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realistic training1


I had the pleasure of spending several hours with one of the lead “film directors” for the REALISTIC URBAN TRAINING CENTER.

We discussed how these “real world events” are literally “played out.”

“…The commander must set the conditions that will lead to the accomplishment of certain tasks. These tasks may include (but are not limited to) isolating the urban area; avoiding “template” planning and predictability; developing accurate situational awareness, including knowledge of the population; taking advantage of local expertise; and leading disciplined troops possessing necessary skills gained through realistic urban training and experience…” – Joint Publication 3-06, Joint Urban Operations.

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Hyper-Realistic™ Training Environments


Strategic Operations, Inc. (STOPS)  provides Hyper-Realistic™ training environments for military, law enforcement and other organizations, using state-of-the-art movie industry special effects, role players, proprietary techniques, training scenarios, facilities, mobile structures, sets, props, and equipment.


Since 2002 STOPS has provided pre-deployment training support to more than 450,000 military personnel (and still counting, every day) using our STOPS created Hyper-Realistic™ environments.

STOPS is a part of Stu Segall Productions, one of the largest independent TV / movie studios in the country.

Leader in Innovation

STOPS introduced “The Magic of Hollywood” to live military training by employing all the techniques of film and TV production integrated with military tactics, techniques, and procedures.


“We were the first company to use military training actors – now called role players”

Advances in simulation have opened up new possibilities in many fields of instruction, but at the other end of the training spectrum there is reality-based training (RBT), which seeks to immerse trainees in convincing physical recreations of security or combat scenarios to encourage lightning-fast tactical decision-making.

“This is reducing the onset of post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders that are related to being in an area of conflict.”

Hollywood-style explosions and gunfire provide realistic approximations of their real-life counterparts, and some gruesome prosthetics work helps to inure soldiers to the horrors of the battlefield. RBT’s proponents argue that this method, used in conjunction with more traditional tuition, allows trainees to hone their skills in a realistic environment and even reduces incidences of post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders.

The HALO Corporation and its training partner Strategic Operations (STOPS) are two such proponents. Halo and STOPS, both based in San Diego, California, work on what they call “hyper-realistic” training programmes for armed forces, special forces, law enforcement and intelligence organisations in the US and around the world – STOPS alone has provided training support to more than 600,000 operators.

The companies recently participated in Halo’s Counter-Terrorism Summit, a massive event involving major demonstrations of RBT sessions, including a tongue-in-cheek “zombie apocalypse” scenario that grabbed widespread attention from mass media. We talked to Halo’s president Brad Barker and STOPS executive vice president Kit Lavell to discuss the advantages of immersive training and its place within the broader training landscape.

Chris Lo: What is your experience of delivering realistic training programmes?

Brad Barker: We have a wide range of clients from all over the world, including local, state and federal law enforcement, military and the intelligence community.

We identify what kind of training they’ve been undergoing recently, where they want to be and what they want that operator to possess as far as skill sets [go], and then we build a bridge between where they are now and where they want to be. That bridge is where we start to immerse them in an experiential type of training programme that is germane to what they do for a living.

STOPS uses state-of-the-art Hollywood battlefield special effects, combat wound effects, medical simulation systems such as the Cut Suit, role players, foreign language speakers, subject matter experts and immersive training scenarios to create training environments that are the most realistic in the industry.

We were the first company to use military training actors – now called role players – with detailed knowledge of the language, customs and culture of the Middle East, East Asia, south-east Asia, West Africa, Latin America and the Philippines.

We introduced Hollywood medical special effects to the military training world with makeup artists simulating combat wounds so realistically that many training participants thought the wounds were real and possibly caused by negligent discharges. Trainers frequently called “time out” in order to assess the situation. We’ve employed dozens of amputee actors in scenarios in which makeup artists fashioned realistic limbs which were then traumatically severed with STOPS battlefield effects.

CL: Is there evidence that immersive training leaves military personnel more ready to face the challenges of actual operations?

BB: We’re creating an environment with actors and technology that allows the student to be completely immersed into a world that is not unlike where he or she is going to be deployed. The results are staggering, not only in their effectiveness but physiologically there’s a reduction in adrenaline, cortisol and other measurable biological and chemicals reactions that the body will exhibit when under tremendous stress.

With the help of Hollywood-style special effects you can really sell the scenario to the attendee or student. So this is reducing the onset of post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders that are related to being in an area of conflict and dealing with that trauma head-on. We call that stress inoculation.

KL: Researchers from the U.S. Naval Health Research Center recently studied Marines training in the Infantry Immersion Trainer. Naval Health researchers evaluated training participants for stress reactivity, mitigation and inoculation.

The researchers measured salivary cortisol and alpha amylase levels in Marines before and after immersion in this hyper-realistic environment. Preliminary results in this ongoing study found that the acute stress response to the IIT training was substantial. Salivary hormone levels also indicated that this type of training provided a stress inoculation effect.

CL: How do you think simulation matches up to RBT training in terms of effectiveness?

BB: With regard to technology training, there’s nothing better. If you are training a pilot on how to fly a UAV and his interface is digital, all you have to do is simulate that scenario – it’s just not connected to a real unmanned system. You have 100% efficacy there, if you do it enough.

But getting the guys in an immersive scenario, where the outcomes are hardly certain and they’re not clued in on what the opposition is going to do – this is where I see the world going.

It’s dramatically less expensive than spending a tonne of money on R2-D2 and C-3PO to train folks, but there are huge benefits to having the mature operator train the junior operator on historic methods of operation and then dusting that off and applying it to real-world counter-insurgencies or disaster response scenarios, based on emerging threats.

CL: With the high production values and slightly tongue-in-cheek sessions like the Counter-Terrorism Summit’s zombie apocalypse scenario, is there a danger that participants might find the training too ‘fun’ and miss out on the lessons to be learned?

KL: The demonstration scenarios that STOPS provided at the Halo Summit were not to train participants, but rather to showcase how training could be conducted hyper-realistically.

“We know that those who plan to do us harm are using reality-based training – they are mining the internet for scenarios.”

The ‘zombie apocalypse’ scenario had a very serious purpose, to demonstrate the complexity of responding to a chemical / biological incident or event. Rather than using a specific political or geographic ‘bad guy,’ and because it was Halloween, ‘zombies’ provided a simple and benign adversary for the event.

The only real biological attack our nation has faced was the anthrax attack shortly after 9/11. Lessons learned after that tragedy showed just how vulnerable we are. A single person with a contagion could shut down an entire hospital without proper decontamination.

Training that integrates decontamination with medical response teams is vital – proper decontamination equipment and learning how to use it is a priority for first responders. These were elements of the scenario we demonstrated.

CL: With technology becoming so much more accessible, do you think realistic training is one thing that can’t be replicated in by terrorists or other attackers?

BB: I think that unfortunately, we’re a little behind the game right now. We’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do, because we know that those who plan to do us harm are using reality-based training.

They are mining the internet for scenarios. They’re using the benefit of their research to develop scenarios based on what they see in the media.

So we have an obligation to do intelligence research and analysis on this exportation of terrorist methods, and then find out what the common threads are. If we can just get 80% of those methods and develop “hyper-realistic,” immersive training methodologies to prepare for them, then we’ve got something significant.

CL: How important is it that training acknowledges past events, for example Hurricane Katrina or the Mumbai attacks, to update best practices and avoid past mistakes?

BB: The big deal with Katrina was communications interoperability. Nobody knew what the heck was going on. No one knew what someone had or what someone needed during most of that event.

There was a whole lot of people starving over here, then two blocks over there was a whole bunch of food going bad and no one knew it was there. There was no communication, co-ordination or collaboration at any level, and in the gaps between those three Cs, people died.

Mumbai is another watershed moment, because that was the first time in history, in my view, where our opposition, the bad guys, were able to use technology as a force multiplier. They were able to co-ordinate that attack using technology that just ten years ago was only available to the most elite intelligence communities. In a decade, that stuff is available to a kid, oh and by the way it’s all in his pocket on his mobile device.

You need to have the maturity of the folks who have deployed previously so we don’t make the same mistakes again. What we’re trying to do is acknowledge the fact that we’re flawed, acknowledge the fact that we’re likely to make those same mistakes, but let’s not do it as frequently, shall we?

