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FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- The Army and a unit of the U.S. Agency for International Development created a new video game to train Soldiers how to respond to foreign natural disasters.

Earlier this year, Maj. Gen. Mark O'Neil, deputy commanding general of the Combined Arms Center -- Training (CAC-T), Fort Leavenworth, Kan., approved the video game - Disaster Sim - for the force.

"Disaster Sim teaches Soldiers how to be part of a joint task force, coping with a foreign natural disaster," O'Neil said. "The video game shows how the Army is using technology to make training more engaging and accessible."

The video game can be downloaded for free from the Army's Milgaming web site.

Developing the game involved: U.S. Army South; the Army Research Laboratory; the Army Games for Training Program, Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation; the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

OFDA, part of the U.S. Agency for International Development, is responsible for leading and coordinating the U.S. response to overseas disasters.

U.S. Army South, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, is responsible for providing the core of a joint task force headquarters to deploy as part of a U.S. government response to disasters in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Col. Michael Panko, Army South's chief of training and exercises, said Army South saw the need for a capability to provide initial training about the Army's role in responding to foreign disasters.

"This software is designed as an instructional tool for personnel who would serve on a foreign disaster relief joint task force as part of a whole of U.S. government response led by OFDA," Panko said.

Tim Wansbury of the Army Research Laboratory said OFDA's representatives provided the expertise in creating the video game's content.

"They helped us develop a program to teach Disaster Relief 101," said Wansbury, project lead with the Army Research Laboratory.

Disaster Sim's initial scenario challenges a Soldier to respond to the needs of Guatemalans during an earthquake, said Lt. Col. Greg Pavlichko. Until taking a new assignment, he was the chief of the Games for Training program, which is part of the National Simulation Center and CAC-T.

"In the game, the Soldier has many more requests for help than resources," said Pavlichko. "That forces the Soldier to prioritize resources to meet the most critical needs. If the Soldier doesn't correctly address the most serious problems, there are adverse second-and-third order effects."

The hour-long scenario also teaches Soldiers the proper procedures to work with OFDA, non-governmental agencies and the host nation. Eventually, Disaster Sim will offer leaders the opportunity to create new foreign disaster scenarios.

Panko said the game can help units besides Army South.

"Any command that has foreign disaster relief as part of its mission will benefit from including Disaster Sim in training," Panko said.

Panko said he was impressed with Disaster Sim's creation in just 18 months. "To my knowledge the rapid development of this software, minimal cost involved and fielding time to the Army is unprecedented," he said.

A key to the project's success was the collaborative and supportive approach of all organizations.

"This project underscores a core Army value: Teamwork. None of us alone had the resources or talent to bring this project to life, but together we made it a reality," Panko said.

Related Links:

Combined Arms Center - Training

National Simulation Center

Games for Training

U.S. Army Research Laboratory

U.S. Army South

Milgaming Science and technology news

Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance