The Story Behind 'Medal Of Honor'


Electronic Arts

For months, the U.S. Special Operations Command and yours truly have been on a similar mission: to figure out the back story behind Electronic Arts's claim that its newest and most highly promoted first person-shooter game, "Medal of Honor," was developed in cooperation with U.S. special forces. 

For the record, Ken McGraw, the spokesperson for "U.S. special forces,"  says he and the Pentagon are bewildered by the company's promotional bravado. Two soldiers apparently consulted with EA on the game, he says, but they did not receive permission to do so.

"There are at least six things in that game that you shouldn't know about," a former Joint Special Operations Command operator told me.

Both he and I have attempted to contact various EA press people, government affairs people and programmers to get the back story. As they say in the aviation business, no joy.

What makes Medal of Honor so unique—aside from a player option that allows someone to play a member of the opposing forces who can attack U.S. soldiers—is that there are details in the game that are so specific and involve units so sensitive that there always has to have been some sort of informal cooperation with the military. And not just from the military, but a part of the military that doesn't cooperate with software companies—the Joint Special Operations Command, which runs the Pentagon's unacknowledged "Black Units."

As the Medal of Honor website describes it, "Operating directly under the National Command Authority, a relatively unknown entity of handpicked warriors are called on when the mission must not fail. They are the Tier 1 Operators".

By statute, Tier One operators are members of the Delta Force and the Navy's SEAL Team Six. It is illegal for someone to reveal the identities of current Tier One operatives, so instead of breaking the law, I will say that one of the Tier One guys who consulted for EA is nicknamed "Arrow." He was a Delta squadron commander a few years back. The other is a former SEAL Team Six member whose nickname is "Punch."  ("Arrow" is, coincidentally, pictured on the cover of a book about JSOC's intelligence brigade.)

According to sources inside the special operations community, the two men, both retired, secured at least the tacit permission from their direct commanders to cooperate. The Special Operations Command was able to procure an early copy of the video game and some military officials were uncomfortable with several episodes in the game, including a reference to JSOC's "AFO" capability, or Advanced Force Operations, which refers to the units that prepare the battlefield for the Tier One shooters to ... shoot.  

"There are at least six things in that game that you shouldn't know about," a former JSOC operator told me.

The Special Operations Command also objected to the option that allowed players to be "op-for"—opposing forces, and specifically, a  member of the Taliban.

(EA took out the Taliban option when several veterans groups complained publicly.)

Arrow and his colleague explain in one of the trailers that they knew that EA wanted to develop a game like this, and they felt that, since the game was going to come out anyway, they might as well cooperate.

The interviews with Punch and Arrow, their faces obscured, can be found here:

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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