Lessons in Airmanship from the paintball turf

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Cydney Lee
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A young man outfitted in a protective eye mask and sports jersey crouches into a starting position on a field in Chesapeake City, Maryland. All he can focus on is controlling his breathing and the tingling feeling of anticipation in his feet. Breathe in … breathe out. His cleats dig into the turf and his mind hurriedly maps out the fastest route to his destination. Everything moves in slow motion as the buzzer counts down from ten. As the final buzzer sounds, he’s off like a shot, sprinting to duck behind an inflatable barrier as colorful balls of paint whizz past his ear.

This is what Senior Airman Caleb Porterfield, a 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 Globemaster III crew chief, feels each time before he starts a paintball game. 

Porterfield began playing paintball at seven years old and currently competes on a Division 5 speedball team. Speedball is a fast-paced variant of paintball often involving electronic paintball guns. The sport requires teamwork, communication and the ability to think on one’s feet. These skills not only benefit Porterfield in his personal life, but also factor into how he performs as an Airman. 

“Paintball is reactionary and some of life is reactionary,” he said. “When it comes to an Airman making a mistake or yourself making a mistake, you need to know how to handle it and keep a cool head.”

Porterfield works alongside 26 other team members, all coming from a variety of backgrounds. Porterfield compared it to an experience most Airmen can easily recall.  

“When you show up to the [playing] field together, [it’s] like showing up to basic training,” said Porterfield. “You’re [with] people from all walks of life. You're coming from different states, different counties, different ages, different ethnicities.”

Although the members may be diverse, these differences do not hinder their ability to work together. Instead, their bonds are strengthened through a shared goal. It’s like one big family, said Porterfield. 

Like any family, they have their occasional disputes; however, it does not dictate the way the team performs. 

“You're always going to play [paintball] with somebody you don't like but it doesn't always have to be bad,” said Porterfield. “I think that [knowledge] helps my attitude at work. Regardless of your feelings toward one another, the mission must go on.”

Porterfield hopes to bring the lessons and camaraderie he has experienced through paintball back to the local community by opening a paintball field and intramural paintball league on Dover Air Force Base. Porterfield also believes Airmen could use the facility of a way of blowing off steam.

“Paintball is therapy to me. Some people go to a range and shoot, or they like to play games or go workout,” said Porterfield. “For me [paintball], it’s the perfect way to find my inner peace.”