WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- For decades, the Army has used simulators to train Soldiers to pilot helicopters and drive tactical vehicles.

Simulators are cost-effective in terms of fuel and maintenance, and they also allow trainers to simulate variables that are dangerous and costly to simulate in real life: weather conditions, difficult terrain and enemy attacks. But simulators can't simulate everything, at least not yet.

Maj. Mike Stinchfield, chief of the Training Innovation Facility, Army National Simulation Center, Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is on a quest to bring Hollywood-level special effects to simulators to make them as realistic as possible.

A self-described "Star Wars" fan, Stinchfield has an undergraduate degree in computer science from Troy State University and a master's degree is in modeling, virtual environments and simulation from the Naval Postgraduate School.

But Stinchfield is also an infantryman who speaks the combat arms lingo.

"I can speak both warfighter and geek," he said.

SIMULATOR IN THE WORKS

Stinchfield is currently the capabilities manager for project to build a simulator that will mimic a real Stryker vehicle.

In August, he met with staff from the Maneuver Center of Excellence to discuss the design. Their input into the simulator's design will be important, he said, since a Stryker vehicle serves one of the most important maneuver elements on the battlefield.

Equally important to the project, he added, was getting feedback from Soldiers at Fort Carson, Colorado, who performed the user testing. Fort Carson is home to a Stryker unit with experienced Stryker personnel, he explained.

Stinchfield will soon travel to Orlando, Florida to visit Program Executive Office Simulations Training and Instrumentation. The staff there can find commercial, off-the-shelf software and hardware to use in the simulator so that the Army won't have to reinvent the wheel, he said.

Finally, Army Training and Doctrine Command will offer guidance on the development of a training program for the new simulator, he added.

Q&A TIME

Q: Maj. Stinchfield, where were you born and where did you grow up?

A: I was born in Provo, Utah, while my parents were attending Brigham Young University. My father was commissioned into the U.S. Navy shortly thereafter as a Naval flight officer. As a result, I spent most my growing-up years between almost every duty station on the West Coast: Alameda, California; Whidbey Island, Washington; San Diego; and Bremerton, Washington.

Q: When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: I always wanted to be an aviator. But I wore eyeglasses and knew that would be a problem.

Q: Did you have any "nicknames" from friends or family when you were growing up, if so could you elaborate on how you earned them?

A: My nickname has always been "Stinch" because of my somewhat odd last name.

Q: Do you have any family members who have served in the military?

A: My father served in the Navy for 30 years. Two of my younger brothers previously served in the Navy as dentists.

Q: What inspired you to join the Army?

A: The opportunities that I knew were available to service members and the ability to serve my country in an honorable profession.

Q: When you first joined the Army, what was your job?

A: I enlisted in the Army as a fire direction specialist for the Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Q: How did you come to work for the Army National Simulation Center?

A: I came to work for the NSC after I had several interactions the previous year when working for the 7th Infantry Division. I was interested in many of the challenges the [National Simulation Center] is faced with and wanted to have a positive impact on the training community.

Q: How do you feel working for National Simulation Center has helped to broaden your professional development?

A: Working for the [National Simulation Center] has broadened my understanding of training support systems organizations and processes and the acquisition world.

Q: What do you miss the most about your hometown?

A: As a military brat, I hardly have a hometown. But as a lifelong resident of the West Coast, I miss the ocean and mountains the most.

Q: What do you not miss about your hometown?

A: I enjoy exploring the United States and the world through all my assignments. I would not enjoy staying in one place for too long.

Q: If you had not joined the Army, what do feel you would be doing now?

A: I would probably be working in some technology-related field.

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement both personally and professionally?

A: Professionally: Earning a Master's Degree in modeling, virtual environments and simulation from the Naval Postgraduate School in 2011. Personally: Raising a great family and sustaining a quality marriage for 23 years.

Q: What is your favorite movie? What is it about the movie that you like so much?

A: "Star Wars." It was the foundation of everything I loved as a child and now share with my children.

Q: What is your favorite song or artist that if you were alone, you might get caught singing along to?

A: Coheed and Cambria.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy when you are not at work?

A: I enjoy backpacking and playing board games with family and friends.

Q: If you had one wish, what would it be and why?

A: I would wish to be an interstellar traveler (with my family). Nothing better than being among the stars.

Q: What superhero power do you think would be great to have and why?

A: Flight. I enjoy the perspective of the world in the air, and it saves time.