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Operation Black Thunder – 2010

Like I said in a previous post, I came in contact with a very nice outdoor leisure activity called “airsoft”. 16 years ago I had my last shooting session (with LIVE ammo), as a student at the Romanian MTA, and I’ve been searching for ways to try this practice again ever since. Given that in Romania it is forbidden to own firearms (except for certain categories of people such as hunters and those in the military, police or other special services) this was a difficult task, to say the least. Yet it proved to be possible in the form of a non-lethal copy of a real weapon, a copy that fires 6 mm plastic ball bullets (BBs) at velocities up to 160 m/s.

The velocity of the bullet is computed so that the energy of the projectile (tops 2 J) remains low enough to not provide critical damage to the target. The target in airsoft is usually an opponent… 😀 I took several shots myself, including one from my own replica (a copy of US Navy Mark 12 Mod 0 Special Purpose Rifle, or SPR as it is known) – the “baptism of fire”, and it’s not very pleasant, at least when it comes from a short distance. Nevertheless, despite my ‘rookieness’ in airsoft, I decided to attend Operation Black Thunder 2010 as a photographer. Which turned out to be more of a challenge than expected…

The idea behind this game was “a match of chess between four players.” The players (the ‘Game Masters’) were to stay together around a big map of the combat environment, issue orders to their squads and update the squads’ positions on the map with the use of some coloured tokens. The idea had great potential to provide a wonderful game experience for everyone.

For the first day the organizers chose an abandoned military complex, some 11 ha in area, in downtown Braila. Most likely a former artillery unit, with a large number of buildings and with dense – and I mean DENSE – vegetation. Imagine a residential area – houses – where NOBODY walks through for five years. No cut leaf, no chopped trees – no human intervention at all. Now double the density of the vegetation that you have imagined, and you may get a picture closer to reality. Reality where you could walk past a building at 2 meters and not realize it is there. Yes, AN ENTIRE BUILDING! Ok, there were some clear areas as well, especially where large concrete platforms had been laid down in the base, but this was like 20% or even less of the total area. The other 80% gave a literal meaning to the syntagm “Urban Jungle”…

The scenario involved 4 factions, each controlled by a game master. There were the “drug dealers”, the “cartel”, the “task force” and the “rebels”. The scenario involved the junction between the Dealers and the Cartel (each of these had a VIP, and the VIPs had to be brought together in an area known as the “Death Camp”). After  their junction, these factions would act under a single command and had to plant a bomb in the HQ of the “United Nations”. The Task Force was supposed to obstruct the join of these forces and to capture and/or disarm the infernal machine. The Rebels were free to engage whoever they met (and was not a member of their faction).

Unfortunately the scenario encountered several challenges that proved to be quite difficult to overcome. First of all there were many communication issues between the game masters and the squads in the combat area, mostly because of the large buildings AND the very, very dense vegetation. To their credit, some teams used “relays” to forward communications between the game master and the farthest units. Others were more lucky and did not experience any radio issue, which helped them act quickly. The other big challenge was the little experience of some game masters (GM) in this role. The Task Force GM seemed to have military training, since he first inspected all units and became aware of their equipment and capabilities, while the others did not seem to go down to this level of detail. Another problem – a consequence of the radio communications issue – was the update of the units’ positions on the map: some GMs had to literally go into the combat zone to be able to communicate with their teams, which led to discrepancies between the map and the real situation, thus confudsing the GMs that remained behind, at the table. Last but not least, some players forgot that airsoft is a game, one that you play in order to have a good time and enjoy yourself – even if this requires A LOT of effort during a VERY HOT day. As a consequence, things  got pretty… hot in the field, with arguments and shouting in the middle of the game, and some people leaving the game – even some entire squads. 🙁

The second day has been appreciated much more: in the ruins of the former Cellulose and Paper Plant in Braila, A HUGE are (out of which only a tiny area ws used for the game) a scenario somewhat similar to the one from the first day was laid out. A much shorter combat day (the game started around 10:00 and was called off at 13:00, since it was Sunday and most people had to get back to their places, some of them up to 500 km away…) but the same scorching heat – only this time the buildings provided some shade. Some much enjoyed shade – especially since people in the open were sitting ducks – or runnning rabbits, as you wish, due to the vegetation being by far more sparse than at the previous site. Nobody complained ’bout the second day of the game; some even argued that were this site also used for the first day, far fewer people would have left the game. The other side is also true: being an abandoned industrial complex, the casualties for the orthopedic sections of Braila’s hospital could have been huge out of 140 people over 8 days of playing. So, safety first.

Overall, a nice event. And I can say it came out GREAT, especially if you think that it has been organized by literally a handful of men, many less than such a great meeting requires. I will not get into details in this post, but I will use this opportunity to thank the organizer – Mr. Dragos Vasile, and no, “Mr.” does NOT come from “major” 😀 – for a great time and the opportunity to attend a great game and take some wonderful pictures. The only bad thing for me were te mosquitos: many and nasty. They left me with a swollen left ankle which led to me being confined to bed with the legs sightly elevated. But next time I’ll use plenty of Autan and/or Off all over bothe exposed AND covered skin (i.e. on the clothes I wear).

Unfortunately, the good pictures I made were only a handful, which you can admire here:

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