By Ellen Oliver
When I was invited to play paint ball with former military people and experienced weekend warriors, Nancy Reagan’s words kept ringing in my head: “Just say no.”
Sixteen of us met last Friday morning at Action Paintball in Tewksbury. The paintball compound is at the end of a road that makes you wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn. Aside from a running freight train barely visible in the distance, the area is remote, prompting one player to claim he heard the banjo music from Deliverance as he drove up.
There’s a lone port-a-potty and a wooden counter with a trailer attached to a large pick up truck with all the equipment to arm the paintball warriors. After being fitted with masks, holsters with ammo canisters, and our paintball guns, it was time to pick teams. Since there were only two women playing we were selected as captains. I chose the green day-glow arm bands for my team, hopeful the early spring leaves would allow us to blend better than the bright safety orange that was the alternative.
I didn’t know many of my fellow players, but my first pick was the smartest move I made all day. I selected Michael Bolton, an eighth grader at Hale, who is an experienced paintball and air soft player. (If any teachers from Hale are reading this, Michael’s day was very, very educational.) Along with Michael came his dad, also Michael, who is ex-Army. My husband, Larry, was also on our green team, so four Stow residents were working together to defeat the orange team. The orange team’s first pick was the guy who brought his own equipment. That was a wise move, too.
Following a safety briefing (masks on at all times on the courses, barrel plugs in when off the course, and know your gun safety – “red is dead”) and a few turns at the target range, we donned our team arm bands and headed off for a game of capture the flag. The long, narrow course was in a heavily wooded area, with barriers created from big sheets of corrugated metal, piles of logs, and strategically placed plywood.
In this game, we had to defend our flag (really a dirty piece of a strap) while trying to steal the other team’s flag (dirty piece of another color strap). We made our way to the back of the field where we divided into squads, deciding one would flank right, the other left, and two people would hang back to guard the flag. Still learning to operate my gun, I volunteered to defend the flag.
The adrenaline rushed as my teammates ran forward to meet the opposing team, diving for cover behind trees or into foxholes. Shots began sounding, whooshes followed by a distinctive splat. As our green teammates gained ground, my fellow defender and I forged forward. I was about mid-way down the course, when I saw someone was headed toward our flag. Thinking my fellow defender was out of the game (you are out when you are shot with a paintball that splatters, bounce-offs don’t count), I moved back to defend the flag.
From my position near my base, I could see the movement wasn’t a threat, but came from a teammate who had looped back to obtain a better position. As I charged forward again, the whistle blew, signaling the end of the game. My team had eliminated all the other players and captured their flag. The game was over and I hadn’t fired a shot. As I walked back to the start, I hit a few tree trunks to regain some dignity.
The next game I rushed forward with the advance squad, shot, and was shot at. I didn’t get anyone out during that game, but during the day I eliminated three players. In two games I was still active when the whistle blew. Some players took a kamikaze approach and were out early. I tended to be cautious, I say strategic, but quickly realized its more fun to be in the action.
We played on four different courses, switching sides after each turn. Three of the courses were wooded, the narrow one where we first played, one with little cover along a road, the third with forts to defend and attack. All the games were variations of capture the flag. The fourth terrain was a speed ball course, a small area with empty plastic barrels and wooden spools like the ones that hold telephone lines. The fast action and close proximity of the speed course made it exciting, but that’s where I earned most of my battle scars.
When the ammo hits you, pushed with the force from the CO2 canister, it hurts, even against layers of clothing and it’s even worse on bare skin. Most people wear gloves and are covered head to toe to break the force. I knew I would come out with red welts where the ammo hit, but it turns out that wasn’t the most lasting physical effect. When you are on the course hiding from the other team, you’re crouched down behind waist-high constructed barriers or kneeling at the lowest part of a tree trunk. The next day as I nursed about eight red welts that were morphing into bruises, my thigh muscles ached so much I cringed just looking at stairs.
After my green team took a 3-1 lead, the orange team quickly caught up. The final winner was debated, but there was no doubt the teams were evenly matched, with the final tally either a tie or one team up by one on the other.
Shaking off the echoes of Nancy Reagan’s warnings, I would play paintball again. It was a great to spend a day outside (we were there from 9:00am until 2:00pm) and we played about nine games. The cost was $50 per person and included a lunch of hamburgers and hotdogs. Extra ammunition, which you will need, goes for $20 a bag.
If you decide to play, here’s my short list of must-haves: layers of camouflaged clothing, gloves, kneepads, a tube of Ben-gay, and a bottle of Aleve.