Updated: Jul 25, 2020
Later this year, participants are expected to take on operations in woodland sites. Blackline wanted to familiarize individuals with some basic principles of engaging targets in greenside environments. In particular, rapidly responding to and maneuvering to eliminate contacts. To accomplish this, we brought 24 individuals together on one of the hottest days of the year and kicked off our first Greenside Engagement FTX.
The plan called for participants to be assigned to mixed teams and run through four phases: Open field drills, woodland drills, team-on-team engagements, and a final exercise to test their capabilities. However, the impacts of the weather on participants would result in significant changes to the event. For this AAR, we'll recap a few of the specific experiences, how participants and plans adapted to the heat, and lessons learned by those in attendance.
The Importance of Being on Time
The missions that Blackline runs are one-off high stakes operations. These put a lot of pressure on participants to make sure things go right. During our Carbon Majestic operation, teams failed by missing a critical timing by only a few seconds.
Training exercises are an excellent opportunity to reinforce these values by applying consequences for lateness. The FTX Greenside engagements kicked off promptly at 0915h with a detailed safety brief and risk assessment. When a group of players arrived 30 minutes later, we had to provide the brief again. However, while they listened, their new teammates were required to move barrels and cable spools across the field until we finished communicating the risks. Being late means your team may have to take on the mission without your help. We applied this same logic to our workups for 1908 RUBY ECHO where multiple training events were run before teams attempted to rescue downed pilots.
Despite the initial animosity, when the late players were asked to do one last transit of items on their own, they quickly found their new teammates moved to assist them.
The focus of day one was the contact drills. Starting in open fields for simplicity, teams graduated up to static and then dynamic targets in wooded areas.
The main benefit of the FTX was the learn-apply-repeat format. Teams patrolled to contact, engaged, and then debriefed among themselves and the OPFOR to understand what worked and what didn't. Then they'd step off to do it again. This rapid learning format provides a more substantial number of opportunities for participants to improve. We augmented this with ISR footage of the engagements, which allowed participants to step back and assess their performance objectively.
The final exercise of the day involved a team on a long patrol to a target structure and a prepared ambush at the site. The patrolling team managed to surprise one of the ambush team members and was able to eliminate a few more in the ensuing fight. However, the ambushing team was able to maneuver on the patrol group and eliminate it.
Despite the relative safety of airsoft and military simulation as a sport or hobby, there are inherent risks that participants face at every event. Blackline has been lucky in that we had not experienced any serious issues, but at this FTX that luck ran out. It's important to share these items with the community so participants can recognize and prepare.
The first casualty was the result of an insect sting. The patient was stung below and to the right of their right eye. Over the course of the next hour, the area swelled. Benadryl was administered but was not effective. While no breathing issues were present, the swelling was concerning enough that they requested transport to the hospital. There, they were treated with an injection of Benadryl and monitored until health professionals deemed them safe for release.
Our second casualty was caused by hot weather. The average temperature during the day was greater than 30ºC and the humidex pushed that up to near 40ºC. Despite hydrating well, the patient began to experience fatigue and nausea during a rest period. At this point, the outward signs were sweating and a decrease in focus. They determined they were ok and continued their rest. Five minutes later they returned complaining of confusion and inability to cool down. We provided more shade and used water to help cool the patient. Their heart rate was well above normal, and so they were instructed to stay in the shade and cool down under supervision. Their condition stabilized over the next 30 minutes and they took a few hours of extra rest before returning to the event.
With the causes of both incidents still present (insects and heat), we took steps to keep the remainder of people safe. First, we reduced the intensity of the training for the day, eventually only covering 60% of the content. Second, we introduced more frequent breaks and downtime for rest. Finally, we split our players into new teams based on their physical self-assessments, allowing those who are well adapted to the heat to play more active roles. The other participants moved to static activities or rested in the shade.
This approach seemed to meet the needs of most players and prevented further heat injuries throughout the weekend.
The original plans for an overnight patrol base were scrubbed to ensure individuals received enough sleep to recuperate from the day. Those with the energy took part in some simple night drills while the remainder established camp and turned in for the evening.
At 0700 the following morning, participants were to have all their shelters packed and be standing ready. Deployed to the south with full rucks, teams received their briefing by radio.
A set of trailers nearby was the likely location of stolen communications equipment. Teams were to organize a raid to secure the site and retrieve the items. The teams, their equipment, and the communications gear all must be at the extraction point no later than 0930h.
To accomplish this, the team lead immediately deployed a small reconnaissance element to conduct observation while his leadership constructed a simple plan. All units would abandon their packs at the ORP. An assault element would flank to the west, while a support element would cover from the east.
However, as intelligence gathered by the reconnaissance team painted a better picture of the ground truth, it appeared that OPFOR had mounted a strong defence to the west. The team leader decided to alter the plan and push all his troops through a more challenging crawl along the eastern flank.
Over the next hour, troops crawled along a fence line and moved into position to assault the trailers.
At approximately 0845h with the radio call 'attack-attack,' smoke was launched to obscure movements, and the assaulting team formed a battle line. Elements placed the trailers under sustained weapons fire and successfully prevented OPFOR elements from returning fire. On the initial approach, friendly forces took one casualty but successfully eliminated three OPFOR on site.
Units established a hasty perimeter around the trailers, and an SSE team recovered the communications equipment from inside. All that remained now was to retrieve the packs, and to move all personnel and the communications gear to the extraction point.
It was at this time teams discovered one more OPFOR fighter in the vicinity of the ORP. A quick firefight ensued, and they eliminated the opposition but took two casualties in the process.
At 0920, the final individuals arrived at the extraction point, well in advance of their timings.
The following are key takeaways themes from participants.
Water - Double or triple your water expectations for an event in high heat. Where winter or cold weather ops required 3-4L, almost all participants claimed a 9-12L water requirement for this event.
Respect the Heat - Hydration is only one part of staying safe in the heat, and regardless of how prepared you are, it's critical to factor in longer rest times and higher exhaustion rates when planning a mission.
Leadership is Hard - For some, this was the first opportunity to lead small teams. Knowing what to do is a challenge. Doing it under a tight timeline and with people shooting at you is harder. More practice is required.
Real Reconnaissance Matters - Having a team on the ground feeding information back do you during the formation of plans is critical to mission success. Being able to adapt to the situation as it evolves gives you an advantage. Not every event affords you the opportunity to have a functional reconnaissance team, but you should take it if it exists.