Leadership: We Can Do It Better Ourselves


February 4, 2010: The troops are creating their own military simulations and wargames, and more of them are becoming official training tools for officers and troops. This was made possible by the dramatic growth in computing power over the last few decades. By the 1990s, there were easy to use programming tools that enabled any bright person (most wargamers fit that category) to create software. An increasing number of active duty, and retired, officers and troops did just that, and produced a growing number of very effective military training simulations.

The best example of this was "Decisive Action", a wargame designed by Lieutenant Colonel Jim Lunsford, while an instructor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School in the late 1990s. Such a game was needed, and "Decisive Action" was adopted for official use partly because Lunsford had earlier (in 1992) created "Airborne Wargamer" for training in airborne operations. "Decisive Action" was easy to learn, accurate and playable on a laptop. Lunsford, an infantry officer, retired shortly thereafter, and went into the business of creating more wargames on contemporary military operations.

Recently, Lunsford was asked to create a wargame to show officer trainees what it was like to lead a platoon in combat. This was for West Point, the American Military Academy (where students get a college education and are trained to be officers.) Commercial wargames have been used by the cadets since the 1960s (when manual games were the norm), but the faculty wanted a computer game that was quick to learn, and accurate. Lunsford, who had served as an infantry platoon leader, created "Follow Me." This game became a big success, and quickly spread to the rest of the army.

Lunsford, and others, are also creating training simulation games for non-combat troops. Some 85 percent of the troops in the army have little to do with combat, but their jobs are complex and a challenge. Lunsford was able to create games that delivered the same training effect of "Follow Me", because most jobs require you to make choices and figure things out. That's what a wargame is all about.

The troops were, not surprisingly, among the first to adopt the commercial wargames (often called "historical simulations") that first appeared in the 1950s (as board games). By the 1970s, several of these military wargamers made it to the big time, having their designs published. The first of these games was "Grunt", in 1971. Designed by Vietnam veteran John Kramer (an artillery forward observer), it simulated small unit operations in the mid 1960s. By the 1980s, other services joined. The most notable of these was Air Force F-16 pilot Gary Morgan had published Tac Air and Flight Leader, as well as non-air themed games like Borodino (the 1812 battle). Around the same time, army officer Bill Gibbs created Ranger, Main Battle Area, and AirLand Battle. Navy and marine designers were also active, sometimes just for official use.

Gary Morgan's experience was most interesting. His first two published designs (Tac Air and Flight Leader) began as official Air Force wargames called FEBA and Check Six. This was unusual, although many other manual wargames designed by uniformed wargamers for professional use were of commercial quality.

These wargames never became mass market items. Accurate military simulations have always been a niche market. And now, the troops themselves, are not only a major segment of the users, but a growing portion of the designers as well.





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