FORT SILL, Okla. - It's a sweltering 90 degrees and soldiers Kevin Messmer and Kroften Owen are hunched in a rubble-strewn apartment. Peering from a window to avoid sniper fire, they see a bustling Iraqi city.
Binoculars pressed to his face, Messmer surveys the view and finds what he's looking for just across the river, an insurgent stronghold near a mosque's towering minarets. He whispers coordinates to Owen, who in turns calls them into a radio.
A crackling streak of artillery fire arrives seconds later, shaking the room as the bomb annihilates the target in a thunderous cloud of thick, black smoke.
The mission is a success. Except the mission doesn't really exist.
2nd Lts. Messmer, 24, and Owen, 23, of the 3rd Battalion, 30th Field Artillery Regiment, are among the first troops to use a new breed of military simulator that's part video game/part Hollywood sound stage with a serious dose of theme park thrill.
The apartment setting is all about creating the illusion of urban warfare — in a way that stimulates the senses.
Littered with chunks of brown plaster and other debris, the room is decorated in a decidedly Middle-Eastern manner. A picture hangs sideways on one wall, the smashed remnants of a small vase lie on a small circular table near the kitchen area. Like a Broadway show, walls and other set pieces can be swapped out as the training merits.
Hidden speakers envelop the set, located in a shopping center-sized building, with sound effects both subtle (barking dogs) and earsplitting (bombs). And the window? It's really an oversized display screen showing an artificial cityscape with high-resolution computer graphics.
The so-called "Urban Terrain Module" where Messmer, of Wabash, Ind., and Owen, of Philadelphia, had their multimedia immersion training is a one-of-a-kind facility, part of the Army's Joint Fires and Effects Trainer System, or JFETS.
Across a darkened hallway is the Outdoor Terrain Module. It's a room with a sandy floor on which a parked Humvee faces an oversized movie screen. Soldiers see a computerized desert landscape. In this environment, too, the training is in how to precisely call in artillery strikes.
Since the center went live in September, more than 300 officers have trained at the compound, whose evolution is key to a larger Defense Department strategy to give future members of all military branches the ability to better synchronize artillery, air support and other weaponry on the battlefield.