VirTra simulator: prepares Airmen for real-world situations

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kyla Gifford
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
The 30th Security Forces Squadron Airmen encounter various real-world threats daily - whether it's a verbal confrontation or an active shooter, our defenders have to be prepared for anything.

More than a year ago a new form of training was implemented into the 30th SFS program, a VirTra system.

"The VirTra system is a use-of-force simulator," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Johnson-Dean, 30th SFS unit trainer. "All SFS Airmen and augmentees are trained on it. First there is a use-of-force training PowerPoint, and then each Airman goes through a variety of realistic scenarios on the simulator."

This highly responsive simulator has a laser detection system, which responds to the laser based training equipment placed in the weapon. This equipment can be used on any weapon carried by SFS Airmen.

"We also put a small CO2 tank inside the weapon, and the CO2 acts as recoil," said Johnson-Dean. "When you fire the weapon it actually feels realistic."

There are several different VirTra simulators, from portable single-screen to advanced 300 degree simulators. These systems were originally used by civilian law enforcement to train for the most difficult real-world situations, such as ambushes, active shooters and maintaining situational awareness during extreme stress.

"Civilian law enforcement implements this to get that muscle memory and provide better training," said Johnson-Dean. "Hopefully in the next couple of years the Air Force will get every base in on this training."

This advanced simulator also saves resources.

"Before using the VirTra simulator we would have to use our simulation rounds, which cost per bullet," said Johnson-Dean. "With this system we only pay for the batteries and simple maintenance."

The time segmented scenarios are a surefire way to see how Airmen react to certain situations, while maintaining professionalism in their mannerisms.

"If the member's reactions are not correct, we figure out how to fix those reactions," said Johnson-Dean. "A lot of people get into the rhythm of repeating the same thing, and not really hearing the cues. We are trying to open up that tunnel vision. We try to get the Airmen to think through the use-of-force training that we just taught them. It's essentially shoot, no shoot situations. It's all based on how they perceive the threat."

In order to simulate a high stress situation, Airmen receive two-tenths of a second of a low voltage shock when they say or act in a way that could harm themselves, or others, during the training.

"We have what's called a threat fire, it's a motivational technique," said Johnson-Dean. "If they get shot we give them a slight shock of electricity, to get them into the situation and remind them this is their life on the line."

This system helps Airmen find their comfort zone, and how to be more efficient in each situation, without hesitancy.

"The simulator was very successful in preparing me for a career in Security Forces," said Senior Airman Kelsey Rivers, 30th SFS Flight Operations Support. "It really puts you under that stress of 'what would you do?'. What would you do if you had a guy coming at you with a knife, and even with every challenge to make him put the weapon down, he continues? The scenarios are there to show us things that could happen."

Although VirTra is a thrilling and complex form of training, Johnson-Dean ensures that his Airmen stay focused on the importance of their training.

"I like to tell my Airmen, 'If you pull out your weapon and you pull that trigger, you can't take that bullet back," said Johnson-Dean. "But if you pull out your weapon and you're able to talk them down, you can always put your weapon away. We want everyone to go home safely. We want the suspects, the victims and ourselves to make it home safely. This training provides that preparation."