SAN ANTONIO, Texas — As far as his day job goes, Master Sergeant Mario Jaramillo is living the dream serving as the superintendent of sports and e-sports at the Air Force Services Center.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else when I retire,” Jaramillo said.
No, he’s not just saying that.
He’s come a long way considering gaming became a part of his life by accident.
“We accidentally found my Nintendo in the middle of the street with a bunch of clothes, so it looked like someone must’ve got kicked out of their house and all their stuff flew out of the truck,” Jaramillo recounted pointing to the old console which remains in his possession.
Jaramillo, now a father of three, passed on that passion to his children while serving his country as a member of the United States Air Force.
“They kind of grew up with me in the Air Force,” Jaramillo said.
Like how gaming has united their family under one roof, Jaramillo has seen gaming unite Airmen and Guardians.
“I came back (to San Antonio) right before the pandemic, so I watched how everything closed down,” Jaramillo said. “And that’s why it was vital for Air Force Gaming to be around.”
Air Force Gaming was founded less than a year before that by Captain Oliver Parsons. The long, grueling winters of North Dakota took a toll on his mental health while stationed at Minot Air Force Base. He and his wife started playing video games to deal with depression and anxiety. They also longed to connect with other people.
Over time, Parsons found gaming events like TwitchCon and started connecting with other Airmen who were gamers.
By then, the Army and Navy had organized gamer communities, so in 2019 Parsons took it upon himself to start an online digital community.
More than 86% of Airmen between the ages of 18-34 identify as gamers. As membership grew, it got the attention of leadership who approved of its expansion under the Air Force Services Center.
While other military branches use their gaming programs to recruit, Air Force Gaming focuses on building morale, mental wellness and strategic thinking.
“It is important we provide an opportunity for collaboration, for connection, regardless of physical location,” Colonel Carolyn Ammons said. “If you think about the meta gaming platforms that are out there right now where scenarios change and capabilities change and weapons change, we’re teaching our airmen strategic thinking at a level that is constantly changing like it does in the gaming world.”
The Air Force found that 86% of Airmen between the ages of 18-34 identify as gamers. The Navy and Army gaming organizations are in line with recruitment, but the Air Force has instead chosen to focus inward. Recruitment has become a challenge for all military branches following the pandemic. The Air Force and Space Force met recruitment goals for fiscal year 2022. The Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard did not meet their final numbers.
“We’re interested in the retention of the resiliency of our Airmen and Guardians,” Col. Ammons said. “We use formal capacities and capabilities for recruiting, but honestly, every individual military member is a recruiter.”
Col. Ammons says most service members recruit simply by sharing their life story.
Jaramillo hopes his story includes gaming in some capacity after retirement.
For now, he’s looking toward the future for Air Force Gaming and how it can get better.
Should gaming be added to the Olympics, Jaramillo is hopeful to send their best of the best to compete for Team USA, similar to its World-Class Athlete Program.