ITAS Exercise Sentinel AAR: Part 2

PART 2

When we say realism the first things that come to mind are the kit, then the situations for the participants. The site on a whole also comes into it but one thing that is often forgotten is the interior areas of the sites. It’s almost always the case that rooms are made up of a door, windows and a table and chairs if you’re lucky, and if you’re hitting a room that OPFOR are living out of camp beds and bags, but this midnight raid was nothing I could’ve really anticipated. Prior to our arrival, the residence was just that, a fully dressed suburban house complete with TVs, sofas, beds, cabinets and wardrobes. Oh, and carpets. This really played a part building on the depth and immersion for the people who hit the house. After the location had been made secure it quickly became apparent that there was no one in by this stage, but to confirm our suspicions we had a Belgian Malinois go through the building checking for anything we might’ve missed, be it people or explosives. The K9 support added an entirely new dimension to the weekend, participants can easily cast a border between real life and the weekend warrior mentality, but the dogs are hardwired to switch between work and play on command. This meant you had to give them a wide berth especially when they were doing their thing, searching buildings or being utilised in an assault capability. For the purpose of the exercise the dogs weren’t to be used as so called ‘Attack Dogs’ but for searches after raids and so on. Whilst the copious amounts of firearms had been removed from the property we did come across some notes accidentally left behind by the suspects, another thing that intel were to look over through the night and gather some useful information on the terrorists.

Overnight nothing of any major interest happened, my team did an hour and a half on standby and went back to catch up on sleep, then the next morning everyone was kitted up in assault rig, and awaiting further information from Intelligence. We’d also been briefed on a kidnapping of one of the specialists in the field which had been captured on some drone footage, also confirming that the suspects had carried out the snatch. You could really feel the tensions were rising throughout.

Mid morning my CTSFO Unit was put back together allowing us to run through some more room clearance drills, this was great practice as it meant we could combine drills from the previous day and run together properly in different situations. One issue with this was the slight differences in teachings, IE Having your carbine pointed upwards or downwards, or moving past the door before entry, but this meant we had multiple techniques we could adapt to situations out of training, and would be put to the test later on that day.

EXECUTE

By early afternoon everyone was placed on standby as an attack was now imminent, the situation had been getting increasingly volatile over the duration of thep weekend and since the capture of one of the intelligence officers, the midnight raid and the increased police presence we were expecting some form of attack. Boiling point was eventually reached, and we could hear gunshots ring out from across the site. Each team was sent to the building and were put in charge of a specific entry point and area to clear, before linking up to progress down through the rest of the floors and deal with the threat. By the time I got to the second floor one team had already pushed down the hallway so we followed suit, made sure each room was checked and then began to chain hostages down through the building. One suspect was arrested and all others were shot, with all hostages evacuated safely into the hands of the police for medical treatment and questioning. The final assault was an overwhelming success with only a handful of the entry team being hit, so we all returned to the HQ to top up on fluids and prep for the next run.

Seeing as that was our immediate response, the Staff allowed us to run the assault a second time; this time with our planned response. The SFOs moved infront of the target building with their vehicles, which was quickly met with one of the terrorists engaging them with a blank firing pistol, and in turn was efficiently dealt with by the SFOs. Special Forces and CTSFO then moved past and made entry to the building. This time we were to move with Red Team to the side of the building and sweep through to the centre from where we will meet the other two teams, and then assault the two floors simultaneously with the other two teams beneath us. Upon moving into a large room full of lockers, I turned to see a male pointing a Self Loading Pistol at me, before I could issue commands I could hear the shots impacting on the wall behind me, so began to return fire. He fell to the floor and once I was sure there was no further immediate threat, we pushed forward to make his weapon safe and continue with the engagement.

It was at this point the Airsoft side of things really do dissipate, when there’s people utilising blank firers on both sides, and military grade distraction devices going off next to you, you can’t actually hear the usual sounds you get with Airsoft, combined with the screams of injured civilians played by crisis actors you honestly do get dropped into the situation. Making it to the top of the stairs, I was shot in the corridor, and promptly dragged out of the line of fire by my teammates. Hostages are quickly removed from danger then taken down to the police triage centre, and SF medics attend to the wounded Assaulters.

Once I was back up and the contact had ceased, SFOs were to go through the building and check everything for evidence. Part of this is accounting for any X-Rays that had been killed, so I was to report to the hostile I had engaged in the Locker Room. Here my weapon was seized and I was taken over to be interviewed by one of the officers as a means of justifying my use of lethal force, and for those involved in this process it was a nice addition to the end of this section of the exercise.

PURPLE HAZE

The third and final assault proved to be the trickiest. Staff had barricaded many of the rooms meaning Method of Entry (MOE) kit had to be used, and unbeknown to the entry team smoke grenades were to be deployed. By pure chance I had decided to run my Respirator for this assault, and it definitely came in good use as purple smoke came pouring through the door and into the stairwell. Pushing through the smoke more of my SF teammates were already in a room attempting to apprehend a suspect but one hostile hadn’t been spotted and began to drop some of the other guys, I quickly dealt with him, cleared his weapons, patted him down and cuffed him and moved on to clear the rest of the rooms with the other CTSFOs.

