulated exercises.
The most recent course included 24 students from 29 Palms and other West Coast Marine bases and included attendees from majors to non-NCOs, Attig said.
The goal is to spread that number across the force until there is at least one sims professional per battalion and one sims specialist in each squad, Attig said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.