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Simulation training with Special Forces

Apr 1, 2010

By Sarah M. Rivette /Special to the Paraglide

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The office would be the ultimate playground for video game enthusiasts. There are three, 42-inch flat screen televisions, multiple computer consoles, sound proof walls and top of the line gaming equipment.

But it's not all fun and games at the Office of Interactive Multimedia Instruction at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg. The employees, including two former Special Forces operators, are trying to integrate high-level training with an off-duty past time.

Preston Scott, the office chief, and Andy Brittenham, creative director, realize they are competing with commercial games like "World of Warcraft," "God of War" and "Call of Duty." But they also know that there is a real take away from gaming simulation that could provide valuable, life-saving experience for Special Forces trainees.

"We don't have the time to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse," said Scott. "There are limitations before you go to war and with games, you can replicate the horrors of going to war. We are trying to give them something as close as possible to a real series of situations. We want to create that sense of déjà vu."

The games are created in-house with the help of animator John Sonedecker and programmer Adam Starling; both of whom have worked on games in the civilian realm. With their help and the expertise of Scott and Brittenham, who have over 40 years of Special Forces experience, the games offer something that commercial games cannot even come close to - reality.

"My hope is that when reality is replicated in simulation, it helps the Soldiers recognize that something is not right when they get on the ground," said Scott. "They might not be able to say what's wrong, but they'll be able to sense something isn't right. It can help create a muscle memory for the mind to create better reflexes."

Currently the office is working on two gaming systems, one for individual distance learning and one for interactive team training. The distance learning games simulate scenarios that force a Soldier to make decisions. It gives the Soldier the opportunity to dig deep into topics on their own time and offers a chance to learn different weapon systems and different occupational specialties.

The interactive team training is set up like popular commercial games where Soldiers wear headsets and work together towards an objective. The team training games give after-action reviews on an individual and team basis so Soldiers learn from mistakes.

The interactive training also allows for real-time changes to be made. A programmer could be sitting in another room, watching a team go through a game scenario and can change the conditions on the ground, like insert an improvised explosive device on a roadway, stage an ambush or inject native speakers into a situation.

All these elements give Soldiers the tools to be prepared for the unexpected, said Scott. He and Brittenham hope that their simulated training will ensure that Soldiers will come home.

"It all goes back to the Soldier, to that person in the trench. He or she matters most," said Brittenham. "Obviously, mission accomplishment is important, but it's all about that Soldier coming home vertical."

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