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Playas: Soldiers Training In Simulated Afghanistan

SOCORRO, N.M. October 27, 2010– The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents toured the university’s training facility in Playas, N.M., in conjunction with its monthly meeting Thursday, Oct. 21.

“We were very pleased to have had the opportunity to tour the Playas Training and Research Center,” Board President Ann Murphy Daily said. “Initially, this unit was a unique and important decision for New Mexico Tech’s Board and administration. It’s one thing to discuss these remote operating units in Board meetings but there is no substitute for actually being on-site and spending time with our team.”

New Mexico Tech purchased an abandoned company town in 2004, complete with more than 250 homes, a community center, bank, restaurant and bowling alley, day care center and several other buildings. The purchase was completed with $5 million of Department of Homeland Security funding after then-owner Phelps Dodge Mining Co. put the property up sale.

The facility includes several zones for urban combat, drug interdiction and border security training programs, complete with state-of-the-art surveillance and monitoring equipment.

Daily praised the Playas decision-makers for their productivity and talent: Dr. John L. Meason, Director of Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, and Kim Kvamme, Director of PTRC.  Kwamme lead the Regents and university administrators on a tour of the control center and the two recreated Afghan installments – an urban marketplace constructed within the Playas village site and a separate mountain village that is several miles into the mountains from Playas.

“It is humbling to arrive at Playas – a remote location in the Bootheel of New Mexico – and be on the ground to witness firsthand how our university contributes to preparing our troops for deployment in Afghanistan,” Daily said. “When you step into the Afghan village and urban marketplace, we all had a sense of really being there. It’s true-to-life, down to the bricks, mortar, small urban shops, goats and donkeys.

The Afghan village training exercise is set up at Playas to give the military personnel an immersion experience into the culture, language, threatening situations and life challenges they will face in Afghanistan.

“The sort of experience our soldiers get in Playas is invaluable,” Armijo said. “The kind of training we are doing is highly unique. Over the years, I think that training will prove essential and critical for the training of our armed forces.”

The training is designed to build their judgment, skills, trust and confidence, Kwame said. During a live-action drill, the Training Center employs role players who live within the marketplace or mountain village for an extended period, along side U.S. military personnel who are preparing for deployment.

“I was thoroughly fascinated by the whole Playas experience,” Regent Jerry Armijo said. “I came away very impressed with the integrity and the innovation we are using at this training facility. From what I can tell, it’s an exact replica for Afghanistan. It blows my mind that we are able to put something like that together. Our staff deserves a lot of credit for that because it took a lot of imagination and energy to build a village and a marketplace and run simulated exercises.”

Reality-based training prepares U.S. troops to react to high stress situations. Troops who have “lived” a situation can move faster through future situations, jumping to the important life-saving elements, reading them more accurately, Kwamme said.

Daily said, “After seeing the Afghan village and marketplace, and now understanding the Playas training process with its immense technological capabilities, I think all board members are confident that the time spent at Playas will be invaluable to our troops.”

The Playas Training and Research Center is a highly regarded training facility not only for this Afghanistan foreign deployment, but also for border protection exercises, anti-terrorism and first responders training, hostage negotiations instruction and emergency preparedness, to name only a few areas of expertise.

“As a Board of Regents, we are pleased that, with EMRTC and PTRC, New Mexico Tech can bring together world-class facilities, technologies and experts to deliver training and research to further the national security agenda at a very critical time in U.S. history,” Daily said. “We feel a great sense of patriotic duty and respect in this regard.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech