The Making of a Toy Soldier
Two months after the 9/11 attacks, Army Capt. Jason Amerine and his Special Forces A-team crossed into Afghanistan with the mission of fighting the Taliban with the forces of Hamid Karzai, then a virtually unknown Afghan leader. Amerine worked with Karzai to plan an assault on the Taliban's Tarin Kowt stronghold. Within days, the small American team, keeping the reluctant Afghan fighters at their side, seized Tarin Kowt, the provincial capital, and then used airstrikes to repel a Taliban counterattack. The fight brought Karzai an important military victory, one that helped propel him to prominence.
The story of Amerine's work with Karzai will be brought into the homes of America's youth next year, when the Army puts out a plastic action figure of Amerine and gives him a starring role in the America's Army video game. Now an Army major and an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Amerine has been a consultant on the game and helped make its Special Forces expansion more realistic. "We didn't want this to appear propagandist," he says of the game. "We wanted to show what we did, and I think we came up with a realistic game." But, Amerine expresses some ambivalence about being thrust before the public as an action figure and video game character. By the very nature of the toy, an action figure puts the focus on a single soldier, an emphasis at odds with an Army ethos of teamwork. Still, Amerine thinks of the figurine as another way to honor the three members of his team who were killed by an errant U.S. bomb Dec. 5, 2001. "They are the ones that this should represent," he says. "I wanted my men to be remembered for what they did."
How to handle the stories of war heroes who have been killed is a bit sticky. The Army is not exactly sure yet how they will tell Amerine's story and how much detail they will include. And for now, the Army is not planning to issue a figure of the Iraq war's only Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, who was killed near the Baghdad airport repelling an Iraqi Republican Guard counterattack during the 2003 invasion.
Amerine himself feels it is important not to sanitize the stories. The toys are meant to help with recruiting, of course, but Amerine notes that potential soldiers should not join without considering the risks. The power of this project, he says, lies in the fact that the heroes being portrayed in the game and in the toys are real people. "These weren't superheroes who had bullets bouncing off of them," he says. "Some of us died. Some of us were crippled. You see real human beings who fought for their country and suffered."
This story appears in the November 21, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.