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A 'Sim' That's Dead Serious

He recounts two other scenes in Gator Six: In one, the fictional captain bends down and puts a handkerchief on the face of one of his dead soldiers. In another scene, the casualties are much worse, and the captain stands in front of a row of dead soldiers.

"I wanted the captains to see that if they don't do things right, then they might have to walk the line and see their dead soldiers there. They're the ones who have to explain to the soldier's family what happened. They're the ones who have to live with it," says Anderson, who enlisted in the Army at 18 and turned 19 at boot camp -- at Fort Sill. "I also wanted the captains to see that even if you do everything right, even if you plan and rehearse, soldiers can still die."

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)

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Toward the end of the morning class, this scenario is played out:

How do you handle the local Iraqi newspaper printing a story that says you ran over a child when you "in fact came across an injured girl and took her to the hospital?"

Do you shut the paper down? Do you threaten the newspaper editor? Do you offer the editor access? These are the three choices given.

Neal Fisher leans back in his chair, takes a sip from his water bottle, plays the scenario in his head. Here, in class, he has about 15 minutes to think it through -- out there, on the ground, 15 minutes might be five minutes too long.

Fisher, who resembles a compact version of comedic actor David Alan Grier, comes from a military family: Mom was a clerk in the Army Reserve, Dad was a Marine corporal. He was born in Queens, lived in the River Terrace neighborhood of Northeast Washington in his teens, graduated from Eastern Senior High School in 1988. He enlisted in 1999 "to make extra money."

Finally, Fisher says, "Offer the editor access." Later, when the class is over, he explains. "How can you preach of freedom in general and specifically limit freedom of the press?"

Like Anderson, Fisher is a gamer. Both are into military-themed games. Anderson plays Call of Duty on his PlayStation 2; Fisher plays Command & Conquer on his PC. ("My wife, Dana," Fisher says, "usually beats me on Madden NFL.")

"I don't think anybody is looking at Gator Six as a set of directions. It's not a playbook. It's more of a tool that helps you think about certain situations that you don't necessarily think about prior to getting into those situations," Fisher says. "You have to understand that we're artillery men and that we're being asked to do a lot of jobs that are not traditionally our jobs. It's not just strict artillery work.

"We're fighting a different kind of war," says the father of two boys, Colin, 4, and Jared, 2.

Fisher is set to be deployed to Iraq by the end of August.

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