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Joint Base Lewis-McChord houses one of the few Airsoft teams in the Northwest

New extreme sport

Fort Lewis-McChord Airsoft Group posed after a weekend skirmish in late January. Courtesy photo

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Move over paintball, Airsoft is the new extreme sport that's attracting servicemembers and military enthusiasts on the weekends.

The Fort Lewis-McChord Airsoft Group, formerly named the Praetorian Guard, is one of only a few such teams in the Pacific Northwest and the mission is to provide a safe and fun environment for the military tactics-based sport. The name is a reference to ancient Rome since the founders felt it fit the group's operators who were "civilized, educated, professional soldiers."

"75 percent of my members are military ... veterans of Somalia, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom," said Paul Asetre, a retired Army major who served for more than two decades as an airborne infantry soldier, a combat medic and, eventually, an Army nurse. "I first learned about Airsoft because my son was interested in playing. I went as a concerned parent but then I grew to like it myself and recruited other Army comrades to participate and help the kids learn fundamentals of how to be a soldier and run battle drills, which are key essentials to better oneself in the sport of Airsoft."

In Airsoft, participants eliminate other opponents by hitting each other with plastic BBs launched via replica firearms called Airsoft guns. Combat situations on the battlefield often involve the use of military tactics to achieve the objectives set in each game.

"We started with only six operators in 2009 and since then it has grown to 434 members and attracted several wounded soldiers, who are now a key component of our organization," he said.

Presently, Asetre works as a civilian at Madigan Army Medical Center and it was his experiences downrange and at the hospital that exposed him to so many wounded warriors and why he believes that Airsoft can be almost therapeutic.

"I realized that I'm in a good position to cater to this group, to the wounded soldiers. I find that PTSD can be alleviated and bring closure to guys by re-enacting some of the event that happened to them while serving in the Middle East," Asetre explained. "It gives them a forum to voice their war experiences and be a part of a sort of support group where we can be soldiers and not worry about getting killed."

During skirmishes, also known as speedball, operators are divided into teams of three, four, five or seven and the game is played on a small symmetrical playing field, with obstacles (such as inflatable bunkers) placed in various configurations. According to Asetre, success in a skirmish is dependent upon teamwork, aggressive movement and constant communication.

The group also conducts Military Simulations (MILSIM), which could be either reenactments, that focus on an accurate representation of the time period, events, and outcomes of the historical event, or simulations that may only focus on a particular time period and be less specific.

Members must be 13 years or older to play and need to have full-seal goggles, a camouflage uniform and a red rag.

The Praetorian Guard Airsoft meets at least twice a month for weekend skirmishes and newcomers are welcomed. In fact, Asetre owns 48 Airsoft guns that he will lend to operators at meets if they do not have equipment with the understanding that ‘if you break it ... you fix it.'

To learn more or to join the group, go to

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