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PA Soldiers Practice in Virtual World


The Pennsylvania National Guard’s training center at Fort Indiantown Gap is getting a new $500,000 virtual training device that allows its soldiers to be completely immersed in a virtual battlefield.

During a demonstration at the Lebanon County facility, soldiers wear helmets and virtual reality goggles. Their weapons are replicas, and they have nodules all over their bodies corresponding to their virtual avatar.

Each soldier’s computer connection to the Dismounted Soldier Training System is in a pack weighing 35 pounds – pretty light, compared to a typical battlefield pack.

This isn’t the first virtual trainer to be used at Fort Indiantown Gap, but if past systems were like Xbox and Call of Duty games, the new Dismounted Soldier system is like Nintendo Wii.

“You’re actually in the environment. As you look left, as you look right, you’re standing up, you’re articulating your weapon, you’re pointing your weapon,” said Captain Gordon Kinneer, in charge of simulations at Fort Indiantown Gap. “Wherever you point your weapon, that’s, you know, your avatar in real life is actually doing that. Whereas, on a keyboard, you just push F-10 and he takes a knee.”

Lieutenant Colonel Al Ornoski said the virtual trainers work especially well for younger soldiers.

“They’re so used to gaming and gameboying, with Halo and SOCOM and all that, so it’s a good progression for us,” said Ornoski. “And the younger soldiers really pick this up really quick and it definitely helps them in their expertise and their progression towards, you know, when they have to go into battle.”

Ornoski was asked if it’s possible to be a great virtual soldier and an abysmal real one, but he said he doesn’t think that’s a common result of the training.

As many as nine soldiers can use the trainer at a time, practicing working as a team in a battlefield scenario.

The Dismounted Soldier device in Lebanon County is the 34th such device in the country to be obtained by a military training center. The Gap is a likely candidate for such systems because of the number of soldiers it trains. It will have the device permanently.

There’s no waiting list to use it yet, said Kinneer – but only because it hasn’t been advertised internally. “I anticipate that as word gets out, it will become very popular,” Kinneer said.