A taste of military life
CAMP GRAFTON, N.D. -- Sgt. First Class Dean Lundin exudes the confidence of an experience leader, preparing five member teams of North Dakota National Guard recruits before they enter a hilly, wooded area to engage in a 5-minute gunbattle -- with...
CAMP GRAFTON, N.D. -- Sgt. First Class Dean Lundin exudes the confidence of an experience leader, preparing five member teams of North Dakota National Guard recruits before they enter a hilly, wooded area to engage in a 5-minute gunbattle -- with paintball rifles.
"I've been paintballing since 1997," the Devils Lake recruiter said. "It's a fun sport. It's a dangerous sport.
"When you enter, do not take your mask off. A paintball will take your eye out. If you get hit, don't take it off and yell, or you're going to get hit five, six times. When you get shot, put your hand up and walk out."
With that, two five-member teams of the young soldiers -- and a couple of guests who might like to be -- marched into the woods along the shore of Devils Lake, each carrying a rifle with 50 to 80 rounds of paintballs. Using the natural terrain as ground cover, they tested their skills.
Rat-a-tat-tat went the automatic weapon gunfire. Rat-a-tat-tat.
One by one, the recruits emerged from the woods.
"I took one in the leg," said Jacob Thompson, a 2010 Grand Forks Central graduate, showing off the splattered yellow paint on his camouflage uniform. "I stopped and put my hand up. Then, I got hit in the armpit. It startled me, got my attention."
Thompson already has enlisted in the Guard, and he has some experience with paintball guns.
Most of these recruits have not experienced basic training, so this weekend's North Dakota National Guard Recruit Training Battalion and its "Best Warrior" competition is their first exposure to the rigors and challenges of military life.
"This gives them a chance to mimic some of what they'll get at basic training. But it's not as intense," said Sgt. Eric Jensen, with the Guard's public affairs office.
The training battalion includes 128 National Guard recruits and 43 guests -- young people who are interested in the Guard but have not enlisted. The battalions are from Devils Lake, Bismarck and Fargo, but the recruits come from all over the state.
"I thought I hit someone, but you just keep shooting," said Brooke Latraille, a Minto, N.D., resident. "It was fun."
Latraille was one of the guests, "just checking it out," she said of the Guard and the weekend experience.
Paintballing is just one of the tests performed during the daylong exercise Saturday. It also included marksmanship with pellet guns, land navigation, a weapons breakdown challenge and rappel tower training on a 45-foot-high wall.
The recruits also experienced flipping upside down and over two or three times, then back again, in a simulated rollover in a Humvee, a heavy-duty military vehicle.
Humvee rollovers have become more common in recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the simulation teaches recruits how to react and escape.
They experienced tactical virtual Engagement Simulator training, a sort of high-tech, wide-screen, video game in which they use weapons, such as the M2 .50-caliber, M240 and M249 machine guns, to shoot virtual enemy troops in a variety of scenarios, from deserts and vehicle convoys to urban settings.
"It gives them the skills to succeed in their mission," said Sgt. 1st Class LeRoy Mittleider, Bismarck, acting training battalion commander.
"This allows a civilian to get some hands-on experience, to see if this is something they might want to do. Of the 43 guests we have, we could expect that we'd get maybe eight recruits. But even two or three would be considered a success for us."
This is North Dakota's first National Guard recruit training battalion competition in five years.
When the program started in 2005, the idea was to conduct the training competition annually. But the exercise has been a victim of federal funding cuts and logistical challenges, Mittleider said.
The recruits welcomed the challenge.
"Were you the sniper? God, you hit me," Private Chanel Duguid of Bismarck said to another recruit as they came out of the woods after their paintball battle. Duguid enlisted in the Guard in February 2009.
"It was right at the end, when I got shot," she said. "I was holding strong for a while. I'm pretty sure I took out half of the other team."
Private Traylin Frazier took out the other half, he figured. The Detroit, Mich., native now lives in Grand Forks.
"I didn't get shot. I did the shooting," he said, confidently. "I was living in Minot when I joined the Guard. I just want to better my life, to become part of something bigger than myself."
Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .