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Sgt. John Thompson holds his Avenger XT paintball gun Thursday before a force-on-force infantry exercise at Soyo Mountain just north of Camp Casey. Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment practiced infantry techniques and also learned about terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Sgt. John Thompson holds his Avenger XT paintball gun Thursday before a force-on-force infantry exercise at Soyo Mountain just north of Camp Casey. Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment practiced infantry techniques and also learned about terrorism and counter-terrorism. (Jeremy Kirk / S&S)

Sgt. John Thompson holds his Avenger XT paintball gun Thursday before a force-on-force infantry exercise at Soyo Mountain just north of Camp Casey. Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment practiced infantry techniques and also learned about terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Sgt. John Thompson holds his Avenger XT paintball gun Thursday before a force-on-force infantry exercise at Soyo Mountain just north of Camp Casey. Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment practiced infantry techniques and also learned about terrorism and counter-terrorism. (Jeremy Kirk / S&S)

Pvt. David Vancena crouches in the woods Thursday during a paintball force-on-force infantry exercise at Soyo Mountain just north of Camp Casey. Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment practiced infantry techniques and also learned about terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Pvt. David Vancena crouches in the woods Thursday during a paintball force-on-force infantry exercise at Soyo Mountain just north of Camp Casey. Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment practiced infantry techniques and also learned about terrorism and counter-terrorism. (Jeremy Kirk / S&S)

SOYO MOUNTAIN, South Korea — Sgt. John Thompson learned the hard way Thursday not to stand up when the enemy is firing.

Thompson, spitting out blood and green paint, had been nailed in the mouth with a paintball during a unique force-on-force training exercise Thursday in which 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment soldiers used paintball guns.

“I wanted to fall backwards and die,” Thompson said.

He and four others were defending their post against eight soldiers creeping through the lush wood and frothy streams of Soyo Mountain, just north of Camp Casey.

Most of the unit’s soldiers are mechanics who work on Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Humvees. They rarely get in the field for infantry work, but those skills are just as important as their normal jobs, said Sgt. 1st Class James Harris.

Soldiers who have used other simulated combat gear raved about the realistic paintballs.

The military typically employs a laser-engagement system called MILES, which features bulky sensors that produce a dull bleep when a kill is registered.

Paintball has a more organic feel: The gun gives a satisfying pop when a ball discharges, compliments of a carbon-dioxide canister.

When they hit a target, the paintballs break apart, leaving a splotch on green battle dress uniforms.

“I’ve done plenty of MILES, but that is far better,” Harris said. “They [soldiers] literally don’t want to get hit. I think they try a little harder.”

Pvt. David Vancena was carefully firing from a ravine below the post. But he came back with a green ear, a clear hit from the defense soldiers above.

“I came up the side, and [the enemy] was standing in the building,” Vancena said. “He shot me in the head.”

Vancena praised the authenticity of the paintballs: “It’s a lot better than MILES gear. MILES gear doesn’t work half the time.”

The field exercise was only part of the training. Before the soldiers hit the woods, many got their first lecture on terrorism, counterterrorism and force protection from a former division soldier with 15 years of Army experience.

Robert M. Brandt spent seven years with the Army in South Korea and now works for a contractor that deals with fixing tracked vehicles and ordering parts. Brandt, 33, also is close to a master’s degree in antiterrorism.

In a thorough briefing, Brandt brought soldiers from the roots of terrorism during the French Revolution through Khobar Towers and the World Trade Center attack. The training focused on the mentality of terrorists, their ability to adapt seemingly innocuous roles in society and how soldiers can be vigilant.

“I want you to understand this is a real serious thing that is happening today,” Brandt said. “This doesn’t mean you have to be scared. All I’m saying is be aware.”

For some soldiers, it was their first introduction to terrorism and counterterrorism training.

“I think its something that should be mandatory,” Harris said. “I though it was very helpful.”


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