As I off-handedly mentioned, I went paintballing on Saturday. This was a group outing with a bunch of men and teens from our church. It was also the first time I’ve been on a paintball course in approximately 10 years. I’ve done it about 8 times that I can remember, but mostly through my late twenties and very early thirties.
I’m not horrible at the sport, but neither am I good at it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I vastly prefer the courses where you stealthily sneak through a wooded area to attack a bunker/fort. I’ve also found, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am not cut out for the reverse play on that same course, where I am on the team defending the fort.
Like most people, I rely heavily on my vision. The less I can see, the higher my stress levels get. Add to this the stress of being in an environment where someone is shooting something at you at over 250 ft/sec, and I think it’s fair to say that my stress levels get pretty high during these events. Especially because my goggles kept fogging up.
Goggles fogging up are not surprising in this sport. It’s happened every time I’ve played, in every kind of weather. This is the first time, though, that I’ve played where it’s rained in the morning and was sunny in the afternoon. Humidity, as you might imagine, was pretty high. In the rain, the goggle-fog got so bad that I literally could not see the end of my gun. That makes it pretty hard to find a target and shoot at it. And while I assume others were having a similar fog issue, I can’t make the assumption that their fog was as bad as mine, so popping my head out and craning my neck to take a look around via the extremely small area by the edge of my nose that would allow me to see something other than white-out would be a spectacularly bad idea. It also put my entire team at a disadvantage on one course, as I was in the “tower” as the designated spotter – calling out the locations of the attackers to my defenders below. That one didn’t work out so well.
When the sky cleared up a bit in the afternoon, the glasses fogging up was still an issue, but it usually didn’t get quite as bad unless the game went on for a long time. Most of the time, I could still see shapes, at least.
That doesn’t really help, though, if you’re defending a fort with limited visibility in a forest. Fort defense is a game that depends greatly on teamwork, as each individual is tasked with monitoring and defending against a particular direction of attack, because no one else can typically see that direction. If some attacker is very good at stealth (or avoiding paintballs), they can get around your back and take you out from a blind side.
One of our attackers was both very stealthy and very good at avoiding paintballs. I saw him for a second as he came around back, and tried to hit him, but he ducked into the tall grass and I lost him. The next thing I knew, he and I were back to back on opposite sides of a wooden fence. To my left was a small hole in the fence, large enough to shoot through. Both of us went for the hole at the same time, our barrels crossing through the opening, and let loose a barrage of paintballs. Â I must have put my body directly behind my gun, and thus directly in front of his, because I got hit with every one of his shots. Remember, our barrels crossed through the hole. That means the end of his barrel was no more than 3 inches from my hands, probably less.
I don’t care how soft it is, anything that hits you at 250+ ft/sec hurts. Even at a good distance, paintballs sting when they hit. These shots drew blood. I have bruises on the knuckles of both hands, and two pretty good welts on my stomach. My stomach and hands were covered in layers of green paint, mixed with some red on my knuckles. I thought my finger was broken for a few minutes. I was most assuredly “dead.”
I couldn’t even muster the required cry of “out!” indicating I was out of play. All I could come up with through the unrelenting barrage of pain(t) was “aaaaauhhhh! Enough! Enough!” When he finally finished firing after what seemed like an eternity, I walked back to the “dead men” area where I received an appropriate amount of awe for the blood on my hands from the other walking cadavers. So that was good in a manly respect kind of way.
We only played two games after that (thankfully). Both were on the same course. In attack mode, I turned into a sniper in the woods and successfully controlled and took out a few enemies, contributing to our win. I enjoyed that game immensely.
For the final game, we were back on defense. I briefly considered defecting to the other team. To be totally honest, I was a bit skittish about being back in that death trap of a fort again. But we had a plan for better coverage, and I was up for another try, from a different position, this time on the second floor.
To say I was stressed would be an understatement. Not only was I fogging up, but I had even less visibility than my original position, except for the angle I was covering. I was probably annoying the tower spotters with my constant requests for reassurance that no one was coming through on our right (my back). Long story somewhat shorter, even though no one saw it, that same kid made it around the back again. That gave him a perfect shot at my back, which he took, again at close range. As I yelled “Out!” and a word that should not have escaped my lips (especially with a group from the church), I heard the kid snickering behind me.
I thought it was over, but then I was reminded that everyone had agreed that since this was the final game, we’d keep playing until we ran out of paint, regardless of how many hits we took. So, I reset my gun and took a somewhat safer location within the fort where I’d only have to worry about the back door and this kid. He had disappeared, but I knew he’d be back. I waited (still hurting, btw), until I saw his barrel breach the back door next to me.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t wait long enough. I shot too soon, and couldn’t get the angle on him. As we both released a torrent of paint around the corner at each other, I realized his gun was angling much closer to me than mine was to him. With a sudden onset of PTSD I yelled “Surrender!” ending my game just in time to prevent an incident that would have left me with no choice but to huddle crying in the corner.
I came away from the day sore and with a lot of bruises, as did every single other player (plus the referee, who took a nasty shot on the neck). The teens, especially, were showing off their bruises before we all broke up and went home. Some of them took some pretty good hits. To my knowledge, I’m the only one who shed blood, but there was a kid who thought he might have broken his wrist at one point (I think he was okay in the end).
Despite how it probably sounds, I had a lot of fun. Bruises heal, and were not unexpected to begin with. It’s not often you get to sneak through the woods and shoot people in a “safe” environment. It helped that all of the players were great guys who were out to have a good time, play by the rules, and who respected and supported each other. I’ve played with others in the past who were much more self-centered, petty, and showed less sportsmanship, which makes for a significantly less enjoyable time, so I thank this crew for making the day fun.
I also came away with stark reminders of why I’m not cut out for the armed forces. The stress I endured in these games was pathetic compared to what those guys go through, not to mention the physical pain involved. I’m glad I never had to test myself in that way in reality. If anyone in any armed forces happens to read this, in all seriousness, I’m very thankful for your service on my behalf. And also, if you’re ever in the area and want to join me in a paintball game, I’m ready. But I want you on my team – especially if you know how to beat goggle-fog.