My Own Way of Life – An interview with MilSim Wests Joshua Warren
Joshua Warren, a name synonymous with MilSim West, possibly one of the most innovative and immersive MilSim event organizers Stateside right now.
If you’ve not attended one of their events yet, if your Stateside, or not been following their exploits as reported on line your really, quite frankly missing out. It’s in my opinion, as a humble observer, they’ve really taken the whole MilSim ethos, smashed it to pieces and for the better rebuilt in their own image.
Designed by players for players, bolstered by years and years of real steel experience – they’ve actively built upon their success to produce an ever evolving series of immersive and highly realistic free flowing events to form an interconnecting series steeped in immersion and realism.
Joshua is surely passionate, hard work and aggressively forth right in his vision to deliver innovation and drive MilSim forward onto bigger and better things.
Whilst this has perhaps attracted its fair share of criticism and derision, unsurprisingly from competitors. His candor and general integrity has seen him stand tall, and much to their displeasure call it as he see it.
Whilst generally an unassuming humble soul, he’s not been afraid to make the hard decision, be brave and push MSW ever forward he neither unnecessarily rests on his laurels or his past achievements. Unsurprising, as this is second nature to this former 75th Ranger – as they say ‘Sua Sponte‘ …
Read on as we’ve been graciously afforded the opportunity to talk with Joshua, about MSW, gear and blasters, and the future ….
S23: Hey bro, welcome aboard and a huge thank you for taking time out to sit down with us for an interview. Now, I’m aware you have had a rather illustrious former career, serving amongst the United States premier light infantry, specialist operations unit, the 75th Ranger Regiment. I can only imagine, it’s a truly life defining experience, one which continues to pursue endeavors today with drive, ambition and excellence. Tell us a little of your time in the 75th, and perhaps how that’s shaped for the better how you pursue your current endeavors and projects ?
JW: Well I wouldn’t call it illustrious. I had a pretty standard junior enlisted guy career in C company 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. The battalion was and still is based at Fort Lewis, WA although it’s now called Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I enlisted in the Army in January of 2001 with an 11X option-40 contract . After finishing Infantry one unit station training and Airborne school I was in Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) class 12-01. The selection program is now called RASP (Ranger Assesment and Selection Program) and has been expanded from 3 weeks (when I attended) to eight weeks. The third day of my RIP class was 9/11. That class started with over 400 students and graduated 42. To be honest it was refreshing to be in such a challenging selection/training program. I found basic training and Airborne school to be easy, not challenging and truly designed around the lowest common denominator.
After RIP I was assigned to 3rd Platoon C company 2/75 where I was known as a loudmouth dirtbag private. I got smoked (physical exercise punishments) regularly by all the ‘tabs” (platoon members who had graduated Ranger School) and NCOs probably in hopes I would quit. What I learned is the best time to talk shit is when you are already being punished, it’s not like they can punish you more at that moment. After 10 months in 2/75 as the lowest form of life on earth (a private) and a combat deployment to Afghanistan in the winter/spring of 2002 I was sent to the U.S. Army Ranger school class 05-03. I returned to C co as honor grad of RS class 05-03 and dodged being the RTO for 3 platoon by moving to the weapons platoon as an E-4 team leader. I did two more deployments to Afghanistan and two to Iraq as a 84mm Carl Gustav team leader , call-sign CG42 (charlie company, gun, 4plt, 2nd gun team). I was honorably discharged in 2005 after 4 years of active service. I spent another 4 years in the reserves after that mostly talking shit about what a badass I was in Ranger Regiment.
Although it was an incredible experience I find it important not to let it define my whole life. The further I get from the experience the more I realize it was who I am and choose to be daily that made me a Ranger and still makes me successful today. I certainly still know, believe in and follow the Ranger Creed today but I think my current career as an event promoter has been more rewarding and life defining in many ways. That said I wouldn’t be here without those experiences or what I learned about leadership there.
I will always remember my friends who gave up their lives for our Regiment and our creed.
