I attended a fieldcraft weekend put on by 1 Shepherd and the Operation Eastwind staff. This was not a fieldcraft class, it was more of a “put what you know to the test and learn from each other” event. This is exactly what ended up happening and it was one of the most valuable training events I’ve been to.
I arrived the night before the event kicked off and set up a small tarp shelter with a few other early arrivals. I’d never tried this particular shelter set up so it was great to work out the kinks. We also went over some of the finer details of shelter location. Choosing the proper micro terrain and even the type of tree you bed down under can make a good bit of temperature difference!
The next morning we packed our rucks and prepared for the official event start time of 0900hrs. Swayze, one of the Eastwind admins “helped” me pack my ruck, eliminating anything that wasn’t absolutely crucial. While this definitely lightened my ruck, it forced me into some new territory. You see, I was a Boy Scout growing up and our well known model was “be prepared”. Since then, that’s often turned into “bring extra crap just in case”. It’s ironic, since I regularly preach about not carrying too much kit into an airsoft game but I digress. Bottom line, this was good for me.
The participants separated into two squads and a white cell unit. The white cell (admins) would play as “higher command” for each squad, issuing commands and attempting to fowl our best laid plans throughout the event.
I was appointed as Assistant Patrol Leader and did my best to jump into “patrol mom” mode. I issued squad equipment and did my best to ensure no one else was carrying too much extra weight. Not only was this a new position to me, I was put “over” two 1 Shepherd veterans and an Army sniper so that gave me some added pressure to get it right.
We had a quick OPORD briefing with the Patrol Leader, another 1 Shepherd veteran. Our squad would portray a Zimbabwe National Liberation Army unit attempting to infiltrate Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Our primary mission was to establish a patrol base near the border and scout the border for water sources and routes to infiltrate people and/or vehicles into Rhodesia. Our enemy, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (the other squad attending the event) would be doing their best to prevent us from accomplishing this with their superior numbers and notional mechanized and air support.
As such, we were given a specific (historically correct) react to contact drill known as the bombshell. Essentially, on contact our unit was to split and run different directions. There would be no groups, every man was for himself. We would designate Emergency Rally Points (ERPs) along the way to regroup at should we bump the enemy. The main thing that separates the bombshell from ordinary react/break contact drills is that after contact, the group meets up at the next ERP rather falling back to most recent one passed.
This OPORD process was a good refresher for me as I rarely get to see it done properly. The white cell interrupted the process several times in order to have different members reiterate parts of the OPORD to ensure we were all understanding what was going to happen. This was very helpful and it resulted in a smooth mission with very few communication errors.
We caught a ride to our step off point and shortly came under a notional contact (this is training remember?). We bombshelled and regrouped about 45 minutes later at our ERP. This was a good chance for us to each practice our own land navigation skills along with our link up procedures including our challenge and password. After a quick bathroom break and report to higher (see photo) we moved quickly to our next Rally Point in an attempt to make up some time. We then paused for lunch and got approval from higher to add an hour to our movement time before we had to be at our objective.
From this point we located a good site for our patrol base. Located on the edge of a thick evergreen stand it provided good camouflage from all sides. The evergreens to our south would make for a very noisy approach should anyone come that way and the cliff to the north and east made that approach almost impenetrable. As such, we kept our eyes on the western approach in case a RLA unit might stumble into us.
We then received a Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) advising us that we needed to meet with a local contact to pick up an item for a later mission. In order to get everything done on time, we split into two groups. One would recon part of the border and meet with our contact while our RTO and I would recon the rest of the border and fill everyone’s empty water containers.
While on this short mission, my RTO and I pushed into Rhodesia to investigate a horse trail we had found. We heard quite a few noises and ended up establishing a quick LP/OP (Listening/Observation Post). Once we returned, we advised our PL of the information we had gathered. We then sat down for a nice squad ration of stew.
Ever learning new things, we took this time to try out the Von Rek style of shelter half use which creates a pyrimid shape with a hole in the middle. This allowed us to dig a Dakota fire hole in the middle to cook our meal. While we didn’t seem to get either just right it was still an important learning experience. Our PL then gave us another OPORD concerning an overnight mission. We were to plant a land mine in a road about a kilometer and a half to our southeast and had to be back on our side of the border by 0600 hrs. Once the briefing was over and details hashed out we all grabbed some much needed sleep.
We awoke at 2330 hrs to prepare for our mission. We checked our NODs and found that the moon had not risen enough to make them very useful. This was the first time I’d used NODs on a mission, so it may have been that I simply didn’t know how to set mine up but I was pretty disappointed at their lack of usefulness.
We set out at 0000hrs and quickly found that our pace would be much, much slower than it was during the day. Fortunately, our route would take advantage of the terrain we had scouted earlier so at least some of it was familiar. As we pushed along our route, we took regular stops to hydrate and catch our breath. I found I was finally able to find my groove in the APL role and was constantly bugging the guys making sure they were drinking and had enough scooby snacks to keep their energy up. We fully expected the “enemy” patrol or the white cell to force us to bombshell sooner or later to test our night land navigation so I couldn’t have anyone getting lost because they weren’t thinking straight from exhaustion.
To each of our credit, we found our Objective Rally Point (ORP) without issue and I set out to plant the mine with one other guy. We chose to do this with a small unit to avoid detection on the objective as the road was said to be heavily patrolled. We confirmed our GOTWA contingency plan and set out, crossing the road so we could approach the objective from the least likely patrolled route.
While my patrol member planted the mine, I used my NODs to scan the area for any movement. After what seemed like an eternity, we booked it back to the rest of the unit and set out on our return trip. Attempting to take a different route than we’d taken on the way out we followed a trail to the east of our initial route. While this worked rather well once we got on the trail. there was a spider webs of unmapped trails at the beginning which gave us a few wrong turns before we found the right one.
All said and done, we skipped across the stream that created the border between the two nations and radioed mission success an hour ahead of schedule. We returned to our patrol base through the evergreen trees (again, a different route in case our earlier one had been compromised) and enjoyed a victory breakfast before picking up camp and heading back to the parking lot.
Overall this was a great opportunity to put skills to use that I don’t often get to use and work with some very highly skilled people and simply take time and glean from them. If you’re interested in attending a similar event, Central War Gaming and 1Shepherd, both based in Missouri provide them.