Driving a tank creates a set of challenges different from most other vehicles. The driver’s seat is fairly cramped, more strength is involved in braking (it’s all in the arms) and there may be another person on top of the vehicle acting as look out. At least, that was my experience at the new Combat Park in Eastaboga.
Aside from video games, not many people have driven a tank, according to Ross Winner, but he is providing the opportunity for more to do so.
Winner, who served in the U.S. Army, and Bill Williams, who served in the U.S. Navy, came up with the idea for Combat Park, a military-themed attraction that offers a variety of activities, including tank rides and paintball.
“We wanted something for the families to do,” Williams said.
Several Star staff writers, including myself, had the opportunity to preview the attractions last month.
Williams said the first piece they bought for the park was an Abbot 105mm self-propelled gun used by the British Army.
This is the vehicle we drove. The half-mile course goes in a circle, up and down different inclines and through water.
The ride from up top felt a little different than driving. I was still inside the vehicle, but standing on a platform, sticking out from the waist up. At no point did I feel like I was going to fall out, but I did have to hold myself up on the inclines.
Both positions have their advantages. A certain sense of pride comes with saying you drove a tank, something few people have done, but I found the lookout position more thrilling, and slightly more frightening depending on which of my co-workers was driving.
The park also has miniature tanks that hold one person and shoot paintballs. The idea here is to shoot the other tanks, but I happened to hit one of my coworkers in the facemask.
Two lessons can be learned from this: First, always wear your mask. Second, it is difficult to aim paintballs, at least for me.
If you would rather keep your feet on the ground, Combat Park also has two traditional paintball fields: one is military-themed, the other meets professional paintball specifications, according to Williams.
Both allow fierce competition that may result in minimal bruising and bloodshed, but don’t worry. Speaking as someone who got hit in the neck, which the workers said was probably the most painful, the pain is not that bad.
Williams said he and Winner chose a military theme for Combat Park because of their personal backgrounds, and because a portion of the revenue goes to Wounded Warrior Alabama, a nonprofit organization the two men started to help veterans in Alabama.
“My conception was to have no more money to leave the state. Our veterans have as much need as any other veteran in any other state,” Winner said.
Wounded Warrior Alabama strives to help veterans and their families by making sure they have necessities such as food, electricity and water.
“We just don’t do wounded warriors, we do all veterans and their spouses, because the spouse served just as much, sometimes more,” Winner said.
Williams said one of his favorite memories is helping an 86-year-old Korean War veteran who had not left his house in 62 days because his use of a wheelchair prevented him from going down his steps. “He cried when we showed up,” Williams said.
Next to the Army green roofs of the Combat Park buildings are red, white and blue roofs that belong to Veterans Trade Days, an outdoor flea market run by Mark Linnstaedt, who served in the U.S. Navy and also works with Wounded Warrior Alabama.
There are 136 vendor tables that anyone can rent out in order to sell a variety of goods, ranging from clothes to tools. Trade Days is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
Combat Park and Veterans Trade Days had their grand opening July 13 and are now fully open to the public.