Monday Rant: Airsoft/MilSim, Justified Judgment or Misunderstanding?


Recently a discussion came up among staff members during a SOCON conference call on the topic of the Airsoft/’MilSim’ (Military Simulation) crowd and how they get judged almost immediately (and almost always in a negative manner) by others on the various social media hubs – most notably by members of the military (active duty and veterans). For the record, I’m not a “paint-baller”, or “airsofter”, so please understand I’m trying to be as impartial as I can be here with this rant. The fact is, right or wrong, these players have been labeled time and time again as fake soldiers and posers; but are they really that, or are they simply misunderstood? Everyone has a different opinion about it. So, to get someone else’s besides my own, I reached out to some some experts to see how they felt on the subject. I spoke to a very active Airsoft team called Recon Ghost Team of Stuttgart, Germany and a two veterans of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, Jim Erwin and Dale Comstock.

So, what exactly is Airsoft anyway? 

Before we dive into this, it’s important to know what Airsoft really is and what it isn’t. In general, Airsoft is a type of military simulation, which is played with Automatic Electric Guns (AEGs), gas powered or spring powered Airsoft guns that fire a 6mm plastic BB. It’s not your old school laser-tag game, let’s just say that. Even though its considered military simulation, it is not in any way shape or form a replacement for actual military service or training, and anyone who says otherwise is bullshitting you and themselves. Airsoft players and their teams do take the game serious though and they play with great a sense of pride and perfection.

According to Marcus at Recon Ghost Team, Airsofters tend to get judged by their looks alone and are often compared to paint-ballers; but in his opinion people really should separate paint-ballers from Airsofters….and think “military simulation” when playing. His point was that in paintball, they don’t use military style clothing, weapons or tactics. With the Airsoft/MilSim crowd they replicate the military gear and uniforms. Marcus stated that players often have to use many of the same skills real soldiers’ use, like CQB tactics and GPS land navigation during play, which is something paint-ballers don’t do. Some Airsofters even go as far as hiring actors, rent vehicles and helicopters for their game play to bring that experience as close to the real deal as possible, without getting any serious injuries. To me that shows some real dedication to their sport, even if I don’t fully agree with it. It’s impressive.

Airsoft players sometimes use the same rank structure, equipment hierarchy and tactics like real soldiers, which understandably seems to really piss a lot of people off within the real military community. Actually the rank issue alone has caused many players to be accused of Stolen Valor (and some rightfully so). This issue definitely doesn’t help the military community accept the Airsoft/MilSim crowd, but again, it is a game or sport and should always been seen in that way.

Airsoft/MilSim = Future Soldiers?

I’ve seen comments in Facebook groups that have said things like “…if you really want to play Army, enlist and really serve…”, and while that makes sense on the surface, we really should think about who we’re talking to and how we are doing it. Some seasoned veterans, like Jim Erwin, feel that many players within the Airsofter community could be future soldiers as some of the active players are youths and kids. I agree with his point, as organized Airsoft play can definitely have some social and physical benefits for our youth. I think it’s the 35-40+ year old men, who never really served in the military, that play the game chasing fake dreams of valor that ruin this sports brand in most peoples eyes. You know who I’m talking about, the overweight guy wearing a Ranger tab and multicam from head to toe that boasts just how he’d take out ISIS, yet looks like he couldn’t run around his living room without having a heart-attack. Should a few overzealous Navy SEAL, Ranger, Ninja wannabes be allowed to ruin it for the entire community? I don’t think so. Keep in mind, the real military has it’s fair share of fakers and posers too, so it’s not something that is isolated just to Airsofters. The military community has a way of making those guys famous for being fakers anyhow, and the situation normally gets resolved without becoming a huge deal.

“I always find it interesting that veterans are the first ones to throw MILSIM Guys under the bus. Let’s not forget that women and children play these games too. This reminds me of the time that I was on NBC’s Stars Earn Stripes. There was a huge outcry by vets who said the same thing about the celebrity’s on the show – “if they want to be soldiers they should join the military” or “they should be dropped into combat and see what real combat is like!” These celebrities knew that was not combat and they participated on the show to earn money for military charities. What’s wrong with that?

