Visceral Reality

The stuff of Army and Marine Corps boot camp is legendary - mud, grueling marches, hours of, climbing and crawling with the requisite 100-lb pack, through smoke, barbed wire, gun and missile fire, with sweat, little sleep, scanty rations, and punishing, in-your-face "trainers." The culminating final hours of such training - called Victory Forge for the Army recruit, The Crucible for the Marine - is all about the making of a mean, well-honed fighting force renowned for winning wars. And it's not hard to simulate. Find a rugged, tough, and unforgiving terrain - what much of America is made of - and run the troops through it.

But what about Navy training? Navy's environment is high seas and ships, and real-time events on these can't be replicated. Want real-life examples? Think Forrestal. Think Cole. You can't train men by safely simulating the chaos of a rocking deck of a sea-swept carrier, on fire and under attack, with men going overboard on one side, and others trapped in rapidly filling compartments on the other. No way. No how.

Or can you? Enter Battle Stations 21. With funding from the Office of Naval Research, the Navy's Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill., through the Naval Air Systems Command in Orlando, Fla, has just signed on with i.d.e.a.s. in Orlando, Fla. to revolutionize this final step of Navy boot camp training and bring it into the 21st Century. The crew at i.d.e.a.s. (Innovation, Design, Entertainment, Art, and Storytelling) are leaders in the entertainment industry for creating some very real "immersion reality-based simulations" - what they call "visceral reality." Their goal is to combine state-of-the-art reality simulation with a form of "storytelling" to create real "in-your-gut" learning. They have been awarded a $1.4M contract for Conceptual and Preliminary Designs for Battle Stations 21.

"The goal is to take advantage of what psychologists call the 'willful suspension of disbelief,'" says Lieutenant Commander David Street, ONR science officer for the project. "ONR has been in the business of studying how the brain learns and processes information for a long time. When we 'suspend disbelief,' we accept what is happening as real, despite the fact that consciously we know it's not. We do this every time we watch a movie. We know it isn't reality, but we still get scared; we laugh; we cry. Furthermore, we remember the facts better, much more so than if we had simply been told - or studied - those facts."

But exactly how will they do it?

"We can't reveal the magic," i.d.e.a.s. CEO Bob Allen says, "And we're not going to reveal how we'll build the system. The reality would be lost if we did."

In the final twelve hours of their boot camp training, Battle Stations 21 is going to run the fresh Navy recruits through the 14 training scenarios that the Navy's Board of Advisors has laid out as mandatory. The experience will challenge them mentally, physically, and emotionally so that when future sailors experience real combat situations, they won't have to rely on what they were told they should do, rather, they'll have had the actual experience in dealing with the crisis, and will be able to react correctly.

Ultimately, Battle Stations 21 raises the bar for simulation training to better equip sailors to deal with combat scenarios. "Our objective," says Rear Adm. Ann Rondeau, commander of the Naval Training Command in the Great Lakes, "is to make Battle Stations a more effective training evolution. If we achieve that goal, we send better-trained sailors to the fleet."

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