The Richmond Register

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January 31, 2014

EKU Army ROTC cadets train with virtual programs

General visits Thursday

RICHMOND — Army ROTC cadets were target shooting Thursday with M-4 and M-16 rifles, patrolling the battlefield and engaging the enemy, all within Eastern Kentucky University’s temperature-controlled Begley Building.

The rifles were armed with lasers instead of bullets, and the enemy was “engaged” on video screens.

Eastern’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is the first program in the nation to have an on-site virtual training lab, said Lt. Col. Ralph Hudnall, professor of military science at EKU.

"We're setting the standard," he said. "Our program is on the cutting-edge of ROTC training."

Cadets were using Virtual Battlespace 2 and the Engagement Skills Trainer, both designed to simulate real-life military scenarios, said Capt. Michael Blakley, assistant professor of military science.

“This is a way for us to duplicate squad training while in an indoors, virtual environment,” Blakley said.

Cadets sat around a group of networked computers provided by the university, prepping for a mission, reacting to artillery strikes and making contact with the enemy.

Imagine the first-person and third-person video game Call of Duty, Blakley said. “This is a different approach to training.”

Brig. Gen. Maria Gervais, the Army’s deputy ROTC commander, visited Thursday to observe how EKU cadets used virtual training. Her visit will help determine “if this is something we can use on a larger scale” for all ROTC programs.

EKU cadets seem to enjoy “great support from the school,” Gervais said. “They have good facilities, outstanding cadets and a great relationship with the Blue Grass Army Depot.”

She and the cadets ate lunch with Col. Lee Hudson, the BGAD commander, before returning to EKU for the virtual exercises.

Cadets training with the virtual program said the feel of the rifles and the recoil while shooting feels similar to the real thing, only the guns are “not as loud and you don’t have to clean up shell casings,” one of them said.

The weapons even look real. The M-4 is complete with quad rails to attach a scope or laser and the M-16A2 is a little heavier and longer, the cadets said.

Cadet Battalion Commander Brian Wade and his classmates in the senior-level course Military Science 4 plan and conduct labs and live exercises each week, as they did Thursday.

The cadets are preparing for this summer’s Leadership Development and Assessment Course, the Army’s largest training exercise. While usually conducted in Washington, it has moved to Fort Knox this year, Wade said.

“This is the capstone event for cadets; to demonstrate everything they’ve been taught,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Dougherty, senior military instructor for the ROTC program at EKU. 

The ultimate goal of the ROTC program is to train commissioned officers for the military, he said.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.

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