CL: How could training become even more immersive in the next five or ten years?

KL: The near future will bring greater realism in live training environments – the sights, the sounds, the smells, will increase in fidelity. Tracking of participants, results of engagements and after action review will become simpler, more streamlined and effective. Visual weapons effects both on participants and in the environment will become more realistic.

The number of combined live, virtual and constructive training events will increase and be networked geographically more frequently. Military training environments will become more realistic and will integrate training, often done with joint services, with test and evaluation of weapons systems, developmental testing, independent operational testing, independent evaluations, assessments and experiments of military equipment.

BB: If you look at a major flashpoint as the ‘bang’, we should start to focus on ‘left-of-bang’ and try to eliminate the threat while it’s in its planning stages. Because we know the bad guys are going to break the law before the bang – we know they are. If you can teach intelligence, special operations and law enforcement the methods of operation and what these perpetrators need to do to carry out their acts, if you teach them what to look for, they will go and find it. We know that. So let’s resource them there.


Now used as the foundational document across all the U.S. armed services for what is commonly dubbed military operations in urban terrain, Department of Defense Joint Publication 3-06 emphasizes the unique challenges presented by urban areas. In successfully meeting those myriad challenges the document points to the criticality of realistic urban training.

The desire to enhance the realism of urban training over the past decade is clearly evident in things like the proliferation of urban training infrastructures on military bases at home and abroad, the introduction of “hyper-realistic” training to the urban training environment, and technology developments that are already providing the benefits of greatly expanded urban training realism.

Urban Training Infrastructures

One excellent example of state-of the-art urban training infrastructures can be seen in the Combined Arms Military Operations in Urban Terrain training facility located at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.

Completed in January 2011 by Allied Container Systems Inc., the facility is based on modified ISO shipping containers and includes a mixture of over 1,560 training facility buildings scattered across 274 acres of urban-depicted training space that is supported by a network of streets, courtyard walls, religious structures and village shanties.

“That’s the largest urban training facility that we have constructed,” said Greg Celesky, vice president of military programs at Allied Container Systems Inc. “But the amount of facilities that we have in place for the Department of Defense throughout the United States and [overseas] are tremendous. As just one example, our second largest site—and the first largest for the Army—is located at Fort McCoy, Wis., where we have a little over 1,000 structures.”

“When somebody hears the word ‘container,’ they think they are getting a corrugated 8-by-8-by-40 foot box from a shipping yard or off the back of a tractor trailer,” Celesky explained. “But it’s much more diversified than that. We use all new containers. We re-engineer and re-structure those containers to make it as realistic, sustainable and quality-proven as we possibly can. When we are done with a facility it doesn’t even look like a container anymore. It looks like an Afghan village. But it’s more than just Afghanistan. These are urban training solutions that meet the specific operational theater environment where they could be going to execute operations.”

Asked to summarize some of the elements that Allied Container Systems brings to their urban training solutions, Celesky highlighted the company’s desire to serve as a center of excellence in urban operations, demonstrated performance, and the subject matter expertise retained on its teams.

Asked to summarize some of the elements that Allied Container Systems brings to their urban training solutions, Celesky highlighted the company’s desire to serve as a center of excellence in urban operations, demonstrated performance, and the subject matter expertise retained on its teams.

“Quality and sustainability are the next critical things that we talk about,” he continued. “Because when you are putting a facility up like we did at Twenty-nine Palms or any of the Army installations, they have to be maintainable. It isn’t just ‘one stop and drop.’ Along with introducing the urban training complexes, installations are taking on the parallel challenge of sustaining those facilities. And that gets back to the quality of our products.”

As noted earlier, the requirements for realistic urban training stretch across the Department of Defense. Another recent program that highlights this span of requirements is the Counter-IED MOUT Training Complex Project by Air Force Special Operations Command. In July of this year, Falcon Containers announced their prime contract award to provide training systems and structures for this program at the 27th Special Operations Wing, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

Describing the company as “a leading provider of repurposed shipping containers,” Falcon Containers will be responsible for a MOUT training site development that will allow warfighters to perform full mission profiles, designed to defeat the tactical challenges of IEDs as well as the strategic challenges of defeating the network that emplaces the IEDs.


