Behind The Lines … an interview with Stirling Airsoft’s Matt B …
… I must confess, for some months and with some trepidation I’d had these particular elder statesman queued for interview, however such renown and equally clandestine nature of these individuals led me to doubt whether I could secure an audience …
However, as serendipity would have it the ever amiable and gregarious Matt B got in touch to take us behind the lines and go inside one of the UK’s most industrious MilSim companies …
Stirling Airsoft originated in the early 2000’s from Stirling Services, the brainchild of none other than John McAleese and company. Originally to provided consultancy, security work, film, television and real steel training across the globe. Ever innovative they seized upon the popularity of the ever burgeoning Airsoft scene still then in its infancy to unleash realistic high end MilSim scenarios upon the world, setting not only the UK’s but the globes imagination alight to the possibilities of high end Plastic Deth …
Just to set in stone the pedigree and background of Stirling, you immediately may recall some of their television work, which has since paved the way for countless imitators. SAS: Are You Tough Enough and Survival Secrets.
To this day their legacy continues, and is further built upon with Stirling Airsoft …
Anyhow, without further repost or hyperbole from me. Fresh off the back of a conversation with Matt B who was personally elated with some fantastic personal news (congratulations bro) lets get going …
GM75: Matt, welcome aboard, it’s a pleasure to have you in the interview chair and appreciate you taking the time out to sit and talk with us …
So, let’s start at the beginning, can you give a little inside history on Stirling and how it all started for you ?
MB: My first association with Stirling Services was back in 2001 when myself , Dave and Ben were doing some courses with them at their base of operations at an old military camp near Crickhowel South Wales !! We then started working on the professional courses and TV work, from that we then realised that the camp was underused and moved into invite Airsoft games. We had our own ideas and direction that we wanted to push our events in .
Our style of Airsoft was received well by some but shunned by others !! We were the first to push the use of military facilities which opened the door for where Airsoft and the MOD are today.
GM75: Now, when we spoke, it came up in conversation that the late great John McAleese not only wanted to start a MilSim company, but establish a formidable, and his words ‘best’ Airsoft team in the world. Naturally, you modestly sought to set the tone, that this was not just being ‘big headed’ but rather with the refrain, it’s a mindset, the ability to play, operate in the harshest of conditions, be it arctic tundra or searing heat, this group would not only go the extra mile, but epitomize the very best of the Airsoft (Plastic Deth) ethos, teamwork, honesty and integrity.
I understand there’s a rigorous selection process too ?
MB: Yes , Mac wanted to base it on his own experiences and have guys with a common bond that will work for each other and be leaders and to push gaming boundaries. His idea was constant innovation with training that increased the individuals skill sets and as team. Without the team , Stirling wouldn’t exist .
It’s a three day selection starting with a gruelling PT session moving into a night navigation exercise with 25kg weight !!
In return the candidates move in to phase 2 which is a 15 mile point to point with the 25kg weight !!
Phase 3 starts with battlefield PT and then with the remaining candidates in to Battlefield training !!
Phase 4 is a ultra realistic combat mission with an active hunter force ( Stirling team ) when the candidates are captured the next phase begins , which is a very dark place !!
Phase 5 is RTI ( resistance to interrogation ) this has been known to go on for up to 15 hrs !! Who ever is standing at the end is then interviewed by the DS and asked where they see them selves within the team.
During all phases each candidate is monitored so as we can decide which of the two teams he or she will be placed.
Our team is made up of two teams each playing at our events on opposite sides.
Sabre and Zulu, the third team Romeo is made up of guys who have attempted selection but not made it to the end! These guys are there as support to events as and where they are required and are versatile and flexible !! Which is key to all of our guys !! Mac was always drilling into us about flexibility .
GM75: Now, never one to rest on its laurels nor repeat history and live on past success Stirling have devised some pretty unique personable experiences, which not only transcend the actual participation of Plastic Deth, but even MilSim, for instance – you’ve operated events where you’ve staged VBSS missions over three days from a two deck trawler, covered countless miles in hellish frozen moors to DA raids in the early hours utilizing RHIB’s …
Is it just as much about providing, an experience that not only indelibly changes the player, but provides an overarching experience the transcends MilSim, and delivers something more enriching, soulful and profound if you will ?
