Thursday, May 13, 2010

Airsoft arena opens in Ocala

SOCOM offers mock urban combat games in an indoor area.

"I want them to learn responsible gun handling," Capps said while she helped Nathaniel, 11, and Evan, 12, with their military replica gear.

Victor Puig and Tom Pennay were banking on this type of reaction from parents and players when they decided to open a new business.

"We're excited. SOCOM has been a labor of love," said Pennay, 57, a logo advertising salesman who launched the entertainment venture with Navy veteran Puig, 51, in August 2009.

The venue formally opened in April.

SOCOM (Special Operations Command) Airsoft is a more than 13,000-square-foot indoor arena at 210 N.W. 13th St.

It offers mock urban combat games for players outfitted in full military gear and using airsoft air powered weapons.

Street scenes include real "derelict" vehicles and building shells, in an atmosphere of stage smoke, background sound and special lighting.

Pennay said "surprise" aerial effects are being added.

"It's an 'affinity' sport. Players will skip a lunch or two to play" their favorite game, Puig said.

SOCOM is the only indoor airsoft arena and pro shop in Florida, according to Puig.

Pennay said city building and zoning officials helped in getting the revitalized pool supply warehouse up and running.

Operations manager Joseph Rivera explained that games may be fashioned after actual military exercises.

"Pilot down," "hostage (rescue)" and "defuse the nuclear reactor" are some of the "mission" games he described.

"We stress safety," Rivera said. "No shooting with less than 15 feet between participants, no foul language, no fighting."

A hard pellet just under 1/4-inch is the projectile used by the replica guns so real in appearance they must be transported with due caution.

One teenage player said the pellet hits felt like an "ant bite."

Assistant manager Ryan Delfft, who is in student leadership at Francis Marion Military Academy, helps outfit players with rental equipment, while technician Payton Bailey keeps players' weapons in top shape.

"It's all about the realism," Bailey said as he made repairs to a replica M-16 A4 rifle.

"Rifles can cost anywhere from (entry level) $60 to $400," and more Pennay said.

The arena hosted a large group recently.

"It's like practice," said Tyler Ogle, 15, "I hope to join the U.S. Army. My father, Larry, is in the Army in Kuwait now."

"It was great," said Peter Emerson, 15, about his first indoor airsoft experience. "We were moving forward, tapping shoulders," in a precise military-style maneuver.

Pennay explained that players shout, "I'm hit," and raise their hands to remove themselves from play.

Pennay became involved in the military-type games when chaperoning his daughter Aubrey, now 16, who enjoys the sport and aspires to join the Marines.

Aubrey, a sophomore at Francis Marion Military Academy, videotapes action on the playing floor while wearing a full military outfit.

There also are 16 live cameras placed throughout the facility to capture the action.

The venue includes a room where non-participants can view the playing field.

"Parents can watch and see what's really happening," Pennay said.

"It's a great stress reliever," said Puig.

"A real adrenalin rush," added Pennay.

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