Imitation Nation

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Mustafa: It was during midday and probably afternoon. I was very tired, and I was just looking for a quiet, remote place. 

Roman Mars: This is Mustafa, who is only using his first name to protect his friends and family in Afghanistan. Mustafa remembers one particular day when he needed a break from the stress of life in his village. He was exhausted, and so that afternoon he started looking for a quiet place to take a nap. 

Mustafa: So, I went and entered this room, and I saw a bed there. It was a very remote area of the village. 

Roman Mars: He went into the house and quickly fell asleep. 

Mustafa: Next thing I know, there were Marines kicking in the door. People with guns drawn came in, yelling. And they said, “Oh, we got him! We got him!” I didn’t know what to do. 

Roman Mars: Before he knew it, Mustafa had been handcuffed and taken in for interrogation. 

Mustafa: They were like, “What were you doing? Where did you come from?” And later on, I found out that that was a suspected Taliban house. 

Roman Mars: It could have been a catastrophe for Mustafa. Except it wasn’t real. 

Sonia Paul: Because the entire situation was a military simulation. 

Roman Mars: That’s reporter Sonia Paul. 

Sonia Paul: Mustafa, who was born in Afghanistan and raised as a refugee in Pakistan, was playing a role in a make-believe theater of war. He wasn’t in Afghanistan. He was in 29 Palms, California, home to the world’s largest Marine Corps training base. 

Mustafa: All I knew was we were going to role-play as an Afghan character living in a fictional country like Afghanistan and pretend to be in Afghanistan and teach the Marines the Afghan customs and the culture. 

Sonia Paul: Hundreds of other Afghans were role-playing alongside Mustafa in the scenario. Everyone had a specific role in the village: police officer, mayor, insurgent and so on. Mustafa was playing the mayor’s son. 

Mustafa: And that scenario was for them to search the house just to make sure what was going on in that house. And coincidentally–which was not part of the training–I was there just because I wanted to take a nap. 

Sonia Paul: Fake cities, imitation nations, people role-playing as civilians, spies, or enemies, complete with costumes and props–all of this was coordinated and constructed by the U.S. military to prepare soldiers for war. 

Roman Mars: These fake villages designed for U.S. military training dot the entire United States, not to mention other countries. Researchers have identified over 400 of them around the world. 

Sonia Paul: Mustafa says he participated as a role player about a dozen times between the years of 2008 and 2013. It was the heyday of military simulations when most of them were made to look like mock villages in cities of the Middle East. 

Mustafa: They had a mosque, they had shopkeepers, they had a police force, they had an army force. I really felt after the third day that I really was in Afghanistan. 

Roman Mars: But these training simulations have a much longer history. And now, more than two years after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan, and nearly 21 years after the invasion of Iraq, they’re being revamped yet again for another era of warfare. 

Sonia Paul: In theory, these training sites are meant to prepare soldiers and protect against the loss of life. But for the role players who staff them–people like Mustafa–the sites can start to blur truth and fiction in ways that can be uncanny and raise questions about the changing nature of the battlefield and the business of war. 

Roman Mars: For much of the long history of warfare, these types of urban simulations were unnecessary mostly because for much of history, warfare wasn’t urban at all. It happened on a battlefield. 

Sonia Paul: Around World War I, simple military simulations began to emerge. Infantry would often dig trenches and practice drills in them to prepare for the trench warfare on the front lines. But it wasn’t until World War II that the military fully realized the importance of urban simulations in preparing soldiers for war, largely in response to the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad. 

Battlezone | War Stories: The Soviet soldiers adapted themselves to fighting amid the ruined building. Spurred on by hatred for the enemy, they gave the Germans no rest.

Stephen Mueller Stalingrad was a very dense urban environment and included buildings the size of urban blocks that had multiple stories, that had basements, that had attics. 

Sonia Paul: That’s Stephen Mueller. He’s an architect who studied the history and design of military training sites. Before this moment, infantry training might have involved some exposure to urban environments, but nothing at the scale of Stalingrad. 

Stephen Mueller All of the Allied militaries were realizing that they were underprepared for the sheer scale and scope and complexity of prolonged warfare in a complex, three-dimensional urban environment. And so, then all of the Allied forces, including the U.S., started preparing for more and more battles like that by building environments that could better simulate that. 

Roman Mars: And these simulations also began to incorporate role players. 

Stephen Mueller So there would be, for instance, a role player playing Hitler or Goebbels, the kind of propaganda minister. And these role players would be inciting a crowd of supporters. That would be part of the scenario that the Allied forces would train to intervene with them. 

