West Point Paintball delivers a "Classic"
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (April 16, 2013) — Already surpassing its 25th year milestone last spring, the Combat Classic has surely earned the title of a “classic.” It’s not simply the game which the West Point Paintball Club hosts each semester that defines it as such, but the camaraderie which surrounds the event.
It’s people like “The Chef,” Chris Stoveken, who said his days of playing these large-scale war games are over. Still, he returns each time to support his club, The Jersey Titans Paintball, with a menu second-to-none. Stoveken is no stranger among the West Point cadets who gladly welcome their neighbor into the operations cell as he frequently delivers tin trays full of food during the Combat Classic.
It’s teams like the legendary 518th, whose members are scattered throughout the northeast and are known to dominate the field so much everyone wants them on their side.
The turnout, as always, is impressive. Whether it’s for a daylong excursion or the full two-day experience, paintball warriors turned a few acres of Lake Frederick into a tent city April 13-Sunday with roughly 800 participants experiencing what the West Point cadets have to offer.
The game was based on “The Invasion of Sicily,” with both armies attempting to seize three tiers of land—three flags, actually, to win the day. On the second day, and what many fans conserve strength for, is the close-proximity final battle, with the cadets expending the remaining ammo and pyro to create an intense fog of war experience.
The West Point Paintball Club cadets owe it to this legion to provide an epic game, literally. The admission to play in this bi-annual event funds the team’s training, travel and competition for the academic year. Class of 2016 Cadet Aron Ochsner, the assistant operations cadet, said it’s hard for club members to observe the action year after year and never get to play—but perhaps that’s something they can consider after graduation. Equally difficult—especially for the referees in the field all day—is the number of paintballs they’re pelted with and suppressing the intuitive nature to fire back.
This will be the last classic for Class of 2013 Cadet Carl Kenney. As the battle captain, he was tasked with devising the missions and took pride in some of the props constructed for the playing field, like a 24-foot bridge and wall for defensive posture.
“We tried to introduce a lot of new things this time. It varies each time from the feedback we get from players,” Kenney said. “We plan our missions according to historical battles, so the bridge itself is modeled after an actual battle.”
The cadets have an open invitation for West Point’s senior leaders to visit the site. This time, the club hosted both Commandant of the Corps Brig. Gen. Richard Clarke and the Corps’ senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Robin Duane. The club’s cadet-in-charge, Class of 2014 Cadet Chris Kelly, escorted Duane to see the battle firsthand and ventured up the infamous hill. Soon after he took Clarke and his sons once more into the breach.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Hernandez, the club’s noncommissioned officer-in-charge, said both senior leaders were impressed by the size and scope of the event. Seeing the action played out in the field and then the main road lined with the paintball community’s version of Black Knights Alley was more than they expected.
“What really makes this a ‘classic’ is the community,” Hernandez said. “The paintball community is really tight. Last night, there were big cookouts and people were going from camp site to camp site, sharing food and socializing.”
The spring Classic also allows the upperclass cadets time for on-the-ground training about the logistics of running the event. Both Kenney and Kelly said the work leading up to the Classic was exhausting, but because of the club’s effort they could relax somewhat during the weekend.
“It has been going well and that’s a credit to the underclassmen who’ve stepped up and really taken the torch,” Kelly said. “They’re the ones who will be running the show next time. When the person in charge can escort the general for two hours and listen to the radio and not hear of any problems, it’s pretty awesome.”
The West Point Paintball Club hosted its 26th Spring Combat Classic April 13-14 at Lake Frederick, with roughly 800 participants waging war in “The Invasion of Sicily” campaign. Cadets organize and host the huge paintball event each semester as its major fundraiser to support the team’s training and competitive schedule during the academic year.
Bringing out the tanks provides heavy firepower and good cover for both sides fighting int he Spring Combat Classic.
Cadets enhance the battlefield with smoke, machine gun fire and pyro, while players scramble for cover during the Spring Combat Classic.
Class of 2014 Cadet Chris Kelly addresses the crowd gathered for the start of the Combat Classic. To see more photos from the West Point Paintball's spring event, click here.