After Action Report: OP Eagle Fury, STANTA 08-10/04/2016

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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After Action Report: Berget 13, 23-27 June 2015

A little over half a year ago my team decided to attend one of the biggest Airsoft events in Europe, the annually held Berget in Sweden. At first we were psyched – we knew the logistics would be difficult, but we were sure it would be manageable. A large playing area in beautiful Sweden, a lot of vehicles and anti-tank capable infantry… Which Airsofter wouldn’t be interested?

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The reality would prove to be a little different. Coming from The Netherlands and driving to Sweden means you have to take your Airsoft replicas through Germany. The Germans are quite uptight about these things. Generally speaking, full auto airsoft replicas are illegal if they shoot over 0,5J of kinetic energy. That means that most replicas used by Dutch players are illegal. We had heard of a permit to take such replicas through Germany to be used in other countries, so we applied for such a permit with the German municipalities through which we would enter and leave the country.

It got denied.

This sucked. It meant we had to fly over Germany in order to get our rifles to Sweden. Of course we could have chosen to just take them along in the car. All countries on our intended route are European Union countries and partake in the Schengen agreement. But there’s an actual risk of imprisonment so this wasn’t an option for us. Do so at your own peril.

Another option was shipping your gear to Berget directly, but most of us weren’t exactly charmed by the idea of packing thousands upon thousands of Euros of kit into a box and shipping it to somewhere outside of our own control.

So the logistics plan boiled down to this: Two members would drive with all our kit, food and drink, and three members would fly with the team’s replicas. We would link up in Copenhagen and drive the rest of the way to Sweden.

Three of us checked in at Eindhoven Airport, with six replicas. And three of us checked out at Copenhagen Airport, again, with six replicas. But to say this was easy would be lying.

Transavia, the carrier handling our flight, was not very experienced checking in weapon-like items and sporting rifles. After the customs personnel at Eindhoven checked if everything was in order (our permits, the state and actual replica-ness of our rifles), the personnel at the check-in counter forgot one crucial step: turned out we had to fill in some documents about our rifles. We would find out the hard way at the gate.

Even before we wanted to board our plane, our names were called over the intercom. The personnel at the gate mentioned said documents and tried to arrange them at the last minute. They failed. They then made the call to let us board anyway. The alarm went off when two of our three boarding passes were scanned. They let us board anyway. Once we were in the plane, it took an awful long time for the plane to leave. The Commander let us know over the intercom that two passengers were too late and that their luggage would be offloaded. Luckily we were sharp enough to ask one of the stewardesses if that happened to be ours, due to the alarm. Turned out it was. The Commander made the call to let the luggage be boarded again, and then we left.

We weren’t exactly sure if our rifles would be unloaded in Copenhagen.

Luckily they would be, but searching for the correct desk took a little time. After signing some documents it was all good. We picked up our rifles and left for Arrivals, where our two other team members stood waiting. We loaded the rifles into the car and left for Sweden: another 1000k drive to our destination.

The first Gorilla Taktikz Road Trip was a fact and it was awesome.

When we arrived at Berget itself, check-in was fairly well arranged. After chronoing our replicas and hooking up with another Dutch team with which we would form a squad, we proceeded to our base and set up shop – not without problems. Command and Berget did not account for different tent sizes, which meant that way too many people would be packed into a single 25 person military tent. In the end we ended up 24 people in a single tent – tight but manageable.

After waiting about 24 hours and walking around the immediate area of our base, it was time for game on, which was planned for 2100 hours on the 24th of June. Suffice to say the entire game was not as good as we had hoped about half a year ago, but better then we expected about a month ago. This was mainly due to one factor: The sides were awfully unbalanced.

Blue, our side, was made up of mainly infantry with a small mechanized detachment. Red, on the other hand, was mainly mechanized with a large infantry part as well. Berget, in its infinite wisdom, supplied anti-vehicle capability in the form of a laser controlled AT simulator, but these had to be bought by players, rather than that they were handed out by the organization to offset the large mechanized advantage of the Red side.

This meant that, by and large, any single engagement we were involved in unfolded as follows: we would push hard, and push Red back with heavy casualties on both sides. Our aggressiveness was at times unparalleled. But then, Red could simply ride in fresh reinforcements by vehicle while we had to hoof it back to the last Control Point in Blue hands – often a multiple-K walk. Not a problem physically, but a tactical and strategic nightmare because it made it virtually impossible to stay in control of a fight. Anti-vehicle capability was severely limited on the squad, platoon and company level, which made it difficult to disable the main enemy advantage – until the last day. Somewhere on Friday afternoon the game masters decided to give the morally depleted Blue side their bit of fun and let Blue command drop some artillery on the Red base, disabling most of their vehicles for an extended period of time.