Many MILSIM players like my stepson play the game because they want to be like us or live through us vicariously. I recently had an opportunity to address about 25 kids who played MILSIM and teach them about firearms safety and patriotism. This was a huge opportunity to shape, mentor, and direct our next warrior class into the right direction morally, ethically, and patriotically.

Is a kid wrong for playing cops and robbers? Is he wrong for wearing a doctor’s uniform or a firemen’s uniform? Are we becoming to Politically Correct as well?  C’mon…it’s a game.” – Dale Comstock

Again, I agree with Erwin and Comstock in that Airsoft/MilSim can be a very beneficial tool to our youth that aspire to join the military one day (if the game play is organized properly). What the military community could do, and in some ways is what SOCON is trying to do, is embrace the Airsofter community and help them learn proper doctrine, tactics, team work, leadership and communication skills. This will undoubtedly help the players who do want to really serve one day in the real Armed Forces.

You may still be thinking that these Airsoft/MilSim guys are just a bunch of Battlefield or Call of Duty wannabe’s (as I have in the past), but as I’ve learned through researching the topic, that’s not ALWAYS the case. In fact the team-leader I spoke to with Recon Ghost Team, was a former German Recon Paratrooper who after being out of the military for some time, wanted to regain the friendship and cohesion that only a military unit could provide; so he joined Recon Ghost Team to help fill the void. So, it would seem that there could be some social and mental benefits even for some of the older guys playing the game that did really serve. I think any vet would be able to identify with and respect something like that.

 For those of you that don’t know Jim Erwin, he has built his entire career on one premise – to protect. He is a veteran of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, including service as a 1st SFOD-D  (Delta) Operator. After leaving active duty, Erwin provided close protection and security for high-profiled clientele across the globe including many high-threat environments. Erwin is a certified FBI Advanced Firearms Instructor, and has earned several instructor certifications for the NRA. His opinion on the topic of Airsoft/MilSim is invaluable in my eyes. 

 Dale Comstock retired from the U.S. Army in August of 2001, after serving 5 years in the 3rd Special Forces Group (Green Beret) as the Senior NCO and Light and Heavy Weapons expert on an A-Team; 10 years with the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta (The Delta Force) as an assault Team Leader and Explosives Expert; he served 4 years with the 82nd Airborne Division as an Airborne Infantryman in a Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon; and he served 9 years as a independent security contractor in support of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

Airsoft/MilSim = Gear Junkies

Tactical gear is HUGE within the Airsoft/MilSim crowd. If you don’t believe me, attend any large gun show…the number of booths and tables that cater to this crowd proves this. Marcus at Recon Ghost Team says don’t buy cheap, or you’ll end up buying twice. He recommends that you first rent a gun or borrow one from a friend and if you like it, spend the money on a good quality product. Some of the guns they use are very high quality replicas of actual firearms…and they are expensive. While Airsoft is not generally dangerous, a mouth guard for teeth protection and eye protection such as safety glasses or even full-face masks are usually used to play safely. Additional military style equipment, such as helmets or knee / elbow protectors can help avoid additional injuries during game play.

My honest opinion is that SOME people within the Airsoft/MilSim community are trying entirely too hard to be “Operators” when they aren’t, but whose fault is that really when we have an industry that pushes that label on everyone with a pair of 5.11 pants and a gun? To be bluntly honest – the ONLY military group that really has the right to call themselves “Operators” are 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), popularly known as Delta Force; yet everyone in a Special Operations role now refers to themselves as “Operators”. Are they fakers too? Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery; but that does not apply here. Or does it? To me Airsoft/MilSim is just a game, to others it’s sacrilegious. You decide for yourself.

So are there any real “tactical” benefits to Airsoft other than looking “tacti-cool” in Facebook Photos?

