Dec. 27, 2005 — -- Most people have never heard of Sgt. Mathew Zedwick. How about Sgt. Tommy Reiman or Sgt. Gerald Wolford? The Army wants to change that by putting toy versions of these real-life military men in your child's toy collection, along with action images of them on computer video game screens nationwide.
"I think it's incredibly cool," said Wolford from his base at Fort Bragg, N.C. His 10-year-old daughter thinks so too, but has one concern. "She says my guy can't do anything mean to her Barbie doll."
The Army is turning Wolford and others into video game characters for its "America's Army" video game. It is an online computer game -- with a similar version for Microsoft's Xbox -- designed with one main goal: to interest and ideally recruit young people into the Army.
"The values of the Army are what's important to the game, not the shoot 'em up aspect," says Christopher Chambers, deputy director of the project. "It's about teaching responsibility and honor."
It's also about selling the idea that the Army can offer a good career during a challenging time. With nearly 6.5 million registered users registered for "America's Army" game so far, the Army believes it's working. Wolford takes his newfound responsibility as children's new "action hero" seriously.
"I'm interested in anything that puts us out in a positive light," he says. "For every one soldier who humiliated someone at Abu Ghraib, there's a thousand soldiers out there helping people."
Wolford and eight others were not picked at random. They have all received awards for valor on the battlefield.
Wolford won a Silver Star for his actions during a four-hour firefight in Iraq. During the battle, his Humvee was hit by pieces of debris after a rocket-propelled grenade struck a bridge overhead. With a small piece of shrapnel under one eye, Wolford took two injured soldiers for treatment while under fire, according to accounts from the battlefield. Then, refusing treatment for himself, he returned to the fight and led his soldiers forward. Now the battle that Wolford has replayed in his mind time and time again may be incorporated into the new game. Developers say they aren't concerned that the game will attract young people to the Army by glorifying war.
"Young people understand that a game is just a game," says Chambers. "They know the real Army has a lot more to it than just the game."
And Wolford believes the more kids know about real soldiers and their stories, the better. He says he doesn't believe the media right now is giving kids a real sense of people like him. As for the fact that his likeness will be used as a tool to get more young people to join the Army, Wolford laughs. "It's better than being a real recruiter!"
And when he's overseas, his kids will have a special new way to keep him in their lives: a GI Joe-like toy of their very own dad.