War Games

ROTC terror exercise waged in the hills of Santa Clarita

By Mariecar Mendoza
Staff Writer – Pasadena Star News

cacophony of gun­shots echoed through the hills of Santa Clarita as soldiers battled it out — armed with paintball guns.

But it wasn’t just a game.

“On campus, we run through the drills that they’re doing right now on the field. But here, we add the paintball guns to it and we find that it adds an extra element of realism to it all,” said Major Vic Stephenson, who oversees the ROTC programs at Cal State Long Beach and UC Irvine.

The 91 U.S. Army Reserve Officers Training Corps cadets from four Southern California colleges — USC, UC Irvine, CSULB and Cal State Dominguez Hills — battled it out Saturday in rough terrain at Paintball U.S.A., turning 57 acres of dirt and brush into a make-believe Afghanistan war zone.

The 12-hour situational training exercise was part of an annual two-day field training exercise for the cadets, who ranged in age 18 through 28.

“It’s very important that we get the actual experience of going through the motions instead of just sitting in a classroom,” said cadet Julianna La Luzerne, a sophomore at USC.

Paintball U.S.A. owner Mike Schwartz teamed with the U.S. Army after his son, Dominic De La Cruz, signed up for the military. Schwartz’s son picked up his first paintball gun at age 11 and told his father after two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan that paintball saved his life.

“It taught him how to shoot,” Schwartz said.

This is the sixth year the U.S. Army has used Paint­ball U.S.A’s fields as train­ing grounds for cadets, Schwartz said.

“Civilian players just go at it, and run around shoot­ing each other. But what we do is conduct military maneuvers, so it’s really about leadership and get­ting these cadets to start thinking, ‘Can I really be in charge when something goes wrong? Can I react to it the proper way?’ ” Stephenson said.

Officials said the main purpose of the field training exercise is to prepare the junior cadets for summer camp where they get assessed by their leadership abilities.

“It’s really fascinating to see them turn into leaders,” said Lee Reynolds, deputy chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army, who also serves as executive officer for USC’s U.S. Army ROTC battalion. “They start as bug-eyed kids who, based on what they see on TV or in the movies, come in thinking it’s just really cool and fun. Then they come out here and realize that this is really a serious pro­fession.”

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