Monday, May 28, 2012

Finding Even More Appreciation for our Troops (while running from balls of paint)

Whenever my father and I get some time to spend together, we always like to try and include one of our favorite shared hobbies: Paintball.

For those of you unfamiliar with this wonderful sport, you get a gun (or "marker") that shoots tiny balls of paint powered by carbon dioxide or nitrogen. You then go out into the woods and/or an obstacle course and proceed to fire your weapons at each other. The games can be incredibly organized and goal oriented, involving teams trying to capture items, defend bases, or take out specific targets. They can also simply be a destructive free for all.

But whatever you end up doing, paintball is a lot of fun a great way to let off well as obtaining terrible bruises and welts all over your body.

My wife used to think my dad and I just went out to 
a field somewhere and beat the crap out of each other.

As I have gotten older, my father has begun to tell me about many interesting/awesome aspects of his life (before becoming a family man) that I was totally unaware of. The one thing I still believe he is still keeping from me, however, is a former career as a mercenary assassin and/or CIA operative.

It is the only way to explain how a man in his sixties that insists upon wearing a purple sweater and blue jeans on the battlefield can still manage to score kill shots on so many people that are much younger than him and have much more experience. I once watched in amazement during a game as my dad ended up as the last one our team alive. He systematically stalked the other teams remaining three players and somehow managed to take them out effortlessly.

My Father: The only paintball player that could get an endorsement from Wrangler Jeans.

My skills on the paintball field are decent, but nowhere near Dad's level of marksmanship and stealth. But there is one thing I can do better than anyone else; much like the character Arthas Menethil, one area that I truly excel in is the killing of my own flesh and blood.  

On the rare occasions that my father and I are put on opposite teams (we usually prefer to stick together), I experience some kind of 6th sense perception that allows me to track and execute him much better than the players around me. The fact that my father often becomes a high priority target for the other team also makes this a valuable and fun skill to exploit.  

One of my all time favorite kills was during a match where I flanked him as he was attempting to enter our base. I gunned my father down with a barrage of automatic fire, causing him to throw his arms up into the air and collapse upon the ground. But while I enjoyed my victory, Dad had set his mind on dishing out some sweet revenge.

1st Act of Fatherly Revenge: "Next time you have a question about your taxes, I'm completely ignoring you."

At the end of one of our paint ball outings, my father asked if we could have a one-on-one father/son match inside of an obstacle course called "Blackhawk Down." It was named after that famed Battle of Mogadishu in which American troops were pinned down in an urban setting by hostile forces.  

The course featured a wrecked helicopter in the center that was surrounded by mud pits, barrels, and countless one story wooden buildings. There were hundreds of places to hide for two large teams...and even more for two blood related rivals.

We each went to an opposite side of the course and waited for our signal from the referee. Once the match began, the usual popping of automatic paintball fire and shouting of position orders was instead replaced by complete silence. I knew that my father had begun stalking me and was slowly creeping towards my position.  

This man had been an active part of my life since I was born and had managed to not kill me during the ages of 13-16, so I knew he had the patience to take his time. If I simply held my position, I would eventually find myself hit by a well place sniper shot, covered in paint and I decided to begin making my move to try and find him first.

...this was also imperative since he was my ride home.

As I crept forward, I did all I could to control my breathing and not step on anything that would give away where I was. I found a bed of mud that was still relatively wet from a recent storm and slogged through it, careful to keep myself behind a building at all times.

As I got towards the center of the field, my heart began to beat faster and faster. I knew that my dad was hunting me, setting up some type of perfect position from which to gun me down when I wasn't even looking.  Due to my father being left handed, I was working off of the theory that he would be creeping up from the left side of the field. I also knew that he did not like to get himself trapped into buildings or crawlspaces, preferring to move to an area where offense rather than defense would be the primary option.

With this knowledge, I stepped inside of a building to assess things and catch my breath. Despite not having to run at all, my breathing had become incredibly rapid to the point that my lungs had started to burn. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as I bunkered into a space with limited access points, aiming my gun out towards a nest across the field that looked like just the type of place that my father would love to set up shop.

Just then, I felt a strange shift in the force, almost like my father was calling out to me...

Your doom is imminent, my son.  You will soon know the 
power of the dark side...and you'll be buying dinner on the way home.

I lifted my gun and rounded the corner. There in front of me was my father, gun drawn and ready to fire. He had stalked me right to my position like a lion tracking an unaware gazelle. Fortunately, my paternal 6th sense had somehow alerted me to his presence.

As I swung around with my weapon drawn, my dad was taken by surprise.  He had obviously figured that my back would still be turned, but was now staring down the barrel of a possible defeat. Despite the fact that his marker was already raised into a firing position, his posture and gun angle shot up another level.  

This was it. Father and son, face to face after tracking each other through alleyways and wreckage, were about to decide who would live and who would go home covered in paint.

So how did we handle this epic family confrontation to decided which one of us was the better warrior on the field of battle?

We screamed like little girls and fired our guns wildly into the air.


We both ended up getting shot by the other's weapon, covered in paint, and laughing hysterically at how quickly our facade of manliness, which had been built around shooting each other with small paint filled pellets, was torn down.

On the way home, we discussed how despite the fact that our only risk after getting hit was a sharp pain and some bruising, the prospect of getting shot during a game of paintball still caused our adrenaline, blood pressure, and fear levels to spike to abnormally high levels.

Neither my father nor I had ever served in the military, so attacking others and/or defending yourself and others with automatic firing weapons was a very new experience. But for us, this was just a fun game.  We would go home, gross out our wives with the welts and bruises we had received, and then enjoy an evening together with our family.

To the men and women overseas that are currently in combat or have been in combat over the years, getting shot is a very real risk, except that instead of paint, the bullets can cause severe injury and death. While I experience high levels of anxiety over a bit of temporary pain and having to leave a recreational field, the people serving in our armed forces have experienced and will continue to experience a daily bout of stress over losing their their health, their lives, or watching the same happen to their friends and squad mates.

I honestly believe that if any of my family or friends were in immediate danger from an outside force, I would step up to the challenge to protect them. But that would be a situational decision, born out of necessity and a selfish desire to protect that which I care about. The men and women of our military, however, have made a premeditated decision to go through exhaustive training and get sent to the ass ends of the earth to fight against those that would prefer to see all of us dead or oppressed.

Most of us deal with work place rivals in the form of competing businesses, overbearing/incompetent management, or that jerk in accounting to who keeps losing your sales reports. Our troops face an opposition that believes they have been given a holy directive to eliminate them by any means necessary.  Even before my lifetime, our military has faced many terrible threats to our homeland, some of which include:

-A nation's government that was bent on forcing their way of rule upon everyone
-A genocidal mad man who wanted to take over the world
-A nation torn in half over the decision to treat everyone as a human being
-An empire that did not want us to have freedoms that we now often take for granted.

Fortunately for us, Leathernecks, Squids, Devil Dogs, Wingnuts, Grunts, and a host of others have been keeping the wolf away from the door for over 200 years.  

Many of their loved ones have had to endure extended family absences/separation, life altering injuries, and the awful experience of a parent having to bury their child. But despite the costs, people much braver than myself have always stepped up, willing to sacrifice and answer the call.

Because of you, we have the greatest country in the world, even though various groups of people have been saying it's on the verge of the collapse for the last 10 decades.  

Because of you, people can safely hold and espouse their own opinions; even the ones that say we should just leave crazy and incredibly influential dictators with strong military forces alone (because that worked out so well in the late 1930's.)

And because of you, I can get scared of getting hit by balls of paint while standing in awe of the bravery and dedication you show by carrying out your jobs every day. Most of us would fight a fire at our front doorstep; very few are brave or heroic enough to walk into one that is miles away so that the homestead never even has to see the flames.

Embedded below is the final credits from the great HBO series, Generation Kill. The language is very rough, but the message is something worth hearing. After that is an embed of troops coming home to their families and loved ones (because it's awesome).

One day a year isn't nearly enough. Thank you for all that you do. I'm sure it angers and sickens you that some people don't appreciate or even dismiss/disparage the job that you do and the sacrifices that you've made, but please know that they only have a voice because of the rights you protect...and because they can get on the television by being obnoxious and loud.

Maybe the overwhelming majority of us who are indescribably grateful need to start being louder. 

Thank you for reading. I need to go now because some jerk just started cutting onions...totally not crying.

Please feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter.