Mouth for War – The Ai500 ‘The Gathering’
The Ai500 ‘The Gathering’
So, I attended my seventh Ai500 and my seventh time leading Task Force Viper, a 200+ strong ‘battle group’ comprising of Airsoft players from all over the United Kingdom, Europe including strong contingents from Belgium and Holland.
For those not already aware, the Ai500 is Airsoft International magazines biannual weekend event celebrating the very best of Airsoft.
Always large in scale, ambitious as it is audacious in concept, this time out saw it largest attendance yet with over 400+ present.
Including industry luminaries naturally from Airsoft International, ASG, Thomas Jack, Airsoft World, Enola Gaye, Viper, ICS and much to everyone’s pleasant surprise Hereford Kit Company – this rounded out the event perfectly, providing an engaging and celebratory atmosphere off the field as much as on it.
This year, the first of two events – over the weekend on 09th-11th June was held at a disused and abandoned Theme Park, in Cleethorpes, in the North East of England.
It’s eerie deserted confines, stretching over several hundred acres, and subsequently overgrown with long grass, generous tree lines went a long way to not only offering an immersive and visually stunning vista as a back drop for players to wage battle over. But, one which is again unique and original and it’s abandoned post apocalyptic deserted stylings certainly lent itself to the games not to distant future scenario of civil war.
To manage effectively 200+ Players and the additional support of a QRF is no easy feat, and as such leading up to the Ai500 nearly six months of updates, posts, maps and even two blogs as well as six episodes of the ‘live’ ‘Command Cast’ where broadcast on the Task Force’ Home Page.
It’s this which not only broadly informs the majority of intentions, equipment required, event rules – but communications, tactics and much, much more – it’s almost as fun as the event itself and lends it self to creating an atmosphere and anticipation right up to the first shot being fired …
To break down and manage and command 200 players, it was agreed the best model to structure the Task Force on, would involve five separate callsigns, each with an allotted sub commander, who naturally would operate on our radio command net.
Responsible for 40 or so players each, this allows I and my second in command to move around each call sign into action and onto respective objections as the unfold.
In addition to this, we again had a slightly smaller sixth call sign, comprised of Dave and his team, The Centurions.
So, after an evening of meeting new and old faces alike, taking advantage of many of the sites amenities – clean rest rooms was certainly a welcome respite from previous austere conditions. Catching up over either a hot coffee, courtesy of Hereford Kit Company who had Black Rifle Coffee on the go, or a cold beer and pizza certainly offered a little R&R before the chaos ensued …
After a succinctly comprehensive safety and event rules briefing early Saturday morning, I quickly assembled the five call signs Alpha led by Bruno from TACT Belgium, Bravo commanded by Mikey from Bravo 46, Charlie with Luke F, Delta under veteran Carlo T, Echo with Mike Templar and of course Dave P and his stalwart band of Centurions as Vipers QRF.
Led out to the cavernous old music stand, which earlier this year had been subject to a fire, partially destroying its roof – this, aesthetically only further added to its charm, as our temporary base of operations – our CP (Command Post).
If you look at the above map of the AO – you can see our position in the left hand border of the map, on the Southern facing point of the border, sitting squarely in grid reference C6.
Our opening gambit was to fight the OpFor on two fronts – Alpha, Bravo and Delta where immediately dispatched to capture and hold the structures between grid references K4 to N4 and then form a fighting position along the bank O3 to 07, thus effectively cutting of the OpFor from moving along the southern bank of the reservoir.
During this assault Charlie and Echo, spearheaded by the QRF swept straight to capture our first objective – the hill situated alongside the rail track which circumnavigated the AO in reference H6.
This was done in short order, meeting only minimal resistance as large numbers of the OpFor battled Alpha, Bravo and Delta for the structured areas furthest North East of our CP, in fact they’d established a solid defensive line which caused those three call signs to sustain heavy casualties …
It was in the interim Charlie and Echo pushed forward in tandem to explore and engage the enemy through the myriad of pathways and fence lines that compromised the former ‘pig pens’ thus putting the OpFor in stranglehold through to a temporary ‘ceasefire’ being called for ‘lunch’ …
This tactic whilst successful in impeding the enemies movements proved to be a double edged sword. Applying pressure only sought to encourage our tenacious and formidable foes to push back and reinforce the structure upper North Eastern corner – conversely when a third assault on this area was implemented in the latter part of the day, using a three pronged attack splitting Alpha into two assault groups either side of the reservoir with Bravo,Delta and the QRF liberating the buildings once more only served to push the OpFor back down the South Western flank onto a now heavily out numbered Charlie and Echo – who found them pitted against a determined and entrenched enemy and receiving not only head on direct fire but indirect fire 360° from small arms ambushes.
Ultimately, Charlie and Echoes pressure eventually kept a tired but no less aggressive OpFor sufficiently tied up, fighting inch by inch to dominate that South Western corridor. This undoubtedly allowed Alpha, Bravo and Delta during the late afternoon to liberate and dominate the North Eastern structures.
Day One was undoubtedly a success, Vipers putting in tirelessly strong performance right up until EndEx.