Airsoft is supposed to be a non-lethal representation of real gun battles, so for training purposes there are some huge benefits. Mainly you get to train with a 1:1 replica of your firearm, you are provided nearlistic (yes I made that word up, meaning near realistic as possible) live-fire experiences, training with a Airsoft gun is much cheaper than using live ammo, it’s safer to train using a Airsoft firearm than using a real firearm, you can train pretty much anywhere with a Airsoft gun (no range needed) and if you want to practice force-on-force tactical scenarios, Airsoft can help provide that experience because it’s generally safe to shoot at participants playing out the scenarios. Military and Law Enforcement agencies all over the world now use Airsoft/MilSim weapons in their training programs, so there clearly must be some positive aspects about training with them.

Another benefit is the physical activity of the game. For some kids that would otherwise be sitting at home playing Call of Duty all day, Airsoft can be considered a learning event and exercise. It’s not all physical though. Airsoft actually requires some strategies and social skills to win. You get the experience of working with a team without the rigorous training or the actual chance of a major injury or death that’s associated with the real military. So with that being said, I will stress again that Airsoft play is in no way a replacement, or an equivalent, for real military training. It’s a game, peer and simple.

“As vets, let’s not lose perspective or our damn minds. It’s a game! If they want to live it like it is real then let them. We know its not; and if they ever show up to basic training they will get an eye opening experience. If they don’t join because they think they can soldier like the best and it’s beneath them…we don’t need them anyway.

Vets: I say to you that America owes you nothing except a paycheck and a thank you. We served the civilians – they don’t serve the military. We as soldiers and in my mind leaders of our society should show some humility, humbleness, and discretion. They are not threatening your job or our institution of defense. So let’s not let our ego cloud our better judgment. We’re better than that – we’re people they look up to and honor by emulating us.” – Dale Comstock

Bottom line is this, if your an Airsoft/MilSim player, don’t pretend to be something you are not. If you enjoy Airsoft/MilSim, then by all means have at it. If you play with the right people, then there are no real negatives to the sport. But as always, there are some people that just don’t play by the rules in life or otherwise – and those are the people that ruin it for the masses (I’m referring to those that act as if they have really served in the military because they play Airsoft/MilSim). If you are an Airsoft/MilSim player, then remember that above all else… it’s just a game and that you’re not serving in the military. Doing that, and showing respect for those that actually have or still are serving, will in turn work out better for you and your combined communities.

Stay safe, and don’t shoot your eye out.

*UPDATED ON SEPTEMBER 30, 2014: Added commentary by Dale Comstock


Keith Sipmann Co-Owner of Full Spectrum Defense, LLC., US Army Veteran, NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, Certified MCCCD Adjunct Faculty, Freelance Photographer, Firearms/Survival Enthusiast, Writer for Western Shooting Journal Magazine and Publisher and Chief Editor of TheBallisticBlog.com.

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27 thoughts on “Monday Rant: Airsoft/MilSim, Justified Judgment or Misunderstanding?

    1. I highly disagree. Few people who play airsoft are actually pretending to be SEALS etc. They are simply enjoying a teamwork game that uses military style tactics and gear to accomplish objectives.

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      1. I play (and spend probably too much on) airsoft on a regular basis. And in no way whatsoever will I act like, nor associate myself with, people that pretend that they have served in the military themselves. I only have the highest respect for those that actually have past and present and strongly wish to myself in the near future.

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  1. It is common to find prior or active service members within the milsim community as well.

    In many cases, even though we may choose to replicate a specific unit to fit the storyline of an event, usually it is still seen as innappropriate to wear any patches insignia or ranks, seeing as they werent actually earned

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    1. Correct. The majority of the airsoft community does not wear real deal patches – and shouldn’t. We should encourage the poeple who DO wear real insignia to have the proper perspective. It isn’t appropriate to do so.

