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GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — New training techniques that allow soldiers to shoot at targets that can pop up anywhere around — not just in front of — their vehicles have not increased the risk for troops, according to Joint Multinational Training Command officials.

Last month, JMTC commander Brig. Gen. David R. Hogg said the training command was starting to conduct the new type of live-fire convoy training as a way to better prepare soldiers for the realism of war. That includes shooting at an enemy that may not be directly in front of you.

“In the old days, we never shot 360 degrees,” Hogg said.

During U.S. Army Europe’s Sustainable Range Program Workshop in Amberg last month, Steve Kennedy, range and training land program manager, said the Army is trying to incorporate many of the lessons learned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the “live-fire range infrastructure so ranges become more realistic and more challenging as soldiers prepare to conduct combat operations.”

It’s not clear if new training played any part in the June 9 death of Sgt. Jonathon Gilbert, 22, who was shot in the head while training at Grafenwöhr’s Range 307 for the 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment’s upcoming deployment to Iraq.

The Army has yet to release a report on Gilbert’s death, however, JMTC safety director Dirk Kellar said Thursday safety precautions mean that the new training techniques have not increased risk to soldiers.

For example, less-experienced units do not start out doing 360-degree, live-fire convoys, he said.

“Live-fire convoy training starts with targets just on one side of the vehicle. We say: ‘you can shoot between this area and this area,’” Kellar said.

When units with more experience come to Grafenwöhr, the training can get more complex, with soldiers firing at targets on either side of the convoy using different weapons systems such as heavy machine guns or grenade launchers, he said.

The work of safety officials at Grafenwöhr has changed rapidly in recent years as the training area has transformed from a facility that catered mostly to Bradley and tank units to one that focuses on training dismounted infantry.

“Everything we do in Iraq in the global war on terror is dismounted, which is basic infantry skills,” Kellar explained.

For example, Grafenwöhr’s Range 301 was originally designed for mechanized units. Nowadays, small plywood towns have sprouted up on the range so infantry can practice clearing buildings.

All doors on plywood range structures also face up range to stop soldiers shooting in the wrong direction once they get inside. And each maneuver unit involved in training has an observer controller from the unit who is charged with making sure soldiers don’t stray into the path of a comrade’s bullet, Kellar said.

But ultimately, it is the responsibility of a unit’s commander and his platoon sergeants and leaders to keep soldiers safe, Kellar said.

“They walk through the training first. Then they do a blank run. Once the commander feels comfortable that his soldier can perform the work they go do a live fire,” he said.

And according to JMTC spokesman Maj. Eric Bloom, new technology also is contributing to range safety.

JMTC runs a simulation center that allows soldiers to practice training missions using computer range models. Soldiers practice Humvee missions in the same way pilots practice flying in flight simulators, he said.

Once a unit has practiced a training mission on the computers they will do a blank fire run on the range before doing a live-fire mission, Bloom said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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