By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetOctober 8, 2009
FORT BENNING, GA - With specks of paint dotting the side of his face, SPC David Tuiteleleapaga could do nothing but laugh when he was the first Soldier eliminated during a second round of paintball Sept. 29 with troops from the 988th Military Police Company. A few minutes later, the rest of Tuiteleleapaga's team was defeated and they marched out of the woods at Fort Benning's Woodlands Paintball Area covered in orange and purple paint. Despite losing for the second time in a row against the red team, the yellow team was all smiles.
"We like to have fun in our unit," said Tuiteleleapaga, yellow team's captain and, like many of his teammates, a first-time paintball player.
But the day wasn't just about having fun.
The 988th MPs returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq seven weeks ago and are one of the first Fort Benning units to participate in the Army's Warrior Adventure Quest program.
Billed as equal parts rehabilitation and adventure, WAQ is now part of curriculum for Soldiers reintegrating back into garrison life after deployment, said Darlene Hines, program manager for Outdoor Recreation, which is responsible for running the adventure program.
"They've been living on high alert for the last year and when they come home it can be very difficult for them to adjust," Hines said.
The program, funded by the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, aims to introduce Soldiers recently returning from the war zone to high-adventure, adrenaline-boosting outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting, skiing, paintball, rock climbing and scuba diving, at no cost to the Soldier.
The program is coupled with the Army's psychological resiliency building program, Battlemind, to enhance communication in the ranks. Battlemind training helps Soldiers recognize and respond to fear during combat, and builds mental toughness and self- confidence to reduce the impact of a combat deployment once they return home.
The 988th MPs chose between whitewater rafting, discovery scuba, rock climbing and paintball.
Hines said WAQ is part of an Armywide effort to address motorcycle and vehicle-related deaths of redeploying Soldiers.
Soldiers may be looking for that adrenaline rush when they come home, and rather than going out and buying a fast motorcycle they don't know how to drive, we can offer a safer alternative, she said.
Tuiteleleapaga, a gunner and military policeman with the 988th, admits he thought about buying a fast car when he got home.
"A Mustang 3000 GT, that was definitely on my list," he said. "But knowing people get into a lot of trouble buying fast cars, wrecking them and getting hurt, I've started to think twice about it."
Instead, Tuiteleleapaga said he's ready to take up paintball as a hobby.
"I'm glad I came out and did this, I saw what I was missing," he said. "There are a lot more things to do than drive fast cars. I can go out to the Woodlands and shoot my buddies with paintballs ... instead of getting behind the wheel and driving 150 miles per hour down the block. It's less expensive and less dangerous."
SSG Jonathan Kelso, a retention NCO for the unit and another paintball first-timer, said the adventure program benefits more than just Soldiers who might otherwise engage in risky behavior.
"It affects morale," said Kelso, who recalled knowing a Soldier in a former unit who died in a motorcycle accident after returning from a combat deployment. "When you lose a Soldier after returning home, the loss is sometimes harder to accept. Downrange, you may expect one or two losses - you hope not - but if you get everybody home in one piece and you lose a Soldier here, it's a lot harder."
For more information on the Warrior Adventure Quest program, call the Outdoor Recreation office at 706-545-7048.