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  2. As a long time player and father of a airsoft player your conclusions even your basic concept of what we do is wrong. Yes there are milsim guys and gals that want airsoft to be milsim but it is not.

    To be honest most airsofters just like guns and many of us do own real firearms and airsoft is a extension of that. It is Some in the community do take it to extrems do doubt about it. But to classify airsoft as milsim as in thy are one and the same is wrong and clearly speaks to your dislike of airsoft and as you see it a pertend game. of soldier. I did my time as soldier and respect your service. But you have only scratched the surface and only seen the most visible aspect of a sport you have little knowledge of and a whole bunch of thinly veiled contempt for.

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    1. Shingo, what part of the basic concept was wrong exactly? Help me understand where you’re coming from.

      BTW, I have zero contempt for anyone into airsoft or milsim as I know several people who do it and speak very highly of it. I think it’s a good thing, but there are some who ruin it for the entire community(as with any sport). I classified airsoft and milsim together, because they are synonymous with each other.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MilSim

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      1. Airsoft is not milsim regardless of what Wiki says. Airsoft consist of pistols,rifles,shotguns etc that fire 6mm bbs. How you use them is the owners choice as most use them exactly like paintball guns in a game of tag. There are some who compete in target shooting matches. To someone just plinking cans in his basement.
        You chose to focus on a visible part that ruffled your feathers wanna be “operators”. Operators who you get when you dial O on your phone. Wiki works both ways. The plain issue I have is MOST airsoft players do not engage in any of you’re preceived issues you associated with it. You have a very narrow view and see only what you want to see a group of wanna be soliders not the whole picture of what and is done with toy guns. Again I will agree that some people like in any non professional sport can take things to the extreme. If you were to have consulted or even reached out to one of the retail spokesmen here in the good ole USA instead of a German based milsim team you would have a better understanding. But you did not…

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  3. As an avid airsofter for about 5 years, I can say that this article sums it up pretty well. However, the problem of fakers is rather overblown. We tend to frown upon anyone wearing real military insignia that haven’t been earned, including rank and branch nametapes. We make sure to purge fakers from our ranks, which is another thing: I’ve never seen a military rank structure utilized in an event. At higher level MILSIM events, we will establish a chain of command, but we don’t have privates, sergeants, lieutenants. Many impressionist groups do seek to imitate the loadouts and tactics of a certain unit, but they do not mean to attempt to become that unit to the extent that people think. Most just wish to dress to look like that unit, not to present themselves as that unit. All impressionist groups I know don’t wear rank, branch nametapes, or unit patches, instead substituting their own team patch. It’s not meant to be harmful or disrespectful and most of these groups think pretty highly of the groups they replicate and attempt to replicate them with the highest accuracy out of respect for the people they are attempting to replicate.

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  4. Good Article,
    First off let me qualify some things about myself and my opinion on the matter. I am not prior service. I do have a younger brother that served (USMC and ARNG) and whom is a combat vet. I am an NRA qualified Firearms instructor and all around gun training geek. I would not call myself an “airsofter” or “Mil-simer” ,however I absolutely promote and support the sport. I am also a Boy Scout leader active in a troop and in the BSA shooting sports program. I am a member of the Civil Air Patrol, working Search and Rescue.

    I am very happy to see your article and the support from real hard chargers that it contains. We are facing a problem in this country. In my youth there were activities that built a foundation for responsible behavior, honesty, safety, and respect. These activities put young boys and girls on a pathway to being model citizens of this country who valued individual freedom and responsibility. Well guys those days are gone. Our kids are constantly being assaulted with messages that run completely counter to the life that many of us grew up with. They are being told that guns are evil, that anyone who stands up for themselves is evil, that men are evil, that self-confidence and trophies come from just participating. Excellence is diminished and discouraged. Maleness is no longer a virtue. Its okay to disrespect everyone else with full bore nuclear insults and vulgarity and there are no consequences.
    It’s a mess.
    Any activity that gets guys away from the Xbox and outside doing something active is a good thing.
    Any activity that gets guys to actually act like men is a good thing.
    Any activity that promotes the responsible use of firearms is a good thing.
    Any activity that instills a level of confidence in guys for pushing themselves is a good thing.
    The people who want to destroy our way of life want the ideals and drive that makes a strong military to go the way of the dinosaurs. They want you vets to be the last generation of vets they have to deal with. They want the military to be a dead end and viewed as being the last refuge of the incapable. They want to destroy your institution. The way they are doing that is by eliminating all the things that young boys do that drives those ideals. They don’t want boys in scouts. They don’t want boys out hunting with dad. They don’t want boys to play with toy guns. They don’t want boys to be involved in shooting sports. They don’t want boys too do anything aggressive or anything that promotes self-resiliency.

