FORT MEADE, Md. -- While smart phones and tablets have transitioned gaming to digital realms, one traditional gaming format remains popular in 2019: playing cards.
But not just any playing cards.
In response to growing demand, Army Training and Doctrine Command G-2 (Intelligence) quickly developed "Worldwide Equipment Identification" cards as a unique tool to help Soldiers identify enemy weapons and vehicles.
Using a design by Army Training Support Center graphic artist Robin Hicks, more than 70,000 decks of cards depicting enemy apparatus such as tanks, rocket launchers and air defense systems have been distributed throughout the service.
Using repetition as a training device, Soldiers can educate themselves and play a game of Solitaire or Texas Hold'Em in the process.
Playing cards continue to be a popular item for Soldiers, especially those deployed on missions where access to electronic devices and the internet can be limited.
"The thing that's great about these cards is anybody can have them," said Fred Batchelor, TRADOC G-2 director of current operations. "You don't have to have a security clearance, you don't have to be assigned to a special unit. Everybody has access to these cards and I think that's what really sold them."
Playing cards have historically been a favorite pastime for U.S. troops in every major conflict. During the Gulf War, the Army printed cards that depicted enemy weapons and aircraft that helped U.S. troops learn more about their adversaries. Each of the new equipment identification cards includes nomenclature, weapons range and primary weapons systems.
TRADOC distributed an initial print run of 9,800 packs of cards featuring Chinese vehicles and weapons in July. They went fast. After only three weeks, demand exhausted the supply.
"That's when I think it just went viral," Batchelor said.
TRADOC received orders for more cards and to date has released 30,000 decks of the Chinese cards and 38,000 packs of the Russian. The command has released 33,000 featuring Iranian equipment since Oct. 9 and more are on the way to the field. Batchelor said that TRADOC will consider creating cards that depict vehicles from friendly forces and potentially another potential adversary set could also be printed soon.
Soldiers and interested units can easily order the cards through their installation training support centers.
The popularity of the cards surprised Batchelor, a military veteran. Initially, Batchelor said he had his doubts on printing physical playing cards.
"I just didn't think that they were popular anymore since everybody's into gaming apps," Batchelor said. "Everything's electronic. Everything's on a hand held device and now we're going to introduce cards like when I was in the Army."
TRADOC surveyed units that expressed an interest and received an overwhelming positive response, Batchelor said.
As a supplement to the physical cards, TRADOC created a digital card memory game Soldiers can access on their devices. The application can be downloaded from a QR code available on each deck or the TRADOC App Gateway at https://public.tag.army.mil/catalog/tag/app/100.ATSC/1157C311-D2E0-4677-B767-1B3FE5D294E2-1560878014047.