However, pitted against our long standing foes on the ‘Green Team‘ who’s more methodical solid defense saw us jubilant – but tired and weary from a very heavy days fighting, Day Two would undoubtedly be the decider.
Far wiser and learned tacticians could dissect our decisions and possibly offer no end of invaluable advice on tempo of operations – but, this aside, I could not be prouder of Vipers stunning display of Violence of Action.
Our simplified communications net proved to be yet again, with the team work displayed by all, under the direction of the Sub-Commanders an effective way to move around large call signs swiftly around the battle space.
War and Peace
Rather suitably, the first days proceedings where now to be punctuated by a little respite, an opportunity to reconfigure gears and kits in preparation for Day Two of ‘Combat Operations’ reloading spent magazines, packing assault gear with ordnance, refilling hydration bladders and MRE’s to consume in the field and maximize time spent putting ‘boots on the ground’.
Once admin was squared away, I got the chance to catch up with Thomas and Ben from Hereford Kit Company, here enthusing about gear and kit for several hours was ‘gear junkie’ like me a highlight. Thanks to them both for the generous and copious amounts of Black Rifle Coffee too.
Finally, good friend of former interviewee Daniel Castro of MilSim Media, Omar from Enola Gaye and co-owner of patch fiends ‘Who Shot First LLC‘ had flown in from the States. It was a true meeting of minds, here discussing everything from PTW’s, Coffee, Real Mag counts, Metal and Hardcore as well as the differences in styles of the UK and US’ scenes.
He was in particular, very complimentary about how cohesive on such a large scale players in the UK appeared, and more so considering the scale and numbers in attendance.
Alongside some good food, cold beers I also got to catch up with old and new friends alike, Scott the ‘Green-Side’ Commander, Stretch and the boys from PDW (Project Delta Whiskey) James Flynn and shoot the breeze Mike from Templar Airsoft before having a few late night drinks with Yannick, Bruno and my brothers from TACT Belgium.
During the evening Scott and I hosted the raffle, seeing some special prizes won by members of both teams, the ‘poker game’ which unlocked tactical advantages for the team on Day Two. Special mention to Meggan Matthews who bid and donated a staggering £325 to Pilgrim Bandits Charity, who overall raised a staggering £690 in aid of wounded and injured service personnel.
Please check out the link below, and support the incredible work Terry Arnett and all of the Pilgrim Bandits do in support of our injured servicemen and women
It’s also to be noted, I was kindly volunteered by Paul Monaf, Airsoft Internationals publisher, and encouraged by my Editor Ai’s Ben Webb – that I be interviewed by Esturary Television news to discuss the Ai500. Hopefully some of you saw it, and if I get a link – I’ll share it here. A unique experience and opportunity if there ever was …
**AS RECENTLY SEEN ON UK DIGITAL NEWS**
A few weeks back as I’m sure you’ve already seen from the recently ran review we’ve just finished up the latest installment of Airsoft International’s event the Ai500 .
This year was the biggest and baddest yet and was recently covered for a news article which originally aired on Estuary TV, Stephen W the reporter who covered this has very generously edited up an extended cut, a mini documentary if you will – I was briefly interviewed for this and you can watch it all here featuring never before seen ‘S23‘ footage from my Contour camera …
* All footage remains intellectual property of http://www.astralmedia.biz
It was a fitting end to the Ai500’s first day, lending an incredible atmosphere, almost festival in tone and certainly lent it self to events title ‘The Gathering‘
After a good nights rest, and a little recreation – Viper quickly assembled for round two, here on the second day switching CP’s to the far North of the AO.
Here, our objectives where threefold, having won in the previous nights ‘poker’ game ‘ordnance’ to blow to railway bridges either side of the AO’s Railway station we could annex this strategic area thus limiting the OpFor’s movement to other key strategic locations.
However, first – to move this into position we had to retrieve a means of carriage – which was deep within enememy held territory.
Thirdly, this needed to be moved by rail onto the two bridges and simultaneously blown. Easy, no chance – the Rail Station in between both bridges was also under heavy enemey control and defended by entrenched fighting positions.
Dispatching Alpha and Bravo to retrieve the case to transport our ordnance took well into late morning whilst Charlie, Delta and Echo and smashed down onto the Rail Station.
A simple and effective plan, which in theory should of easily seen us achieve this in no short order.
However, the OpFor had other ideas – on two heavily defended front lines they successfully held off the retrieval of the case until early afternoon – and subsequently threw everything they had back at us defending the Rail Station.
Such heavy resistance, even with mortar fire couldn’t break their resolve. So much so, with only one bridge to blow – the OpFor launched a horrendously huge assault that saw virtually all of TF Viper entrenched along the tree line covering the top end of the AO’s service road.
Viper fought right down to the last magazine, it was here we made our final stand unable to break down along the railway lines to blow the second bridge – desperate, to push on we continued fight forward but the OpFor had far too strong a defensive line to break …
EndEx was called at 15:00 Hrs – as I walked back to pack away gear, I shook hands with no end of smiling players from both Viper and OpFor, one thing was clearly visible and palpably evident we’d all had an event that was blisteringly enthralling, truly memorable and we’d just born witness to possibly the largest scale all out warfare which climatically brought the event to its stunning conclusion – undoubtedly, absolutely epic …
The Kit, Gears and Blaster …
What worked and what didn’t ?