Roman Mars: But the main focus of the military simulations was practicing for and adjusting to the complexity of different physical environments where soldiers would be fighting. 

Sonia Paul: The military went to great lengths to create authentic replicas of each new theater of war, like replicating the moisture content of the wood used in enemy buildings so they can understand how a foreign environment would respond to fire and explosions. They hired architects to design fake German apartment blocks and mock Japanese dwellings. They paid attention to minutiae on the exterior and interior of these homes to ensure they were realistic. 

Roman Mars: Over the decades, they also built roads and sewer systems to mimic the ones in Korea and eventually phony Vietnamese villages in the swamps of Louisiana. 

Sonia Paul: But the people piece of the battle became increasingly complex. And a major turning point for the military came out of a real conflict in the 1990s. U.S. forces were deployed to support a United Nations humanitarian mission in Somalia when a military coup devastated the country’s agriculture and led to a nationwide famine. 

Roman Mars: U.S. forces ended up tangling with local warlords in the distribution of food aid. Eventually, Somali forces shot down two American Black Hawk helicopters, which was dramatized in the film Black Hawk Down. An 18-hour firefight erupted in the streets in what became known as the Battle of Mogadishu. It’s estimated that hundreds–possibly even more than a thousand–Somalis died. As did 18 American soldiers. 

Newscaster: Listed as missing in the heaviest fighting yet in Mogadishu. Some of the dead dragged through the streets by jeering Somalis. The worst U.S. casualties yet in Somalia, forcing the Pentagon to send reinforcements into what has become an all-out urban war… 

Sonia Paul: The battle was a tragedy for all those involved, and it was considered a political embarrassment for the United States. This kind of warfare was fundamentally different from the way the U.S. military knew how to fight. For one, the built environment in Somalia was chaotic–a dense urban market built from makeshift materials like scrap metal and highly flammable wood, which meant that it could be very easily destroyed. 

Ersela Kripa: To not have been able to really win that small guerilla warfare in Mogadishu because of the density of the urban landscape was not only lessons learned but also, like, symbolic loss in a way that we hadn’t seen before. 

Sonia Paul: This is Ersela Kripa. She and Stephen coauthored a book about the relationship between urbanism and military training. And she says that critically, the intensity battle also involved the kind of combatant the military hadn’t trained for: people who weren’t clearly identifiable as soldiers or fighters. 

Ersela Kripa: The so-called “enemy” was enlisting people through the market–enlisting people in the neighborhoods–to be on the lookout, to kind of be warning, or to hide munitions. 

Roman Mars: In other words, it wasn’t just the environment the U.S. military wasn’t prepared for. It didn’t know how to predict the people in the city, whether they were local sympathizers of the so-called enemy or civilians caught in the crossfire. 

Sonia Paul: Soon after the disaster in Somalia, and then as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, enormous amounts of funding flowed into the military to update its training. The Army wanted to avoid another fiasco like Mogadishu. And they wanted their soldiers better prepared to fight in cities crowded with both enemies and civilians. 

Andy Rice: There was some momentum around shifting military culture at that moment. 

Roman Mars: That’s Professor Andy Rice, who has studied military simulations. 

Andy Rice: They imagined the future of wars that they would be fighting much more like those kind of urban, counterinsurgency styles of combat. They’d also just rewritten the field training manual, I think, in 2004-2005 to emphasize culture and counterinsurgency as opposed to force-on-force combat operations. 

Sonia Paul: The military realized it needed to double down on training soldiers in local culture. Troops needed to understand the local politics, the traditions, and the language of the place. 

Andy Rice: This can help them avoid misinterpreting signs and symbols and the ways that people approach, let’s say, a checkpoint so you don’t shoot somebody. 

Roman Mars: And so, the importance of role players in military simulations only grew. They needed to speak the languages that soldiers might encounter, they needed to act the ways that locals might act, and their roles needed to reflect the increasingly ambiguous nature of modern warfare. 

Andy Rice: Like, this is actually a really important skill set–to be able to play act in these spaces–to be able to think about your relationships with a supposed adversary. So, I wanted to see it. 

Roman Mars: In 2007 and again in 2012, Professor Rice visited and studied a training village in Southern California designed to look like the Middle East. Its moniker was “Medina Wasl.”

