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National Guard unit takes a break, bonds while shooting paintballs

By Sara Gregory
Salisbury Post
CHINA GROVE ó Colorful gunfire took out severalNational Guardsmen on Thursday.
Members of the Air National Guard’s 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron took a break from training to lob paintballs at each other at Carolina Paintball Park.
Many in the squadron have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ducking from paintballs and paint grenades isn’t all that different from actual combat, Guardsman Steve Hutcherson said.
“When I’m out there playing, I’m not thinking it’s a game,” Hutcherson said.
Brightly colored paint splotches and welts marked those hit. Paintballs zipped overhead as guardsmen played “woods ball” and then a faster-paced “hyper-ball.”
“It was over quick,” Guardsman Kevin Malchose said after finishing his second round of hyper-ball. “Kind of tells you just how easy it is in combat.”
The guardsmen had eight acres to roam at the paintball park. Dressed in army fatigues and goggles, they made their way through the woods first.
Carolina Paintball Park owner Steve Wyatt divided the guardsmen into teams of 13, with one group defending a large wooden fort against the other team’s advances.
Once hit, a player is out. The game ends when all the players on one team are painted.
The game’s pace is exciting and gets adrenaline rushing, several guardsmen said.
“It gives you a different feeling,” Guardsman Chad Wilson said. “Gets your heart pumping.”
Taking a break in between games, guardsmen gleefully recounted how many they’d taken out with paint.
“I got people,” Guardswoman Audra Justice exclaimed as she did a victory dance. “I shot four people!”
The only female in the group of 26, Justice was playing paintball for the first time.
“Being the only girl out here, there’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “But they don’t discriminate against who they shoot. It’s on.”
Justice and the others are stationed out of St. Joseph, Mo. They’re spending one of their two required weeks of training in Badin, the home of another Air National Guard station.
Wyatt has two other paintball courses in addition to the woods. On one, players must maneuver around giant inflatables. On the other field, metal pipes create obstacles to hide behind and attack from.
The game on that field ó called hyper-ball ó finished in minutes after guardsmen slinking on their stomachs across the ground and ducking behind pipes took out the other team.
“These guys are pretty aggressive,” Wyatt said. “They don’t like to sit around.”
For the guardsmen, Thursday also was a chance for team-building. Many are new to the squadron.
“It really helps us bond,” Wilson said. “This is what it’s about.”
They’ll take those skills back with them to Missouri.
“Our work, we really rely on trusting each other,” Justice said. “We got each others’ backs no matter what team you’re on in the end.”Contact Sara Gregory at 704-797-4257 or sgregory @salisburypost.com.

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