Over the past four years, as the number of soldier suicides has jumped dramatically ("Exit Strategy," August 27), the Army has awarded big bucks to researchers at Lincoln University in Jefferson City to study and enhance the Army's suicide prevention programs.
Part of the $2.3 million that's poured in since 2005 went to create "Beyond the Front," an interactive DVD, produced by WILL Interactive, that asks the viewer to determine the fate of the character on screen.
And, man, does that character have bad luck. The kind of bad luck, mixed with bizarre coincidences, that we thought only existed in afternoon soap operas. Here's a glimpse.
"This is you: Specialist Kyle Norton," the interactive video begins.
Right off the bat, Norton's girlfriend breaks up with him by e-mail, and he can't reach her on the phone. He'll soon discover his bank account has been emptied and his girlfriend is pregnant by another man.
Norton's buddy tries to get the distressed soldier to talk about his troubles.The viewer decides whether Norton opens up or keeps it to himself.
After every segment, the video prompts the viewer to make decisions for Norton -- for instance, talk to his commander about his problems or keep his mental turmoil a secret. The DVD also offers advice when the participant chooses actions that make life more precarious for the young Specialist.
After the drama with his girlfriend, Norton is dealt another blow when his friend is shot in the neck and killed.
Under one scenario, if the viewer makes choices that keep Norton isolated, the Specialist becomes so distraught and confused that he shoots himself.
And ends up permanently disabled.
But the video doesn't let the viewer end on a fatal note. Instead, it sends the participant back to key moments, taking away the choices that led Norton to pull the trigger and forcing the viewer to make decisions that get Norton the help to keep his life intact.