What does it feel like to be transformed into an action figure? You can’t ask Batman, Superman or Spider-Man — but you can ask Hillsboro native Sgt. 1st Class John Adams.

What does it feel like to be transformed into an action figure? You can’t ask Batman, Superman or Spider-Man — but you can ask Hillsboro native Sgt. 1st Class John Adams.

The Army has instituted the America’s Army Real Heroes program, in which eight medal winners have been transformed into action figures. They each get their own trading card plus a personal Web page (at http://americasarmy.com) with their bio, photos and a video (including a re-creation of the incident) in which they recount how they won their medal.

Adams is one of the eight Army soldiers selected for Real Heroes. Another is Sgt. 1st Class Robert Groff of the Central Illinois Recruiting Company out of Peoria.

American military heroes as far back as George Washington have gone from war to become presidents, movie stars and folk heroes. There was Sgt. Alvin York in World War I and Audie Murphy in World War II, to name two of many.

But other soldiers returning home from action are reluctant to talk about what happened “over there.” There is no place for “I really don’t want to talk about it” in this new Army program.

The action figures are not available in stores, but the eight soldiers are given as many as he (all eight action figures are men) needs and passes them out at events, to recruits or to friends and family members.

While a baseball card lists the player’s statistics on the back, the back of Adams’ trading card is a recounting of what happened Oct. 13, 2004, the night he earned the Bronze Star with valor in Iraq.

“After receiving a radio transmission from his platoon leader about a suspicious car parked ahead, Adams ordered his driver to stop and jumped from the vehicle to investigate.

“As Adams drew his 9mm pistol and approached the vehicle, he commanded the occupant to freeze …”

Immediately, Adams and his patrol came under fire. He returned fire with his pistol, the card says, “immediately eliminating one insurgent.” With bullets ricocheting around him, Adams ran back to the convoy and retrieved a rifle. He and other members of his patrol continued firing until the insurgents disappeared into the darkness. Adams then approached the fallen man and found a shovel and something else.

“His patrol had interrupted the placement of three large IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” his card says, “wired together and rigged with artillery rounds. SSG Adams’ heroic actions prevented the anti-Iraqi forces from burying the lethal explosives and helped recover multiple enemy weapons and explosive devices.”

The video includes an interview with Adams and a re-creation of the incident, in which Adams plays himself. He and the other soldiers in the video replicated the Iraq incident in a church parking lot in Indiana.

“Think of Hillsboro in January,” he says. “That’s about what the re-creation was like. We were freezing. It was slightly misting rain. And we had to make it look like Iraq.”

It is impossible to imagine something like this happening after, say, the Vietnam War. But it is a new day, with new technology and new attitudes — which, Adams says, is the point.

The Real Heroes program, he points out, is aimed at younger people as a recruiting tool, but is also for older people who lived through the turmoil of Vietnam and were late in honoring the sacrifices of the soldiers in that war. It is part of an effort to make sure that doesn’t happen to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Adams moved from Hillsboro to Florida after the seventh grade. He still has family in Hillsboro, including his maternal grandparents, Jerry and Marilyn Stewart.

Adams understands the “I’d rather not talk about it” attitude of many soldiers who have undergone traumatic experiences in war. He explains that he had an advantage.

“My wife (Jodi) has a degree in psychology,” he says, “and I’d call her once or twice a day when I was there. Whenever something big happened to me, I would call home and talk to her. My guys had that freedom to call her, too. We were a pretty tight group.”

So when it came time to participate in the new program, even though it meant actually re-creating the roadside firefight in which he just as easily could have died, he was willing to do it.

As far as becoming an action figure?

“It’s hard to believe,” he says. “That was one dream when I was a kid, to be in the Army. I played out in the woods with a GI Joe (action figure). To become one of them? It’s surreal, I guess.”

Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 or dave.bakke@sj-r.com.