In particular the deaths of Nathan Stahl and Kris Domeij affected me on a deep personal level. Nathan was the gunner in my team during my last deployment to Iraq and he was killed in an ambush in Ramadi during the period of darkness between 21-22 September 2004. I had trained him since he arrived at the unit and was assigned to my team. I considered him a close personal friend who often spent time at my house despite being my subordinate. Kris was a team leader with the FIST team in C Co on the deployment when Nathan was killed. He was a great Ranger buddy to me both during the ambush and after when I was packing up Nathan’s personal stuff and gear. Later when I left active duty he threw me a surprise birthday party with all the guys from my old section and platoon. It made a big impact because that first year out of the military is always the most difficult. Seeing that my friends in Regiment hadn’t forgotten about me was a real boost to my mood. Kris was killed in action October 22 2011 in Afghanistan. He had 14 deployments when he died which is what most Rangers would call a truly illustrious career as a warrior.
Something about my background most people may not be aware of is that both of my parents have worked in live performance production for over 40 years. They ran a playhouse and worked for different theaters throughout my entire childhood. When they ran their own part of my “chores” included performing, doing technical work or helping market the business. I have been in more than two dozen professional productions before I was 18. A lot of the marketing, management and interpersonal leadership skills I use now as a promoter/producer I learned from them.
S23: I’ve also observed, you’ve a long standing fascination with history and by default Militaria. I’ve seen you present and WWII reenactment events, and of course sporting a wide variety of Russian gear at events as OpFor. Has this interest been with you from an early age or something you picked at a later stage ?
JW: I started reenacting the American Revolutionary War when I was 7 years old. Lot’s of kids do this because their parents do it but mine didn’t. They drove me to reenactments like soccer practices and hung out on the sidelines with juice boxes which I refused to drink from until the reenactment was over. Fun fact warm water from a wood canteen is not as good as juice and when you’re a child it doesn’t occur to you to replace it with booze. (laughs)
I reenacted the revolutionary war until I joined the Army after high school so you could say that was my main hobby as a child.
After I got out of the Army I got back in to reenacting. Several of the founders of MSW and myself where on an Airsoft team that also did reenacting for years before we started the company. I have even dabbled in some other eras specifically American Civil War. I still enjoy trolling reenactment groups on social media for the ‘lulz’. When I go back to the hobby eventually I think I wan’t to reenact a period before the invention of gunpowder.
S23: So, back to the beginning how did you get started with Plastic Deth (Airsoft) ?
JW: After I got out of the Army in 2006 I was working as a recruiter and I discovered Airsoft while setting up a recruiting event at a local arena.
I eventually joined a team called Battlesim and that’s where I met Brian the co-owner of MilSim West.
S23: … leading on from that, as one of the founding members and CEO of MilSim West, how did that get all started. Did you have a perception that something was lacking within the American MilSim community, a gap in the market if you will ?
JW: In 2012 I was working for an arena in Tacoma, WA. I started MilSim West under a different name with my friends Brian Clarkson, Marshall Smith, Brad Ball, Micah Hegland. It was meant to be a subsidiary business to the arena promoting outdoor games in the summer when business at the arena was slow. The arena owner tried to take creative control of the project after our first event was successful so we just formed an LLC agreed upon the name MilSim West which was Marshall’s suggestion and good friend Nathan designed the logo.
The 40 hour format to our events is something I always thought was lacking in the larger war gaming hobby be it electronic or otherwise. There’s a lot of casual war games to be played but ultimately the founding group enjoyed a slower paced game that required a higher level of commitment and rewarded team based play.
MSW wasn’t the first brand to come up with the concept of a hard core game, I would say MSW has developed one of the better and more comprehensive rule books and organizations for running hard core games though.
S23: I’ve been a huge fan, closely following MSW’s progression from event to event, they’ve just got bigger, better, stronger with each one. The utilization of vehicles, special effects, extended patrols onto target, night phases, and and overarching organic storyline as the mission unfolds with a solid command structure has made for even me as a spectator online a truly immersive series. Is this suspension of disbelief important to you, and perhaps a vital aspect of the MilSim West ethos ?