Sonia Paul: Medina Wasl was like a big Hollywood production. Scenes and scenarios were crafted by a team of real Hollywood writers and military consultants. And the military also went to some absurd lengths to get these role players ready for their roles. They hired actors like Carl Weathers, who played Apollo Creed in the Rocky franchise, to give acting lessons. 

Roman Mars: These scenarios needed to be visually dramatic as well. The military wanted soldiers to encounter the worst of the worst while training in these urban warfare scenarios. 

Andy Rice: The aesthetics are meant to feel as though you’re in a war. The military really wants its soldiers to be “inoculated against shock” is the way that they put it, so that a soldier in an actual wartime environment won’t be paralyzed with fear and not act the way that they’re supposed to according to their training. 

Sonia Paul: And creating the worst day ever morphed into an industry. Companies took notice. 

Andy Rice: So, there was a company out of San Diego. They had kind of made their reputation through, like, high numbered cable, lurid crime dramas, and softcore porn. 

Roman Mars: Around the year 2002, that lurid crime drama and softcore porn company created an offshoot called Strategic Operations. It was founded to produce stressful, hyper realistic combat situations for training military personnel, using all the techniques of the theater, TV, and film industries. They became specialists in pyrotechnics and engineering big explosions inside Medina Wasl. 

Andy Rice: They also did kind of flesh colored rubber suits that would squirt blood. That was another thing that they had people wear. They ended up contracting with amputees to play the roles of people that had lost limbs inside of IED explosions. 

Sonia Paul: This all sounds like a pretty wild thing to experience from the perspective of soldiers in training. But then consider the role players at Medina Wasl–the mostly Arab-American immigrants. Many had been in the U.S. since the 1970s, and they had signed up to basically play themselves in a facsimile of their home countries under brutal attack. 

Roman Mars: Mustafa doesn’t remember exactly how he first found out about the job as a role player. He’d been in the U.S. for about eight years at that point–living in Sacramento, going to school, and learning the ins and outs of life in the U.S.–when some of his friends, also from Afghanistan, started applying for the job. 

Mustafa: It was around 2008, and I was on a spring break from my community college. And it was just perfect timing. I had a week off, and there was a five-day assignment. I was like, “Okay, it’s an easy enough job.” So, I went there. 

Sonia Paul: Can you walk me through what had happened in order for you to get the job? 

Mustafa: So, we were supposed to meet up at this restaurant, which was also a banquet hall in Fremont. 

Roman Mars: Fremont, California, home to one of the largest Afghan communities in the U.S. Mustafa says that at the banquet hall, employees of an Alaska based military contractor had set up tables where they handed out applications. They served food while people filled them out. 

Mustafa: They did serve a very nice dinner–I remember that–a traditional Afghan dish dinner. And we ate the dinner while we were signing up. 

Sonia Paul: Was there a particular type, if you will, who went for this kind of job? And if so, what was that type? 

Mustafa: I won’t say any particular type. Obviously, it was disproportionately male. If I have to guess, probably it was 80% male and 20% female. They tended to be more people that had limited ability to speak English. And actually, the company loved that they were primarily targeting this community that spoke no English or a very limited amount of English because it brought even more authenticity to the role player. So, if you really don’t know how to speak English, he can portray that more naturally. 

Roman Mars: Mustafa estimates there were at least 400 people there that night applying for the job. The contractor, a company called “Tatitlek,” was also performing on the spot drug tests and background checks. 

Mustafa: And then, around midnight, we got boarded on the buses that were chartered by the company, and we left Fremont all the way to 29 Palms. So pretty much I got hired on the spot for this job. 

Sonia Paul: So, the day you were hired was the day you went to 29 Palms? 

Mustafa: Yes. That’s correct. 

Roman Mars: Mustafa had never even heard of 29 Palms before signing up to be a role player. It’s a huge Marine Corps base near Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. 

Mustafa: So, once they took us in, in the base, they handed out the scripts for us and said, “Here, memorize this. Remember your role. Just follow the script.” But my role was left very vague. I’m not sure if it was done on purpose. We had a lot of freedom to just improvise. 

Sonia Paul: The workday started at around 6:30 a.m. after a simple breakfast. Then Mustafa and the other role players boarded a bus that brought them to the field. That’s where Mustafa first saw the mock village where he’d be working. 

Roman Mars: It was built out of dressed up shipping containers. Everyone wore traditional clothes. And Mustafa says they weren’t allowed to speak English, only Farsi and Pashto. Everything to Mustafa looked shockingly accurate. 

Mustafa: I really felt, after the third day, that I really was in Afghanistan because I was so immersed in that environment and in that role. 

Roman Mars: But there are also elements of his experience that were difficult or confusing for him and other role players. Some of the role players were recent refugees. They literally left one theater of war only to enter another. 

Sonia Paul: And sometimes, like in the case of one of Mustafa’s friends, the simulation blurred the real and the fictional in upsetting ways. In another conversation we had over the phone, Mustafa told me about a friend of his who didn’t speak much English, who had trouble grasping what his role was supposed to be. What he understood was that he was supposed to play a police officer, but he was actually supposed to play a police officer working as an insider for the Taliban. And the Marines in this scenario were, in fact, on the hunt for his character. 

Roman Mars: So, when they found Mustafa’s friend, they brought him in for an interrogation. And a marine intelligence officer started accusing him of being part of the Taliban. 

Sonia Paul: And Mustafa’s friend crumbled. 

Mustafa: And then he started panicking and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. They took my fingerprints–biometrics. I’m good. I have a green card. I’m legally here.”

Roman Mars: He was terrified. And the interpreter started laughing, and he tried to calm and comfort Mustafa’s friend in his native language. 

Sonia Paul: He said, “This is all pretend. You’re not being accused of being part of the Taliban. You’re a role player.”

Mustafa: “You will not get in trouble. You will not get arrested when you leave this job.” He thought he was going to get deported for being a Talib.

Sonia Paul: Reflecting back on that experience and how traumatizing it was for his friend, Mustafa says that working 12 hours a day–sometimes up to two weeks at a time–made it easy to forget you were in a simulation. 

Mustafa: You just got absorbed in that role. You just forget that what you’re doing is actually a make-believe scenario–not a real life. But, I guess, we just lost sense of that. 

Roman Mars: But even with these uncomfortable dynamics, Mustafa found that being a role player was a good job. He says the role players had comfortable sleeping quarters on the military base with nice beds, hot showers, and access to a gym. Rotations typically lasted two weeks at a time. 

Sonia Paul: Mustafa would learn about rotations at 29 Palms through an automated phone message the military contractor sent out to the role players. It was in English, Farsi, and Pashto. 

Mustafa: You would get a one-week notice. And then they will say “Hey. From this day to this day, there’s a two-week rotation coming up. If you’re interested, press one. If you’re not interested, press two.” 

Sonia Paul: If they press one, they would then get more information about what time to arrive if they came on their own or how to catch the next chartered bus from Fremont to 29 Palms. 

Mustafa: People that were working in that job–there were really very, very careful not to miss that phone call because they knew if they miss one time, they are going to get kicked out of the list of role players, pretty much. 

Roman Mars: And there was money to be made. Mustafa says, at the time that he participated, role players earned about $1,000 to $1,800 a week. 

Sonia Paul: Money that was especially meaningful to non-English speakers who might have struggled to get other kinds of work. 

Roman Mars: And for contractors and subcontractors who build and staff these simulations, the money is even bigger. A yearlong NBC news investigation published in 2019 found that since the early 2000s, the industry around these simulations has ballooned. 

NBC News: NBC news has identified a network of 256 companies in 46 states, providing role players, and receiving more than a quarter of $1 billion a year in government contracts. 

Sonia Paul: In 2009, the Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Defense spent $94.8 million on these simulations, which means that by the time the NBC report came out a decade later, spending had more than doubled to over $250 million. 

Roman Mars: And at the time of the 2019 report, there still hadn’t been a comprehensive audit of that spending. Independent watchdog groups said these programs took off during the war on terror to serve an immediate need, and they were basically forgotten. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still warrant scrutiny. 

Sonia Paul: Because now, even as the U.S. has withdrawn from those wars, these training grounds aren’t going away. They’re just adapting. 

Roman Mars: Our reporter, Sonia Paul, takes us into one of these training grounds after the break. 

Sergeant: You can see how complex the terrain is, right? Like, flat and mountainous. You got some urban areas, right?

Sonia Paul: In early 2023, I visited the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in Southern California. I was there along with a group of researchers, a few other members of the press, and some military family members. 

Sergeant: A lot more sand than trees and grass, right?

Sonia Paul: As we sat inside a yellow school bus, an army sergeant narrated what to look out for in the world we were about to enter. Endless miles of arid looking mountains surrounded us. Like 29 Palms, Fort Irwin is also in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert, near the city of Barstow. And the training simulation we were headed to was the village formerly known as Medina Wasl–the same village Professor Rice visited. But now, it’s been adapted for training for more current conflicts, like the war in Ukraine. 

Sergeant: All right, so we’re about to enter what we call the city of Razish. 

Sonia Paul: Razish is made up of 785 buildings. It’s the largest and most detailed of all the urban training villages. 

Sergeant: So, we have schools. We got an embassy. We’ve got a market square. We’ve got high-rise buildings. We’ve got subterraneal tunnel systems. We’ve got a prison. 

Sonia Paul: Razish is intended to simulate a contested border city between the make-believe countries of Donovia and Atropia. Donovia is nominally a republic but functionally an authoritarian state. Atropia is an oil rich, Western leaning oligarchy. Both are Muslim majority nations in the Caucasus region of the world. The general on the tour told me the army is looking to hire role players who can speak more Eastern Bloc languages, like Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, and Armenian. 

Sergeant: If you pay attention to the signs, it’s in Russia–they changed it to Russian, right? So, they’re replicating the fight in Ukraine. 

Sonia Paul: Since there weren’t any soldiers actually using the training ground, what we saw on the tour was a sort of simulation of the simulation. Other than a couple of fake attacks and explosions to show us the Hollywood-style special effects that the military uses, there wasn’t any simulated combat going on. It almost felt like the tours of Universal Studios my family and I went to when I was a kid. At one stop, our army tour guides even took us to shoot blanks from some machine guns. Trying to take in everything during the tour was a lot. It was overly stimulating and surreal. Walking through war-torn Razish with its Lego-like buildings, piles of rubble, a lonely looking mosque, and the bazaar. 

Sergeant: So just if you want to follow me through, you go ahead…

Sonia Paul: The bazaar wasn’t very big. It was a sort of wide alley, buttressed by short, tan colored buildings made out of corrugated material. Hawkers were selling housewares, eggs, fruits, vegetables, meat on a stick… My guess was that the point of the scene was to fill us and future soldiers with culture shock. But I was more excited to interview the fake mayor of Razish. I tried to ask him about his job as a role player through his translator, but he refused to break character. 

Sonia Paul (field tape): Can I ask a question like how does one find this kind of job? 

Translator: We can’t.

Sonia Paul: Since this ended up being a little awkward, I quickly adjusted to ask him a question within the scenario. 

Sonia Paul (field tape): How did you come to be mayor of Razish? 

Translator: Yeah, it’s all about the government of Atropia. So, they chose me as the mayor. 

Sonia Paul (field tape): So, it’s not an election, but people… Oh, no, it is an election? 

Translator: Yeah. So right now, during the situation, we cannot provide a regular election. That’s why.

Sonia Paul (field tape): Oh, I see. Right. 

Sonia Paul: Talking to the mayor and translator was bizarre and almost fun in a disturbing way. It felt like the three of us were annoying participants in some weird role-playing game, rather than an intense warfare simulation. And the fact that I was there on a tour made the situation even more perplexing. That war had become a kind of Disneyland. 

Stephen Covey: So, coming out here as a junior member of the Army from a tiny, little farm town in West Texas, it truly felt like deploying to another country. 

Sonia Paul: This is Captain Stephen Covey. 

Robert Rhodes: I mean, when you drive that 30-minute drive down the road from Barstow, you do feel like you are going to nowhere, which is kind of a helpful feeling out here that you do feel like you’re just in its own world for the scenarios that we create out here. 

Sonia Paul: And that’s Major Robert Rhodes. The three of us sat down and spoke after the tour. They told me that Donovia and Atropia have been a fixture in military simulations since the ’80s. And these fake countries have their own lore within the military’s culture. 

Stephen Covey: I had a t-shirt that said, “American Blood Isn’t Worth Atropian Oil” or something like that. That’s the idea behind it. It’s just everyone understands it. You’ll see “Atropian Veteran” bumper stickers and stuff like that. It’s an inside joke for that reason. 

Sonia Paul: Captain Covey and Major Rhodes also emphasize that these simulations have only become more psychologically and logistically complex in recent years. 

Stephen Covey: For the past year, between Russia and Ukraine, we’ve had the opportunity to watch an invasion happen through the lens of social media. And it’s absolutely fascinating. 

Roman Mars: It’s become clear that preparing for war now takes more than just practicing on a physical battlefield. The Theater of War is also online. So, on top of training for combat and counterinsurgency in these simulations, the National Training Center has also created its own social media system to mimic this other aspect of modern warfare. 