MB: To be honest I hate the word MilSim !! I mean what is it ? Who sets the standard ? Everybody’s idea of it is different !! We’ve never said we do MilSim events !! … Most guys that play Airsoft dreamt as kids of playing with big boys toys and adventure !! We’re no different we’re all just big kids having fun !! Myself and the lads create an event to push that adventure and fun !! We strive to immerse ourselves and our players to a fantasy world in which we’re all super heroes !! Staff and players alike !! It’s serious fun with great toys .
GM75: In real terms, what should the intrepid Airsofter expect, and more importantly prepare themselves for when taking there first foray into MilSim, specifically with Stirling ?
What key advice would give to novices looking to broaden their horizons ?
MB: Anyone can play our games so long as they want to work hard and have fun! We never leave anyone out and strive for perfection and player satisfaction. It’s difficult to please all but we’ll never stop trying. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing smiling faces at the end of an event as you know then that everyone has enjoyed our fantasy journey …
GM75: MilSim, often overused and popularized to mask the stigma associated with the term Airsoft, conversely MilSim is often frowned upon as a lot of sitting around in the cold with some ‘Plastic Deth‘ thrown in at the end. Is this term, misused and also perhaps misunderstood ?
MB: Ok , so I’ve kind of covered this on the previous question but in my opinion there is only one company that runs a MilSim event which are second to none when it comes to absolute realism and immersion and that’s CAG (Combat Airsoft Group ) everyone else is just varying levels of gaming , us included .
GM75: So, after what surely looked like an explosive weekend at UCAP’s The Sandpit with Op Yorktown what’s next on the agenda ?
MB: We’ve got quite a few events on the calendar for the rest of the year including the games we run in Spain. Next week is a busy, seeing us return to Catterick , then straight of to Spain for us and back to The Sandpit on our return !!
GM75: Going back to the Stirling Team, how often do you train and what specifically is on the syllabus …
Naturally, I’d imagine CQB, immediate action drills are high on the agenda, but field craft, observation and mapping skills are also lesson plans ?
MB: All of the above really, repetition is the key to mastering anything. We train as a team probably four to five times a year but also working together at every event. As I said earlier, without those boys it wouldn’t be possible.
GM75: Airsoft, MilSim, Plastic Deth, whatever the preferred nomenclature, where do you see it’s future. Its popularity over recent years has exploded, naturally that’s come with unwanted attention and some inherent problems where perhaps some don’t endear themselves with the more honorable aspect of the ‘hobby’ – do you think Stirling, and others have some position on continuing to shape and preserve the games longevity and future ?
MB: I think there’s always room to improve for all of us and keep players interested and engaged. A lot of choice is good and varying styles keeps it interesting !! Technology is rapidly coming into play at events and can only improve players more.
GM75: … before we let you depart with our obligatory ‘trademark’ question, as one of the UK’s originators of the MilSim scene, what for you sets Sterling apart from the rest of the now ever growing scene keeping you innovative and vital ?
MB: Difficult question really to answer without sounding like a stupid haha . We use great sites, make games organic so it’s the players that shape an ongoing story line with presidents constantly shifting factions and Gucci toys! From vehicles, boats, helicopters and planes !! Other than outer space there’s not much left other than to keep players happy and have a laugh, after all ….. That’s what it’s about.
GM75: Last but not least, whilst perhaps not entirely applicable to this interview, this is a trademark question, real steel ammo counts – something I’m a fan of but has really struggled to take off due to Airsoft’s limited range and accuracy – is there a place for this or do you think it’s not feasible ?
MB: We’ve never gone with that due to as you say the limitations of the kit but would be a laugh to give it a go but on smaller more Low key game ! Ammo limits are difficult to police , but I’m sure I have heard of other sites doing it and it has worked !
Thanks for the opportunity to chat ! Was a cool interview which I enjoyed doing !
Thanks to all our regular players for their constant support and look forward to meeting new faces in the future !
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