The U.S. Army recently held a series of training exercises in Indiana, to teach troops how to react if a small nuclear bomb, set off by terrorists, were to hit an American city. The exercises included crowd control, medical care and rubble removal. Helping to make the mock scenarios especially realistic were the people hired to play the roles of survivors.
Lynn Smith says she is playing the role of a wife and mother who is desperately looking for her son in the chaos after a nuclear attack. She has taken part in a number of military training exercises in Indiana and enjoys working with the soldiers. "It's not only a job, it's a mission, and it's so real to them," she said.
About 150 role players took part in these exercises, many of them playing survivors with injuries. "The intent is to stress the soldier who doesn't have an answer for them. They have to deal with it. These people are hurt. They need medical care," said Kevin Dowling of the Valbin Corporation, the company that hires the role players.
Working as many as 12 hours per day, the role players also portrayed demonstrators and looters. "They're sad, they're mad, they're angry. They've lost family members, and they really help enhance the training here," said Colonel James Larsen, the chief of training exercises for the nuclear attack scenario.
The soldiers also have to face language barriers. Tony Ivezaj, originally from Kosovo, talks in his native Albanian during the exercises, and the soldiers cannot figure out what language he is speaking. "They are not that happy. They say, 'Let me bring another translator,'" he said.
The role players range widely in age - from their late teens to their 60s. After he retired, Bob Ford started doing this as a part-time job. He says he tries to be convincing. "Every scenario is actually different. I feel this is helping them serve their country, in a way, helping training them," he said.
Elvin Forey, a first time as a role player, was laid off from his job, so he became a role player to make some money. He says he is supposed to scream at the soldiers: "I can't find my family, I don't know where they are, stuff like that. Hopefully, this exercise helps them out," he said.
Most of these role players are from Indiana, but some have come from other parts of the United States. Jeff Hasert from California came to visit his grandparents in Indiana, who are also playing survivors after the atomic bomb attack. They gave him this advice: "Stay in your role, I guess, don't laugh, just get in their faces as much as you can," he said.
And the soldiers appreciate the role players' efforts. In one part of the exercise, the mock survivors are being decontaminated. Lieutenant Zacharia Davis, an army nurse, treats their wounds before they go through the process. "They're pretty good. That's kind of the goal - they want to simulate real casualties, give us really good training," he said.