“Train as you fight!” — The Hidden Impact of Real Faces in Immersive Training

“Train as you fight!” — The Hidden Impact of Real Faces in Immersive Training


Part 2:

Part 1 of this series helped explain the physiological importance of simulation training with real faces displaying true emotion in high fidelity, versus trying to trick the sophisticated brain into thinking VR avatars are real. The method of training with simulation has been widely used for more than two decades and helps first responders prepare their bodies and emotions for the intense reality of their daily jobs. It can also be used to help students get a police officer’s perspective on reaction in crisis, or help resource officers prepare for the possibilities of active shooters in schools.


While this training is essential to prepare crisis managers for the reality of their jobs, it should be noted that the scenarios can have an impact on the nervous system during the training event. Especially when filming in 6K/projecting in 4K, witnessing the emotion in actors’ faces can generate a compassionate response in the observer. Presented with a school active shooter scenario, for example, these high definition real-action scenarios include screams in 5.1 surround sound, bodies falling, and blood splatter from the head when a high school student is shot in front of them. This fully immersive form of educational technology is intense, to say the least, and, for the novice trainee, in particular, can be a significant part of their transition into the role of the first responder.

Initiation and transformation are fundamental to preparing law enforcement and military personnel— that is “breaking the civilian mold.”1 When recruits take an oath of office, they formally separate themselves from civilians. Society extends to those recruits a special set of rights, duties, and risks commensurate with their professions that the remainder of society does not carry. Enforcing laws, exposure to danger, and the potential of ending a human life, to name a few. Physical and physiological shifts must accompany these concepts, and the training space can be a helpful place to make that transition.

The trainee’s simulation experience forms memories made of a complex bundle of neurons accompanied by emotions, “relived, and not remembered.”2 This realistic training can mimic “an experience from which there is no return.”1 One of the outcomes of paramilitary training should be an officer or military member who is strictly disciplined to manage crises using moral distinctions. To study such moral quandaries is not enough, however. Trainees must physically experience their actual responses, in immersive scenarios, and then psychologically process these encounters in a reflective space that brings attention to the experience.

Through this time-honored ‘train as you fight’ occupational practice, these situations can prepare them to press on through the challenging real-world scenarios they will encounter in their jobs. Those who haven’t experienced this level of immersion, particularly novices but potentially also seasoned veterans, might be inclined to stifle their reactions. Such suppression may be due to the trainee being concerned with how their peers, subordinates, and supervisors perceive their reactions. Regardless of their outward reaction, a realistic training scenario may send their nerves into full ‘five-alarm fire’ mode— that autonomic nervous system engagement you read about in part 1.

‘Train as you fight’ through simulation, is by far the most widely used and effective form of training throughout military and first responder units. The potential physiological effects of preparing trainees to face and effectively manage crises are recognized and understood. So the question remains, how do instructors and leaders close the loop on this immersive training experience?

Stay tuned for part 3, the “train as you fight” series finale… closing the loop.


If you missed part 1 please click here to read.


By Joy VerPlanck, D.E.T. and Noël Lipana, DSW.

Dr. Joy VerPlanck earned her Doctorate in Educational Technology at Central Michigan University and serves as the Military Programs Manager at MILO Range Training Systems. She previously served in the US Army as a Military Police officer.

Dr. Noël Lipana earned his Doctor of Social Work at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California and operates Quiet Terrain, LLC. He has served in various Air Force and Army units throughout his twenty-year career, including time in Afghanistan as a counter-IED specialist. 



1 Tick, E. (2005). War and the Soul:  Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Wheaton:  Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House.

2 Shay, J. (1994). Achilles in Vietnam: Combat trauma and the undoing of character. New York: Atheneum.