What the Pentagon actually spends on sims is hard to nail down -- estimates range from $4 billion to $6 billion. The market research firm Frost & Sullivan says the military will spend upward of $4.97 billion on simulation and training equipment this year.
The military, says Paul W. Mayberry, deputy undersecretary of defense for readiness, is in a "transition mode."
During a class at Fort Sill, Capt. Neal Fisher considers a scenario offered by Gator Six that he and his men might find themselves in after he deploys to Iraq. "I don't think anybody is looking at Gator Six as a set of directions," he says. "It's not a playbook."
(Randy Stolter For The Washington Post)
"These days," he says, "young captains are having to transition from young fighters to young diplomats in a blink of an eye."
What were the streets of Baghdad like? It's an old question for Capt. Brian Anderson, who has a ready answer.
"Picture the Beltway, on Friday at about 4:30 p.m., driving on a highway, with the traffic. Picture that. Except now, have traffic going in both directions in the same lanes, and give everybody guns and grenades. That's what it was like trying to navigate through that city," says Anderson, who stands 5-foot-8 but talks like he's 6-foot-5. It's called presence. He's sitting in his living room in Edmond, Okla., about 90 minutes north of Fort Sill, his 32-inch TV on mute. It's on the Military Channel, which is showing something about a unit of Marines on training.
"Every single person around you may or may not be a threat, and it would just absolutely wear on you, and one of the things about being a captain is you don't just worry about yourself, you worry about everybody else. There were days when I was like, hey, if I get hit, that's fine, just don't let something happen to one of my soldiers."
From March to September 2003, Anderson led a unit of 87 soldiers during the initial march from Kuwait to Baghdad. He was part of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Battery. He actually is Gator Six -- a radio term identifying him as the leader of the Gator battery. Gator Six's experiences informed Gator Six the sim.
"These are the kind of scenarios that you won't find in a manual," says Anderson, 33. He teaches at the Department of Military Science at the University of Central Oklahoma, a three-minute drive from home. He's got two daughters -- Lauren is 6, Brooke is 2. His wife, Cindy, is putting the girls to bed.
"The whole purpose of this sim is to get captains to think something other than tactics. We could do our tactical missions in our sleep -- how to set up a perimeter, how to fire artillery, how to shoot rifles. It's all the other stuff that they don't teach you."
For a few months, Anderson worked closely with Will Interactive's Hall in Potomac -- free of charge. "What can I say?" he explains. "I just believe in it."
Filming Gator Six took four weeks, with most of the scenes shot at Fort Sill, starring actors from the Washington area. Anderson was there for most of it. Iraq hasn't left him and, as such, he hasn't left Iraq. He keeps in touch with at least 10 of his soldiers -- earlier this month he flew to Georgia to be a groomsman in the wedding of one of his gunners.
He recounts one of the Gator Six scenarios taken from his own experiences in Iraq: Two of your mechanics wear XXXL chemical suits and all you have are XXL suits. Do you deploy your two XXXL guys with XXL suits?
"During that time, we thought we were dealing with chemical attacks," says Anderson. His boss, the battalion commander, ordered the mechanics to be deployed. The mechanics themselves wanted to go.
"I was the one losing sleep over it," Anderson says -- especially because the two are married with children.