It wouldn’t be an S23 blog without a little look back at the gears and equipment used in game and especially prepared for the event the Ai500.
First up, Multicam, like Ben and I most of TF Viper optioned this pattern – it ably suited the topography, the almost ‘Serengeti’ like overgrown summer greens and golden browns. Conversely the OpFor clad in their greens, woodland patterns and blacks had a distinct advantage under the shade and canopy of the dense tree lines that carved across the site.
New for this event, although recently Road tested earlier this year, was the LV-MBAV and Haley Strategic D3CR combination.
Added with an LBT kangaroo magazine pouch across the Plate Carriers front, just to pack a little extra punch – ammunition wise. This held true to its low profile aesthetic and kept weight and silhouette to an absolute minimum, as per original brief.
Arguably excessive, but the LVMBAV was run with real Lvl III plates and Soft Armor backers. This actually assists with its fit and form, and assist with correct interoperability with the D3CR.
Not for everyone, but I’ve always taken a degree of enjoyment and immersion suffering for my art and it didn’t slow me down even when up against players half my age.
Only other LBE added to the cummerbund of the plate carrier were additional CP pistol and 40mm Pouches used go ‘Flash Bangs’ along with my second PRC 152 MBITR.
Now, the real star of the kit bag, used for the first time in ‘anger’ was FMA’s Aramid Fibre ‘Maritime’ Ops Core. It’s as solid affair, allowing me to intergrate my comm’s, camera and NOD’s.
Despite it substantially heavier weight against, say my former Dragon Red AirFrame – it proved to be no sweat even in the heat of the mid day sun. (no pun intended)
Last but not least, nearly ten years old, but well looked after – my ’08 PTW punched consistently above its weight against a plethora of high tuned, contemporary ‘Plastic Deth‘ blasters. Often accurately out ranging the very best of them, only just and there was certainly some sharp shooters out there who stopped me dead in my tracks …
That said, the incessant cross breeze at extended range, really reminded my it’s time to switch up to 0.28’s…
So, my seventh Ai500 has concluded – even after the monstrously devastatingly awesome bout at H.M. Blundeston – it’s been in my opinion the very best yet.
An action packed thrill ride throughout saw both ‘Viper‘ and the ‘Greens‘ locked in combat over two days across several hundred acres of ‘disused’ Faire Ground in Cleethorpe‘ …
It’s was a bitter ‘war’ of attrition – and both teams, truly professional heavy weights slugged it out right down to the bone and to the very end …
Whilst the results have now been announced, a truly well deserved and hard earned congratulations to the Green Team, the real ‘win’ and reward for me personally is see over 400 + players tear across the site and thoroughly enjoy them selves waging mass ‘plastic deth’.
A huge thank you to Paul and Sharon from Airsoft International, Ben Webb and Ben Dickie as well as all the attending staff, it’s a privilege and pleasure to lead Task Force Viper on your behalf.
Extra special thanks and a hearty well done to Scott Connal, who celebrated his final game leading the ever tenacious ‘Green Team’ for the seventh time no less – I’m undoubtedly certain, we will still see him in the very near future.
Thank you to Hereford Kit Company, Viper, ASG, Airsoft World, Enola Gaye, ICS, Thomas Jacks and Nuprol The Pilgrim Bandits as well as support from ToySoldier.
Last but not least to the mighty Task Force Viper, you exceeded yourselves with no end of professionalism, honesty, integrity and fair play. I asked everything of you, and even when your pockets where fully spent of energy you still kept on going right up until the very last. Outstanding, I couldn’t be prouder.
Thank you to Ben, Luke, Carlo, Bruno, Dave and Mike for being superb sub commanders. Thank you to Tactical Belgium, Team 3D, Task Force Voodoo, Bravo 46 and The Centurions.
Extra special thanks to Megan Matthews again, for her very generous donation to The Pilgrim Bandits Charity.
Special thanks to the following for additional photography:
Snook Snaps: https://www.facebook.com/Snook-Snaps-373945083002109/
Red Bandit Photography: https://www.facebook.com/RedBanditPhotos/
Elliot Knott Photography: https://www.facebook.com/elliotknottphotographic/
JVis & MvE Photography: https://www.facebook.com/JVisMvEPhotography/
Pilgrim Bandits: https://www.facebook.com/pilgrimbandits/
**GET EM’ BEFORE THEIR GONE**
S23 Mk II ‘Beer Mat’ Patches – https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/322506771568
S23 is proudly sponsored by ToySoldier: http://www.toysoldier.com.hk/
s23 is proudly sponsored by Emperion: http://emperionstore.com/
Don’t forget you can read our articles exclusive to Airsoft International each and every month:http://www.ai-mag.com/
**COMING SOON – CHECK OUT PROJECT DELTA WHISKEY HERE**
S23 proudly supports Legion Airsoft Events – fined out more here: http://legionairsoftevents.com/