DIYALA, Iraq – A Soldier in digital camouflage with body armor and an M-4 rifle equipped with an M-203 grenade launcher sneaks quietly down to the end of an alleyway. He peeks out to observe the urban environment, and spots an enemy combatant in a window. He pulls back, readies his M-203, aims around the corner and flawlessly sends a grenade through the window, destroying the enemy. As he prepares to venture out into the road to observe further, he falls down, mortally wounded after being stabbed in the back from an unseen enemy with a knife.
This is a common scene every day in Iraq, not on the streets, but on the TV screens of U.S. Soldiers across the country playing "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2." This video game has been a hit with deployed Soldiers since it came out last fall.
"When it first came out there wasn't a TV here that didn't have it on," said Spc. Matt VanWagoner, a riflemen for 4th Platoon, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, and an avid Call of Duty player.
"It's a way of getting everyone together," said 2nd Lt. Blake Bugaj, 3rd platoon leader, 334th Signal Company, Task Force 296, 3 SBCT, 2nd ID who has organized Call of Duty tournaments on Forward Operating Base Warhorse. "It allows people to let their hair down, have fun, and forget about the stressors of everyday life."
Many Soldiers use this virtual battlefield as a way to relieve the stress that comes with serving in a combat zone. The potentially dangerous work done by deployed Soldiers can also lead to excessive tension.
"It's a good [outlet] for aggression," said Sgt. Robert Bible, behavioral health non-commissioned officer with the 85th Medical Detachment, Task Force First Medical Brigade, at FOB Warhorse. "When Soldiers get bored, they tend to do silly things that get them in trouble, this helps keep them occupied and on the right track."
As well as relieving stress, this game helps build teamwork and communication, which are vital for effective combat operations and establishing camaraderie.
"The three laws of the Infantry are shoot, move and communicate," said VanWagoner. "The multiplayer game allows us to practice this, especially when I play with my squad."
It's very common to see Soldiers from all occupational specialties engaging in this game. Some are infantrymen, who can directly relate to the scenarios, and some are communication specialists who have never been outside the base on a combat mission. Some are computer system operators that have used their networking skills to link their video game systems together.
"We have a network on our pad of 16 plus people," said Bugaj. "Any given night there's at least six players on."
One of these players is Pfc. Victor Lacero, a nodal system operator with 3rd Platoon, 334th Signal Company, TF 296, who plays every chance he gets.
"We don't get to go out and do this stuff [the combat related missions in the game]," said Lacero. "We work on communications; this is our chance to see what it's really like."
Soldiers have many reasons to make this game part of their daily routines. It could be to see what combat might look like, or to earn bragging rights among their firing squad. One reason that most play is that it gives them a connection to life back home.
"When I was home on leave I was playing as much as I do here," said VanWagoner. "All my friends back home are playing, and by getting to play over here I'm not missing out."
As the responsible drawdown of U.S. Forces continues, Soldiers in Iraq are passing their spare time performing combat missions on TV screens, leaving behind trained and competent Iraqi Security Forces to conduct them in real life.
This work, Combat Video Game Huge Hit With Deployed Soldiers, by SGT Adrian Muehe, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.