CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The robot’s metal claw whirred as it picked up a dummy improvised explosive device from a hole in the ground. The operator, sitting behind a laptop a block away, maneuvered the robot precisely using the multiple cameras attached.
The person at the controls was one of eight combat engineers with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, conducting training with a counter-IED robot known as the Foster-Miller TALON, aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept. 12, 2013.
“We provide unique training for IED awareness and route clearance through multiple systems such as the TALON,” said Craig Burnett, a civilian technician and trainer with Robotic Systems Joint Project Office. “We took the eight Marines and provided them with very detailed training and certification on the maintenance and use of the robots.”
The combat engineers practiced operating the robots in a combat environment.
“We’re getting certified to use the robot to identify objects from far distances, placing simulated charges to blow them up in place, picking up smaller objects and placing them into secure areas,” said Sgt. James Smith, a combat engineer with Alpha Company, 7th ESB, 1st MLG. “It’s all very practical. After the course I feel confident in my abilities to use the robot.”
Throughout the two-day course, the Marines learned about proper maintenance and operation of the robot through classroom style lectures and then participated in hands-on exercises.
“Once we’re done with this, we’re able to spread this knowledge to our Marines,” said Smith, a native of Austell, Ga. “You don’t know what vehicle is going to encounter an IED first. If our Marines are proficient in operating the TALON, they can use it instead of pulling someone from the rear to do it.”
The exercise was part of 7th ESB’s pre-deployment training to prepare the Marines for overseas duty in Afghanistan in the following months.
The instructors believe that pre-deployment training is invaluable in today’s battlefield where IEDs are one of the biggest threats to coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“Anything that gives the Marines an opportunity to not put themselves and others into harm’s way is important, even if it’s something as simple as doing a vehicle control point,” said Elijah Richardson, a technician and trainer with RSJPO. “What we’re doing in the certification course is teaching these Marines to train those around them, so it just multiplies how much knowledge is out there in the unit.”
From Oct., 2005 to Sept. 12, 2013, approximately 822 robots have been destroyed in the field neutralizing IEDs, said Burnett.
“If we lose one of these robots, we can replace it,” said Richardson. “But replacing a Marine or a soldier, there’s no cost you can put on that.”