Conflict, fellowship combines at Fall Combat Classic
October 26, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Oct. 26, 2011) -- Conflict and fellowship … it's a contradiction in terms yet sums up nicely what the West Point Paintball's Combat Classic is all about.
The conflict played out at Lake Frederick on Oct. 15-16 was the Battle of Hurtgen Forest--a historic fight between U.S. and German forces during World War II. The fellowship derived from hundreds of paintball enthusiasts--young and old, novice and pro--skirmishing by day then reveling in their battles at night.
The Combat Classic has become more than just a fundraiser for the Army Paintball Team, and it's more than just a game. Sure, the money raised from the biannual event funds both the tournament team and the Mil-Sim (military scenario) team for gear, travel and competition costs.
However, over the years it has become much more--evolving into this unique gathering of paintball aficionados from all over the country to experience the game, West Point style.
For many of the 375 registered players this fall, the draw of the Classic was about playing on West Point grounds in an event planned and organized by fellow paintballers, who also happen to be U.S. Military Academy cadets.
"For a lot of folks coming here, this may be the closest experience they have with the military," Class of 2013 Cadet Bryan Robbins said.
The cool factor in that is undeniable and apparent from feedback posted on the team's Facebook page. Comments like "Epic" and "Greatest Game Ever" aptly described the general sentiment heard throughout the campground that weekend, where breaks in battle allowed attendees to chat with cadets and mingle throughout a strip--complete with vendors and war re-enactors--similar to a mini-Black Knights Alley during Army Football home games.
"It's become more than just a weekend paintball game," Class of 2012 Cadet John Carroll, the Classic cadet-in-charge, said. "It's the whole experience, really, that draws people back every fall and spring. They can play paintball anywhere, but they enjoy spending time with cadets and appreciate what we do."
As players roam the woods, cadets provide a touch of realism to the game with artillery simulators and smoke grenades, the same effects used during their own military training. For the more adventurous players, there is plenty of action to be found on the steep hill that has long been dubbed "Mr. M."
"For most players, it's a love-hate relationship with Mr. M," Class of 2012 Cadet Matthew Howard, the executive officer of the Combat Classic, said. "There's a healthy respect for it ... that's why they call it mister."
The Combat Classic actually ends on that hill, with both sides battling for control in an all-out fight to claim victory.
"The hill is what everyone talks about all day, and it's the perfect way to end the Combat Classic," Robbins said. "Players love the final battle because it gives them a chance to buy more paint and just cover the hill with it."
Chris DuBois, the Tournament Team coach, can't recall the inaugural Combat Classic, but said sometime in the late 1980s there was a regular invitational tournament that probably evolved into the current scenario-based classic of today.
Like many activities at West Point, the cadets plan, organize and execute the entire operation. Everything from securing vendors and contractors, working with the Directorate of Cadet Activities and requesting cadet support (the cadet radio station once again provided the music and battlefield soundtrack at the Classic), facilitating food and shelter for attendees are all assigned duties for team members. Tasks range from the simple--filling water buffaloes--to the complex, like arranging parking for an event that eats up a good portion of property with cars and vans, trailers and tents.
A storm prior to the Classic also posed a logistical dilemma when fallen trees required cadets to turn lumberjack for path clearing duties. It might have seemed like extra duty, but Howard enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the job.
"I learn a lot every year from the Classic," he said. "More than anything else, I've learned the value of preventive maintenance, checks and services on everything--things I never would have thought of checking."
Robbins said working on such a large-scale event has become a lesson in adapting to unknowns and being able to think quickly and make informed decisions. A lot of this has been already taught to cadets in their military leadership (PL300) course. The Classic allows them to put theories into practice.
"I've learned to multi-task better because you really learn quick how priorities can change out here," Robbins said. "Safety is always the first priority but, after that, things change all the time. It teaches you about using a little manpower to make a big difference."
Carroll has been a member of the Mil-Sim team since his plebe year at West Point. Now with seven Classics under his belt, he appreciates the event as a rare opportunity for both the Tournament Team and Mil-Sim team to join forces. Their schedules keep them apart for most of the year, except the occasional meeting and when the opportunity arises where they can attend the other team's event.
"Spending a whole weekend together is a pretty unique experience because the guys get to mingle with the other half, and get to know those guys a lot better," Carroll said. "Leadership-wise, this is also a good developmental process. Putting together an event of this magnitude is pretty tough to do and requires a lot of work. We learn a lot of lessons from this process that can carry on to our Army careers."
The team's social media presence factors largely into the success of the Classic. Posting on Facebook and on the PB Nation website allows cadets to communicate with their fans--in response, fans provide feedback, photos and links to videos highlighting the event. To date, the team has 1,795 Facebook followers. Before last fall's Classic, they just broke 1,000 followers and tacked on additional 200-plus before the spring game. Although less than a quarter of the number following Army Football, it's more than the combined total following Men's and Women's Lacrosse, the Boxing Team and the Spirit Band.
"Social media is our largest recruiting tool for fans coming to these games," Robbins said. "Facebook has been huge for us, because people can post questions, concerns or requests right on our page, and our administrators can answer pretty quickly."
As much as the 60 "behind-the-scenes" cadets would have enjoyed sending a few paint rounds downrange with the competitors, the closest they got to the action was in the capacity of refereeing the game.
Except for Class of 2012 Cadet Tyler Hash, a three-year member on the team. The lucky one, they called him, because he was selected to serve as the executive officer for the German general. It was a fun role, he said, being the tactical leader on the field and getting troops where they needed to be.
"I'm having a blast out there," Hash said. "A lot of it is about coordinating the teams, making sure they're working together and know what's going on. This is the dream job, and, yes, I'm the lucky one."