Sonia Paul: The soldiers are forced to quickly react to these different information streams. Some of the social media posts might be pointing out something the soldiers did wrong. Some of it might also be pure disinformation that the Donovians, who are the so-called “bad guys” in this scenario, might be trying to propagate. 

Robert Rhodes: So now they have to react to a disinformation environment and, you know, try to help shape the narrative and get their story out and the truth out of what’s going on in the training event. 

Stephen Covey: And it’s absolutely something that the modern-day soldier is going to have to contend with–both good and bad. 

Roman Mars: The Army isn’t just preparing for possible conflicts in Eastern Europe. The New York Times reported that the U.S. Army is now training in the Hawaiian jungle to prepare for the possibility of conflict with China. 

Sonia Paul: The U.S. military is always looking to the future, preparing for the next conflict they see on the horizon. I spoke with other role players who have played in fictional countries all over the world. There is also Turbia, Cortina, the Republic of Arnland, The Peoples’ Republic of Pineland–just to name a handful. I even came across current job listings for role players on One stated that foreign language fluency isn’t necessary, but that applicants must be able to act as a foreign language speaker, and that can include speaking, quote, “gibberish.”

Roman Mars: It’s a testament to how these simulations don’t go away but are instead evolving to meet the military’s latest needs. But a war is not just experienced by the military. And these simulations also provide a kind of archive of all the conflicts of the past and the difficult legacy of U.S. militarism in so many places around the world. 

Sonia Paul: Mustafa says he had no qualms about being a role player. He wanted to make sure that U.S. troops were trained to be as culturally competent as possible before entering Afghanistan. 

Roman Mars: But when the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021 after 20 years of war and occupation, the Taliban captured Kabul within ten days. And Mustafa began to have questions about how much or how little the military had actually learned from the simulations. Mustafa himself had worked as a translator in Afghanistan between stints working as a role player, and he remains invested in helping the Afghan community. 

Sonia Paul: So, when thousands of Afghan refugees were coming to the U.S., Mustafa traveled to Indiana, where one of the state’s major military sites had been transformed–not into a simulation, but into a temporary home for evacuees. In the chaos of resettling, Mustafa saw that the U.S. Army had placed warring ethnic tribes in side-by-side living quarters. 

Mustafa: One kid gave another kid a black eye. And lots of tension. And I understood quickly–right away–this was a very bad combination and a bad thing to do. And then I looked at a soldier in the army. It just looked like he was a deer caught in the headlights. He was just so confused and disoriented. He didn’t know how to deal with that situation. They were unprepared for the crisis that happened, the evacuation, and then having to deal with resettling 72,000 people within a couple months. And it was not an easy task. It was very, very challenging. 

Sonia Paul: The military had prepared to fight in Afghanistan. It had trained in fictional villages like the one Mustafa worked in. But to Mustafa, it didn’t look like they prepared for what would come after the occupation. Once they were gone… and preparing for the next war… 

Roman Mars: 99% Invisible was reported this week by Sonia Paul, edited by Vivian Le with help from Delaney Hall. With additional production by Jeyca Maldonado-Media. Mix and sound design by Martín Gonzalez. Music by Swan Real. Fact-checking by Graham Hacia.  Kathy Tu is our executive producer. Kurt Kohlstedt is our digital director. The rest of the team includes Chris Berube, Jayson De Leon, Emmett Fitzgerald, Christopher Johnson, Lasha Madan, Joe Rosenberg, Gabriella Gladney, Kelly Prime, Sarah Baik, and me, Roman Mars. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. Special thanks this week to the National Training Center and Fort Irwin and to Wesaam Al-Badry, Lydia Magallanes, Justin Garrison, Keitha Manning, Jenny Gammage, Terrance Brown, Ben Wadenvo, Stephen Graham, Salem Elzway, and Nomi Stone. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM Podcast Family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find us on all the usual social media sites if you want to feel bad about your life. But if you want to feel good, then I recommend you go to our website, where you can find other Stitcher shows I love and every past episode of 99PI. That website is

LeVar Burton: Hi, it’s LeVar Burton. I’ve got a brand-new podcast called Sound Detectives. It’s a comedy adventure about the magic and mystery of sound, and it’s fun for the whole family. In this world, sounds have gone mysteriously missing. Follow Detective Hunt and his sidekick, Audie the Ear, as they track them down and find the nefarious Sound Swindler–all with a little help from me, LeVar Burton. You can listen to Sound Detectives on SiriusXM, Pandora, or wherever you get your podcasts. And don’t forget to follow the show so you never miss an episode. Sound good to you? Sounds great to me.

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