Fort Drum civilian employees had an opportunity to step into Soldiers’ “boots” July 18 and 19 when they participated in a simulated convoy exercise at the Directorate of Plans, Training and Mobilization’s Reconfigurable Vehicle Tactical Trainer.
The training, which was part of the Leader Enhancement and Developmental Education Requirements program curriculum, gave some 40 Fort Drum civilian employees a taste of the same training Soldiers must complete.
Hands-on experience allowed the civilians to experience the same training as the Soldiers they serve every day, according to Melissa Haapala, Directorate of Human Resources Workforce Development Program manager, who helped facilitate the event.
“This event gives (civilians) a much better idea and a better
appreciation of what Soldiers train for and what they experience (during) combat operations,” she said.
The RVTT simulated a convoy mission in the desert. The civilian team was expected to drive humvees and fire simulated weapons to secure a downed aircraft.
“(The training mission gave the civilians a) different way to take a look at leadership – having the ability to be flexible and make decisions on the spot,” said Pete Conklin, RVTT computer-based training instructor. “(They’re forced to) think outside the box because situations in leadership roles change daily.”
While the simulated training was only a “small sample of what Soldiers actually go through,” Conklin said he tried to replicate what troops do to cause leaders to make quick decisions.
Soldiers are required to make life-or-death situations on the battlefield, according to Robert McNeely, RVTT site manager.
“You have to make quick decisions in combat situations and make decisions faster than (civilians would normally be) comfortable with,” he said. “All decisions have consequences, some good and some bad, but during the (after-action review), we cover all the decisions they made and try to improve upon them.”
The simulated convoy mission not only gave the civilians a chance to think fast, but it also tested their communication skills.
“(The mission is important), but the biggest piece is communication,” McNeely said. “(Sometimes) they learn through radio conversation that what they’re communicating isn’t effective. Sometimes what they’re saying isn’t what their (team) needs to know.”
Good communication skills was one leadership trait Stephanie Sherwood, Mission Support Element program analyst, took away from the training.
“I now have a better understanding of the communication and teamwork it takes to accomplish a mission,” she said. “Our Soldiers’ mission is not just jumping into a humvee and looking for the bad guys. It entails much, much more – from securing a vehicle that may have been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade or a roadside bomb, a downed helicopter with classified information aboard, and providing medical and rescue support to their fellow Soldiers.”
Although she wasn’t sure what to expect from the training, Sherwood said she enjoyed the experience.
“I was impressed with how realistic and detailed this training is compared to real-live missions our Soldiers encounter when they are downrange,” she said. “The (simulator) is as real as it gets without actually being downrange.”
Another participant, Virginia Cooper, Army Community Service Information and Referral Program manager, was tasked with being the team leader for one of the missions.
“The training was awesome,” she said. “At first I was a little intimidated, and to a point I still am, (but) it exceeded my expectations.”
Cooper said the training gave her a better respect for service members, especially the command.
“I never thought about the stress of having that many people and their safety on one person’s shoulders,” she said. “The second thing I got from the training is the importance of (leaders’) decisions and actions and how it could affect others, even if it was just a simulation.”
Sherwood also said the training gave her a better idea of what Soldiers do and how they train for combat.
“Today, Soldiers can train as if they are in actual combat scenarios, preparing them better for what they are sent out to do,” she said. “I definitely have a new perspective on what our Soldiers are doing day in and day out and the kind of training they receive, readying them to accomplish their mission.”
Cooper agreed, adding that she plans to carry her experience over into her civilian life and how she leads others.
“This brought home the danger the (Soldiers) face and the importance of making sure they are properly trained to go on missions,” she said.
“My own son is deploying in September, and although I may never go through what he will go through, this has changed how I will support him, our Fort Drum service members and their Families,” Cooper added. “These guys (are under) a lot of stress, and they should not have to worry about home.”