It’s hard to compare the intensity of a combat zone with the calm of day-to-day life on the home front.
“These guys jump out of planes for their work. It’s hard to match that,” said Capt. Light Shin, chaplain for the Regimental Special Troops Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, who coordinated the unit’s first Warrior Adventure Quest, conducted Wednesday at Paintball in the Woodlands at Uchee Creek Campground & Marina.
The Armywide program started as a pilot in 2008. By September 2009, Fort Benning’s Outdoor Recreation office was signing up Soldiers for activities like paintball and scuba diving. Zip lining is now an option as well, and the office is looking into adding four-wheeling and motocross as additional activities.
Shin said he’s seen the success of the Warrior Adventure Quest firsthand.
“When I was at Fort Bragg, (N.C.), we had thousands of Soldiers go through it after coming back from deployment, and they’ve all given very good feedback,” he said. “I’m a total believer in this program. It may not solve everybody’s problem, but at least it gives them an opportunity, at least for a day, to be able to relax and decompress.”
Most of the 15 Rangers who participated in the paintball games Wednesday had just returned with him from a deployment only a few weeks ago, Shin said.
“Sometimes the transition is tough,” he said. “For a lot of these guys, I think it’s a sense of purpose that changes, too. Overseas there is a sense of accomplishment; there’s a sense of belonging. But when you come back, a lot of that kind of dissipates.”
That’s where the Warrior Adventure Quest comes in, said Jackie Teixeira, recreation assistant for Outdoor Recreation.
“This program, funded by the Army, helps Soldiers cope with coming back from a high-adrenaline atmosphere of war to regular life, zero adrenaline and lots of stress,” she said. “Often, Soldiers try to subconsciously recreate that feeling by buying motorcycles or fast cars and driving them way too recklessly — or worse, while inebriated. They also tend to get into fights, written up because they have behavioral issues they didn’t have prior to deployment, or become dependent on alcohol, prescription drugs and illegal drugs. Our program introduces Soldiers to safer ways to recreate that adrenaline rush they are searching for in a controlled environment.”
Teixeira said some of the Soldiers have stuck with the activities past Outdoor Recreation’s involvement, becoming certified to scuba dive or returning to play paintball on post in their free time. “It’s definitely giving the Soldiers alternatives,” she said. “The results of this program are remarkable, with significantly reduced numbers of incidents in the troops that have participated.”
Sgt. Christofer Fields deployed three times to Afghanistan, returning from his most recent tour earlier this year. For him, the outing was an opportunity for teambuilding and unwinding.
“What this does is give you a chance to adapt, get back to what you’re used to,” he said. “It’s like an outlet, a stress reliever, so you don’t feel so much pressure. This helps you ease into things.”
Fields said he’d recommend the program to anyone as a safe way to have some fun and strengthen unit camaraderie.
“These are memories that will last you when you’re overseas,” he said. “This’ll definitely be one of those events I look back toward — and it’s something to look forward to when I get back as well.”
Besides providing stress relief, the paintball games offered a few parallels to reintegration. Shin mentioned relying on teammates (friends and family) and equipment (community and Army resources) as two examples of how to be successful in the game and in real life.
“Those are very good applications that can be drawn from the event itself,” he said. “(It) gives them tools they can take with them.”
Shin said he hopes to make the program part of the battalion’s reintegration process for all returning troops.