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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2010

Marines plan mock Afghan village at Hawaii base for training

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Marines are using the Bellows site to train for deployments like this one: Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment fought from a village rooftop in Dahaneh, Afghanistan, last August.

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The Marine Corps wants to improve training for Hawai'i infantry units that rotate through deployments to Afghanistan, and it plans to do so by bringing a bit of Afghanistan to Hawai'i.

The Corps plans to spend $16 million, and possibly more, to create the sights, sounds and smells of an Afghan village at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, officials said.

The Marines will do so in a novel way: They'll put up reconfigurable concrete walls to create villages, and then populate them with role players and wall-projected "avatars" that register hits from simulated rounds.

No live fire will be used, officials said.

More than 200 video cameras will be mounted around the training area to capture every move so tactics can be improved.

Maj. Alan Crouch, a Marine Corps Base Hawaii spokesman, said the modular walls and simulations will be configured around three of four training areas at Bellows that are collectively known as a MOUT site.

The Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain site at Bellows has been used by the Marines since 2007, Crouch said. Now, it's a series of shipping containers arrayed at Bellows and mocked up to represent Afghan villages.

There's also an encampment representing an austere "forward operating base."

The facility the Marines plan to start building around October is being called a Next Gen MOUT, Crouch said.

"The structures fashioned by these modular components will be much more realistic and reconfigurable, which allows the trainers much more flexibility and provides more realistic training," Crouch said.

Crouch said Hawai'i and visiting Marines, Navy SEALs, Schofield Barracks soldiers, the Hawai'i National Guard, and even the Honolulu Police Department and Civil Defense use the Bellows training area.

In 2007, the Marines opened a similarly themed Infantry Immersion Trainer in a 32,000-square-foot former tomato-packing warehouse at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Role-playing residents sometimes throw rocks at the Marines. Pyrotechnics represent roadside bombs or rocket-propelled grenades. The "avatars" are virtual civilians and enemy fighters projected on a wall.

The adrenaline increases proportionally with the effects.

Crouch said the shipping container village mockup will remain at Bellows and the modular structures will add to the authenticity.

A total of 20 rooms will be configured for "avatar" projection, he said, but initially, eight to 12 projectors will be installed.

If more funding is forthcoming, more projectors can be added, he said.

"The plan is to fabricate those pieces here, then to install these modular components in a way that is most realistic," he said.

The advantage to using the modular sections which will be configured to represent an Afghan village is that they can be reconfigured later to suit any change in mission, Crouch said.

"For Marines going to Afghanistan, it's important that we make that training experience as realistic as possible," Crouch said.