According to Kit Lavell, executive vice president for Strategic Operations Inc., the company entered the urban training arena from a San Diego television and movie production lot through “the creative genius” of producer Stu Segall. Following their introduction through a mutual friend, Lavell began pursuing the creation of a new business model for training.

“It was different from anything I had ever seen before, by taking … movie-making techniques and applying them to military and law enforcement training,” he recalled. “It would become a lot more interesting through the immersive experience.”

In addition to the sets and special effects, the company soon began utilizing “role players” from San Diego County, which boasts of the second largest Iraqi-American community and one of the larger Afghan-American communities in the country.

“I think we were one of the first companies to ever use role players from Southwest Asia to help provide the cultural and language experience during training,” he said. “We also were the first company ever to use ‘battlefield effects’ like you might see in movie demolitions.”

Emphasizing that everything in the military is fluid, dynamic and interactive, he said, “That’s where we apply the proprietary techniques to blend technologies in such a way that you can have movement all over in an immersive and ‘hyper-realistic’ environment. That’s what we brought to military training: an ability to create an immersive environment using all of these techniques but doing it in a safe way.”

He continued, “The other component to creating these immersive environments is to create a realistic looking environment. And we applied all of those techniques to make a Military Operations on Urban Terrain [MOUT] facility look extremely realistic. So we have applied a lot of those building construction techniques over the years and we have actually ‘transformed’ a lot of the MOUT facilities at installations across the country.”

Projects have included: a two-and-a-half year-long effort to rebuild and create villages across 1,001 square miles at the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, Calif.; re-do of the MOUT facilities at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La.; a 2012 effort to transform MOUT facilities at Fort Bliss, Texas; and other MOUT facility efforts across the U.S. and Canada.

Lavell related the creation of urban training complexes out of ISO shipping containers to the 2003 timeframe, crediting the new process with “a way to quickly build facilities for training for the asymmetric threat that we were experiencing in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

“But that only went so far,” he said. “When you have hundreds of containers out there all painted tan they don’t look very realistic … So what we introduced was re-engineering of these by cutting them up, re-welding them, putting them together with structural components, and then ‘facade them’ on the inside and outside to make them look like construction techniques and materials that you would fine in the operational environment. So that’s what we did when we went through NTC and JRTC and Fort Bliss: We changed them to look realistic.”

This is a time lapse video of the Strategic Operations crew setting up one of their innovative portable buildings called an RHU, which stands for Relocatable Habitat Unit. This small 10′ by 8′ RHU has been “sceniced” using Hollywood movie-making techniques to look like an Afghan hut. Other configuration can be almost any size, including a 3 story model. These RHUs are used principally by the military for Strategic Operations’ Hyper-Realistic training in “villages” manned by actors dressed as enemy combatants and Afghan civilians. Special pyrotechnic special effects add to the realism, thereby preparing the military individuals for actual combat more effectively. See http://www.strategic-operations.com for more details.

Strategic Operations began exploring a new approach about three-and-a-half years ago, when they developed a patented system called the  Habitat Unit (RHU)

“Basically the RHU is a ‘mobile MOUT’ facility,” he explained. “ISO containers are not really mobile. When you put them down you can’t move them around very easily. So we saw the RHU as the way to have a truly mobile hyper-realistic MOUT facility. We developed it so that each 4-by-8-foot panel weighs less than 100 pounds, and they fit together with a simple tool and latching system. You can build a multi-story with that tool and each piece looks on the outside and the inside like whatever building construction material or technique you want. We’ve even done them to look like bamboo.”

Bringing the Realism Home

It’s one thing to provide realistic urban training at one of the Army’s major combat training centers or other major installation, but it can be even more important when it’s incorporated into home station training.

That’s the assertion of Jim Yarbrough, brigadier general, U.S. Army (Ret.), and now senior director of integrated training and leader development solutions at General Dynamics Information Technology. Drawing on his extensive expertise, which includes serving as former commander of the Army’s JRTC, Yarbrough offered, “I would say that the Army leadership is encouraging commanders to achieve more at home station training before they deploy to the combat training centers.”