    The military community should embrace the Airsoft/Milsim community whole heartedly and reserve the ridicule for the real stolen valor guys that are across the board. These guys in Milsim are going to be the next recruits for the military and the firearms community. The over 40 guys are raising kids and if they are out in the woods running and gunning with the airsofters then they are setting a good example for their kids who will also be recruits.
    Besides 40 year old guys like me need to be running and gunning to get the exercise!

    Don’t poke fun at that fat kid all decked out in Multicam with his AEG. Pat him on the shoulder and tell him way to get at it. Then tell him “hey, you want to be even better at this? Lets talk about dropping some weight and getting fit, lets talk about teamwork and tactics, lets talk about followership and leadership”.
    Embrace the community and show them where they are doing it wrong. Make it better and it will be a source of support for the .mil community from here on out.

    My two cents anyway.

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  5. I’ve been playing airsoft since 2006, and I believe that it’s the equivalent of teaching a child martial arts: it’s fake ability wrapped in cool costumes, but there’s no real harm as long as you don’t become delusional, so whatever.

    Most military tactics are ineffective in airsoft, because our weapons and intelligence systems are so simplistic. For example, the concept of defending by fire is ineffectual in airsoft due to the extremely short effective range of our weapons.

    Leadership is the only area, that I’ve seen, where airsoft can provide real, tangible benefits off the field. Once you’re put in charge of 100 players, you quickly learn why planning, paperwork, delegation, and communication are vital.

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  6. I am an airsofter and I love the hobby. However, I am very wary of using the term “milsim”. I’m not sure that is an accurate OR healthy way to describe airsoft. Most airsofters play for a number of reasons; simulating, or pretending to be SEALs, etc. is not one of them.

    People erroneously think airsofters are trying to simulate combat. That is laughable and does harm to the community. I think a better way of thinking about it is that airsoft “simulates training”. Think about it, that’s what “milsimmers” are trying to do really – “simulate” military style training, not combat.

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  7. Very well written article with a lot of good points, however I’d just like to make a comment.

    I personally as an airsoft player do not feel airsoft is synonymous with milsim. Even within airsoft there are multiple levels and divisions, one of which IS milsim. That being said, I almost view airsoft as a more adaptable form of paintball. It is this adaptability that allows it to be milsim even while you can play airsoft in your backyard with some friends and nothing but the gun itself (and eye protection of course). A large majority of airsofters across the US have never even been to a milsim event. That’s the thing – Milsim events are hosted by some organization, operate on a very large scale, and are purely to simulate a military scenario as far as the playing style, command structure, environment, skill level, and use of vehicles/props. A recent milsim event had a mission in which a squad breached a house, zip-tied the high-valued target’s hands together, and had to get him out to an extraction vehicle. That is milsim. The complete other side of the equation are the local fields – either backyards or pay-to-play fields. These are more like paintball in that they’re a form of tag with projectiles if you will, but airsoft allows the player greater range and the chance to use guns that LOOK like the real thing (as opposed to paintball guns, which are like tubes with a hopper and trigger) and put on some cool gear. Game types at my local field mirror the ones on Call of Duty. We don’t have dramatic deaths, we just call “hit” and go back to respawn or whatever the rules for that match dictate. It’s a faster paced game play that is more similar to paintball than to military simulation.

