Soldiers Enter Virtual World  

8/1/2007 

Command Sergeant Major Jimmie W. Spencer, USA, Ret.
Director, Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs

Sgt. Tommy Rieman and Maj. Jason Amerine share a number of things beyond their Army uniforms, service in Afghanistan and Iraq and combat awards.

A hero in the virtual world as well, Sgt. Tommy Rieman appears in the ‘America’s Army’ computer game. Rieman’s likeness has also been made into an action figure, and he has been traveling with the ‘Virtual Army Experience’ exhibit.

Both soldiers are featured in an interactive video: “America’s Army: Real Heroes,” and have been traveling with the “Virtual Army Experience” to explain what it means to be a soldier and to give visitors a taste of what a military mission can be like.

But these soldiers’ stories are not virtual, and they have shared them before: in a December 2001 video teleconference press conference from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and in a recently aired Pentagon Channel documentary.

The stories say much about them as men and the soldiers they have served with.

They say much about what the Army has done and is continuing to do in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

Rieman has been in the Army eight years.

“Long-range reconnaissance, that’s what I wanted to do,” he said about his assignment to V Corps in Darmstadt, Germany. And, he would put those skills in play even before Iraqi Freedom officially got under way.

He believes “we were part of the very first mission of the war,” as his reconnaissance team – then in Kuwait – was flown, by CH-47 Chinooks, 140 kilometers inside Iraq.

Then the team was on itsown, moving on foot toward an airfield near Najaf.

Their mission was to scout positions of regime loyalists and pinpoint locations for air strikes.

Because they were going to be in place for an unknown amount of time and needed to be able to conceal themselves on a relatively flat desert floor, they were carrying heavier rucksacks than they would normally.

He estimated the weight at about 150 pounds. “You had to be physically tough. Walking through the sand was not easy.”

When they got close enough to the airfield, they dug in, building a shelter that measured about 2.5 by 5-by-5 feet out of PVC pipe for supports and covering that was sprayed to hold granules to make it as unobtrusive as possible.

Six soldiers would be in that cramped space for however long it took.

“We put out claymores once we got eyes on.” They also put out two radio wires to make the contacts for close air support.

Soon enough, Rieman and the others saw “50 or 60 men dressed in black.”

What he and the other team members did not know was how close coalition forces were to them and they were moving rapidly in armored vehicles and tanks toward the same airfield where they were monitoring.

The Iraqis could have been reacting to that news, and not fortuitously discovering the presence of the recon team.

The first attempts at trying to call for air support failed. “A back up was set out and another soldier entered the nine-digit activation code” that he had memorized.

Before the team would have been overrun, an A-10 Warthog, a low-flying jet tank killer, “and two fast movers were overhead,” providing cover.
“About that time, maybe 25 to 30 minutes later, the 3rd ID [Infantry Division] was coming up.”

The team made sure that the lead elements knew that they were there and that word was passed back through that an American recon team was in place and not moving. “Then all night, probably 48 hours, we just hunkered down in our hole and watched tanks, Bradleys passing through.”
Rieman and the others had been in their hole for seven days.

For his actions then, he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with V device.

By Dec. 3, “we thought we were really experienced” as the team set out on a mission near Abu Gharib.

They learned that a number of Saddam Hussein loyalists were getting together for a meeting, and where they were gathering was a likely hiding place for a weapons cache. “They wanted to send us in.”

Rieman, a team leader with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, was with seven other soldiers as the three-humvee convoy took off.

“About 15 kilometers from Baghdad, we got hit with three IEDs, three RPGs and small arms fire. We returned fire.

“I had to make sure that our gunner with .50 cal could keep firing. I used my body as a shield to keep the gunner protected” if they were to get out alive from this kill zone.

The humvees kept moving past the 10 dug-in firing positions.

Rieman was shot in the arm and chest, and his body was pocked with shrapnel.

As he told the Pentagon Channel, “We reacted, fought through the first ambush, told my guys to get out. We made a left turn to the next road. We pulled up. We basically put ourselves in another ambush with a smaller enemy force.”

They set up a perimeter and returned fire. “I used a grenade launcher and fired maybe 15 rounds down range. I was more pissed off than anything,” Rieman said about his actions that day. Ten days before he was to leave Iraq.

In addition to Rieman’s wound, the gunner, Spc. Robert Macallister, was hit in the buttocks and Sgt. Bruce Robinson, riding in the rear vehicle, lost a leg.

He would be sent to Landstuhl for two weeks and from there be taken to Walter Reed Bragg, N.C.

In August 2004, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

Rieman also was President George W. Bush’s guest at the State of the Union Address in January 2007.