Yarbrough spotlighted GDIT’s “InForce” Tactical Instrumentation Suite for its tremendous potential contributions to the realism of the “live” element within the increasingly critical “live, virtual, constructive” training environments at unit home stations. Characterizing it as “a quantum improvement over what they could achieve previous to this technology,” he described InForce as “a series of tripod-mounted small surveillance cameras that can be placed anywhere you want in a remote training area.”

“InForce allows you to go anywhere that you want to go remotely,” he said. “And in a matter of hours you can set up those tripods—each has a hardened command module that then operates not only those cameras but also triggers the battlefield effects that come with InForce, including pyrotechnic exploding devices, a robust menu or sounds, smoke generators, a menu of concentrated smell generators, and the control of targetry.”

Along with the portability and impressive range of battlefield effects, additional benefits come from the rapid retrieval of captured superior video clips to facilitate learning during the after action review process.

“The utility goes back to the attributes,” Yarbrough added. “It gives you a much higher level of training effectiveness—we say that it gives you ‘CTC level effectiveness’ at home station. And we truly believe that Inforce is the future of instrumented urban operations training.”

Strategic Operations: Bringing Realism Home

Go here to see video – Strategic Operations


Role Players

STOPS) is able to provide hundreds of role players who serve as civilians on the battlefield (COB)

Drawing on resources of our casting agency, co-located with the Stu Segall Productions TV / movie studio, Strategic Operations Inc. (STOPS) is able to provide hundreds of role players who serve as civilians on the battlefield (COB).  Foreign language speakers (FLS) who know the language and customs from any area of the world play the roles of government officials, religious leaders, tribal elders, or interpreters.  Role players with military experience, weapons training, and knowledge of insurgent tactics can make up a dedicated opposing force (OPFOR).  STOPS also provides Category II and III role players for training exercises requiring security clearances.

To support Special Operations Training Exercises STOPS has created platoon-sized teams of role players with military backgrounds who are fully outfitted with uniforms, gear, weapons, vehicles, tents, and logistical support.  Trained by STOPS to act as partner nation special operations units, they participate in training exercises where they interact with U.S. SpecOps forces.  STOPS provides all role players with wardrobe, props, and vehicles to faithfully replicate any environment imaginable.

Rapid Prototyping / Research & Development

GETFO Thousands of military personnel have trained at Strategic Operations Inc. during which many lessons learned have been incorporated into the design of facilities and equipment.  This fertile ground has also contributed to innovative research and development and rapid prototyping.  Among the products developed are:  Re-locatable Habitat Units (RHU), Ballistic Unmanned Ground Vehicle – Target (BUGV-Target),  Get The Forces Off / On (GETFO) rapid egress system for troop-carrying military trucks, the Human Worn Partial Task Surgical Simulator (“Cut Suit”), special effects devices, props, and simulated weapons.

Stu Segall Productions

WE ARE CURRENTLY CASTING: AFRICAN (AMERICAN) FEMALE: 25-30 years old with dark skin. Tall, slender, very natural looking. No dyed hair, extensions,


WE ARE CURRENTLY CASTING: AFRICAN (AMERICAN) FEMALE: 25-30 years old with dark skin. Tall, slender, very natural looking. No dyed hair, extensions, overdone make up, etc. Please submit most natural look – RECENT headshot AND 3/4 or full length photos. Pregnant is a plus! MONGOLIAN MALE (or SOUTH EAST ASIAN): 30-40 years old with very skinny frame and a mature look. Please submit RECENT headshot AND 3/4 or full length photos. SOUTH INDIAN FEMALE – CHILD: 7-11 years old with a small, skinny frame. Please submit RECENT headshot AND 3/4 or full length photos. SOUTH INDIAN MALE: 45-55 years old slightly weathered with a professional “Doctor’s demeanor”. Please submit RECENT headshot AND 3/4 or full length photos. Own a white Doctor’s coat with stethoscope is a plus! WHITE MALE: MID 30S, professional, clean cut, business casual. This is for a National Geographic Promo for a distinguished scientist who has developed a “health app” for under-developed areas Must be available for a one day shoot on May 2nd. Each actor would only need to donate about 2-4 hours and the rate is non-union $125 for the day It is for Albert Lin Scientist who has developed a “health app” If interested, please email vivsdcasting@gmail.com


