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Army turns combat action into digital comic strip

Members of the U.S. Army encounter hostile Czervenian forces in the graphic novel series
Members of the U.S. Army encounter hostile Czervenian forces in the graphic novel seriesU.S. Army

The fictitious nation of Czervenia has just attacked its neighboring country with a "massive military offensive" and several Army soldiers sit around a conference table, planning how to rescue refugees and send a long-range surveillance team into enemy territory.

A helicopter hovers over a refugee camp in the rain, its blades whirring as rain falls. Soldiers parachute into the forest near a Czervenian staging area and watch through night-vision scopes.

The scenes are part of "America's Army," a graphic novel launched by the U.S. Army in 2009. Once available only in a static form through a web-based reader, the panels now come alive with sound effects and partial animation in a new iPad and Android app released last week.

Soldiers can be heard rustling in leaves as they try to hide from Czervenian forces on a night mission. Gunfire rattles as the screen flashes with "BOOM," "PING," and "PANG."

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The app is the latest iteration of America's Army, which began as a video game in 2002. The first three issues of the comic will be re-released on the app, followed by new issues every couple of months.

U.S. soldiers conduct a mission in Czervenian enemy territory.
U.S. soldiers conduct a mission in Czervenian enemy territory.U.S. Army

Michael Barnett, a chief engineer for the Army Game Studio and executive producer of the comic series, told that the comic is designed to show the personal aspects of missions as well as highlight the various roles soldiers play in conflict.

Kirby, for example, is a soldier on his first deployment who is unsure that he'll perform well under pressure. Minor characters include a lawyer and doctor, both of whom wouldn't normally get screen time in a video game. Many of the stories, Barnett said, are based on soldiers' real experiences.

The Army has published comics for decades through PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly, a series for soldiers that teaches maintenance skills and tips via a monthly strip.

Barnett said he did not know yet how many users have downloaded the app, but is hopeful that the tablet technology will help reach civilians and soldiers alike.

"That’s what we really love about comic books," Barnett said, "they bridge a very wide audience."

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