This gave Blue the freedom of movement to push up to the central town of the game map, Krasnovo. Suffice to say our last mission was the most fun we had all week. It had everything: a small unit infil with just the five of us; fighting off a contact with just the five of us; a link-up with the main force marching upon the town; pushing into the town with a force on company strength; and some good CQB action inside buildings. We stayed in the field a lot longer than expected. This, for us, made Berget a little bit better.

Saturday morning we decided to leave early and have a rest over night in Stockholm. We had some excellent burgers and beer in this beautiful city and drove on to Copenhagen Sunday morning. The three of us checked in and boarded our plane, which we accomplished without a single hiccup (Copenhagen, I guess, being much more used to sporting and hunting rifles than Eindhoven). Our luggage was offloaded in Eindhoven and there was no Customs official present at that time so we decided to go home. End of story.

So my personal feeling about Berget boils down to this:

It is not the event I first expected it to be. The almost total lack of role-play; the lack of serious milsim elements; the heavy imbalance of factions which the registration system allowed for; the large amount of beginning or inexperienced players with kit not seriously up to the task… All of this makes me think twice about attending again. This is compounded by the logistic difficulty and monetary cost of actually getting there: the strict German laws around Airsoft replicas make it a pain to travel to certain countries in Europe.

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But it wasn’t all pain: The beautiful Swedish landscape and the sheer size of the game area makes it… well, not actually worth it, but I do not regret going. The feeling of actually operating on your own, walking your own patrol and making your own tactical decisions is awesome, a feeling unavailable in the Netherlands.

Also, this was an actual road trip. I believe I speak for all attending team members when I say that we grew as a team and got to know each other a little better – and had a lot of fun to boot. The real steel MSA Supreme I acquired along the way is just a small plus…

So, are you thinking about attending Berget? Keep in mind that it takes a lot of effort getting there and that it is not without a doubt you will get cool missions and have a good time – I know horror stories of people being on base security for three days: just a little too milsim for my taste. You might have an awesome time as well. Or, like us, you might end up having some boring moments and some awesome moments. It’s all in the game. Which is fine. But you have to decide for your own if it is worth the 4000K round trip.

For me personally, just the once. It was an experience I enjoyed at times but it will be a one-time thing. Next stop: Copehill Down, Stanta or Catterick in Great Britain.

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Prepping for Berget: Homemade MREs

Preparations for Berget have begun in earnest. Berget is one of the biggest annual Airsoft events in the world, with over 1000 participants on a large and complicated area. It takes place in Sweden, one of the most rugged countries in Europe.

Before charging my batteries and packing every little thing I want to take with me (which, lord knows, is way too much…) I have prepared my food rations. Rather than opting for the all-in-one solution of taking Meals Ready to Eat from a military source, I have chosen to prepare my own. I know from experience that 1) the MREs are way too big for me; 2) take too much time to prepare; and 3) I don’t like the taste of much of its contents.

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Combining stuff I bought at my local supermarket and outdoor equipment store leads, in my opinion, to a superior alternative. An MRE should be quick or easy to prepare and  should have some high-calorie and high-energy contents such as chocolate, dextrose sugar, meat and cookies.

The most important part is the freeze-dry meal for the evening. I particularly like the Adventure Food meals. They have a wide variety of meals which are not too salty – a pitfall of many other freeze-dry meal producers.

Another important part is the biscuits. Fruit biscuits from Globetrotter are my choice. They taste nice and aren’t too dry, which makes them good at any time of the day. They also have a high energy content, which is slow to release as well. That makes them perfect for outdoor activities.

The breakfast remains the most important meal of the day. Expedition breakfasts are nice, but can be a bit much all at once in the morning, and are quite expensive. I have chosen to incorporate two typically Dutch breakfast treats: Kruidkoeken. This roughly translates into Spice Biscuits, but that doesn’t really do them justice, as they’re not crunchy and not spicy… These are particularly nice with a little butter on top but can also be eaten straight out of the package.

The rest is nice to have: Some sausages, noodles, chocolate candy bars, dextrose energy and coffee. Depending on the weather, also take some salt and isotone powder with you. These might be important to keep your salt and electrolyte levels up when temperatures rise. Make sure to pack all the contents into a single bag – having all this stuff separately in your backpack can be a pain…

It’s highly likely that this is too much for a day still. But running out of energy sucks so it’s better to pack a little too heavily than just a little too… lightly.