Chiefs, Airmen face-off in paintball

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michelle Vickers
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Like King Leonidas' army of 300, a heavily outnumbered, yet experienced force assumed the field of battle to meet their challengers. The adversary seemed to have numbers and youth on their side, but both felt confident in their advantages. So confident in fact that the sides exchanged volleys of trash talk.

One side's leader looks to assess the upcoming campaign. "How much ammo do we get?" asked the chief. "A 100 rounds? Ok, but how many of them are there? Thirty? Then I only need 30 rounds of ammo."

As the first shots rang out, a casualty hit the deck wearing a startled expression and green paint splatters on their clothes. This was after all not ancient armies, but teams of junior enlisted Airmen and chiefs with first shirts who faced off not in a traditional combat zone, but on Hurlburt Field's paintball field, July 27, 2012.

Despite the words of friendly contention, there is more behind the challenge than just the unique opportunity for Airmen to attack their superiors in a sanctioned environment.

"It wasn't so much to challenge the Airmen; it was to spend more time with them," said Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, command chief of 1st Special Operations Wing. "A lot of times we get bogged down taking care of all the higher level stuff, but we can never lose sight that our primary purpose is to be here to take care of the Airmen."

While the Airmen dominated the chiefs with their superior numbers in the initial match of attack and defend, many said they appreciated the participation of the chiefs and first sergeants. Paintball also provided a non-conventional avenue for Airmen to practice their situational awareness and other skills important to combat environments.

"It teaches you team communication as well as giving you a non-lethal idea of how real combat is, because [in combat] it could be your buddy's life on the line," said Airman 1st Class Anthony Dickens, a military pay technician of 1st Special Operations Comptroller Squadron. "It's also good to do it with some experienced guys who have been downrange, especially for those of us who have not been deployed yet."

Colon-Lopez said that many of the paintball matches are war games and that it was very fitting to the wing's mission.

"What is our purpose at the 1st SOW?" Colon-Lopez said. "To go anywhere around the globe and just bring the fight to the enemy."

The paintball challenge also enabled junior enlisted to interact with their enlisted leadership in a casual setting. In fact, some matches they were intermingled as teammates. In many cases the junior Airmen took charge providing battlefield strategy as they were the more experienced at playing paintball.

"I think it's great for camaraderie and team building," said Master Sgt. Paul Stinebiser, first sergeant of 1st Special Operations Support Squadron. "Also the Airmen see the old crusty shirts and chiefs as people instead of just the rank."

The chiefs hoped the event would facilitate improved communication among the different enlisted tiers as they all form one team.

"Teamwork, camaraderie and a sense of belonging--all of us merging together and doing something--it just creates for a stronger bond between the ranks and the structures," Colon-Lopez said. "We've got three tiers, and there should be transparency between every single tier to make sure everybody knows that we can look either way and have some help."

Instead of spending the day behind the desk, the chiefs and shirts spent their time literally getting their hands dirty with their Airmen. Face-to-face interaction is one principle that the 1st SOW's command chief seeks to emphasize for supervisors.

"Do not internet--interact," Colon-Lopez said. "We need to do this more often. Only then can we find out what the Airmen are really thinking, what they need and how we can best care for them."

While chiefs wear higher ranks than junior enlisted members, they are above all Airmen. One tenet of the Airman's Creed that the chiefs said they feel strongly about is being wingmen to their fellow Airmen. For Colon-Lopez, taking to the paintball field was not outside the scope of his regular workday if it meant connecting with Airmen.

"It is no different," Colon-Lopez said. "Everyday I'm looking for ways to take care of the Airmen and the population on Hurlburt Field. Even though this was a small group, it sends a pretty strong message that we're willing to be out there. My clock is 24/7, so if I have an opportunity to go ahead and spend time with the Airmen then by all means I will take it any day."

Unlike the Spartans' battle against the vast number of Persians, no one left in total defeat. Instead both sides left sweaty and flecked with various hues of paint, but satisfied that they had a healthy competition.

Like the battle of the 300 though, one can only imagine the fight if the numbers had been equal.