JW: Of course. MilSim West events are a carefully constructed fantasy designed to entertain and challenge. All the roleplay and pretend culture for pretend nations that goes on just builds on that.
Ultimately it’s the 40 hours format of the games that helps make it seem the most real in my opinion. Imagine how easy it is to feel connected to the game when you don’t leave the field for a hotel or a campground after the sun goes down.
The issue of supply in the form of all Airsoft ammunition, medical bottles (for reviving dead players) and drinking water creates a real need for a chain of command outside of the actual shooting of pellets at others.
The need for supply creates a more cohesive “unit” structure. The scene around MSW events tends to attract large coalition style teams that can fill out an entire 40 person platoon in one impression or uniform.
S23: What’s expected of the attending players, have they perhaps struggled with the rigors of field craft and sustaining themselves over an extended period in game, is prior preparation briefed out to give them an expectation or have they overall endured with out issue ?
JW: Our tactical standard operating procedure (TACSOP) is in excess of 60 pages.
Most of that information is not just rules but safety information, packing lists, descriptions of roles and responsibilities in the combat unit and other information for those who dont have a military background.
Players are emailed waivers as well as mock military orders with instructions on how and when to arrive on the friday of the event. I would say that preparedness crucial to enjoying a MSW event. If it rains and all you brought was a jacket, life sucks.
S23: Whilst it’s awkward to simulate this over here in the UK, I was impressed to see the use of blank firing weaponry. We’ve had similar events offering similar immersion, almost RealSim, with high end production for casualties, pyro and explosive effects – aside from additional elements such as communications, detailed event briefings – this has been a well received element. Whilst enjoyed by those in attendance, and from onlookers who understood what’s being sought to achieve, it has raised to negative reactions from the uninitiated – what’s your perspective ?
JW: It’s a normal concern. Watching videos of people playing a game that looks much like real life can be unsettling to many, especially so when they see and hear gunfire.
War is a real shitty thing. If you think about the hobby of reenacting, or wargaming or MilSim or whatever the brand name is you’re using for your war/violence roleplay game is from an outsiders perspective – I don’t think it’s hard to see where that reaction comes from.
War play could be seen as an insult to many and probably is most popular in places not experiencing civil war, war, famine and mass homelessness. That said it’s entertainment and so it really shouldn’t matter if people find it offensive.
I find all kinds of entertainment other people enjoy offensive so luckily that’s not the bar to legality. I imagine it’s much easier to shoot firearms in the USA than it is in the UK but I know there are reenactment events in the UK so it’s possible of course.
Realistically our blank fire safety check is far beyond any safety check I have ever seen in my many years of reenacting. WWII reenacting is basicallyhistorical Airsoft with blanks and even less people calling their own hits . In all my years of doing it I never once remember anyone checking my weapons for safety or seeing any one else checked. I remember reenacting the revolutionary war in the 90s running around with a large bore musket and a 3 foot bayonet at 12.
Just because reenacting as a worldwide hobby generally plays it super loose on safety doesn’t mean I wan’t to run a business that way. MSW does a 100% equipment check prior to allowing participants in so we can ensure no contraband or live ammunition makes it in to the event.For those with concerns here is verbatim the pre event safety check we require of every single participant using blanks
The pre event inspection is performed by a designated MSW Cadre member at each factions in processing site. The designated blank fire safety cadre will validate the players in process checklist for the blank fire station when they have completed the following steps:
1) Submit to a magazine and ammo check with magazines empty and all ammunition in its original packaging as purchased or in clear plastic bags if the original packaging was discarded.
2) State the four rules of firearms safety from memory as follows: All guns are always loaded. Never let the muzzle cross anything you are not willing to shoot. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and ready to fire. Be sure of your target and beyond.
3) Field strip the rifle, reassemble it and perform a functions check.
4) Demonstrate understanding of the 20 foot, 180 degree safety zone extending from the muzzle, while performing a test fire. The Cadre will present the blank user with three scenarios involving targets at various ranges and the cadre member standing in various positions around the shooter.
Shooters must only engage target outside of the 20 foot distance and never engage with cadre standing in their safety fan. Weapons firing blanks must pass this station with two shots per target and no malfunctions.
