Monday, May 3, 2010

Lessons I've Learned From Paintball

Combat happens fast, really fast
Or, at least, ranged combat does. Not that I would ever make a strong comparison between real combat and a game of paintball. I'm sure combat brings a whole load of stresses and concerns and terrors unimaginable to one who has never experienced it. But paintball (at least the way I've always played it, in the woods with U.S. Marines) as basically a war game has some basic similarities to combat; at the least, were talking there are a bunch of people with gun-like instruments targeting one another. Even the military plays war games for training.

But back to my point. Combat happens really, really fast. Paintballs come from out of nowhere and hit you before you even know it with speeds one-third or less than an average speed of a bullet. And these just paintballs. They sting a little. Bullets will hurt a whole hell of a lot, or kill. I could easily see how a soldier could be shot and dead without even realizing it. One second you're standing, the next second you're out cold. I could see it happening that fast.

U.S. Marines know their stuff
I first began playing paintball about a dozen years ago. And every game I've played since has involved at least one U.S. Marine, usually more like three or four Marines. I'm not in the military, nor have I ever been, but for some reason I've made a good number of military buddies over the years; I guess we share some ideologies or something.

Anyway, playing paintball has shown me the huge differences between untrained civilians and U.S. Marines. I'm just talking paintball, of course, but I've seen one Marine take out 20 other guys in a single afternoon. All by slinking around on the ground and shooting from cover. It didn't matter that the 20 guys were mostly smart enough to take cover themselves, they still weren't experienced nor trained well enough to set up a proper defense.

Little kids make for tough combatants
I've also played paintball against children, the youngest being about 10. They are tough little suckers. They never seem to tire, and they're so small they can hide behind anything, making them difficult targets to hit. And despite their age, in my experience most kids seem to follow orders well and can follow through.

The bigger the tree, the better the cover
Do I really need to explain this one? Big tree, better cover. Small tree, you get shot.

Know your weapon
This one can save you a lot. Imagine you're running along, already tired and out of breath, paintballs flying at you from all over the place, and suddenly your paintball marker is out of paintballs and/or CO2. You've got to reload. It helps a heck of a lot if you can do this on the run without having to look at what your hands need to be doing. Otherwise ... yep, you get shot.

Footware makes a lot of difference
Did I just mention running? Imagine having to do it over rough terrain with holes all over the place and downed trees to jump and swampy spots to evade or wade through. Your shoes, or boots, can save your life. Or, at least, an ankle. Good footware can keep you from spraining an ankle and possibly from falling down, which could lead to all kinds of other injuries.

Higher ground is better
I'm not enough of a strategist to know why this makes a difference, but it does. Not always, but more often than not, victory will go to the team with the higher ground. Of course there are a hundred other factors to take into consideration, but most of the time I'd bet my money on the team at the top of the hill. Maybe it's got something to do with human vision or ease of targeting or something. I don't know.

Charging blindly won't win the day
Outnumbered. Outgunned. Nearly out of ammo. All of your teammates are down. You're on your own. You lose it and charge right at the enemy. You're going to get lit up by tons and tons of paintballs. I've seen it done dozens of times. Heck, I've even done it once, though it wasn't because I lost my cool; I just did it for the fun of doing it. Got shot in the lip for my bravado. Bruised up and stung for weeks. So, unless you're doing for fun as I did, it's best to keep your cool. You'll survive. Or, at least, you'll survive longer.

Teamwork really works
Lone gunmen won't last very long, especially against a team. Unless maybe that lone gunman is a Marine, like I mentioned above. No, teamwork is generally best in paintball. Know-it-alls and prima donnas won't last because the other members of their team will gladly offer them up as targets, if not just shoot the idiot themselves. In my experience, a few old hands at the game will naturally sort of take command, and the rest will follow.

Paintball can change people, at least temporarily
I've seen it with my own eyes. That quiet buddy who never says a word, just goes along with the flow most of the time. But get him on a paintball field ... suddenly he's a lion roaring at the top of his lungs. He's taking point, he's taking leadership roles, he's kicking ass and taking names. And I've seen big, he-man kind of guys turn into a silent little mouse, though that doesn't mean they're not dangerous.

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