Imagine you are a new lieutenant assigned to a battery. You want to make a good first impression but are not sure where and what are you are supposed to be doing. To whom do you turn? Now imagine you are a seasoned staff sergeant or sergeant first class, doing the job of the platoon sergeant and the platoon leader when you get a fresh 1st lieutenant who has a little or no operational experience. How do you interact? How do you, as a platoon sergeant or platoon leader find your place and your role in your unit without over stepping or disrespecting your counterparts or the chain of command?
There are many challenges that come from developing a noncommissioned officer-officer relationship making getting off to good start imperative. Finding a balance between teaching and respect is a challenge many leaders face. Showing strength, knowledge and unity can be difficult but is necessary to create a functioning, precise, and cohesive unit and developing a good officer/NCO command team.
Often tough leadership lessons are taught in the school of life and sometimes the outcomes are good but detrimental. This is where a new virtual experience immersive learning simulation program called "Danger Close," can give NCOs and officers an opportunity to practice reacting to real-world challenges, from garrison to combat missions, in a mock reality before they happen in real life. In this new gaming application leaders can make mistakes and learn in a safe environment without risking lives, a mission outcome or breaking down the chain of command. Reminiscent of old chapter books where you choose your path for the story, this program allows the user to see the outcome of their choices and decisions. The game, however, when choices end up having detrimental consequences will allow the user to go back and review the scenario again and choose a better answer.
Contrary to prior learning tools of the Army this is no ordinary point-and-click program. "Danger Close" has graphics and a realism that rivals civilian games such as "Soldier of Fortune" or "Halo." It has also won the 2010 Software and Information Industry Association CODiE award for best workforce training application.
There were many man hours involved in the making of "Danger Close" to make it a reality. With the help of the entire Fort Sill community and the support of the Training and Doctrine Command, "Danger Close" has become a template for other virtual training programs. Filming for it only took three weeks but it took months of team effort from Fort Sill and the Lawton community to pull it all together. Organizations such as the Fort Sill Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Program, the Fires Center of Excellence NCO Academy and the Department of Public Works were instrumental in making it happen.
"We were so lucky. The crew filmed at the NCO academy, the Impact Zone and out in the (Lawton) community," said CSM Dean J. Keveles, commandant of the FCoE NCO Academy. "We even had one of the community hospitals shut down for us to create a more realistic scenario."
NCO/Officer relationship challenges are a fact in the Army. That is why the Fort Sill Directorate of Training and Doctrine and the FCoE NCO Academy came together to create this new and state-of-the-art training tool for use by troops here at Fort Sill.
"This program is cutting edge," said Sandra Velasquez Pokorny, branch chief of design and evaluation at DoTD. "We have worked to make every detail as realistic as possible."
Pokorny also spearheaded the campaign for a better training tool along with a W. Joe Kirby, chief of the Enlisted Development Branch, DoTD. Former commanding general of the FCoE and Fort Sill, MG Peter M. Vangjel, and now with the support of MG David D. Halverson, the current commanding general of the FCoE and Fort Sill and BG Martin Dempsey, the commander of U.S. Army TRADOC, "Danger Close" is now being used as a part of the curriculum taught at the FCoE NCO Academy.
It has become a valuable training tool for both NCOs of the Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery branches, as well as for all officers.
"The program is not one sided," said Keveles. "You can play the role of a senior NCO or a new lieutenant."
Besides covering the nuances of the NCO/officer relationship, the game also allows players to virtually experience leadership challenges such as a suicide in the ranks, fraternization, and what to do about disrespect to an officer or NCO. Each scenario carries the role players from first interactions, garrison operations, pre-deployment training, combat situations and through redeployment.
"We strived for realism with this program," said Pokorny. "We (the DOTD staff, the NCO Academy staff) combed over every detail of the script to make it as real and believable as we could. We talked to young lieutenants and we talked to senior NCOs across the Army asking for the reality of these situations."
Small group leaders and instructors from the NCO Academy have seen good results and many requests for additional copies of the game.
"Using this has created a multitude of discussion in our classes," said SFC Michael Canedo, an instructor at the FCoE NCO Academy. "We continually get requests from NCOs to take this back to their units. This is not re-teaching our senior leaders, this is just polishing what they already know."
"Danger Close" has become very popular for its effect on the Soldier, the overall learning experience and provoking out of the box thinking it generates, he said.
"'Danger Close' has a real emotional impact. When the Soldiers participate in this program they are completely in control and invested in what is happening," Keveles said. "We want to get their attention and get them to really think and experience and know how to react to something besides the norm."
Further development of this new interactive software is in the works to build and improve upon the "Danger Close" experience.
To get more information on obtaining a copy of "Danger Close" contact Sandra Velasquez Pokorny, branch chief of Design and Evaluation DoTD, Fort Sill, OK at 580-558-0355, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.