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.