EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska –
Station ready, headset on, comm up, mission clear. Airmen and Guardians stand ready to engage the target, separated by thousands of miles and a multitude of time zones. This is nothing new for our service members, except this is happening off duty and is the Department of the Air Force’s newest intramural program—Air Force Gaming.
While the Air Force was born out of the early days of aviation, the digital domain is a reality for both the warfighter and for everyday life that becomes more relevant on a daily basis. AFG stood up in 2020 as an official new e-sport intramural program by the Air Force Services Center. Its purpose is to help support Air Force and Space Force resiliency and retention while building a shared community to engage the next generation of Airmen and Guardians, promoting teamwork and digital literacy. Its undeniable e-sports are gaining in popularity as the Air Force has identified that more than 80% of Airmen under the age of 35 self-identify as gamers, playing at least six hours per week.
Here at Eielson AFB, Senior Airman James Gilchrest, 168th Communications Flight Client Systems specialist volunteered as a game ambassador for role-playing games, helping moderate and create events and activities for Airmen involved with that gaming genre. Now, as a program manager for Air Force Gaming, Gilchrest is heading up the development of a program to engage Airmen and Guardians interested in transitioning to careers in the gaming industry after their time ends with the military.
“It’s not just about gaming. It’s a group of total force members that connect through gaming,” said Gilchrest. “In AFG, you can pose a question like, “Has anyone struggled with resume writing?” and guaranteed in 5-10 minutes there’s going to be an answer.”
Gilchrest also created and manages a Discord server, an online communication service popular with gamers, to bring members of his own communications flight together and connect more outside of work.
When Gilchrest approached Captain Anthony Robinson, Commander, 168th Communications Flight, with the idea, Captain Robinson said, “Go for it. I support you if that’s what you want to do. It helps us connect with people we would never connect with. It opens up more doors and more exposure for Alaska since we’re far away from everybody else; it gives us more of a voice in the big scheme of things. I’m happy that Gilchrest is a member of the team because he loves helping people.”
When asked about the camaraderie and team-building aspects of AFG, Gilchrest said, “You’re playing together, but at some point, you’re not talking about the game. You’re having conversations. “Hey, how’s your wife? How are your kids?” At some point, the game isn’t the important thing anymore. That’s where it’s not just about this e-sports competitive edge thing. Gaming is only one aspect of what AFG is.”