Warrior Zone celebrates anniversary as R&R hot spot

By Corene Brisendine

The place to be on Fort Riley this weekend is the Warrior Zone. The zone, a recreational facility for soldiers, celebrates its one-year anniversary in its new improved location on Custer Hill.

Saturday’s video game and pool tournaments kicked off a weekend of events. Rafael Murillo, a Fort Riley soldier, won the “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” tournament.

“I just play for fun,” Murillo said. “I heard about it and just came. They had a tournament when they first opened, and I won that, too.”

Murillo said that even though he was here for the opening a year ago, he was deployed for a while to Afghanistan and has recently returned. He said he loves the new facility for work and play.

The zone has a host of computers, televisions and gaming systems for virtually every want or need.

Mark Desmet, Warrior Zone manager, said the center has 32 Playstation and Xbox gaming systems hooked up to 16 big-screen TVs, plus two overhead projectors in a cental gaming area for playing video game tournaments with other units. The center has an Internet café where soldiers can log on to computers set up in individual cubicles. It even has a printer.

If soldiers prefer to bring in their own laptops, the center has four Wi-Fi access points. Desment said in September, the center will have laptops available at the front desk for checkout as well. The center also has a theater that seats about 20 in individual recliners.

“This place is incredible,” said Trynard McMath, a soldier who lives in the barracks. “I do paperwork, homework, watch movies in the theater. This is my chill spot.”

McMath said everything is free, except for the food and drinks. He came to Fort Riley about a month ago, and comes in every day.

With soldiers spending all that time playing games, they need a place to refuel and hydrate. The snack bar offers a variety of food, and in October the center plans to offer breakfast as well. For now, the soldiers enjoy eating foods like ribs, pulled pork and pizza. As for drinks, the center offers a limited selection of Starbucks beverages, energy drinks and beer.“I come here for lunch and work,” Murillo said. “If we have a PowerPoint for class, we use the movie room or one of the conference rooms.”

For soldiers like McMath and Murillo who live in the barracks, this is also cheaper than hooking up personal Internet in the rooms, buying movies to watch or video games to play.

Desmet said the center has 28 computers dedicated to online gaming.

“These computers are designed for high intensity graphics,” Desmet said. “They are not for work. These are strictly for gaming only.“Erica and Darul Nealy said they both spend almost every day at the center, too.

“We were here when it first opened,” said Erica, who has been stationed at Fort Riley for about three years. “We come here almost every day.”

Darul won the pool tournament on Saturday. Erica said this was Darul’s third time winning a tournament hosted by the zone. While Darul had the choice of cash or a new pool stick, Darul said he preferred the new stick this time. Erica said Darul and she met while shooting pool.

While there are plenty of games, computers and movies, the center is for the adult “kids” only.

“We only allow 18 and older,” Desmet said. “I don’t think anyone would like to get beat at ‘Call of Duty’ by a 12-year-old.”

But there are other reasons the center caters to the older crowd. He said the center was designed for single soldiers to have a safe place to work, relax and have fun. “The graphics on the games are not really appropriate for kids, and we most of our movies are rated ‘R.’”  Desmet said that the zone’s old facility, just down the road, is now a “family-friendly” place to take the kids. While the old facility is smaller and has less in the way of gaming systems, movies and computers, it, too, offers lots of fun for those on base with children.

Desmet said the Warrior Zone, which is run by the Business Operations Division at Fort Riley, sees an average of 500 people per day and took in $94,000 more in revenue than what was projected since it opened.

Desmet said that was a great thing because the golf course, which is one of the facilities funded by his department, loses money every year. This added income not only helps the zone stay up-to-date, but also keeps other attractions running.

The festivities continue all day Sunday with a barbecue and crab boil, but the scheduled car show and pool party were canceled because of the rain.

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