We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and a sister) spent the day waging war on our fellow Northern Virginians.
These are the things we carried.
1100 Hours- Mustering station
I stand still among a teeming throng of humanity, soldiers of every type fill the mustering station, meeting their units, getting their equipment issued to them. The would be combatants seem to be of two types, the hardened veterans, weighed down with their own, customized and gleaming equipment and the new recruits, trying to figure out how to put on their face masks and which part of the gun they are supposed to point at the enemy. With me are T1 and A, the kid from across the street. Guess which category we fall into.
If this were a war movie, A would be the yammering kid from Brooklyn. He’s a funny kid, but funny to me. He makes Airplane, the Movie references and assumes I know something about anime (I don’t). I can’t imagine either of these goes over well with his peer group. I tell him to wait a few years until collage and he will be fine.
A cadre of little kids walks by, dressed in matching grey jumpsuits you can buy for eight dollars if you don’t want to get your clothes ruined. I can’t imagine we will be fighting them, as the oldest seems to be about ten.
Slowly, our crew trickles in. I’ve never met so many of his friends at one time before. I notice that T1 towers over all but one of them. They are, uniformly, nice kids. Not at all mouthy and seeming to possess none of the teenage surliness that T1 has perfected as an art form. They are funny and friendly. Also, one of them is a girl.
T1 had told me that Matty was coming. That’s what I heard, anyway. Turns out he was saying “Maddie.” Who was a she and the only one that came close to being T1’s size. She was wearing shorts and immediately, upon arriving, began bemoaning her own stupidity.
“Seriously,” she said, “I’ve done this before. I have no idea what I was thinking. I’m in the play next weekend. My legs are going to be one big welt.”
We got her a grey jumpsuit. Throughout the whole day I was impressed by how the guys all treated her just like one of the group. She wasn’t a girlfriend or the girlfriend of a friend, she was just a friend and treated as such. Again, impressive. I said as much to T1.
“Yeah,” he said. “Maddie’s cool. Plus, to tell the truth, I think most of those guys are a little afraid of her.”
Our unit assembled, be went to the quartermaster and got our equipment. We each were issued a gun, a belt in which we could put two extra containers of ammunition, and a helmet. One of our number actually had his own gun, which I later found out cost $1500. He explained he had it because his father was a distributor for paintball gear and he played a lot. We all decided to do whatever he told us to do.
After getting our gear we went to the picnic area and attempted to load our weapons. Paintballs are, as you may have guessed, ball shaped. A fair number of them ended up on the ground. I quickly realized that the 50 we each had may not be enough.
11300 Hours- Mission briefing
A kid who looked like he might have been a year out of high school gathered our group together, gave us our safety lecture – “Keep the cover on your barrel except when you are in the playing area, don’t take your helmet off except in very specific places, if someone is shot, don’t keep shooting them, if you get shot, put your hands up and leave the battlefield”- and then directed us to the battle zone.
Our brief was brief.
1140ish hours- Sides
There were a lot of people at the battle ground. Big, tall netting separated the area into fields of varying sizes. Miniature wooden towns, huge cut down trees, piles of logs and wood chips littered the landscape, all smeared multicolored by previous battles.
We went down to the area as instructed where we joined a group of about 60 others, all of us waiting to be split into teams. About half the people had their own equipment. One such group was made up of six young, very fit men who wore their gear like they knew what they were doing. They also all had various United State Marine Corps gear on. As one, my group all looked at each other and then very casually sidled over to this group of professionals. We all ended up on the green team. The first battle had been won!
1150 hours- Contact
The second battle was lost.
We entered the playing field, the whistle to start blew and we all immediately realized that those paintballs were coming fast. We all scrambled for cover behind various and sundry wooden structures, peeking our heads out looking for the enemy, maybe squeezing off a shot and then ducking back in. Our rental guns were adequate, but fired slowly, both in terms of shots per minute and velocity.
Our hesitation at the beginning cost us. The other team advanced on us quickly and pinned us down.
I poked my head out from behind cover, saw an enemy combatant doing the same thing, and started shooting at him. I first shots went wide but the next time he made a move I hit him. Apparently.
Fog of war and all of that, I had no idea I had done it. What I did know was suddenly, this guy was walking out of cover. So I lit him up. Again, as it happens. He cried like an infant and called me a name that would have made T2 get on his case for swearing. I returned the insult in kind, telling him to stop whining and put his hands up when he got shot like he was supposed to. A short time later a paintball ricocheted off of my cover and hit my gun. One of the judges told me I was out. I didn’t realize getting shot in the gun would kill me.
Our last solider got taken out shortly afterwards.
T1 got shot in the head.
1245 Hours- Victory
We won the second battle, this one on a larger battlefield. We were all better with our weapons this time. Also, we stuck close the Marine guys, mostly giving them cover so they could advance. One of our number was extremely proud of this.
“He said,” one of them exclaimed afterwards in what became a traditional huddle where everyone told what they did or didn’t do in the previous battle, “’can you cover me?’ and I was like “heck yeah’ and I did.”
Everyone agreed this was awesome.
I finished the battle unkilled with one confirmed kill of my own.
T1 got shot in the head. Again.
1345- Friendly fire
The battles had raged on and on. War seeming to never end. I was right about our supplies, I had bought a box containing 500 rounds of ammunition. We went through all of that so I bought another one. At one point the kid with the cool gun tried to show me how the people who knew what they were doing reloaded their weapons. I gave it a shot, spilling paintballs everywhere. Most of them, however, we fired in anger towards our enemy.
The battle in question was intense. Crouched behind a giant stack of logs I scanned down field looking for movement. Someone came up behind me and I turned to see A. Actually, I turned to see the barrel of his gun pointed right at my face.
I reached out and pushed it away.
“A!” I barked, “Jesus, be careful, don’t point that thing at my face!”
“Oh, sorry,” he said. “Where are they?”
“Somewhere behind that downed tree, I think on the right.”
I turned and, once again, was staring at the barrel of his gun. Don’t misunderstand, I had my face guard on, so my eyes were protected. But at that range a paintball would have taken out at least a couple of my unprotected teeth. This time I smacked the barrel away.
“God damnit A,” I yelled, “stop pointing that thing at my face or I’m going to shove it up your butt.”
“Sorry! Sorry!” he yelped, and scrambled off behind different cover.
I don’t remember if we won or lost. My biggest victory was avoiding dental work.
T1 got shot in the elbow.
1400 hours- Ouch
Hiding behind a paper mache rock I valiantly defended our right flank. I could feel the heat of the paintballs whizzing by me, like hot angry hornets, causing me to think “that dude must have his air pressure cranked way up.” Still, I held my position, laying down fire and keeping the enemy pinned down.
I’ve no idea who was in charge of the left flank though. It collapsed completely and I got shot in the back three times.
Jesus that stings.
T1 got shot in the shoulder, with paint splattering his head.
1500 hours- Retreat
Seven hot, paint splattered, skin welted, smelly teenage boys, one teenage girl and a 40 year old man hobbled from the battle field. Happy with our victories and okay with our losses because some of those guys took this thing really seriously. Everyone was tired, but had enjoyed themselves.
“I think I lead with my head,” T1 observed.
One by one my troops shipped off for home as parents showed. The smart ones had backseats covered in towels.
The wounds inflicted upon me in battle were pretty minor but at my age I apparently am not l suited for squatting, running and then jumping against a giant hill of mulch.
I was crazy sore.
War is hell.