You can call this piece just about whatever you’d like to – event coverage, review, article, whatever – since so much happened and there is so much follow-on that I’m forced (by time constraints – out 2.5 days for the game, gonna be out another 2 for a ‘super-secret’ road trip) to combine a bunch of different things into a single article, or stretch the coverage out over a week of posts. For the sake of relevance, I’ve chosen to do the former.
With that said, let me summarize what will be included here: the results of field testing of the Tippmann X7 Phenom Mechanical marker provided by Tippmann for review, the results of field testing of the new The Edge barrel system from J&J Performance, provided by J&J for review, coverage of the West Point Combat Classic 2010 event, coverage of West Point’s paintball program, discussions of event operations with one of the best – Chris Dubois (who helped run the West Point program and recently retired from that position), coverage of the Master Blasters Traveling Road Show, a few observations of the players at this game, my road trip with Charlie Holton and just a couple of notes on how physical injury can affect the coverage of an event.
I hope that will suffice.
To begin this interwoven tale: about six months ago the idea of the Master Blasters Traveling Road Show was conceived. The basic concept was to put together a bunch of old friends, get together occasionally and have some good times.
That quickly changed when we realized who our old paintball friends were – just about every visible personality in the industry, from players to gun, tank and paintball manufacturers, long-operating field owners, magazine editors and writers, pro players from back in the day and from today’s day. Movers and shakers, influence makers, founders, innovators and, well, you name it.
We quickly realized that in the face of paintball friendships, politics, feuds and rivalries simply melt away and that the passage of time (decades in some cases) shrinks to meaninglessness.
We also realized that gathering such a gaggle of troublemakers all together in one place and at one time would make for a heck of an event.
West Point’s Combat Classic took place at just the right time for MBTRS to be able to gather in many of the aforementioned (but by no means all of them) and to pass on the message that we’d all like to share: paintball is about having fun, it is about winning, but it is also about honor, integrity, fairness, responsibility and friendship.
We put a good-sized contingent on the ground, fielding somewhere between 40 and 50 players over the course of the two days (we weren’t able to get everyone together all at the same time: most of us are older and have businesses to tend to and family to take care of), but we never put less than about 30 bodies on the field at any given time.
One thing you’ll learn about the Blasters (if you don’t know it already) is that we’re all about shooting people, and very little about missions. If you are a game general and want to use the team to its utmost effect, give us an area of the field, say ‘clean that mess up for me’ and go about your business. We’ll take care of the rest.
The effect that we can have on a game was evident during our first foray onto the field. Within about a half hour of our initial arrival, we’d pushed the red team (we were playing Blue) all the way back to their main base and managed to eliminate the Red General along the way (he was, how shall we say, ‘a bit too far forward’ – but then that’s what happens when you lead from the front).
And don’t get me wrong – when we can accomplish a mission while performing our other role, we’ll do it: point of fact is that we also linked up with the ‘lost platoon’, earning our team some major mission points.
But there are other things to do at games as well, like showing off a collection of old and famous markers – cockers, mags, Icon Zs, Trracers and more. (Holton mentioned that one opponent he shot was mortified to have been taken out by an Automag!) – and sitting around the camp fire, sharing food and stories. Our campsite (one of the A-Frames at the MWR campground) was very popular. We fed a bunch of cadets meatballs, pasta, roast beef, quesadillas and much more, and, especially on Saturday evening, provided much needed warmth to many.
I’m not sure, but I think that the presence of Chris ‘Doobie’ Dubois might have had a little to do with drawing in the cadets; Chris was the coach and adviser for West Point Paintball for a number of years and largely responsible for helping to turn the Academy’s program into the efficient engine it is today.
And if anyone wonders how a program like paintball can assist the young men and women of the academy with their military education, just one short story to relate: Chris told me of a cadet who took on logistical tasks at these games, graduated and moved on in his military career to armor. Armor needs to be cleaned regularly and the graduate was assigned to managing this task; applying what he had learned running paintball games, he reduced the time needed to clean the tanks by a considerable margin. (Go treadheads!)
It’s not glamorous, but it is significant. The US Army and every taxpayer among us can now thank paintball (and Chris and that former cadet) for reducing costs and increasing the efficiency of our fighting forces.
My trip began when Charles Holton, known by those in the know as Happy Holton, picked me up around noon on Friday. Charlie and I both worked with Pro-Team Products (tho not at the same time) and have done a number of things together over the years; for a couple of years Charlie had a specialty company named Intense Marketing that featured difficult-to-obtain parts. We worked several scenario game trade shows together (Charlie selling and me doing gun work for tips). Charlie is also one of the original USPL referees. His driving to West Point repaid the decades old trip when I drove him from SC to IN back in 2000. (Don’t ever think that paintball friendships are fleeting!)
Charlie is one of those guys who’s got a comment on everything, and usually a twisted, bizarre, out-of-left-field comment at that. The trip down was filled with reminisces and laughter all the way.
We arrived on site to find things already in full swing. Amongst the first things we did was to lay out all of the gear for our start in the morning.
I’d brought along a Tippmann X7 Phenom Mechanical that Tippmann provided for review (we’re having a drawing to see who wins it in just a couple of days; to enter the drawing, simply sign up for our free weekly newsletter).
I’ve always been impressed with Tippmann’s products and the X7Mech is no exception. For those who want a mechanical marker, or those who are cost conscious and intend to upgrade as the budget allows, the X7 is an excellent choice.
The number of modifications for the gun that allow you to personalize it are, in a word, Phenomenal. Tippmann supplied me with several magazine-foregrip/trigger guard accessories created just for that purpose. Had I wanted to, I could have taken the field carrying either an M16 lookalike or an AK47 lookalike. Considering the scenario we were playing (Viet Nam), I would have been properly outfitted regardless of the team I was on.
The X7M is provided with the Cyclone feed system, a stock barrel, numerous standard rails for attachments, tools, lube and an oversized barrel bag (you need that due to the barrel assembly).
The gun is ready to shoot almost right out of the box. You’ll need to attach the barrel shroud and screw in the barrel and then attach the low-profile hopper. Mine was a bit tight out of the box, owing to a small amount of plastic ‘flash’. A very small amount of sanding took care of that.
One of the features of Tippmann’s ‘flex valve’ is that it accepts either CO2 or HPA. I had both in hand and used both throughout the day.
One thing that kind of surprised me was – no cocking handle. This has been a feature of Tippmann guns for so long I kind of miss it; on the other hand, it is nice to have the gun completely sealed against the intrusion of dirt and paint (in the unlikely event that I get hit…).
The elimination of this feature makes the X7M even more user-friendly: screw in the barrel, push on the hopper, screw in the tank and you are ready to go.
The other major change is velocity adjustment. Prior to the X7, most, if not all Tippmann guns featured a velocity adjusting screw that adjusted by blocking the gas flow path through the valve. By turning clockwise, the screw filled more of the path, reducing flow and therefore velocity. This ran counter to just about every other gun on the market (which adjusted velocity through spring tension). Now, the Tippmann is adjusted with a wheel dialer at the back of the assembly – up for raising, down for lowering.
Out of the box and on CO2, the X7M was shooting in the 260s; on HPA in the 240s. A quick bit of adjustment (easily managed) and I was good to go.
We were shooting Empire/PMI paints this weekend, either Premium or Marballizer. Marbs tend to be fairly brittle and generally unfriendly to Tippmann markers, so I went with the Premium (good choice as several other Tippmann users at the event complained a bit throughout the day about barrel breaks, which were easily eliminated when they took my advice and switched).
Very nice range, more than acceptable accuracy, right out of the box. During my first foray out onto the field (during which we engaged in an uphill assault against a terrain feature some called the fort and I called the Battleship) I had no trouble returning fire against those shooting down on me. I sent a few folks off for the walk back, rained a lot of long range shots on various positions and eventually got eliminated trying to outflank that (unprintable words) position.
I went back out a little while later with a 20 oz CO2 tank instead of the Guerrilla Air HPA tank; I didn’t even have to adjust the velocity (though I wasn’t riding the edge of the limit and when you make such a switch you should definitely re-chrono). Same good results, tho the weather conspired to give me that condensing CO2 cloud out the end of the barrel every time I fired.
The trigger pull on the X7M is totally different from the M98 and the A5, but equally pleasing – very little to take up and a nice, positive release when pulled. I didn’t time things, but I’m pretty sure that I was spitting out rounds at a rate of somewhere between 7 and 9 balls per second.
The only real issue I had all day long was that my Cyclone feed became unreliable when down to only a few rounds. Fortunately, this turned out to be a gas pressure issue rather than a mechanical issue. The feed system works off of gas from your tank and you may experience a mis-feed or two when your air is low. Switching tanks solved that issue lickity-split.
And that issue mirrored the same issue that the team was having all day. But let me back up and describe the terrain: the field is a mountain, of that there is no doubt in the mind of anyone who climbed it. I climbed it three times.
Way, way up at the top of this behemoth there is another rise (the battleship) that dominates most of the rest of the field. Without controlling, or at least neutralizing that position, you really can’t do much elsewhere on the field. Added to that difficulty is the fact that you really can’t flank that position – you pretty much have to take it head on.
So, from the Blue team/Master Blasters/RTs Raiders side of the equation, our game plan was basically – climb the hill, attack that fortress, clean it out and then proceed to sweep the rest of the field.
Unfortunately, clearing out the fortress took a LOT of air and a LOT of paint. Our line would get all the way down to Red team’s end of the field and then have to give up the position as we were out of paint and air.
The game itself was based on the battle of Ia Drang during the Viet Nam war. That battle is depicted in the Mel Gibson movie ‘We Were Soldiers’ (based on the award winning book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young), and marks the US Army’s introduction of air cavalry and associated air mobility tactics into that war.
One platoon of the assaulting Air Cav was cut off during the battle, suffered numerous casualties, but held their ground and were eventually relieved. That action – relief of the ‘Lost Platoon’, was a centerpiece mission of the scenario game. Our re-enactment led to two more “casualties” than in the original, and a bit of a change to history; most of those eliminations came from friendly fire, as we managed to get behind the Red team and no one realized that after we eliminated the ‘commies’, we were now shooting on our own.
Hey, ‘it’ happens.
During this little adventure I rolled my left ankle coming down the hill (troublesome, painful, but not enough to stop me from hitting the field on Sunday) and then, later that nite while getting into bed, I popped my right knee (my bad ‘paintball’ knee). All it took was turning wrong with the wrong weight distribution. I’ll be wearing a brace and using a walking stick for a while.
The upshot of that injury was that I was rendered pretty immobile on Sunday and unable to get back onto the field to do the game action taping I’d intended. Call it an excuse if you want to, but if you were there, you’d know why I hesitated to hobble, limp and crawl back out onto the field.
We’ll take the remainder of this piece up on Friday when I return from my road trip.