Civic Leaders Tour

Civic Leaders get Up-Close Look at Training Facilities
by Jane Welch

Maj. Dirk Christian briefs members of the Kansas Legislature and other civic leaders on Crisis City which is located at Smoky Hill Range near Salina, Kan. (Photo by Jane Welch)

On April 29, 2008, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Small, the assistant adjutant general – Army and commander of the Kansas Army National Guard, took the opportunity to give a handful of civic leaders an inside look at the Kansas Army National Guard.
Small and 13 civic leaders started with a briefing to go over the agenda for the day. The group consisted of representatives from the Kansas Legislature, the Revisor of Statutes office, the Legislative Research office and the Topeka Chamber of Commerce. The day would be spent in Salina, Kan., and the surrounding area getting a firsthand look at Kansas National Guard facilities.
Their journey began by traveling in style. The leaders were flown to Salina on two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation, Topeka. For many, it was their first flight on a helicopter. It was a beautiful sunny day and the helicopter gave them a bird’s eye view of the scenic landscapes of Kansas.
The first stop was the Smoky Hill Range located southwest of Salina. Before landing, the helicopters circled Smoky Hill to give everyone an aerial view of the facilities. Once on the ground, the leaders were bused to the Smoky Hill headquarters, where they received an overview of the Great Plains Joint Regional Training Center, Smoky Hill and the Kansas Regional Training Institute.
Then everyone boarded buses to get a closer look at the things that they had seen from the air. The first stop was at the urban target complex where Soldiers receive training on conducting a house-to house search in hostile territory.
The civic leaders then got a walking tour of the outdoor M-16 qualification firing range. This range is a fully automated range that is computer operated and scored. It has walk in fox holes or the individual can also fire from either a kneeling or prone position. The new target system was installed in February and has wireless control.
From the firing range it was a short walk to the Crisis City Rail Venue, which is part of the Great Plains Joint Regional Training Center. The rail venue consists of six railroad cars donated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe to the project. The railcar venue is the first training feature of
Crisis City, which is a hands-on homeland security public safety training area. This rail training venue will allow emergency responders from local, state and federal organizations, including law enforcement, search and rescue teams, medical response teams, public and private industry safety professionals and the National Guard, to train together, conduct exercises and work through realistic disaster scenarios.
Then it was back on the buses for the short drive from Smoky Hill Range to the Kansas Regional Training Center in Salina.
The first stop in Salina was the Indoor Firing Range simulator where they learned all about the Engagement Skills Trainer (ETS) 2000. The ETS 2000 provides Soldiers with realistic marksmanship and combat scenario training for 12 of the most common small arms and crew served weapons and individual anti-tank weapons in the Army inventory. The ETS 2000 also
provides the capability to build and sustain marksmanship skills for squad and team fire distribution.
The civic leaders all got a chance to test their skills with an M16A2 rifle. Although the simulator looked like the ultimate video game it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Then it was around the corner to the Vehicle Convoy Operations Trainer (VCOT). The VCOT gives a virtual sense of being in downtown Baghdad and how to conduct convoy operations. All the streets in the VCOT have been copied directly from Iraq. The VCOT contains scenarios for such things as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), route clearance, etc. During the course of a scenario, items such as
obstacles in the road, IEDs, vehicles, and artillery can be inserted at any time.
The civic leaders got a chance to sit behind the wheel or in the turret of a HMMWV and experience what it is like being in a convoy. Convoy training isn’t just about how to drive a HMMWV, but involves how to react if one of the vehicles gets hit, how to cover a sector of fire, what is the proper interval between vehicles, communication with the convoy commander
and many other things. The turret gunners in this simulated convoy wear a virtual halo which gives them a three dimensional look at their surroundings.
To help the civic leaders understand just a fraction of what Soldiers face when overseas a special demonstration was set up. An improvised explosive device (IED) simulator kit was placed next to a HMMWV and detonated. Everyone jumped when the device went off with a loud boom followed by rolling smoke. Although this IED was harmless it really brought home what a convoy traveling on the roads of Iraq or Afghanistan faces.
Then it was back to the helicopters for the flight home. It had been a day filled with new experiences for the legislators.
Junior legislators, like Rep. Elaine Bowers, District 107, “welcomed the opportunity to get to learn more about the Kansas National Guard and its mission.” She also felt like the day had opened her eyes to some of the challenges that the Guard faces.
For Small, who has set up dozens of these educational trips for civic leaders, as they say in the military - mission complete.

* Reprinted with permission from the Plains Guardian Volume 51 No. 3 July 2008