Morale: Role Playing to Survive


March 4, 2007: One of most unnerving things about combat is the uncertainty, especially for those who are experiencing it for the first time. This uncertainty causes first-timers to make mistakes, and that gets people killed. So the U.S. Army has developed new training methods, to eliminate a lot of the uncertainty, over the last two decades. First came the laser tag attachments to weapons (from rifles to tank guns), which exposed the troops to an environment where lots of people were shooting at you. Now the troops knew how easy it was to get hit if they were not careful about where they were, where they were going, and how they got there.

When the war on terror came along, troops had to face other new experiences. Mainly involving dealing with people from a different culture. Most of them were not shooting at you, but you had to get information from them. And do so without turning them against you. Laser tag wouldn't help, but a large scale re-creation of a piece of Iraq would. Staffed with 3,000 civilians trained to play the roles of Iraqis (including 300 Arab speakers, some of whom are Iraqis) and others (aid workers, journalists), the army training program was a huge role-playing game. Normally, these exercises are run at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Louisiana, in a special facility that contains fourteen Iraqi villages and enough area for a brigade to run realistic missions for days on end. But the civilian actors can, and sometimes are, brought to any military base large enough for a brigade to move around in, and use any buildings available. The important thing is to get the troops some real experience dealing with a different culture.

Troops coming back are full of praise for this preparatory training. While 80-90 percent of the officers and NCOs going over to Iraq now are combat veterans, they still have to get the many younger, first time, troops up to speed. The realistic training does it. This sort of thing isn't sexy or newsworthy, but it's one of those things that saves lives, American and Iraqi, and does wonders for the morale of troops headed into combat for the first time.


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