Wearing a camouflage uniform, Charlie Graham crouched down and aimed his weapon through a small window. Then he opened fire.
But the U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was far from danger — as were his targets.
Graham, manager of the Tactical Training Center at The Academy, wasn't firing bullets.
Instead, he shot small plastic airsoft pellets at his colleagues from the firing range as he demonstrated The Academy's new airsoft facility near Palm Desert, which opens today.
“This is kind of like a big playhouse for me,” Graham said.
The 18,000-square-foot airsoft facility is the valley's only indoor range dedicated to airsoft weapons, which are realistic replicas that don't shoot lethal ammunition.
“It's actually weight, shape, size and function identical to what the Navy uses,” Richard Martin, director of the Airsoft Tactical Training Center, said while holding one of the airsoft guns.
“We're going to provide these to law enforcement as well as civilians so they can actually use airsoft replica guns as similar training weapons.”
Because airsoft weapons are so similar to the weapons they're modeled after, they're marked with blue tape and the federally required orange tip, he said.
Participants also are required to wear airsoft safety gear because the pellets can sting or even chip a tooth on a direct hit, Martin said.
One side of the facility is a maze that can accommodate recreational airsoft users, team building activities and training exercises.
“It gives kids something to do,” Martin said. “A lot of kids own airsoft weapons, and they have no place to play.”
The other side of the facility is set up like a house and is designed for law enforcement training. It's outfitted with moving targets and can also provide other challenges to training officials, Graham said.
“We have fog machines that blow smoke in here and we have the ability to provide an intense amount of background noise,” he said. “We try to make these scenarios as realistic as possible.”
David Snellings, The Academy's commander of operations, spoke highly of the experience after suiting up and testing out the new facility Friday.
“It felt you were in combat. At times, I felt like I had to defend my life,” he said as blood trickled down his cheek. He didn't wear a full face mask, which isn't required, but recommended.
“I got pelted a few times, but again, I didn't start to feel the pain until everything was over with. Survival mode kicked in, and that's what it's about.”