You are the young commander of an Army brigade deployed to a war zone on the other side of the world. Major combat has ended and your new mission is to take control of an entire village, a task you were never really trained to perform. Many of the villagers seem to hate you and your soldiers. There are nightly attacks on your makeshift barracks, and morale among the troops is fading fast.
Question: With limited resources, which task do you make the priority for your unit?
A. Restoring electricity for the village.
B. Increasing security for your soldiers.
It's not an easy decision and there isn't one right answer, but it's a situation that would sound familiar to many veterans of the war in Iraq. The important thing, say some military officials, is that the lessons U.S. soldiers learned during the war are not allowed to go to waste.
So the Army has called on a small company that operates out of an old home in Potomac.
For the past year, Will Interactive Inc. has been working on a simulation program designed to replicate the experiences of soldiers in Iraq. The company is part of a prospering crop of Washington area firms trying to sell interactive training and simulation technologies to the military.
Will Interactive's computer-based system resembles a choose-your-own-adventure video game, asking users to assume the role of the main character, make decisions throughout the mission and face the consequences. Different video clips pop up on a computer screen, for example, depending on whether the soldier taking the training decides to emphasize restoration of electricity or security for soldiers.
"They really wanted to emotionally prepare soldiers for things they couldn't imagine they would face," said Sharon Sloane, Will Interactive's president and chief executive. "And the outcomes range from disaster to happily ever after, but there is an awful lot in-between."
The project was commissioned by officers at Fort Sill, an Army training center and field artillery school in Lawton, Okla. Will Interactive had previously created several programs for the military. One is about fighting terrorism and was commissioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to train military commanders to deal with attack scenarios. Another, about sexual harassment, is used by 80,000 soldiers a year after basic training.