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1st SFAB Soldiers hone close combat skills on Army's newest virtual trainer

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ORLANDO, Fla. — A combat advisor team from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade was the first unit of its type to train for an upcoming deployment using one of the Army’s recently-fielded virtual trainers at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The Soldiers of Combat Advisor Team 1133 conducted key-leader engagement and insider-threat training in early June using the Squad Advanced Marksmanship Training system to help them prepare for their overseas combat advisory role.

The SAMT provides a realistic training environment for Soldiers, fire teams and squads to hone their skills on close combat tasks, enabling them to conduct critical tasks repetitively to improve target identification, decision-making, and shooting skills.

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“With SAMT, you can get as many reps as you want with minimal cost to your logisitics,” said Sgt. 1st Class Silvestre Marrufo, team non-commissioned officer in charge, Combat Advisor Team 1133, 1st Battalion, 1st SFAB. “Day or night, rain or snow, you can come in here and do any kind of training. It’s whatever you and the technician can think of, so it’s pretty beneficial.”

A combination of new and improved technologies increases the realism of the training, said Tim Sayers, a capability developer for the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment. The replica M4 rifles and M9 and Glock 19 pistols are designed to approximate the form, fit and function of the weapons Soldiers use every day, he said. Magazines filled with compressed air actions the bolts and produces a recoil effect without requiring external cables.

Soldiers say they like the improved realism.

“This system allows us to do a lot more. I could have my whole team in here instead of having half of them serve as actors,” said Capt. Karis Farrrar, team leader for Combat Advisor Team 1133, 1st Battalion, 1st SFAB. “All the weapons are bluetooth, so it allows the Soldiers to actually work with their equipment. They’re not tethered to anything — it feels like you’re in a room.”

The system offers a myriad of drills that allow Soldiers to practice advanced marksmanship skills such as firing with non-dominant hand and firing on the move as they transition between rifle and sidearm, Sayers said. This type of training is critical because marksmanship is a perishable skill.

“The SAMT really trains Soldiers in decision-making,” Sayers said. “They have to quickly identify targets and decide whether to engage while being consistently aware of their surroundings.”

Fort Benning is one of nine Army sites that now boast the SAMT. The capability was installed first in March at Fort Drum, New York, with additional fieldings completed at other major installations including Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Hood, Texas; and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

By fall, the trainer will be operational at more than 20 locations in the United States, Sayers said.

The SAMT was developed by the Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Team (located in Orlando, Florida) and the Close Combat Lethality Task Force, in an effort to address the erosion of close-combat capability skills identified in the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Strategy.

Insights gained from SAMT usage will inform development of a future immersive marksmanship capability known as the Soldier/Squad Virtual Trainer, Sayers added.

For now, the SAMT is helping 1st SFAB Soldiers at Fort Benning better prepare for potential deployment later this year.

“We’ve talked to the operators and they’ve started working on a couple of different scenarios…all things that will add to the stress a little bit while you’re still picking up on the triggers while having a conversation with the principle,” said Staff Sgt. James Elliott, Senior Support Advisor, Combat Advisor Team 1133.

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