governor’s new council streghtens san diego’s military stake

Military, Government to Train Using Zombie Crisis Scenario

Accomplishing Strategic Naval Operations on a Training Budget

Strategic Operations Business Card L

Strategic Operations, Inc. (STOPS) provides Hyper-Realistic™ training environments for military, law enforcement and other organizations, using state-of-the-art movie industry special effects, role players, proprietary techniques, training scenarios, facilities, mobile structures, sets, props, and equipment.

Cut Suit Video

Cut Suit “sucking chest” wound


The Patent Pending “Cut Suit” is the most realistic way to simulate the look, feel, and smell effects of severe traumatic events on a live human while allowing medics, combat lifesavers, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and civilian first responders to safely perform real procedures. From the point of injury (POI), where self-aid and buddy-aid are rendered, the Medic or Corpsman renders aid, CasEvac or MedEvac is performed, treatment en route, and transition of care to the shock / trauma team and surgical intervention.

Strategic Operations Helps Boston with Disaster Preparedness

May 3, 2013
Urban Shield has worked with Strategic Operations, a Hollywood effects company that also helps prepare army medics for the battlefield. (Their disaster scenario staff, Baker says, include an amputee.) With a generous helping of moulage, their drills aim to force officials to confront both the logistical and atmospheric challenges of a disaster.

Troops Endure Hyper-Realistic Training

March 14, 2013
Military officials have special combat training that provides the element of urban warfare. Lea Sutton reports.

Fort Bragg expects to stop using goats for trauma training as military moves to ban it

January 13, 2013
On average, soldiers on Fort Bragg slaughter 300 goats a month for medical trauma training meant to help save lives in battle. Animal activists say the animals are shot, stabbed, bludgeoned and blown up to simulate the types of injuries soldiers face.

Total Immersion: Military Training gets Real

January 3, 2013
“Hyper-realistic” training takes military learning out of the classroom and on to the battlefield using actors, Hollywood-style explosions and combat wound effects. Two experts in reality-based training discuss its benefits and how it fits into the broader training landscape.


December 18, 2012
“…The commander must set the conditions that will lead to the accomplishment of certain tasks. These tasks may include (but are not limited to) isolating the urban area;

Practicing Tactical EMS on the “Cut Suit”

November 9, 2012
Practicing Tactical EMS on the “Cut Suit” Innovative simulator allows first responders to practice a full range of tactical EMS procedures

Zombies attack in San Diego… sort of

November 1, 2012
Zombies attack in San Diego… sort of

National-security summit to close Paradise Point to public Oct. 29-Nov. 2

October 30, 2012
National-security summit to close Paradise Point to public Oct. 29-Nov. 2


October 23, 2012

SAN DIEGO — October 11, 2012 — BSG, LLC and Strategic Operations (STOPS) have developed a joint venture to provide Hostile Environment Training for journalists

‘Blast Trousers’ to teach treating groin wounds

September 7, 2012

When noise from the explosion finally subsided, a Marine’s agonized cries pierced the dusty air. A corpsman sprinted to his side but was taken aback by what he saw…


Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP)

DHS-HSEEP specific doctrinal or grant-related requirements, such as the need for terrorism-related scenarios, have been eliminated.

Federal Interagency, as well as several State and local “stakeholders, have been incorporated so the HSEEP Policy and Guidance is more applicable to all exercises, regardless of scope, scale, scenario, or sponsoring agency.”

Following the domestic terrorist attacks in 1993, 1995, and 2001 and the establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002, officials at all levels of government and in all types of communities have worked to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from a variety of threats to public safety. Exercises play a crucial role in preparedness, providing opportunities for emergency responders and officials to practice and assess their collective capabilities.”


Senator Calls Zombie Apocalypse

Senator Calls Zombie Apocalypse Training ‘Wasteful’

Halo Corporation hosted the training summit and say the Senator’s report is misleading.

Senator Calls Zombie Apocalypse Training ‘Wasteful’