I stood alone in the pre-dawn of the morning and the silence of the surrounding forest was punctuated only by the hooting of owls and the snoring of AQT players as they serenaded the coming sun. I was taking my turn on watch and the firebase was so dark that I couldn’t really see my way to walk around the inside of the perimeter. It was a large base by airsoft standards, about 70 meters long and 20 wide, with several small wooden buildings, huts and fire positions all surrounded by steel barrels acting as the wall between the players and the trees beyond. Every few steps I raised the NVG scope to my left eye and took a look into the gloomy and misty darkness. Through the NVG there were only dark shapes with blurry outlines, suggestive of men among the trees, but these didn’t move so I took them to be bushes. Nevertheless, I gripped my rifle tightly in my right hand.

I again cursed the idea that I was the only sentry.

My team leader, Trip, had listened to our single-sentry concerns and then laid out what we were going to do, “Well,” he began, “we can leave, but if we do the AQT will turn on us. Or we can stay. The opposition will probably attack in the early morning, so I will make sure that we have the last sentry watches. I will go first. Basho, you will take the last watch.”

I didn’t sleep very well as what if the enemy sent in a silent unit to take out the sentry? We wouldn’t know we were under attack until we were all murdered in our sleeping bags! Consequently I kept my boots and fighting rig on when in my sleeping bag, with a drawn pistol next to my leg. I was determined not to be captured without a fight.

Four hours later it was my turn and here I stood, alone in the darkness, straining my ears to hear any noises and feeling the tension in the air. I was on the last watch, so I knew they would be coming any moment. I leaned over a barrel to get a better look at a suspicious tree and then, satisfied, turned away to walk on. Suddenly, there was the unmistakable crack of a stick being stood on – someone was right behind me! My heart beat in my ears as I flicked the selector switch on my M4 to full auto. I thought to myself: I must be fast and smooth, I must get off a burst in an arc to be sure of a hit then I have to shout the alert to the sleeping base. As my eyes strained to my left I suddenly saw a flash of unmistakable movement in my peripheral vision. He was coming low and left for a knife kill! I planted my foot forwards and span, pulling the trigger as I turned. The AEG motor kicked into life and started spitting high-speed BBs. I was sure that I was going to get at best a 50/50. My arm strained to draw the arc of fire as fast as possible and the opposition shape started to resolve, raising itself up in alarm of its own. The white BBs flew through the air between us and rattled into the –

– into the deer!

I released the trigger, but it was too late and the deer took a scything burst across the haunches. It brayed in fear, reared-up its legs high in the air and then bounded off into the night. Gone. Just as suddenly as it began it was over and I was alone again with only the sound of my heart pumping in my ears and my face flush with cold embarrassment.

A whispered voice came from one of the huts, “What was that? Is it a stand to?”

I pushed the selector to safe. “No mate, false alarm”.

“Right,” the voice said, tired, and went away.

I walked on, continuing my vigil. I knew that they were out there – probably laughing.

Operation Snakebite was the first game designed by Tier 1 Military Simulations; the ex-Royal Marine Commando run company specialising in “high end” milsim. The action was spread over 2 days at the sites of Dorking and Epsom run by Elite Action Games. The level of detail and effort that had gone into creating a believable roleplay environment was really impressive. For example, a couple of days before the event, I had been emailed a 26 page long PowerPoint briefing customised for my team. It included maps of the area, intelligence reports, “intercepted” communications and our orders.

ISI Briefing Information Cover Sheet The details like this make all the difference

I remember thinking that if the event was run with anywhere near the same level of passion that went into creating this document then I was in for a wild ride.

I was playing for a small team of Pakistani CIA types called the ISI.

The ISI four man team 1 The ISI four man team 2 The ISI four man team 3

Our mission was complicated and woven into the fabric of the storyline Tier 1 had designed for the event. It seemed that we had placed a spy in the AQT forces to keep an eye on them. This man was suspected to wanting to defect to the UK forces moving into the area. It was our job to monitor this defection. We could do it almost any way we wanted. The easiest way was to go under cover as AQT and watch him, but we could have similarly gone under cover with the UK forces or even struck out on our own. Once we chose, the die was cast and any action against the sheltering side would lead to conflict.

We drove down to Dorking at about 5pm and setup our gear. I had a lot of camera equipment to strap to myself, but we had lots of time. The briefings for the AQT team were at 2am in the morning.

2am_brief_sm_0001 AQT_brief_sm_0003 nice_beard_sm_0011

By then I was already really tired after a week commuting into London, and so afterwards we grabbed a little sleep before the AQT hiked the 40 minutes into the game zone at 5am.

spirits_are_high_sm_0016

The thing that struck me immediately was that the players who had attended the Tier 1 training days had quite an advantage in the field. It showed in the way they moved, communicated and took cover as well in how they laid up a harbour position. My little four man team were all eyeing the bushes with great care.

Keith_sm_0010 Simon_2_sm_0015 Trip_sm_0022

Would the enemy attack us openly? I was expecting so. However, I was to find that the enemy had other orders and would only engage and fade. The large open-grass battles I had expected were replaced by much more realistic Special Forces type incursions. The resulting feeling that “eyes were always on us” (which they were) was palpable among the team.

The AQT head out on patrol The dense woods hide the opposition

This tension is the core part of milsim as there was the possibility of contact at any moment.

For me this sent my, already tired from London commuting, body into sleep mode. Whenever I found an hour to rest I laid back and slept. However, I always kept my pistol cocked and locked on my chest ready to leap into action at the shout of a stand to. Trip filmed me snoring away and Keith commented that if we did get attacked they could just stand me up as I was in combat position already. To see my reaction, Trip did indeed shout “Stand to!” and was happily laughing to see that I immediately sprung to my feet, pistol at the ready, and calling for targets.

The AQT Commander AQT_Players_sm_0002

DA_Keith_sm_0006 the_base_in_the_morning_sm_0018

About half-way through the day a patrol returned with a hostage and the next phase of the roleplay kicked in. I wasn’t sure if the guy had “volunteered” to be captured, but he played the hostage stoically as he was put into stress positions and (mock) tortured. Personally speaking this was a part of the event I was not too interested in and I stayed well away from the fellow and his tormentors. The prospect of being captured filled me with dread and such a possibility only added to the “realism” of the event, which meant that our patrols were even more nervous than before.

Then our “agent” finally attempted to sneak out of the base and Trip gave the nod to our four man unit to follow him. As we ventured out into the treeline, and out of sight of the base, the danger we were putting ourselves in hit home.

The ISI follow the spy