They’ve tossed footballs, raced cars and carried out dangerous missions by using about as much firepower as there is on base.

All from the relative comfort of chairs inside the community center.

Airmen at eight U.S. Air Forces in Europe bases will be at it again Dec. 4 when they compete in the USAFE Xbox Challenge.

“When it’s all said and done, we’re probably going to have about 200 participants,” said Michael Birriel, business program specialist with USAFE Services in Sembach, Germany.

That’s counting the number of players at all the individual bases. In the finals, there will be 16 two-person teams. In order to get there, the teams will have to defeat the rest of the competition on base.

The challenge this time involves “Halo 2.” It’ll be the fifth time that competitors have battled one another simultaneously across the command.

Other competitions have involved games such as “Project Gotham,” “Madden NFL 2004” and “Mecha Assault.”

Birriel said the competition originated at Spangdahlem, Germany, and has quickly spread to other bases with help from Microsoft and a USAFE initiative, Project Powerplant. The result is a game center on each base targeting single, young airmen.

Spangdahlem, with 16 Xbox units, has the most, Birriel said. Lajes Field, Azores, with three, is the smallest.

Because most computer games these days feature multiplayer versions, it was just a matter of working out the differences between phone systems in five countries to get everyone connected. One computer acts as a host and the rest of the competitors join as guests.

Everyone’s involved in the same game at the same time and the team with the most points wins.

A team from RAF Mildenhall, England, won the first quarterly contest, followed by a team from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Aviano Air Base, Italy, has won the last two events.

Airman 1st Class Karl Mullner of the 31st Communications Squadron has been on the last two winning teams. He said since “Halo 2” recently came out, he’s not sure about what kind of competition he’ll be facing from other USAFE competitors. Mullner has been playing the game some, but doesn’t own an Xbox himself.

“Everyone is always extra mad when they find out I don’t even own one,” he said.

This will be the first time RAF Croughton, England, is involved. Spangdahlem and Ramstein, Lajes, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath in England and Aviano complete the field. Birriel said that’s about as big as it will get in USAFE, though RAF Fairford, England, may join up as well.

He said the Air Force would love to have competitors from the Army and Navy in Europe as well, though he’s not sure if any of those communities have similar set-ups.

Air Force bases in the Pacific theater and in the States are starting similar projects, Birriel said, so there might be some sort of worldwide competition eventually.

“It’s something that’s growing slowly, but by next year, there could be people playing everywhere,” he said.

Of course, that’s already happening on a less organized basis as gamers get together and play via the Internet. Birriel said it’s possible that the USAFE competition may eventually be held monthly. Some bases are already holding contests almost every week.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now