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Hollywood company helps Idaho National Guard add realism to training scenarios

The Idaho Army National Guard contracted Westefx, a special effects company based in Hollywood to disguise Humvees as tanks.

ORCHARD, Idaho — The Idaho Army National Guard is taking the “train as you fight” philosophy to a whole new level.

The guard contracted Westefx, a Hollywood special effects company to design and build visual modifications – VisMods for short.

“We take a Humvee and dress it up and make it look like a tank,” Clinton Doramus said, Sergeant First Class with The Idaho Army National Guard. “When you're at a distance and it's driving over a mountain, the silhouette's almost exactly like a T-72 battle tank.”

The VisMods are designed with a mesh screen which improves visibility for operators.

“It's pretty awesome,” said Army National Guard Specialist, Dylan Park. “It's like driving a Humvee, but it has a lot more weight to it and has great visibility even though it is still mostly covered up by the turret.”

The purpose of the VisMods is to provide a more realistic training experience for combat situations.

“To buy a tank or to maintain a tank is extremely more expensive than it is to buy a kit and put it on a Humvee and maintain it,” Sgt. Doramus said. “We're trying to be as realistic as we can, and be as cost-effective as we can.”

The Orchard Combat Training Center houses 12 VisMods - six T-72 Russian battle tank kits and six mimicking the look of a BTR-90 – all with plenty of bells and whistles.

“The main gun fires oxygen and propane to where it makes a big loud boom,” said Doramus. “The same with the 50-cal - the turret rotates 360 degrees, and it has a smoke signature on it. It also has heat blankets to where when you're looking through thermal optics it looks the same as a T-72 battle tank.”

The Idaho Army National Guard's installation support unit assembled the VisMods in November, but the military isn't responsible for the design.

“Westefx, a company out of Hollywood, California designed and made these all under contract from the National Guard Bureau,” said Doramus.

The company has worked on movies like Taken with Liam Neeson and the Daniel Craig James Bond saga, but they work on more than just action movies.

“[Westefx] said they basically have a pretty interesting life,” Doramus laughingly said. “One minute they're in the board room with bunch of generals and the next day they got on a plane and did a music video for Snoop Dog.”

The Orchard Training Center will be home to the National Guard Bureau's exportable training combat center – XCTC for short.

“It's a platoon level, small unit level training to where we can send guys out in the field, they can fight and react to a realistic enemy and see how they react,” Doramus said. “Then they're graded on that and get feedback from the National Guard Bureau on how they did and what they can improve on.”

The VisMods haven't been used for training yet, but the guard is eagerly waiting to start the program.

“The first time I saw [the VisMod], we did a sight visit down in California to Westefx, and it realistically blew my mind what they were capable of doing and what it looked like,” Doramus said. “They're miles ahead of what we were using as far as realistic combat training.”