NORMAL (AP) – While Chris Aguayo was serving in the U.S. Army, he witnessed his best friend burn to death in a Humvee.
“It took its toll on me,” he said. “I had survivor’s guilt. I went into a huge depression.”
In an effort to cope, he requested a change in military bases. It was there that one of his buddies suggested he start playing paintball.
“It was my first taste of playing paintball with a group,” he said. It happened only months before he was deployed to Afghanistan — his second tour of duty. He previously went to Iraq.
“It was a big help for me,” he said. “It jump-started my idea to put together my own team. I wanted to take that and give back to other active members and vets.”
Now Aguayo, 29, a freshman at Illinois State University, has organized a military-structured Task Force Legion that has paintball teams across 10 states, including the Charlie Company in Illinois.
“It’s basically our way to use our military training,” said Aguayo. “Being able to utilize our training and skills ... we’re able to release stress.”
Dave Morgan, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1993-2003, is the leader of the third platoon out of Champaign.
“Brotherhood is the biggest thing,” he said. “People in the military know what to expect with each other. We’ve gone through some stuff. This is a stress reliever; you forget the day.”
Morgan said after years of structure that comes in the military, “It’s a culture shock when you first get out.”
Jordan Smith, 25, also an ISU freshman, said the structure of Task Force Legion helps him cope with his post-traumatic stress.
“PTSD can be a real nightmare,” he said. “I want to do all I can to keep others from having to go through it.”
Smith met Aguayo in August and the two “really hit it off; we have a common bond,” he said. Smith became Aguayo’s right-hand man, in charge of headquarters, recruiting, logistics and administration.
For Chad Bradford, a Marine vet and now leader of the second platoon in Normal, Task Force Legion provides a social outlet, a sense of direction and a sense of brotherhood.
“When I first returned I didn’t feel like I fit in,” he said. “I was hesitant to admit I was a vet.”
As a part of Task Force Legion, Bradford, 24, also an ISU student, said he can help other vets and “let them know they are not alone.”
Bradford said the group is trying to get recognized as an ISU registered student organization so they can have access to emails for other vets on the college campus. But Task Force Legion also is open to anyone, Aguayo said. One current member is a firefighter; there are others thinking about enlisting in one of the armed forces.
“We teach leadership and professionalism,” said Aguayo. “We can educate those who want to go into the service.”
Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, http://bit.ly/1eqmmp1
Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com
This is an Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Bloomington) Pantagraph.