Playas: Regents Get First-Hand Look At Afghan Village

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.

Scott Biscotti (right) explains to the New Mexico Tech Board of Regents how military personnel are trained to approach new situations through live drills in the Afghan marketplace at Playas, N.M.

Kim Kvamme (left, in suit) leads the Regents and Tech administrators and staff through the Afghan marketplace at the Playas Training and Research Center.

The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents and administrators get an up-close look at the Afghan mountain village.
The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents and administrators tour the Playas Training and Research Center's command center.
Linda Vigil Lopez (left) and Chelsea Buffington give some attention to the goats in the Afghan mountain village at the Playas Training and Research Center.

Photos by Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech

“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. Kvamme 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, Kvamme 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 impresses me 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, Kvamme said.

“I’ve been through Afghani and Pashtun villages and the Playas staff created very accurate reproductions,” Carpenter said. “The trainees will certainly get an excellent experience on what they should do when they’re under fire.”

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.”

During the morning meeting, the Regents covered a variety of routine business, including the following:
  • Approved a lease with the City of Carlsbad for the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, which is owned by the City. Tech will pay $36,000 per year to use the building for the Institute.
  • Approved sabbatical leave for Dr. Sue Bilek and Dr. Glenn Spinelli, professors in the Earth and Environmental Science Department. The two geophysicists, who are married, will be conducting research at the Pacific Geophysical Center in Sydney, British Columbia for a year.
  • Learned that the administration had approved a contract to build the new Macey Family Children’s Center. The bid was awarded to Fox Construction for $1.24 million.
  • Dr. Bill Stone, representing the Faculty Senate, updated the Regents on recent activity. He said the Writing Center and Oral Presentation Center are up and running, under the auspices of the CLASS Department. The Center for Graduate Studies is hosting a Dissertation Boot Camp in January for doctoral students. The New Mexico Tech Press has started publishing, first a computer science text by former professor Dr. Al Stavely; next up is a physics text written by professor Dr. Dave Raymond.
  • Heard the financial analysis for September 2010. Vice President of Finance Lonnie Marquez reported that the university has stayed within its limited budget and are preparing for another round of state-mandated cuts in 2011.
  • Approved a budget adjustment request that includes a 3.2 percent cut made in September.
  • Approved a donation of land from Freeport MacMoRan to Tech in Playas, which will allow the university to expand the airport runway. EMRTC has secured outside funding for the project.
  • As the Employee Benefit Trust Board, the Regents learned that health insurance premiums will be increasing by about 20 percent for all employees in 2011 and 10 percent for retirees. The changes will increase revenue by about $1.3 million. The insurance plans will also be changed to increase deductibles across the board, as well as co-pays and other fees. Rate hikes and policy changes will increase employee contributions by about $509,000 and Tech’s contribution by about $764,000.
  • Dr. Lopez reported on a recent trip to Yangtze University with Dr. Robert Lee, director of the Petroleum Recovery Research Institute. Lopez gave a five-minute speech to officials from Yangtze and several other universities, and several thousand students. About a dozen Yangtze University students are currently studying engineering in Socorro. Lopez said he expects that Dr. Lee will be able to bring as many as 50 Chinese students to Socorro in coming years. Also, Tech students are beginning to show an interest in attending school in China.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech