There comes a point in a lot of airsofter’s lives that they become fed up with day skirms and playing Capture The Flag or Team Deathmatch. For us, that moment came about 18 months ago. Having only played for three years in total, we’re still relatively new on the scene. Still, we decided to gradually switch mostly to milsim events: weekenders with a more realistic approach to gameplay, often including scenarios and role-play elements. We wanted more immersion, storylines and actually developing events. Milsim is where this can be found.
In Europe, the best milsim scene exists in the UK. I think the main reason for this is that the British Ministry of Defense is not scared shitless of the airsoft sport and has agreed to let some of their training sites to organizations willing to adhere to the MOD’s rules and demands. This creates the possibility to play at such diverse sites as STANTA’s FIBUA village, or at Catterick or Copehill Down. Especially compared to the usual Dutch ‘polder’ fields or indoor industrial locations, these give a freedom of movement that’s unparalleled – and a more realistic vibe to boot.
After a year-and-a-half of getting our kit at a point where we were confident enough it would be able to handle a more strenuous form of airsoft – and getting our mindsets at the same level – we thought it was time to give the UK a try. Combat Airsoft Group’s event Operation: Eagle Fury would be our first excursion to the milsim scene across the pond.
In a lot of ways, it was exactly what we expected. In some other ways, not so much.
Logistically, our trip to the UK went off without much of a hitch. Yeah, there were some traffic jams slowing us down a bit, but overall we didn’t have much of an issue. We drove down to the Canal Tunnel, took the train across and drove north to Thetford, Norfolk, the location of the STANTA training village.
At arrival, we checked in, prepped our gear and awaited the first briefings. At 2100 local, the safety and operations briefings took place, which were necessarily long. After that, we retired to our FOB to await the first operational order. Our first tasking was to act as QRF for one of the other units, who were tasked to take an urban observation post overlooking one of the enemy areas of activity. I guess they must have been good at their job because our callsign remained at the FOB until the morning call to prayer in the village mosque woke us up and we got into our standtoo positions overlooking the western flank of the FOB – the only action we (sort of, due to lack of NODs) saw that night was a probing attack on our base. Hopefully, day two would prove to be different.
Day two didn’t start out too exciting. We were told to standby to standby. We discovered that we had to actively hunt for taskings, otherwise we wouldn’t really get them – so we did. This resulted in us clearing a few buildings and compounds, patrolling through possibly dangerous areas and probing for enemies. While we were happy to leave the relative safety of the FOB compound for a while, nothing really exciting happened during these missions. That changed during the late afternoon. We were tasked to set up a perimeter outside an enemy compound so that one of the Special Forces units of our Task Force could clear it. We ran into heavy enemy fire and were basically pinned down in place – a harsh reminder of the complexity of urban operations.
For me personally, this was a demotivating experience. Luckily, it was all up-hill from here.
Saturday evening we were combined with another Special Forces unit to probe into that same enemy area, however this time after nightfall. This is where the technical advantages of Western forces naturally come in. NODs help to infiltrate without making a sound and without being spotted, while still being able to observe. Regretfully, our own callsign did not possess any so we were totally dependent on the SF unit we were accompanying. We cleared our objective without any difficulty and returned to the FOB. Returning there, we were told to get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow morning’s mission.
We happily complied.
Sunday morning proved to be the moment that made the event for us.
It started with another probing attack on our compound but this time we were not going to sit it out. First we took the building right across our FOB, clearing out two hostiles taking potshots at our buddies. Then we pushed up with elements from another callsign, right into enemy held territory. Fighting building to building is always dangerous, so we regretfully took a few casualties – however we linked up with a number of friendly callsigns and cleared the entire village of remaining hostiles. Mission accomplished.
The last day really made the event a success for us. I can’t help but notice that this is becoming somewhat of a tradition…
There are a few things we learned during this event. The most poignant of these is that getting a feel for the operational tempo is really important. We expected to get taskings on a regular basis, because rotating operations through callsigns is a realistic way of doing things. However, we sensed that to get the fun taskings you simply had to be ready at the right time. For me, this was the biggest takeaway.
Then there’s the geardo side of things. Normally just an ornament, helmets actually served a purpose during this CAG event. The medic rules were set up in such a way that helmets acted as an actual protector and thus a force multiplier. I’m definitely getting one for the next event, because it made you able to crack on with the fight that much quicker!
Nighttime Observation Devices are another story. They are the true force multiplier. Darkness is your friend, and being able to see in the dark while your enemy is not almost makes you superhuman. The problem, however, is that really good ones are ludicrously expensive. I’d love to have one, but for now it’s just not a realistic prospect to spend too much on such an item. Maybe I can start saving up soon. Rumor is that some of my teammates are thinking of buying some good units…
Some pointers for the organization’s next event, while we clearly saw the effort put into this and we are by no means experts yet: getting a base commander to take care of rotation and base security, intel presentation and unit information would streamline the entire FOB life. This has to be someone from the organization, not a random player who feels like it needs to be taken care of. Rotating tasks ensures everyone can have their moment of glory, while it also creates the possibility to rest and rearm.
Have a big map of the AO in your ops tent so all the TLs can see what any one unit is doing in an instant. Have a layout of the FOB, including where every unit is sleeping. This streamlines handover of stag (ie. it makes it possible to kick the new unit out of their sleeping bags…).
Gameplay-wise, I would prefer a somewhat slower build-up. The first probing attack on the FOB was already quite a large one, with sustained direct and indirect fire. This made the mindset of everyone already quite kinetic from the outset. In my mind this limited the possibility of ‘hearts-and-minds’ operations.
All in all we had a blast and I hope to return to the UK for such a game at least once every year. However, what I really hope is that the scene in the Netherlands and surrounding countries matures enough to support this type of events on our side of the canal – although we regretfully have a space problem here. Here’s hoping that changes sometime in the near future and bigger sites become available for airsoft events on this scale.