Boot Camp

Boot Camp
From Gamers to Soldiers

Sharon Sloane | 16 Sep 2008 12:50
Boot Camp - RSS 2.0

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Mike Decker's platoon rolls out of their forward operating base in total darkness. Their four Humvees full of men and weapons are on their way to a cordon and search of a suspected insurgent safe house at dawn. En route, an unknown vehicle approaches the convoy from the rear. Not knowing if the incoming car is friend or foe, the gunner in the rear vehicle, Specialist Blair, does what he was trained to do. Standing out of the turret of the Hummer, he yells "Stay back!" and throws glow sticks in the direction of the car. Still, the car keeps gaining on them. Then Blair fires warning shots with his mounted M 240 Bravo machine gun. Oblivious to the warnings, the car continues to close the gap to the column. If this was a suicide bomber, the car was now at a near-lethal distance. Specialist Blair follows standard procedures for the escalation of force: He fires directly on the vehicle, killing its occupants and leaving the sedan a smoldering mess of glass and blood on the side of the road.

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In a war zone, decisions happen fast. The whole incident from start to finish lasts less than 30 seconds. When the platoon stops to assess the vehicle and its occupants, SFC Decker finds that the car wasn't filled with insurgents. It was an elderly couple; no weapons, no explosives and no reason why they didn't heed the repeated warnings. As SFC Decker observes the look on Specialist Blair's face, he knows he has to make a decision and he needs to make it fast: is Specialist Blair emotionally fit to continue his post, or should he replace him?

The dilemma above is not an unusual one for a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq. While traditional training programs prepare young soldiers well for day-to-day tactical and operational functions, there are learning gaps that leave them underprepared for issues involving leadership, improvisation, cultural awareness and interpersonal relationships. So how do military training commands and schools teach soldiers to handle these delicate situations, where they are forced to make decisions that could save (or cost) lives? Increasingly, they are turning to virtual experience learning systems and advanced training simulations that pause to allow users to weigh their options at critical decision points, providing a safe environment in which to make these choices before facing them in potentially life-or-death conditions. The situation above, based on actual events in Iraq, appears in A Day in the Bam, part of the U.S. Army Armor Center's training. Non-commissioned officers apply classroom lessons in A Day in the Bam's simulated combat environment while enforcing good decision making and building leadership skills. The game prepares soldiers for what they will face while shaping their expectations prior to deployment.

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