Hollywood Comes To T3BL
Photo and story by Staff Sgt. Robert W. Stephenson, 444th MPAD/Fort Dix PA

Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Grimes, confers with a T3BL staff member during weapons qualificationsA Florida film crew was at Training and Training Technology Battle Lab (T3BL), at Fort Dix to film several real-world scenarios that soldiers might encounter while performing peacekeeping or combat missions.

Plots involve the use of standing rules of engagement, called judgmental use of force, but might be more familiar as the “shoot-don’t shoot” scenario. Different versions of each scene were filmed and later converted for use on the Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) 2000, a laser operated small arms and crew served weapons firing simulator used throughout the military, including the T3BL, the only High Tech Training Center of its kind in the country.

“ The Army and the National Guard come to us as subject matter experts to help implement, develop and field virtual training aids for different levels of training,” stated Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Grimes, an infantry instructor and writer at T3BL.

The T3BL serves as a testing and fielding center for training aids, simulators and simulations. With the recent mobilization of more than 7,000 Reserve and National Guard soldiers at Fort Dix, the T3BL has seen an increased level of activity. Mobilized units that are waiting to deploy have been sharpening their skills on a daily basis at T3BL. Soldiers can zero weapons, engage virtual-reality targets or participate in judgmental use of force scenarios.

" One of the problems soldiers in the field face are situations where they don’t know whether to engage a target or not,” said Staff Sgt. Keith Weinberg, a member of the T3BL Battle Staff and one of the scenario writers. “This is going to get them practice the rules of engagement.”

And it is not just the line soldier who has to make the difficult calls. Recent events in Iraq prove that all U.S. soldiers, from cooks to truck drivers, can find themselves in this type of situation.

One scenario shot at Walson Hospital came from real life, according to Jack Tensly, director and cameraman for the project. Tensley, who has shot and directed productions for Disney, was setting up a shot at the vacant hospital. In this story line, men and women in civilian clothes were looting the hospital of furniture when a U.S. soldier encounters them at the door. An argument ensues, a gun is fired, someone falls, and a soldier is attacked. What next? This is the crux of the shoot-don’t shoot scenario and if it sounds all too familiar U.S. forces have encountered similar situations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and in Iraq.

“ We have shot close to 60 scenarios for the simulator,” said Tensly. “And it’s a bit eerie because a lot of what we’ve shot so far have been incidences like those that have happened in the field.”

As for Tinsley, the importance of creating and filming the scenarios used in the EST 2000 is not lost on him.

“ It’s a big responsibility,” notes the director. “To be realistic and effective and not to just produce scenarios that fill a quota, but actually are fielded and used and help protect and train people better is a big responsibility and we take it seriously.”

By sending soldiers through the simulator, units are able to provide them with enough realism to uncover any deficiencies. As one soldier was overheard to say: “Anything can happen to you out there – so you have to be trained for anything.”

At Fort Dix, the T3BL aims to do just that.