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Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009
Cyber army base attracts recruits

By Sima Kotecha
Newsbeat US reporter

Flight simulator
Visitors are encouraged to try out simulators at the Army Experience Centre

It's the only one of its kind in the world and it cost more than 9 million ($12.9m) to build.

The Army Experience Centre is based at the Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia and one of its objectives is to sell the military life.

It's packed with high-tech simulators, video games and interactive displays that try to depict what real life in the armed forces would be like.

It's open to the public and is supposed to be an information point for anyone who wants to find out more about the US army.

Its glass walls and big TV screens, which hang from the ceiling, make it look more like a posh high tech showroom.

There are computers everywhere and teenage boys are sat at them playing video games and chatting among themselves.

Army Experience Centre
The AEC is packed with video games and interactive displays
Soft cushioned couches give the place an informal feeling.

Major Larry Dillard works in marketing at the Pentagon. He often comes to the centre to see how things are going.

He said: "What the Army Experience Centre is about is really trying to give Americans a way to interact with soldiers and get a sense of what the Army does."

The AEC is staffed by soldiers who have served in various capacities from being on the front line to working in administration.

Visitors are encouraged to ask questions, do the online learning programs and try out the simulators, which are at the back of the building.

It's meant to educate people about the various careers, training and learning opportunities in the military.

Major Dillard said: "We hope that what we do here will lead to recruiting success but fundamentally our hypothesis is that if people just understood the army better, they would be inclined to join the ranks."

Simulating reality

Many people come here to play the video games. The choices are America's Army which is the army's official computer game, World of Warcraft and Call of Duty 4.

They're supposed to create a feeling of actually being in a war zone.

Army Experience features
An Apache helicopter simulator
A Black Hawk helicopter simulator with four door gunner positions
An armoured Humvee simulator
Bill Marchette ,19, says the AEC helped him decide to join the armed forces.

All ages are allowed to visit the AEC but to participate in any of the activities, visitors must be at least 13 years old.

He said: "This place helps to get kids off the street, for them to make friends and have an opportunity to do something with their lives."

But Bill isn't so sure about whether the simulators or any of the other equipment, depict reality.

While he was on the Apache helicopter simulator, which stays on the ground, he seemed excited. He says he knows it won't be like that in real life.

"I know I'll have to be more focused then. It'll be true and not like this," he added.

The US army has met recruitment targets two years in a row.

With the country in an economic crisis, more people have signed up to the forces than anticipated in that last couple of months, with many thinking it could be a safe career move.

Army Experience Centre
Visitors are encouraged to try out the helicopter simulators
Newsbeat asked Major Dillard if he thought the centre was accurately showing the public what happened in war.

He added: "I don't think it's manipulative. It's a virtual reality which is not the same thing as reality but we go to great lengths to depict what a real mission would be like."

A 23-year-old man who went to the AEC with his mates, says he's not impressed.

He said: "They bribe you too much. It's all about the money. They bribe you with money."

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