43. Mark Covey

Simulations Director for the Joint Training Counter-IED Operations Center, Department of Defense

Game developers often strive for realism, but for former First Sergeant Mark Covey, creating realistic gaming environments can mean life or death for soldiers in the field. Covey, 48, leads the DoD’s simulations unit, a squad of 25 programmers tasked with converting real-life war scenarios into interactive virtual realities. Covey crafts highly authentic 3-D combat simulations, which troops “play” to learn insurgent tactics. Within 96 hours of an attack in Iraq or Afghanistan, his team mines data from reports and specialists; creates detailed storyboards, program models, and artificial intelligence; and adds geo-specific terrain. “When I came into the service, it was all chalkboards,” he jokes. Now Covey is teaming up with leading motion-capture engineers at Motion Reality to improve graphics and eventually train entire brigades online.