FORT LEWIS, Wash. (AP) — The soldiers heading into battle were part of an elite group, a Stryker Battalion formed as part of a new Army built on technology and speed rather than slow-moving brute force.
They were trained with sophisticated weapons for lightning strikes. But in Thursday's clash, they were the underdogs.
Their opponents: a group of computer-game champions from the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles who nicknamed themselves "The Raging Rainbows."
The battlefield: A video game called America's Army.
In a spirited Internet battle, the civilians beat the soldiers four rounds to one.
"These guys that we played against were extremely experienced and very skillful players," said Sgt. Patrick McCormack, 34, of Jefferson, Ohio. "Their game skills basically outshined ours."
In Los Angeles, the winners denied they had an advantage over the soldiers, though they'd been training on the U.S. Army recruiting-tool game since it first came out in July 2002 and the soldiers had only been playing it for three weeks.
Two of the civilian players got knocked offline during the match, noted Berkley "Breezer" Richardson, 21, of Winston-Salem, N.C., who's majoring in computer science at University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
"The guys we had here are the best in the world," Richardson said in a telephone interview. "Two of them lost their connections. That made it extremely fair."
Other members of the winning team were Vadim "Blacksabbath" Zingman of Trumbull, Conn.; Sean "Hollowtip" Briggs of Redding, Calif., and Michael "Opsman" Remollino of Northridge, Calif.
They split the winner-take-all purse of $7,500 — $1,875 each.
"It's most likely going to go back into school," Richardson said. "I'm not going to spend it on anything."
The losing team was headed by Spec. David Hesson, 23, of Spearfish, S.D. Other members were Spc. Rick Calderon, 21, of East Los Angeles; Pvt. Brandon Powell, 19, of Vancouver, Wash.; and Spec. Joshua DeMunbrun, 21, of Evansville, Ind.
During the intense competition, Hesson told his team of young soldiers where to go in a combat situation in a building, where the enemy might be and when to throw their grenades.
"The first round I started shaking a little bit," he said. "I got an adrenaline rush."
DeMunbrun mistakenly shot Calderon, nicknamed "Crash"
for the competition, and killed him. That probably was the soldiers' most frustrating moment.
"Yeah, he was sneaking out of the corner," DeMunbrun said.
Hesson admired the civilians' strategy.
"They kept together," he said. "They did good defense and good offense. They were all-around good soldiers. Of course, being a soldier is a lot different than playing a video game."
Calderon said he wanted to beat the civilians, but was not ashamed to lose to players who had considerably more time to prepare.
"What did I learn today? That people who sit behind a computer a lot are usually better than people who don't sit behind one too often," he said.
McCormack, an on-line gaming expert, was asked to put a Fort Lewis team together on short notice to face the elite civilian team. His real job is master gunner for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
After the on-line defeat, he issued a challenge of his own.
"Any time they want to come up to Fort Lewis and come out and do a few maneuvers with us, we'd be glad to have 'em," he said.
Capt. Jimmy Salazar, 26, of San Antonio, Texas, said the Army was a recruiting winner no matter what the outcome of the on-line match. America's Army, which is handed out free at U.S. Army recruiting offices, was designed to encourage young people to enlist.
"If a few people join the Army because of today, then it's well worth it," Salazar said.
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