In the event of malfunctions it is at the cadres discretion to allow the shooter time to adjust the weapon and try again or simply not allow a malfunctioning weapon in to the event.
S23: Now, you’ve just completed the latest installment of Rostov Rising, what’s your assessment of that event, and what’s planned for the future ?
JW: I consider Rostov Rising a great victory for Spain. Dan McKinlay who commanded the Russian Forces at that event may feel differently.
Personally I enjoyed rolling out my new Airsoft alter ego for that game as leader of a Spanish Army Task Force fighting in southern Russia in a “conquered land for military service arrangement” with NATO.
S23: You recently collaborated with Tactical Tailor to produce a superb radio pouch with Baofeng users in mind – and I know this was more personably inspired, the MSW Claymore Bag, a refreshing new take, a twist on a classic. (In fact I’ve just seen additional items include the MSW/TT Chest Desk Pouch, Emergency Panel and Go Pro Battery Counterweight Pouch added to your store)
What was the inspiration to not only produce these to incredibly reasonable priced items, and how did the collaboration come about ?
JW: Thanks that’s actually a question for my partner Brian Clarkson.
We had been receiving sponsorship in the form of gear for our Cadre from Tactical Tailor when he came up with the field gear product line of soft goods. Our first product was actually our MilSim West Tourniquet, which is a low cost mock tourniquet for wargaming.
We issue them to all participants at our events. Participants wearing real equivalent weight armor and helmets can use two of them. When you are hit any team member can apply your tourniquet. After that a platoon or company medic must give you a 16oz water bottle which you have to drink before you can remove your MSWTQ and return to the ‘plastic fray’.
S23: Now, this blew my mind, you’ve recently had a new addition to the team, none other than Halo 22 from MARSOC’s Dagger 22 – yes readers, SSGT Michael Golembesky has joined MSW’s ranks. You may well read his two books Level Zero Heroes and Dagger 22.
Joshua, how’d this opportunity come about, from what I’ve read he’ll be working with you guys for the foreseeable future ?
JW: Ski has been working with us for a while. His first event was ‘The Battle of the Caucasus’ in Wyoming and he has been a regular part of the Cadre since then.
He brings a lot of energy to what we do and I love working with him on events. He designed the latest MSW website and does a lot of other creative work behind the scenes . Dan McKinlay may disagree once again but Ski is undefeated as a NATO faction commander in MSW events.
S23: So, having been there, done that in the ‘real steel’ world – what’s in your kit bag, your go to cool guy gear or essentials that make time in the field a little easier on the soul ?
JW: Loads of snack and comfort items. The older I get the harder it is to sleep on the ground without a sleeping pad and pillow.
S23: Likewise, whilst I know your often busy and preoccupied with planning, preparation and the running of events. But, on the odd occasion you have time, you still get behind the trigger to bring a little extra muscle. Talk us through your blaster set up ?
JW: I play a fair bit both at MSW events and other promotions and local events. I have attended a few American Milsim events and had a really good time. I go to local event’s hosted by the Chicago Airsoft Association and Mir Tactical near where I live in Chicago.
My blaster set up is a stock E&L AK105 with a fancy Tac Light Brian told me to buy and a G&G 3 power optic. I don’t know what it’s called I just know the sound it makes when it spits plastic (laughs).
S23: Before we conclude the interview with our trademark question – what next for MSW ?
JW: Continued expansion of our events throughout the United States.
S23: … Really appreciate you taking the time out to talk, obligatory last question I always like to ask (kind of a trademark), I’m a fan of 30 Rounds per mag, what’s your thoughts on this – could you see this perhaps bringing something new and fresh to game play if embraced by the masses ?
JW: It’s Airsoft, if you can dream it you can make it real! I think that would be cool for arena type play but at mixed ranges the limitations of air powered muskets makes that less fun.
Huge thanks to Joshua, taking time out to pen this highly personable, insightful and humorous interview – I’m sure you’ll be a big solid and head over and check out MilSim West and be sure to check out all the incredible event photography which has kindly been used here with permission from MSW – cheers S23
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