“But I didn’t want to raise the alarm”
“Why not?” I asked
“Well,” said the man, uncertainty creeping into his voice as his mind digested what he was about to say, “I didn’t want to wake everyone up.”
“Some might just say,” I pointed out in an even voice, “that, as the camp’s sentry, waking everyone up might just be construed as your job.”
The man looked suitably guilty, but I laughed. I wasn’t angry with him (I had discovered that this was his very first ever airsoft game) instead I was angry that he was left out here alone. This was milsim; the enemy may attack at any time and especially when the camp takes a sleep break. There should not be any sleep break, but rather a rotation between fire teams bossed by the Team Leaders (TLs).
But, no, they all went for an early night leaving this poor newbie to go “halt, who goes there” to a squad of Taliban hell-bent on revenge. We should have seen it coming. Having captured the High Value Individuals (HVIs) very early on the first day, the Red team were always going to want to even the score.
And they certainly did that… in the end 26 men were knife killed in their sleeping bags.
It had been an interesting game so far. The Blue (US) team, led by Tier 1 boss and Ex-commando Ed Denson, had struggled against a bolstered and very skilful red team from the very beginning. There is an old saying that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” and indeed the way that Tier 1 prevents their events from being “on rails” is that Ed will write the shell of the “serials” and allows the players to succeed in them or not.
Milsim run in this way is a real challenge, it’s up to the players.
It’s on you to fight through and your Team Leaders (TLs) to actually lead; adapt situations and think of the bigger picture. For example, Stanta is an incredibly authentic collection of Afghan compounds surrounding European houses forming the centre of the village. The Blues were tasked with breaking into the south end of the town by invading a few compounds, arresting (or killing) the bomb making Taliban fighters within (all without being blown up) and picking one or two of the buildings as Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). Attacking at dawn, after a long march in the dark, the plan was perfect on paper. Then a number of curve balls were thrown in. Firstly, the compound selected was the wrong one, it was next door. Secondly, the entry teams were a little nervous amount compound clearing. Thirdly, the Reds were ready to counter attack.
I caught a view of the Taliban Reds moving through the market to counter attack and informed the nearest TL. The compounds selected offer little in the way of aggressive cover (that enables a shooting position against the outside of the compound – it’s all windows facing the courtyard only). From my vantage I could see the Reds thinking, forming into a four-man team and going for the flank. That could mean only one thing…
I turned to my team and saw at least 10 of them milling around the compound courtyard. Against one corner I could see Ed trying to use his radio to command the other teams attacking other compounds. We had maybe ten seconds,
“Denson!” I screamed pointing at him and then the compound door, “Inside NOW!”
He nodded and moved.
“TL!” I screamed at the nearest, “We are going to be grenaded, EVERYONE INSIDE!”
We just made it in when the first of the grenades, flung by the Red team who had snuck up against the outside rear wall, landed in the courtyard. Had they not been sussed then the entire command team would have gone down. As it was it took another 30 minutes to force the Reds back for long enough to secure two compounds and it was light before we moved the gear in. The Reds had laid down the gauntlet and it was up to us to prove that we could operate as the US do.
In “Real Life” the US, faced with these problems, use two approaches:
1. They use “combined forces” to destroy the enemy counter attack. That is: airpower, tanks, bombs and even short range nukes (the response planned at Nah Trang in Vietnam) to destroy utterly everything outside of their compounds. However, we were a ground team more akin to Paratroopers; we had a mortar team, but they were not ready to fight yet. This was going to be a small arms action
2. They use speed, aggression, surprise and tactics. This requires a team that really knows each other and can adapt to the gremlins of real combat. So, for example, when taking out Bin Ladin one of the helicopters carrying the US forces (costing billions) crashed in the compound. Back in the White House, watching on Drone Cam’, the generals and White House officials went pale as you can see it in the famous photo taken at the time. However, back on the ground and while being shot at, the US Special forces adapted, improvised and overcame with gusto; fighting off the enemy. They did not stop for a second, they listened to their TL; who must have had to make a shit ton of decisions in under ten seconds; and then kicked ass. You have to be 100% behind you leader for this to work. Airsoft is full of people who all think they know better and all too often every order is questioned.
The battle to take the southern FOBs had been tough and it meant the Blue forces played the next stage of the game in a new and strange way. The next stage was, supposedly, that they were going to win “hearts and minds” by patrolling the village, making friends with the Afghan locals (professionally played by the UK Army’s official role-players) and setting up a meeting with the elders.
Of course, the Reds would be mixed in with the locals and the Blues would have to deal with the stress of this while keeping within the very firm rules of engagement. However, and perhaps because of the battle earlier, the TLs took a very aggressive stance with the villagers. They constantly threatened, fired into the air, bullied, searched and requested permission to shoot every single person they met who was not wearing multicam.
I simply shrugged and reminded myself that it must be like this sometimes in the real theatres in the Middle East. Still, it wasn’t easy on the Reds or the Role Players and I could see in their eyes that they were going to punish every single Blue once the gloves were off.
