CENTER BARNSTEAD — Covered from head to toe in neon orange and yellow splotches, Gov. Chris Sununu found himself pinned down behind a makeshift bunker of tree branches to take shelter from the hailstorm of day-glow paintballs soaring across the battlefield.
“Just like a day at the State House,” said Sununu, still clutching a face shield peppered with orange paint.
While it was all fun and games, Sununu and the nearly 250 people who gathered Thursday on the grounds of OSG Paintball in Center Barnstead had come out to support the work of Swim With a Mission, a Granite State-based nonprofit dedicated to aiding organizations that help veterans.
The event kicked off a weekend of military-themed expositions that end with a Saturday swim across Newfound Lake. The group’s second annual Corporate Paintshoot provided area business owners and their employees with the opportunity to learn team-building tactics from 20 active and retired Navy SEALS.
The 19 corporate teams each consist of 10 members, with all of the teams earning their spots in exchange for a $25,000 donation to the organization.
After a morning of panel discussions and lectures, the teams, each led by a SEAL, got the chance to put their new skills to the test in a paintball tournament.
“It gives business owners an insight into a whole other lane that people live in as special operations guys,” said Steve Matulewicz, a retired SEAL command master chief.
Matulewicz, a Rye resident and vice president of Sig Sauer Academy, said the all-day seminar helps to equip participants with skills that are as helpful in the boardroom as they are on the battlefield.
“When I’m talking to them about how we’re going to flank, or how we’re going to have a maneuvering element, they don’t think that way. They think maybe spreadsheets, dollars and cents. So they’re hearing all of this, they’re looking at leadership, they’re looking at delegation, they’re looking at who in the group is stepping up to lead and it helps them in their businesses,” said Matulewicz.
Thanks to events like the Paintshoot, Swim With a Mission has raised $1.2 million over its first two years, and aims to surpass $1 million in donations from the 2019 Paintshoot alone.
Some recipients of funds include Veterans Count, a charity and assistance program for veterans and military families in New England, and Trident House Charities, a respite community in Sebastian, Fla., for families of SEALS killed in the line of duty.
“We started this organization because, obviously, we’re upset about how some of our veterans are struggling to get the help that they need,” said retired SEAL Phil Taub, who founded Swim With a Mission alongside his wife Julie.
“A lot of our veterans are leaders in our community and doing very well, but too many of our veterans are struggling.”
Some of this year’s participating businesses include Manchester Harley-Davidson, Cross Insurance and Granite State Stoneworks, all of which were dedicated to snatching first place from AutoFair Automotive Group, 2018’s reigning Paintshoot champions.
“We’re very competitive,” said AutoFair President Andy Crews. “There’s a lot of people that would like to take over our reign, but there’s only one championship.”
Besides the thrill of the competition, Crews, who is a former Marine, said he sees the Paintshoot as a “win-win” that allows him to support veterans and his employees in one fell swoop.
“They do a lot of talking about teams, leadership and how to set a culture based upon positive mental attitudes, which plays into any corporation,” said Crews.
“So as much as the paintball is fun and as great as it is to raise money, the managers from my operation are getting a firsthand experience from the Navy SEALS about how to overcome obstacles and set objectives. That is added value to me.”
Crews’ sentiments were echoed by Sununu, who said the collection of bruises and welts from the day’s activities were well worth the chance to support “America’s heroes.”
“When these guys sit down and really talk about team-building and achieving a mission, it’s awesome because they do it with their lives on the line for our country overseas in the toughest of conditions,” said Sununu of the SEALS in attendance.
“If you’re going to learn anything about those types of skills, this is the group to do it with.”
By Travis R. Morin Union Leader Correspondent.