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But What Was It Really Like?
by Christopher Hirst

Shuffling into the office this morning, unable to find a comfortable cheek to sit on due to the unfortunate placement of bruises, I thought this might be an inspirational moment to share some lessons learned from my first paint ball battle. At the occasion of my brother-in-law’s bachelor party, we thought it would fun to play with guys that speak solemnly of black UN helicopters over Roswell, and who dig large holes in their back yard just in case. Oh yeah, and also be fun to shoot at perfect strangers. The type of person we encountered on these New Jersey killing fields were of a different genre; average age mid twenties, and for the most part out to have an active good time.

Some lessons learned, in no particular order:

Battle plans are way overrated. Our strategy of “every man for himself, we’ll figure it out later”, was consistent with the total chaos that reigned on the other team. Having a plan and a strategy  would have been unfair to the other side.  It was much more fun just seeing how many other casualties were assembled in the Dead Soldiers Collection Point (a.k.a. Safe Zone) before you finally limped in, than trying to remember what the objective of the scenario was.

My brother in law, who’s in the Air Force, needs to bring some autographed eight by ten glossies of himself  next time. When the boys in green spied the (impressive) badges on his camo’s, he instantly became the most popular member of our sorry troop. Whether or not the Air Force is actively involved in the science of crawling through brambles in order to subdue enemies of the Republic, as opposed to pressing a small red button in order to kill people, did not seem to matter. He was Real military, and therefore a Real Hero. He still got shot though.

There is a reason that the US Army has spent four times the Gross Domestic Product of small Caribbean nations  determining the optimal camouflage pattern. You cannot see the other soldiers in the forest, period. The only way to find out who’s out there, and whether they are on your side, is to stick your head up for a good long look through foggy face masks. This look usually lasts about three seconds before being ended in a splatter of yellow paint on your forehead. A tip: just jump into a position manned by one of the those who spend an inordinate portion of their free time shooting at strangers, and check  where he’s firing at. He may actually be firing at a manned position. You can then avoid that area for the rest of the game. Alternatively, offer to cover his advance. Look from which direction he gets taken out, and voila!, you’ve pinpointed the enemy. As soon as your ex bunker buddy clears the area in shame and rage, you can open fire on the unsuspecting jubilant fifteen year old who just killed him.

 I recall reading accounts of the casualties incurred by our armed forces due to enemy fire, and thinking: “man how stupid can you get?”. I have revised my opinion. It’s a miracle that the friendly vs. enemy-fire  kill statistics aren’t closer to the true random distribution of fifty-fifty. When you’re out there in the midst of a paint ball deluge, by the time you’ve sorted out whether or not the movement yonder in the bunker has a blue arm band or not, you are wiping yet another splash of oily paint off your goggle lens. Therefore, it’s much safer to fire at anything that moves, or even looks like it could have moved, than to squint through greasy goggles looking for a flash of blue duct tape hidden under folds of camouflage. After being hit squarely in the back by one of my teammates sixty seconds into one of the early battles, I devised a method to prevent recurrence. Before having my so-called teammates cover an advance, I would be sure to make clear, that if the covering fire ended up on my backside, I would be stringing the offending party’s teeth on my war bracelet. This seemed to help; after that, I was only killed by projectiles that I never saw coming.

When rushing to a forward position, it helps to determine in advance whether or not there is an enemy unit already in the bunker you plan on occupying. Early on, I tried the Audy Murphy maneuver, after spending three minutes (it seemed like an hour)  pinned down behind a pile of firewood. I was fed up and anxious to use up at least a portion of my 180 rounds I had brought into battle, so I jumped up, spraying an impressively random pattern of paint balls in the general direction of the front, racing forward a glorious fifteen feet or so.  On my left I (finally) spotted an enemy! At last I could see who was covering my borrowed clothes with splatters of green paint! I fired at him ten times, hitting the ground to his left and to his right nine times, and then his kneecap once. Victory and testosterone! I made myself comfortable on a sharp rock and prepared for my next victim. Gloating time was over quickly. Seems the other side of my new cover was already occupied by one of the dreaded Blue Duct Tape Brigade. My smugness rapidly vanished as a pair of goggles peered over my new pile of firewood and invited me to surrender.

Avoid playing against weekend warriors carrying high tech weaponry, armed with back packs filled with enough propellant and ammo to inflate the Double Eagle II. We found out that rental arms are fine for us newbies, until you encounter one of these high-powered snipers. Then, instead of being felled by either a random shot or a hail of inaccurate missiles, you get a two inch circle of welts to the tiny area of your body that you had sticking out from behind your cover. This is a direct result of these amateur psycho’s possessing the skill and technology to imitate a fifty caliber machine gun rather convincingly at twenty five yards. At the beginning of the day, the nineteen year old paint ball guru (Senior Executive VP of Operations),  had convinced us that shooting at targets over twenty yards away is a waste of ammo, since the guns don’t have enough velocity to break the paint balls over that range. He cunningly neglected to mention that there are those who spend an amount in excess of my mortgage payment, on titanium alloy jumbo-size weapons that  can obliterate a mosquito at thirty yards. Seven or eight times over. It’s best to have these folks on your side, as they weed out the opposing force rather quickly. Then you can actually move around the playing field for a couple of minutes before being shot.

 Practice firing your weapon before running into battle. We spent the first ten minutes of Battle for the Citadel (Part One), clearing jammed balls from our guns,  and accidentally shooting the trees in front of us before we got a feel for the hooking and slicing characteristics of our weapons. The nice boy with the pierced tongue, who gave us our “safety” instructions in the morning, emphasized that you don’t need to carry extra propellant because the “referees” would instantly supply us with same, in the event that we ran out in the middle of the firefight. In reality, the referees were of  an average age of thirteen, and seemed to spend the duration of the battle wandering the perimeter. When called upon by desperate players to supply more propellant, the refs suddenly developed total loss of hearing and was urgently needed elsewhere on the battleground to wander around aimlessly. A better approach is to spend the fifteen minutes between battles firing  off two or three hundred blank rounds in order to qualify for your free refill.

One final tip: avoid entering convenience stores in the same outfit that served you so well on the fields of fire. Walking into a Wawa dressed in camouflage and smelling of paint, with your hands in your pockets,  is an open invitation for the clerk to finally press the button that says “Police”. When two of you enter said store, you will notice the video camera’s being positioned long before you even make it across the parking lot. I am looking forward to the next episode of America’s Most Wanted to see if we’re at all telegenic.

I think that the future will find us armed and green again, at some point. Just to see what it’s like playing soldier and actually knowing what’s going on.

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