War of the woods in Long Beach

Washington Army National Guard personnel, dressed in full camouflage battle fatigue, faced off with locals as Army Blackhawk helicopters hovered overhead in a paintball "war" fought last Saturday in Long Beach. CHRIS NIELSEN photos

LONG BEACH - "Hold your fire," "Stay quiet and stay down," and "Look for the whites of their eyes" were just a few of the hushed communications which could be heard in the woods of Long Beach last Saturday - communications which were made during a war - a paintball war that is.

The war was fought in a heavily wooded area of the city of Long Beach's water shed, near 67th Place and Sandridge Road.

On one side of the battle were 18 members of the Washington Army National Guard, many who are currently stationed in Long Beach working on the city's Discovery Trail project. On the other side were approximately 60 local residents, many of whom were high school and college age.

Also, there were many men ranging in age from their 30s to 50s, including a number of city of Long Beach personnel. One such member, Long Beach City Planner Jim Sayce, said the event was a good time for all who participated.

"It was a blast," said Sayce. "Everybody played fair and would brag about who shot who. The camaraderie was wonderful and all the locals who were there will be talking about it for years."

One of the things which Sayce said added a great deal of realism to the event was the fact that National Guard personnel were in full camouflage battle fatigue. In addition, the majority of local residents who showed up wore hunting attire. Adding even more realism was the presence of Army National Guard "Hummers," but the real treat for the day was the landing of not one but two Army Blackhawk helicopters - right in the middle of the battle zone.

"We all looked up in awe when the Blackhawks landed," said Sayce. "If you looked at the event as an outsider, a lot of it would have looked very real. It was fascinating."

The brainchild behind the event was National Guard Lt. David Libby, who has been in Long Beach heading the Discovery Trail project since the beginning of July. According to Libby, he wanted to set up an event which gave the National Guard personnel an event as a reward for all their hard work on the trail. He also said he wanted to give local residents a taste of what a real battle would feel and look like.

"It was excellent and everybody had a good time," said Libby. "The local kids had a great experience, from seeing the Blackhawks and the battle to having a real 'MRE' army ration lunch."

The National Guard provided paintball guns and materials for approximately 60 of the 80 people who showed up for the event. The remainder brought their own.

According to Sayce, soon after he heard the paintball war was being planned, he put the word on the street that "soldiers" were needed for the city's team. This included informing those working in city offices and departments, as well as students at local high schools. He said the city liked the idea right off and agreed to provide the site for the "war" at the city's water shed area.

Two battles were fought during the event. The first pitted the 18 National Guard personnel against the approximately 60 local residents' team, and according to Libby, the National Guard prevailed. The National Guard team also included several children of National Guard personnel.

During the second battle, the teams were mixed between locals and National Guard personnel. Libby said this battle was not completed and was considered more of a draw.

It was estimated that over 20,000 rounds of paintball "ammo" were fired during the two battles, which together lasted about two hours.

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