An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

HomeNewsArticle Display

Combat Bocce Ball boosts morale at 392nd TRS

Lt. Col. Lance "The Judge" Kawane, 392nd Training Squadron Operations Officer, bowls for his team Thor in the first round of the Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Lt. Col. Lance "The Judge" Kawane, 392nd Training Squadron Operations Officer, bowls for his team Thor in the first round of the Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Airmen and their families feed on Santa Maria-style barbecue during the 392nd Training Squadron Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Airmen and their families feed on Santa Maria-style barbecue during the 392nd Training Squadron Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Airman Jonathan Fernandez, 392nd Training Squadron, bowls for his team, Strawberry Annihilation, in the first round of the Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Airman Jonathan Fernandez, 392nd Training Squadron, bowls for his team, Strawberry Annihilation, in the first round of the Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Col. Robert Gibson, 381st Training Group commander, bowls for his team, The Vandenberg Village People, in the first round of the 392nd Training Squadron Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here on May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Col. Robert Gibson, 381st Training Group commander, bowls for his team, The Vandenberg Village People, in the first round of the 392nd Training Squadron Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here on May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Master Sgt. Thomas "O'Malley Factor" O'Malley and referee Bill Huges from the Santa Maria Lawn Bowling Club use a measuring rod to determine whose ball is closer to the pallino, or marker, during the Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

Master Sgt. Thomas "O'Malley Factor" O'Malley and referee Bill Huges from the Santa Maria Lawn Bowling Club use a measuring rod to determine whose ball is closer to the pallino, or marker, during the Combat Bocce Ball Tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

The Combat Bocce Ball Tournament  champions, the Bullys, receive a 1st place trophy and each player their own bocce ball set during the tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

The Combat Bocce Ball Tournament champions, the Bullys, receive a 1st place trophy and each player their own bocce ball set during the tournament here May 4. The event was put on as one of the 381st TRG quarterly events to ensure morale stays high. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Nichelle Griffiths)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Bullys squeaked by team Thor 11-10 to settle a tie breaker and take the championship trophy during the Combat Bocce Ball Tournament at the pavilion outside of building 8175 on May 4.

The Bullys gained bragging rights for the next 365 days along with a 1st place trophy and each player received their very own bocce ball set.

Just like the game of bocce, on which combat bocce is based, two teams of four square off and one side throws, or bowls, a baseball-sized resin or wood target ball within the boundaries of a field. Then the teams bowl softball-sized ceramic balls and try to get closer to the target than their opponents, even by knocking the opponents balls away from the target. But that's where the similarities to bocce, or its cousin lawn bowling, end.

"Today is about fog and the friction of war!" said Jeff "Flew" Flewelling, who played for the Thor squad.

Combat bocce is a unique interpretation of the lawn game. It adopts military terminology, so the team is a squad, a ball is called a round and the field is an area-of-responsibility. Bowling is called deployment of the target and the target area is called the demilitarized zone. Instead of a field shaped like an alley, the combat bocce field of fire is a cross shape, and the players, or combatants, divide to play long-way and laterally at the same time.

This adaptation of the game is unique to Vandenberg, and the product of a brainstorm, when Pitney and Lance "the Judge" Kawane of the 392nd Training Squadron were deciding whether or not to hold a bocce tournament.

"I didn't think that a bocce tournament would go over so well," said James Pitney, tournament organizer. "So Colonel Kawane said, 'how about combat bocce?' And the idea was born."

The idea included a full set of rules and special guest referees from the Santa Maria Lawn Bowling Club, including Jim and Linda Graham, Bill Hughes, and Seymour Hirsch

One call the referees made often during the event term was a term borrowed from the 392nd TRS.

"Weak-sauce got called a lot of times," Pitney said. "Our operations officer has been using the term a lot in the past few months, to get people motivated in the squadron. We adapted it as a penalty call."

The referees called weak-sauce for when combatants makes a poor attempt, like when a they try to deploy the target to the demilitarized zone, or bowl the ball into a 100-square-foot plot, but fail.

"If you can't get the ball in that 100-square-foot area, that's a weak-sauce attempt," Pitney said.

Another combat bocce-specific penalty call was made when a referee saw a combatant prance around in a manner akin to a buffoon.

"One combatant was doing ballet when he threw the round and the ref called gross buffoonery on him," Pitney said. "I don't know if the ref thought he was trying to mock the game or what."

Team Thor, which captured second place in the event, received a gift certificate to a nearby Italian eatery. The third place team received badminton sets because evidently bocce is not their game, Pitney said. Even if bocce was not their game, the event was designed with fun in mind.

"The event was used to boost morale," Captain Pitney said. "I couldn't be happier about the result."

The last place squad was awarded lawn bowling lessons at the Santa Maria Lawn Bowling Club.

The difference between bocce and lawn bowling is the finesse and skill that lawn bowling requires, said Mrs. Graham, a woman with over 40 years of lawn bowling experience

"There are some good players out here, but none that would be much of a challenge at lawn bowling," Mr. Graham said with a smile.

Even so, the unique rules and terminology makes combat bocce a special game for Vandenberg's combat Airmen. With the losers looking ahead to next year, and the winners raising their trophy high, the tournament revealed one thing--combat bocce ball isn't plain-old lawn bowling.