ESCONDIDO — The former Police Headquarters on 700 West Grand Ave. had been overtaken with vagrants.
Graffiti splashed the walls, $40,000 worth of pipes and electrical wires had been ripped out and one vagrant had even outfitted the chief of police’s former office as his own personal bedroom, according to Warfighter Academy Partner Mathew Quinn.
Yet the founders of the Warfighter Academy saw potential.
The 32,000 square foot building is now home to the Warfighter Academy, a tactical training facility for both civilian and professional training, including law enforcement and military training.
Instructors lead participants through different scenarios and film them, to show them their strengths and weaknesses afterwards.
“It’s paintball on steroids,” said Quinn. One area is set up to look like a home, to give people experience defending themselves against home attacks.
Another course pits people against each other with cardboard boxes as their only barriers.
Quinn said this type of environment helps people improve their left- and right-handed shooting techniques since participants are in such a confined area, they must switch the weapon between hands.
Participants are outfitted with paintball guns loaded with clear paintballs, which co-Founder Sonny Garcia developed himself.
When they explode, they don’t ruin expensive protective gear and people aren’t splattered with bright colored paint.
The paintball guns are also modified so they don’t shoot as fast, which ensures people don’t get bruised during their time at the Warfighter Academy.
Garcia said there is no other similar training facility in the nation.
The Warfighter Academy got its name from the people it aims to serve, combat veterans looking for an outlet to use their military training once they’ve returned home.
Instructor Eugene Neal said the Academy has helped him fit in to the “real world” since returning from a tour in 2005.
“It’s helped me a lot with anxiety and it’s been an amazing tool,” said Neal. “Ever since I got out of the Marine Corps, I don’t really feel like I belong anywhere. I felt out of place everywhere that I’ve been.”
He said he’s found camaraderie at the academy that he didn’t think he’d find again.
“I didn’t expect to find that camaraderie. I had kind of lost hope on that,” he said.
In the few weeks it’s been open, the academy has also provided training to those looking to protect their home.
Fallbrook resident Carol Bright said she began taking the courses so she could protect her two young sons but was surprised by how much she enjoyed it.
“The first time I came, I was like ‘Holy Moly, this is a lot of fun!’ because you’re training with paintball guns and just the force on force adrenaline is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “It’s addicting.”
The course curriculum is designed to help both civilians and professionals.
Garcia said some of their clients include the Department of Homeland Security, the Marine Corps, the U.S. Marshal Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Academy opened in early June.
Participants must go through a rigorous background check before undergoing training.
Memberships are available starting at $30 a week, and a three-hour test drive course is also offered at $50.