Our crew drove down to Butlerville, IN for airsoft Operation: Irene on Friday. The drive was a little suboptimal. Loading considerations and the fact that most of the crew was staying over on Saturday night meant that I ended up driving the distance solo. I have an iPod and a large music collection, so I was able to pass the time OK, but it would have been more fun with company. It also might have eliminated some uncertainty about our route. The Arb Ninja had asked me about the directions I was using. I explained that I was just going to follow the promptings of the GPS, but that basically, we'd be driving down to Dayton and turning right. I had thought he asked out of curiousity, but in fact he apparently decided to translate my off-hand remark into very literal driving directions and cut west well north of the optimal time to do so, forcing us to either head south on some very rural roads, or go all the way to Indianapolis and then head southeast. Whups. Still, we got in at reasonable time (around 9) and had no trouble with our hotel rooms.
The next morning we were all up early, at breakfast when it opened at 6am, and out to the field just after 7. People take Op: Irene very seriously and the Arb Ninja, as squad leader, suffered some heavy criticism for not being there before 7am. We had protracted and boring briefings, then some very authentic simulations of the sitting around waiting part of military life, and then the fun started.
The op was held on an Indiana National Guard urban warfare training base, which had previously been the campus of a mental instutition. There were many, many buildings in play, and the buildings had shooting areas on multiple levels, and roof access as well. (I'm a little amazed they got insurance for people on the roof, but I didn't feel like asking any hard questions about that.) The three-dimensional tactics were new to me, and really pushed the tempo of the games. With potential hostiles in all directions, we had to make heavy use of fire to move small groups of troops around. Ordinary doctrines about staying clear of walls and taking corners wide were hastily revised when it became clear that anyone who stepped too far from a building could easily take fire from a roof.
In retrospect it might have been wiser to use our superior numbers to force an entry into the buildings and secure the roofs more quickly, but that's just armchair quarterbacking. The one time I tried to get into an entry situation, our five person stack was cut to pieces in very short order. Since the event rules required pistols indoors, and pistols have small magazines, a large group of attackers might have overwhelmed the defenders, or it might not. I never got a chance to find out.
Anyway, I was very impressed by the quality of play on both sides. The worst thing about some of the less experienced or serious teams in MI is that they advance to the fight but no further- they hunker down and trade shots at long range. That approach never produces casualties faster than they can respawn, resulting in stalemate. At Irene, both sides pushed hard, all the time. The insurgent forces generally started on the defensive, which compensated for their lesser numbers, but they fought hard for every piece of ground. The US side used superior numbers, firepower, and movement to rapidly exploit every victory. In short, it was awesome and I had a blast. I even briefly met Colonel Danny McKnight - the guy who led the convoy in the real Operation: Irene, played by Tom Sizemore in the movie Blackhawk Down.
My diet also paid off- going into the op at 222 instead of 238, I was able to play the first two scenarios and walk off the field at a quick pace. The real pain this time is in my shoulders. For urban airsoft, I wear a plate carrier with fake (and very lightweight) armor plates, but my current airsoft gun is specifically made to weigh as much as the real thing, and the 11 mags I carried were also made to weigh as much as fully loaded 30rd magazines. Add in the three liters of Gatorade in my hydration system, 5 standard and 2 high-capacity magazines for my sidearm, tactical flashlight in case we were in dark spaces indoors, spare batteries for everything under the sun, and my radio, and I was carrying a larger load than I've ever carried before. As usual after one of these events, I have new fitness goals, and an inner skepticism that anyone is ever in shape for this.
Then on to the second half of the day. Murphy being the law in these parts, Mrs Arb Ninja and I had contrived to end the second scenario at about the furthest point in the field from the parking lot. She got killed about ten minutes later than I did, but I had a lot more stuff to pack, so we were both ready to leave at the same time, a little after four. We had to stop for gas, missed an exit and turned around once, and got out of the car for a quick and self-destructive meal at McDonald's, but we still made it back to town around 10pm. Our instinctive decision to go straight to the show instead of getting presentable was vindicated when qrssama called to tell me the show was in intermission right about the time we hit downtown Ann Arbor proper. I got to see the second act - which obviously rocked, and made me miss the days when I got to see all those fine performers a lot more often - went to drop Mrs Ninja off, got back to the reception in time to receive a lovely gift from the band, went home, unloaded the guns, left the other crap alone, cooled down a bit, and collapsed into bed a little before 3am. Total time awake: roughly 21 hours.
I'm very glad I have tomorrow off from work. But even more than that, I'm grateful that such a wide range of people, decorated combat veterans and musicians alike, put themselves out there to make it all possible for me.