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Military-Themed Vacations: Weekend Warrior
By Robert Young Pelton   Illustration by Asaf Hanuka
Illustration: Pelton in a military jet
THE RIGHT STUFF: RYP does recon on military-themed vacations.

Fly a plane, drive a tank, wear face paint and fatigues:
military vacations are blowing up.
 
One evening, I was hanging out in Virginia Beach with my military contractor buddies from the Blackwater Training Center. I'd just guest-instructed a course on terrorist tactics for a group of ex-Special Ops soldiers. After a few beers, one of my friends turned to me and said, "I know this guy, Fraser, who runs a Navy SEAL training program . . . for civilians." There was a general snicker, but whether directed at Fraser or his hapless students, I couldn't quite tell. So I decided to do a little investigating.
 
Fraser, it turned out, is an ex-SEAL, and he once ran a program for civilians called "GI Jane." Instead of grizzled vets, GI Jane was packed with attractive women looking to get that ripped-and-ready look Demi Moore perfected in the movie of the same name. Fraser essentially put the participants through tough physical training, took them on relatively extreme outdoor events, and remained a gentleman throughout. At the end of the course, the women raved about their invigorated sense of confidence and bolstered self-image.

There's been a surge in quasi-military adventures lately, from hostage training with former U.S. Special Forces, to touring recent battlefields, to flying Russian MiGs. If you're looking to combine travel with military culture (without the incoming fire!), your day has come. Here are a few options inspired by the front lines.
 
Boot Camp by the Day
 A number of courses promise to transform Joe Blow into Rambo, but the ones that have really exploded are the boot camps. At the Original SEAL Physical Training Course (www.sealpt.com) in Galveston, Texas, participants can sign on for their own personal Hell Week ($700), which culminates with gung-ho drill sergeants keeping you awake, wet, and working-out for a 24-hour finale. At the KGB Military School (www.kgb-militaryschool.com) in Ukraine, you learn a litany of spy techniques, such as demolition and high-speed driving, that'll make you wish the Cold War hadn't melted away. Still the most extreme has to be a week in Scranton, Pennsylvania, with Team Delta ($1,400; www.teamdelta.net). Besides running you ragged, these vets will, for no extra fee, kidnap you, interrogate you, and make you run for your life through the woods while their team hunts you down. Now that's a vacation!
 
Bang For Your Buck
After my time with the rebels in the siege of Chechnya in 1999, I've had my fill of incoming ordnance. But if you need your fix, consider Ukraine. Funding shortages and creative marketing have spawned a bizarre new trend. At Alaris (www.alaris.com.ua), a one-stop-shop military theme park outside Kiev, you can fire an AK-47 (a buck a bullet), launch all the RPGs you can handle ($180 a blam), drive a tank ($50), and even take to the skies in an actual MiG fighter (a cool $8,500 a flight). Granted, Ukraine is a long way to fly for a dogfight. If you want to pull g's here in the States, Mesa, Arizona–based Fighter Combat International (www.fightercombat.com) gets you inside the cockpit of an Extra 300L prop plane and delivers a gut-churning array of combat maneuvers minus the flameout. If that's too real, consider Flightline USA (www.flightlineusa.com), where $40 buys you 40 minutes in a jet fighter simulator (basically an overhead display in a faux cockpit, connected to multiple players). The cyber-rounds are live, and as a bonus you get a gun-cam video at the end.

Battles Gone By

As much fun as all these activities are, for a real military experience and a cool vacation, I prefer to visit exotic battlegrounds of the past. I'm not talking about Gettysburg or Antietam here. Instead, consider the Solomon Islands. There, hikers can discover the skeletal remains of downed World War II–era American and Japanese planes and scuba divers can explore sunken Japanese ships, some with sake bottles still unopened. Or consider Vietnam. Every day hundreds of visitors worm their way through the infamous Cu Chi tunnels outside Saigon, then fan out to hit one of scores of Apocalypse Now–themed bars. Finally, Kabul has recently been Lonely Planet–approved
and boasts a travel Web site (www.kabulcaravan.com), which means it's teeming (relatively) with tourists and chatty Afghan guides offering tours of the caves at Tora Bora. To the uninitiated, this can all seem rather grim, but in my opinion, if more people experienced the effects of war—real or simulated—they'd be less likely to wage one.


Read more from Robert Young Pelton in the pages of Adventure magazine.



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