Friday, January 23, 2009

Realism dominates Heat instruction

FORT DIX, N.J. – Extend to your left, and stretch. Warm-up exercises as part of Physical Training continue everyday for Soldiers here at Fort Dix. Soldiers take part in these exercises in order to get their bodies ready for a good workout. But, Soldiers doing warm-up exercises in battle rattle, including Individual Body Armor and Helmet with eye protection is definitely not the norm.

It’s all part of the class HEAT (Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer), which takes Soldiers through a simulated HMMWV (Humvee) rollover. The class is intensely physical, requiring Soldiers to exit a Humvee simulator from an upside down position so that they can prepare for any real-life rollovers that may happen during their deployment.

“They need to be loose before they get in the simulator,” said Staff Sgt. Lamonte Thomas Sr., HEAT instructor, from Colonial Heights, Va. of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va.
Due to the nature of the training, instructors must focus Soldiers on handling both the physical and psychological elements involved in getting out of the vehicle. Instructors teach how to handle Humvee rollovers and the aftermath of a rollover incident.

The training begins with classroom instruction, and takes Soldiers through a process that covers all the basics for getting out safely from all positions, including driver, team captain, right and left rear seats and the gunner’s position.

By the end of training, after Soldiers have successfully exited the simulator, added emphasis is placed on what to do and the positioning of Soldiers outside of the rollover.

“We call it muscle memory,” said Sgt. Ted Vega, HEAT instructor, from Escondido, Ca. also of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va. “In case of an accident, Soldiers must know procedures. There must be accountability.”

The aftermath also includes having Soldiers react to enemy fire, Improvised Explosive Devices, and caring for the wounded.

“In case someone goes down, they need to know what to do, including the nine-line medivac,” said Vega.

Instructors are dealing with different levels of knowledge when it comes to riding in Humvees.
“Soldiers who have never rode in a Humvee before are not aware of the dangers a rollover can cause,” said Thomas.

HEAT began soon after the war in Iraq started, said Thomas. It was due to the high amount of IED’s encountered by Soldiers.

Thomas has been an instructor here for two years and he also taught for 4 months at Camp Baring in Kuwait. He knows that HEAT makes a difference and keeps Soldiers prepared for the worst.

In reference to a rollover accident here in September of last year, Thomas said, “Soldiers knew what to do. This made us feel that we are helping Soldiers and that the training is realistic.”
In Iraq and Afghanistan, unfortunately, it’s not just the IED’s, the terrain also makes a difference.

“You can roll over by hitting a sand pocket going 25 miles per hour,” said Thomas.
HEAT is evolving, too. New to the simulator are combat door locks. These are the same combat door locks that are part of the Up-armored Humvees. These are heavy, equipment laden Humvees.
“Up-armored Humvees are more dangerous than regular Humvees,” said Thomas.

Thomas and Vega take pride in providing the most realistic instruction possible. They know the importance that HEAT has in preparing Soldiers for deployment. Making Soldiers aware of what to do in a rollover is their goal.

“Having all the information they need to keep them safe is the key, said Vega. I’ve been over there, I can give my input to help get them ready.”

First, 30 degrees to the left, then it’s 30 degrees to the right, two full rotations later and now it’s gravity’s turn as the simulator goes into full effect. Soldiers are yelling instructions to each other and reaching for the seatbelt, gunner’s release, or combat door lock all in an effort to egress and get to a secure position outside of the simulator. It’s a time for Soldiers to be expedient and proficient when their senses might be telling them otherwise. It feels completely unnatural, but it’s a Soldier’s reality.

HEAT is a whole humvee rollover experience taught by knowledgeable, passionate instructors. HEAT involves a multitude of tasks for Soldiers that requires an active mind, a sound stomach, and a limber body. PT uniforms are not allowed.

Photo Caption: Sgt. Ted Vega, HEAT instructor, from Escondido, Ca. of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va. takes Soldiers through a series of warm-up exercises prior to Soldiers entering the Humvee simulator. Vega begins with neck exercises and works his way down the body as Soldiers follow his lead.

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