War Games

The U.S. Army is using roleplaying as a new technique to train soldiers heading to Afghanistan.

Look closely: a tin of Skoal tobacco pokes out of the left-breast pocket of the Afghan guerrilla fighter. Standard-issue army boots overtake the camouflage pants at his ankles. Private Christopher Dehn is doing his best Taliban impression.In Yakima, Washington, two hours southeast of Seattle, the 864th Engineering Combat Battalion is preparing for its second deployment in three years. The terrain-high, arid, snowy desert-eerily resembles parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan, and soldiers from other battalions are brought in to simulate Afghans, both friendly and hostile. This training program is part of a military-wide effort to use real-world scenarios to better prepare its soldiers for war.In one exercise, medics treat a wounded civilian. In another, a platoon enters an "Afghan village" and shares tea with an elder. As baby powder explodes onto the lead vehicle of a convoy, the platoon is informed that the driver has been killed by an improvised explosive device; such devices, once common only in Iraq, are increasingly in use in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Barry Shaffer, who has completed two tours in Iraq, observes as a referee. "Put your game faces on," he yells. "Ain't no laughing or playing. This is serious."