To test whether recruits on the cusp of graduating from boot camp have what it takes to become sailors, the Navy next month will begin running them through an immersive simulation designed to replicate the experience of serving on a ship.
Inside a 157,000-square foot training facility in Great Lakes, Ill., recruits will board the USS Trayer — a replica of a guided-missile destroyer — to participate in a 12-hour exercise designed to evaluate the skills they have acquired in boot camp.
“When you walk in, it looks, smells and feels like a real ship,” said Chief Tim McKinley, recruit division commander.
Divided into seven-to-11 person teams, recruits will man stations to take the ship to sea. Each team is led by a facilitator — a petty officer or chief — who will rotate the group through 17 scenarios, ranging from line handling and firefighting to bridge watch and a mass casualty event modeled after the USS Cole — the destroyer that was attacked by suicide bombers in 2000.
The Navy plans to run four recruit divisions, or 352 recruits, each night through the $82 million facility.
“We’re transitioning from a more traditional training environment to a more technological environment, as modern technology advances,” said Lt. Cmdr. Shelley Anderson, technical training director at Recruit Training Command.
It replaces the Navy’s current recruit event, Battle Stations, which consists of 12 segmented events. Battle Stations 21 provides a more realistic environment for recruits, said Anderson.
Currently teams run about three to four miles a night, moving from event to event in no particular order. Recruits might jump into a pool to do an abandon ship drill then head to the mass casualty event, which is essentially an obstacle course. Next, they might move ammunition from one room to another for a magazine flooding scenario, said McKinley.
“It doesn’t have any real application to the tasks they’ll be required to perform in the fleet,” he said.
In Battle Stations 21, all the previously disjointed scenarios are sewn together into a continuous plotline during which the recruits board the USS Trayer in Norfolk, come under attack at sea, then disembark in Yorktown.
For example, during one of the events, recruits will go back to their berthing and the facilitators will snatch one of their team members and hide him. Man overboard will be called. They’ll have to report the missing sailor to the bridge, which is being manned by another recruit team.
“Now instead of the first time they do that drill on their real ship, they will have already done that here at Recruit Training Command,” said McKinley.
In a mock passageway at a conference in Orlando, Fla., a facilitator shuts a watertight door and commences a demonstration. The lights turn red and the entire room begins vibrating as the “ship” goes underway. Soon a voice over the intercom system announces, “Brace for impact.” The floor shakes, a bulkhead breaks open to reveal sparking wires and smoke pours in through a vent. An orange glow shines through a porthole in a door emanating heat. A quick touch confirms the simulated fire behind it.
The demonstration offers a brief glimpse into the kinds of situations recruits will encounter in the simulation.
“We hope in the end to save lives, and save equipment and ships, if they’re ever put in a horrible experience like that. They can have a quicker reaction time, having dealt with the stress of Battle Stations 21,” said Anderson.
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