This was going to be a real heavy hitting bust up. We made plans for the Elders meeting and proceeded to search the villagers entering the meeting.
Held in the large market hanger, decked out in rugs and cushions, this was probably the most authentic role play event I have ever heard of. Conducted via interpreter, who was translating from real Pashtu, Ed and the TLs made the Elder offers of support from the US forces and listened to his concerns.
His main one being that we were hassling his villagers with too heavy a hand. Ed nodded and agreed.
I later spoke to one of the Afghan role players out of game and he said that this had been spot on realism and that the Blues had made a better job of it than many of the real soldiers and officers they train. High praise indeed.
Then as we left the meeting the Red detonated an enormous roadside bomb, killing me and about 10 others.
They then bolstered this by attacking the rescue attempt using machine guns before disappearing into the crowd. The Blues retreated and our dead littered the street for the 10-minute bleed out from an IED. No one was rescued.
That was two nil to the Reds and we needed to even this score quickly.
Ed moved onto operations to capture the HVIs and the Reds made a misstep by letting them get spotted. A raid was organised and I watched as the assault team rushed the compound door.
Then I saw that a HVI was sneaking across the back with a view of escaping out the back.
“TL!” I shouted to the men around me, “Follow me!”
We entered the rear door and up the stairs. The HVI was surprised as we burst in on them.
“Against the wall”
He obliged. I turned to the Blue players behind me.
“Check him against the photo,” I said. I knew it was the HVI already, but this is the player’s game. The Blue opened his rig and produced the photos he had been issued with. He peered at the man and then at the image.
“It’s not him,” he declared.
I rolled my eyes under my mask and suggested that perhaps we should wait until someone could “relieve” us of the prisoners. Sure enough we eventually worked out whom we had and took them back to the FOB.
The rest of that day played out along similar lines; the Blues were forced back to their FOB and struggled to effectively punish the Reds who setup stinging operations punishing our reticence. Eventually they attacked in full force. A ladder was laid up against the outside wall and, while we were distracted, a unit entered the compound and took up firing positions behind hard cover. A very vicious CQB battle ensued that was only won by Blue after taking loses and by the timely intervention of the now arrived Staff Sergeant, Mark, who organised the defence. I personally shot 5 Reds in about 3 to 4 seconds and all at point blank. Heavy stuff.
The Reds had put their hand in the lion’s mouth and Ed ordered an operation to kill/capture a Red bomb maker at the northern edge of town. Splitting up into sections, charged with holding and attacking respectively, we engaged the compound, but found that we too could not break into somewhere well defended.
Eventually our holding team was taken out and we withdrew leaving behind the prisoners one of which had not been properly searched and had the bomb materials stuffed down his trouser leg!
Next, we probed into the Western side of the town, but ran into a massive IED that, luckily, went off just too far in front to do much damage.
The Blue team members still alive after the ambush got their medics back up in a spirited 10 minutes under fire and the survivors took to compounds. I was isolated with another player and we worked as a two-man team, fighting off assaults on our position and sniping the Reds moving around this end of the village. Eventually, I could see that the Reds were going to attack us in force as we were being too effective and sure enough, they did. However, they chose the moment my teammate had climbed up the ladder to the roof lookout and after fighting and eventually killing me they left without noticing his gun against the wall. He then came down and revived me (I was a medic).
“What now?” he asked.
“Now I attack that assault team from behind”.
“Why? They just killed you once…”
I grinned, “They think I am dead and that you don’t exist. I will now go screw them up!”
I left my friend and suck through the building after the Red team. They had just left the building when one decided to open the door again to get something. He went down first, followed by a rush against the rest of the forces. I managed to get 6/7 before I was killed again. My heart beating Dub Step in my chest, I bled out.
As darkness fell, Ed planned a night mission and at 1 am we trooped out silently into the fields surrounding the village. We then looped around and attacked the Reds from the far end. The CQB assault went better than in the last game and soon we had the house cleared and then withdrew.
The next day the Villagers knocked on the Blue compound and asked for a meeting.
Ed agreed, but hidden amongst them was a suicide-vest wearing traitor and his sudden cry of “God is Great!” was the last thing I heard before he detonated the vest and blew half the compound to bits in a shower of (fake) blood.
Patching us up, Ed ordered a relaxing of the rules of engagement and a clearing of the entire village.
The Blues then broke out their mortar team, and we started more offensive operations. The Reds fought very hard in defense and after 3 hours we had cleared the Eastern half of the village.
Large numbers of IED were now making operations very hard and our units were getting broken up into smaller and smaller teams by attrition.
After a couple of hours of battle against the entrenched Reds, Ed called End X.
This game had been a trial for the Blues. They had worked hard, but were a step behind the Reds who have played together for longer and it showed. Playing the US forces, with their command structure, rules of engagement and methods of war, is exceedingly tough and I look forwards to the game at Cope Hill in October as a chance to even the score!
Until then, please enjoy the Promo for the next official “Tier 1 DVD”:
ORDER HERE: Tier 1 – Operation Sandstorm Digital Download