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Virtual combat training gives Navy lawyers close-up look at war’s realities

27 Feb 2015 | John Hollis Marine Corps Base Quantico

Someone jokingly likened one of the exercises to playing "Call of Duty."

Roughly 60 Navy and Marine attorneys new to the Navy’s Office of General Counsel spent all of Feb. 19 undergoing virtual combat training aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico. They learned that the training runs considerably deeper than anything the popular video game might ever offer.

The military legal minds drawn from all over the country tried their hands at the high-tech Virtual Combat Trainer and the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer systems located at Marine Corps Base Quantico’s Camp Upshur.

They came away with an understanding of the array of dangers facing young Marines in tense combat situations throughout the Middle East and an added appreciation for the split-second decisions they are asked to make in the face of those perils.

"I think it’s good if you’ve never been in combat," said Marine Maj. Tim Kuhn, deputy counsel, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, California. "You get to see the fog of war."

The exercise was part of the lawyers’ two-day introduction to the sometimes harsh daily realities faced by our nation’s warfighters. The program, which was sponsored by the Pentagon-based Office of the Deputy General Counsel, concluded the following day when the lawyers visited Norfolk, Virginia for a tour of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush.

Accompanied by MCBQ legal counsel Julies Rothlein; Glenn R. Hancock, deputy base counsel; and John DeBerry, command visit coordinator, the attorneys made their way to the base’s west side, where they split into two groups. Nearly all of the visiting lawyers arrived already well-versed in most legal matters, but all were novice to the OGC. It was imperative that they get a better understanding of the many challenges their future clients face daily, said Valencia Bowers, assistant to the deputy general counsel (personnel).

The Department of Defense conducts the exercise annually, but this year marked the first time the new lawyers were able to get a more hands-on look, Bowers said.

"We’re trying to make sure they have a better understanding of what they do to support the needs of our warfighters," she said.

Simulators housed in four 53-foot long trailers that can be easily moved to train deploying troops, the VCCT is a suite of four Humvees outfitted with armor and weapons that replicate the vehicle configurations and communications used in the field. The system relies on detailed databases to give students a stunningly realistic depiction of everything they might encounter while riding convoys in Iraq, including insurgent ambushes, mortar attacks and the strict adherence to complex rules of engagement.

Each of the four trailer systems cost roughly $2.3 million and can be used to train an entire platoon at a time.

Designed to put students in Shoot/Don’t Shoot situations where they are forced to make life and death decisions on the fly, the ISMT is used as a tool to instruct shooters in the fundamentals of marksmanship. Students are trained in an array of different scenarios, including hostage, building clearing, moving target and ambush situations. Numerous weapons come into play during the training, including the M4 Rifle, the Browning M2 50 caliber machine gun, the Mark 19 grenade launcher and the M249 light machine gun among others.

Prior to the start, one lawyer asked how she would recognize the enemy.

"You’ll know," responded Sgt. Christopher Scoblic, training facilities chief, Reserve Support Unit Camp Upshur. "He’ll be the guy shooting at you."

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