JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (Army News Service, May 17, 2010) - The "Virtual Army Experience" offered Armed Forces Day visitors the chance to experience a few minutes of combat at the Joint-Service Open House and Air Show.

Visitors to the annual event at Joint Base Andrews were treated to a wide variety of displays and demonstrations May 14 - 16, but perhaps the most popular exhibit wasn't in the air, but instead one that immersed them in a virtual world.

"It gives them a little bit of a look of everything that goes on in a battlefield," said George Munro, who travels around the country with the Virtual Army Experience simulator.

The simulator is based on "America's Army," a video game first released in 2002, which now has more than 10 million users worldwide. In this game scenario, players travel through hostile territory to rescue aid workers on a humanitarian mission, manning a gun truck or helicopter and coming under heavy enemy fire.

Instead of playing in their living room with a controller, players
Of the Virtual Army Experience work alongside their comrades, using simulated rifles in a 180-degree environment with sensory feedback and sound effects.

"It takes video games to a whole new level," Munro said. "It's not by any means what Soldiers are doing every day, but it's as close to realistic as you're going to get."

The experience is more than just the game, though, as Munro explained. Players learn some of how the Army works between their mission brief and after-action review. Retired and Reserve Soldiers provide the instruction.

"It shows them all different aspects of what it's like to be a Soldier," Munro said.

Thirteen-year-old gaming enthusiast Jonathan Mannarano, of Leesburg, Va., said the experience was far better than playing at home.

"It was probably the raddest video game you will ever get to play," said Mannarano, after going through the simulator with his family. "If you shot a gas tank, then you actually feel a shake and hear the explosion."

"It was fantastic," added Jonathan's mom, Deb Mannarano, who played alongside him in a simulated up-armored Humvee. "You felt like you were right there. The adrenaline was flowing, it was very cool."

Jonathan said it also gave him a new perspective on the Army and combat.

"I think it's a really tough job being a Soldier because you have to put your life on the line to save all these people that need to be saved," said Jonathan. "These Soldiers are so modest, giving their lives to give us all this freedom."

Deb Mannarano also enjoyed the depth of the game experience for her son, who she said plays "too many" games at home.

"I think having a brief in advance really made a difference because they get to understand a little bit more, especially at his age," she said. "It's not just fun and games, there's real life stuff out there."

(Sgt. David Turner serves with the 214th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, an Army Reserve unit in Richmond, Va.)