***

Before coming to the “Virtual Army Experience,” Amerine was teaching Arabic at the United States Military Academy, but that was not all. He had been working on the Army’s extremely popular Internet game “Overmatch” almost from the time he arrived back at his alma mater.

“You don’t wish for war, but when 9/11 occurred, we all wanted to do what we could to defend the country,” the former special forces officer said.

Amerine, who was serving with the 5th Special Forces Group then, added, “All the training I received paid off. Everything worked,” as his and other A teams worked with Northern Alliance forces and guerilla fighters in taking on the Taliban, who had the financial and military support of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan.

The operation “involved everything I learned in my military career” and some things he and others learned once they were on the ground in Afghanistan, such as riding camels and horses.

For Amerine and his team, Operation Enduring Freedom started at Fort Campbell, Ky., in early-November 2001 and they headed first to Uzbekistan.

Like other special forces’ members then, he thought that it would take about a year to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and crush al Qaeda.

Once across the border, his team, nicknamed Texas-One-Two, was headed to Tarin Kot, Oruzgon Province and Sayyd alma Kalay, Afghanistan.
As recounted in the February 2002 issue of AUSA NEWS, Amerine described how his team conducted weeks of unconventional warfare with the guerrilla fighters of Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun leader who is now president of Afghanistan.

“I had a pretty good understanding of who Hamid Karzai is,” he said in the video teleconference he had from Landstuhl with reporters in the Pentagon in December 2001. “Working with him is an honor,” he said. He saw him as a military and political leader and diplomat.

When Tarin Kot rose in rebellion against the Taliban, the response from the regime was to send 500 soldiers in 80 to 100 trucks to the town about 50 miles from Kandahar.

Working with Karzai’s guerrillas who had been falling back on Nov. 17 under the Taliban attack, Amerine told the reporters that his team took four vehicles forward and called in air strikes from F-14s and F-18s.

The “fast movers” bombed the Taliban as they were making their way toward the town and then over the next few hours as the battle unfolded.
The Americans and guerillas had secured strong positions in the heights commanding the narrow valley leading to Tarin Kot.

Because he did not have all his forces in place yet, Amerine said that he thought at first about evacuating Karzai, but the success of the air strikes, the encouragement of his troops and the disposition of the guerrillas to keep up the fight against the Taliban turned the tide.

“The dead were left behind, and the Taliban pretty much ran back” to Kandahar.

“Saving the town will always be in our memory as our greatest moment,” he said during the 2001 press conference.

Now the push was on to drive the Taliban out of Kandahar, the city where they first showed their strength as a movement that would eventually take control of most of the country.

As reported by American Forces Press Service in February 2002, “Texas One-Two went about normal business Dec. 5 as B-52s pounded enemy positions nearby. The soldiers were opening mail and ‘care packages’ and getting on with their work when an errant bomb from a B-52 landed 100 yards away. Three U.S. soldiers and 10 Afghan guerrillas died and 40 to 50 others were wounded. The entire team was withdrawn from the theater.”

When asked how he remained so calm and clear during the press conference, Amerine said he remembered what happened in Panama in December 1994 when Cubans rioted.

More than 200 American service members were injured in the two-day melee, as were 30 Cubans.

Two Cuban migrants drowned in the Panama Canal trying to flee.

“I was a platoon leader then. Everybody [in his platoon] got hurt. I didn’t feel like they were properly honored” in explaining how the soldiers responded to the riot.

Despite his loss of hearing and bleeding but bandaged legs following the bomb blast, Amerine said he was determined to tell the story of his team and the Afghans who fought alongside the Americans.

On Jan. 15, 2002, Amerine was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the then Purple Heart.

***

Rieman and Amerine were selected in 2006 to participate in the “America’s Army: Real Heroes” program.

In addition to having their lives and stories retold in the video game, their likenesses have been made into plastic action figures.

“I’m passionate about this because it tells a story,” Rieman, who will be leaving active service to attend Wake Forest University, told Army News Service when the 20-minute “Virtual Army Experience,” the life-size version of the Army’s computer game, was launched during Speed Week in Daytona Beach, Fla., in February.

The 10,000 square-foot interactive traveling exhibit will go to 35 sites in 2007. The schedule is available at http://www.americasarmy.com and http://www.goarmy.com.

“But it doesn’t just tell my story, it tells all these guys’ stories, …the stories of everyone I fought with,” Rieman, who plans to join the Virginia Army National Guard as he works on his degree, said about the traveling exhibit.

“I think the public does support us. I never have in my whole career had anybody say anything negative in an adversarial way. They thanked me for my service,” Amerine said after thanking visitors to the experience during a recent stop on the National Mall in Washington.

Adding, “That’s what has been so remarkable about the war on terror.”

He will soon be on his way back to his hometown of Honolulu, serving as a planner with the United States Army Pacific.

Still Serving!