    In my personal experience, the more people view it as “not a game”, the more likely they are to do whatever it takes to achieve an objective or stay alive – even to the point of not calling hits, the bane of airsofting. In a milsim event by all means go hardcore and believe yourself Rambo as long as you follow the rules – those games last hours and engagements are far more spread out. As for the other side of airsoft, the games last maybe a max of 30 minutes or so and you start almost in sight of the opposing force (depends on the field size and game set of course).

    Both of these styles can be enjoyed by anyone, the important thing I wanted to mention is that not all airsoft is milsim. The gear I personally wear you won’t see mirrored by any military unit around – it’s for function, and it’s because it looks cool. That’s the game side of it. Airsoft is incredibly adaptable because it has different modes to be able to please everyone.

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  8. Some people idolize and emulate athletes, we choose to idolize and emulate soilders. Just dont misrepresent yourself and have fun, and dont disrespect the real soilders past and present. Just like in sports, some of us love sports, but just arent meant to go to the pros.

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    1. Not all emulation is healthy though. As long as we airsofters keep it on the healthy side, it’s cool. Helmets are an example of unhealthy emulation. Ignoring, for a minute, that all of the gadgets and crap that players put on their helmets will never be used, what is the purpose of a helmet? In combat, it’s to protect your head from projectiles. However, in airsoft, the only projectiles are BBs, and if a BB hits your helmet, you’re “hit” the same as if you weren’t wearing one at all, so the helmet is, at least, costume jewelry, and, at most, a source of dangerous heat retention. However, people will wear them because it’s “the uniform.” That is, I believe, unhealthy emulation: when you ignore reason and logic in favor of blind devotion to your idol.

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      1. I get what your saying. As far as the helmet i sometimes wear one and it has saved my head from bumps etc and i would rather get hit on a helmet than on my head by a bb. I see some players wearing these huge 3 day assault packs and i ask whats in there? And they sometimes have all the stuff that can stay at the staging area, chargers 5 bags of bbs. Sometimes they have clothes just to make it look full, that is just ridiculous. And to touch on your point, if you are going to use a piece of gear make sure it will help you, “coolness” should be secondary.

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  9. I, myself, cannot medically join the armed forces. If I went to a recruiting office they would tell me the medications I am on are too much and are not allowed for soldiers overseas (antidepressants and anti anxiety pills)

    Airsoft is a way of living the dream of becoming a ranger that I will never be able to achieve. It’s a way of getting my friends together with some money, And PRETENDING to be the soldiers we all wish we could be. But we’re serious about it. We practice room clearing and formations together.

    it’s a hobby, something you do on the weekends while you have a life during the week.

    Some of the greatest airsofters I’ve ever met are veterans as well. Just like the man you interviewed said, it’s a way to get back that brotherhood. Not only that, they know what the hell their doing, as opposed to a 24 year old kid who works at an office all day.

    Airsofters aren’t trying to be cooler than vets or service members, and we aren’t try to “out do” them in any way. We are simply taking part in a hobby and having fun. Nothing more.

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  10. Reblogged this on JSOT13 / Joint Special Operations Team and commented:
    Airsoft/MilSim (military simulation games) and it’s players are often missunderstood as “Call-of-Duty idiots”. Some of them may proof that image. Most of them want to substitute their military services time on highly tactical niveau. As also in JSOT, they want to drive the tactical excellence, without military membership, to it’s best. Even for personal security reasons. They also want to build and live that brotherhood, many companies or friendships cannot ensure. But we all have seen it on screen or in real live – that band of brothers.

    Have a read of more on this in this article of theballisticblog.

    stay low, go fast.
    Tom SPARCO

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  11. I want that mask too, but it seems kind of odd using it, like its one strap at the back of your head, and all the mask who have those of straps never work on me. they always falloff you know, it kind of sucks.

    Does some one have some tips how to fix this?

    Thanks

    Like

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