Photo via magoexperto (Flickr).
The last of my five sons is getting married this month. Rather than the old traditional bachelor party, my warrior sons and a score of family and extended family members who shared this warrior spirit, made it a day spent on war games — paintballing.
We met at S.C. Paintball Village in Chino. Since we were mostly rank amateurs, we selected the 50-caliber paintball guns. We had two experienced veterans who owned the more powerful, higher-caliber weapons. We made sure to divide them on separate teams when we deployed.
The parking lot was filled with all levels of paintballers — children, mothers, rookies, veterans and fanatics. The great majority were friendly and fun-loving people. They wore regular street clothes, matching team uniforms and camo patterns from WWII to Afghanistan.
You could guess their level of experience and dedication by the paintball equipment that they sported. Paintball combat veterans could be distinguished by their apparel — custom masks, gloves, jerseys and vests, but most particularly and OD or camo towel hanging from the belt over the family jewels.
The fanatic fans distinguished themselves with $2,000-$3,000 weapons with self-cocking automatic-fire systems, power loaders, hoppers and custom barrels. Their weapons looked like real military assault rifles or Star Wars particle-beam blasters.
At one point, one of my team members remarked, "There's a guy you wouldn't want living next door to you!" He was drawing our attention to one of those extreme fanatic paintballers who walked past in the latest military desert camo pattern from head to toe, complete with mock body armor and an M-16 look-alike weapon. Bandoleers loaded with hundreds of rounds of paintballs in reloaders hung from his web gear. I was glad that we had brought enough warriors to fight in teams made up of friends and family.
An ancient warrior once said, "Pain is the best teacher," and we all learned a lot. We fought and "died" in fields and fortresses mocked up to resemble Baghdad, Kosovo, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Six hours of running and gunning and the sting of close-quarter combat left every warrior with reminders of their mistakes.
Weapon malfunctions are almost always fatal. One aimed shot was better than "spray and pray." Move from cover to cover with teammates in overwatch, and move as a team. Form and communicate a thought-out plan.
The most intense scenario was "Capture the Flag" in a Baghdad castle surrounded by trenches and bunkers. The object was to assault the castle and raise your team flag for 15 minutes. If you were hit, you were required to return to your team's starting point for another assault. By the end of this battle we (even the 20-year-olds) were all physically exhausted and had been shot numerous times.
Returning to the parking-lot staging area, we resembled combat veterans and walking wounded returning from the "Frozen Chosin" or Hue City after the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive.
Do you run to stay in shape in your off time? Are you a member of a gym or baseball or bowling league? Well, so were some of the people who were with us that day; they all agreed that paintballing was a very physically challenging sport, "like playing rugby or hockey for six hours."
While re-hydrating and trying to catch my breath during a break before our next paintball deployment, I saw a black BMW with tinted windows snake into the parking lot. It got my attention right away. It stopped and parked away from the crowds and six thug gangsters climbed out of the car. By their paintball gear I could see that this was not their first time paintballing. With confident struts, they walked up to another group of gangsters already in the parking lot. They were there to train. They were there to sharpen their combat skills in the most realistic environment short of military combat training.
Another warrior once said, "The more you sweat, the less you'll bleed." I suddenly was struck by the thought that these "stupid lazy" gang members were more willing to sweat and train in combat simulation than most cops I knew. That they were willing to spend their money on equipment to learn how to kill efficiently, use cover and concealment, and move tactically.
In paintball scenarios, you battle multiple adversaries often in close quarter combat in urban or built-up locations. You either assault or defend a position. You must shoot and move. This, in my opinion, beats time on most static pistol ranges.
This would be ideal training for turf-oriented gangs. And what I wanted to tell you in this blog post is that gang members are training this way.
As I looked into the mirror afterward, the circular red welts with their purple bruise rings reminded me that I was older, fatter and slower than I wanted to be. But I managed to hold my own against younger, stronger and better-equipped rivals. When we entered the paintball Vietnam village, one of our team rivals remarked, "No fair, Rich has been here before!"
I recommend paintballing as conditioning and realistic training that can be loads of fun but useful and productive skill building for real-life deadly encounters.