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United States Marine Corps Using Paintball in Training
Story & Photos by Sgt. Chris Eriksen

From bullets to paint pellets - strokes of ingenuity add color 
to Marine Corps  ‘art’ of war

Okinawa, Japan -- Quietly he stalks through the jungle, alert for any sounds or signs of movement.  Snap! A twig brakes under his foot.  Wham!!  Wham!!  "I'm hit!!  I'm hit!!" cries the Marine.  "Contact right!!" yells another Marine.  The patrol falls online and reacts to the near ambush.  

The heated firefight is over a few minutes later.  The 'wounded' Marine is treated by a Corpsman and sent back into battle.  That was just one scenario recently played out by Marines and Sailors at the Camp Hansen Habu Hill Paintball Range.  Marines and Sailors have found paintball to be a unique way of enhancing basic infantry training skills.  "Corpsmen have used the training here to simulate treating wounded in a field environment," said Robert Calhoun, Habu Hill Paintball Range manager, Marine Corps Community Services.  "They get a player who's been shot, evaluate the injury and provide treatment.  Headshots...they just declare them dead."

The range is open for unit training and according to Calhoun, Marine units have been using the range with increasing frequency.  This range helps the Marine Corps continue the doctrine in warfighting without the higher cost of actual practice ammunition.  The Marine Corps has realized how the use of paintball ranges and air-powered paintball weapons can enhance training while, many times, being more realistic than live-fire exercises from a unit-on-unit standpoint. 
"We have been getting more inquiries about the range," Calhoun said.  "Units see this as a chance to do some training on a more realistic level.  Individuals come out just wanting to play and have a good time on the weekend."

The range currently has two courses: a jungle setting and an open field.  Plans are underway for a speedball course and inflatable-mobile fields.  "The inflatable fields will be used for training units on other camps that cannot always dedicate a whole day to training," Calhoun said.  "We also plan to setup tournaments on Camp Foster in the near future."

In addition to providing a unique and fun training environment, paintball provides the Marines with a sense of realism for the battlefield training.  It helps to reinforce such skills as fire team rushes, ambush drills and setting up a base of fire for fire and maneuver training.  "Just having a beeper going off doesn't give you a sense of what direction the firing is coming from," said Capt. Troy Lowe, commanding officer, Service Company, Headquarters and Support Battalion, 3rd Force Service Support Group, referring to the “laser-tag” type training that the Marine Corps participates in.  "With rounds coming down range, you have to react.  If you didn't keep your head down and use proper maneuver tactics, you had welts to remind you."

Marines have found that even when having fun, the basic infantry skills they have learned come back to them naturally while playing paintball.   "We did not practice infantry skills, we were just having fun with an all-out, team-on-team competition," said Lance Cpl. Jeremy Masters, ammunition technician, Ammunition Company, 3rd Materiel Readiness Battalion, 3rd FSSG.  "The skills did come in useful while playing paintball and made it more fun and challenging."

There is a motivation to learn from your mistakes that is not possible with some forms of training.  Mistakes made can be easily corrected and the result seen immediately.   "Being shot once was a real motivation to stay hidden as much as possible," said Pfc. Matthew Eshelman, ammunition technician, Ammunition Company, 3rd MRB, 3rd FSSG.

Some units use the excitement of paintball games to relax and build unit cohesion. "I had fun shooting up my Non-Commisioned-Officers," said fellow "ammo tech" Lance Cpl. Christopher T. Barnes.  "It was a blast!"  Others see paintball as a way to vary their training routine, and give their Marines an opportunity to do things outside of their normal work.  Whether it is a day of fun or training, Marines enjoy the thrill and excitement that paintball offers them.  "Most Marines joined the Marine Corps to do some basic `grunt' (infantry) stuff besides the (military occupational specialty) they are in," Lowe said.  "This was a chance for my Marines to get out of the office and do Marine stuff, play in the mud and fire some guns."
 


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