Over the three raids we did exceptionally well as a force. In some cases we were slowed by IEDs blocking corridors and no shieldmen on hand to advance with, but considering a couple of the Suspects were taken into custody, others killed and all but one hostages saved (the one hostage had an IED in hand and was encroaching on SF members so Assaulters had no choice but to stop the threat), we were very successful. The assets we had available to us at this one were second to none, the police played their role to a tee, to the point where one of the guys on OPFOR was in full belief that he was being stopped by real Armed Police, and the training from members of E27 and Co. had us all looking somewhat professional in my opinion. Once again major thanks goes to Andy from Snook Snaps for getting many of the images you’ve seen in Part 1 & 2! I can’t thank the staff at ITAS enough for pulling off such a large scale exercise with plenty for everyone to sink their teeth into.

Cheers, Chris.

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ITAS Exercise Sentinel AAR: Part 1

The best thing I’ve done even remotely relative to Airsoft is an ITAS Mock Counter Terrorism Exercise. The levels of immersion are second to none, the assets, occurrences and staff offer an experience in which normal Military Simulation events simply can’t offer, mainly because the core mechanics of Airsoft don’t come into it at all until at the end (in most cases), and even then they are stripped down furthermore and then built upon with realistic consequences. In this article I’ll go over my perspective of the Exercise, the highlights throughout and what makes ITAS events so fulfilling.

As you will likely know from my previous posts, I’m currently going down the line of a CTSFO Impression, the UK’s elite police firearms unit capable of dealing with terror incidents aswell as assisting local forces with armed crime response. In light of this there were a few positions available for the exercise, SFO (Specialist Firearms Officers), CTSFO (Counter Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers) and Special Forces. At past events the largest contingent of police we amassed was 5, including four SFOs and one CTSFO, in that case played by myself. More emphasis was placed upon the police this time, to offer more immersion for the SF personnel and also allow another way of obtaining information, something that proved extremely effective, and something we will get onto later in this piece.

10-36

Once cordons were formed around the HQ, Special Forces teams were waved in and we were all setup, we headed through for the briefing to get an understanding of an unfolding situation in the local area involving smugglers which were bringing a broad range of weaponry into the UK. It didn’t take long for us to realise the task at hand. If you read my previous ITAS AAR you’ll know that we were dealing with a siege situation, so everything was based around one building but when there’s a good few square miles, multiple buildings and the general public to deal with, the difficulty of containing the threat increases tenfold.

Due to the numbers the CTSFO element were split between the three SF groups and in turn into their rotations consisting of Standby, Blue Skills and Stand Down/Training. My first outing was Blue Skills, and were tasked with RECCE of a residential building suspected of being used by the smugglers. By the time we arrived on site the darkness had rolled in, plus our advance to the house was through a forest so visibility was minimal, thankfully we had Night Vision and Thermal Optics at our disposal which came in good use for certain individuals to lead on with. Even on approach I quickly spotted movement outside the building which later developed into someone getting into a vehicle and driving right past the team and myself. This was shortly followed by two vans, of which we managed to get a full registration and partial registrations for, something which was relayed back to intelligence for analysis when we returned back to the Headquarters.

After our Reconnaissance of the house we were put onto the training rotation to sharpen up on skills and get everyone moving as a force, whilst this was happening the SFO Team, compromised of 8 men in 4 vehicles went to investigate the house we had been watching. The best way for you to get an idea of the next few minutes is to hear it from one of the police team that were there, so I’m gonna let Tom of E27 go into detail for you from the perspective of the role he was fulfilling.

HARD STOP

Thanks, Chris. Quick background, I’m Tom from the UKSF Impressionist Callsign E27, however my ‘other impression’ lends itself to that of a Metropolitan Police ARV Crewmember.

During this Exercise I was running as Operational Firearms Commander for the SFO elements, manning Trojan 2 with one other. At around Midnight, we had been tasked by our Police Liason Officer to take a guy called ‘Colin’, who we’d never met and were just told that he was attached to the Intelligence Team, to the detached house that’d been under surveillance by Chris and the others in his rotation.

He joined us in Trojan 2, and the only thing ‘Colin’ said during the journey was ‘When we arrive, I need you to knock on the door and tell any occupants that a noise complaint has been received into the 999 system’.

This was slightly bizarre as when we arrived the house was in absolute silence, with only a few lights on within the property. He gave us the nod, and having scattered the other two Trojan crews that had traveled with us, Andy knocked the door.

Silence.

What on Earth was going on, and why are my guys knocking on this door. And seriously, who is this bloke called ‘Colin’.

Andy knocked a further two times, with the exact same results as before. George, our Tactical Firearms Commander, shot me what can only be described as a very confused look.

I turned to the guy who, for the purpose of the rest of the article will be named simply, ‘C’, who had now donned a rather ominous police-badged brown baseball cap and produced an MP5 from under his jacket, who smirked and said ‘come on then’. He then proceeded to a side door, and gave me the nod to make entry.

Leaving the other Trojan Crews in situ around the house, containing our perimeter, Andy and myself followed ‘C’ to the secreted side door where he had already begun to pick the lock, with zero light whatsoever.

Not knowing who this guy is, or what we’re actually doing here, we recalled our perimeter to give us a smaller presence on the ground and several of us followed him into the house.

Stepping into each of the rooms, both upstairs and down, a disturbing amount of illegal firearms, improvised explosive devices, and tactical kit including helmets and body armour were littered throughout.

After ensuring the house was clear, ‘C’ asked us to take as many pictures and videos, with commentary, as we could fit on our phones. The images and videos would be passed onto the Intelligence Team as soon as we got back – and these would certainly be of interest.

‘C’, in a strange whispered shout, told us to extract from the house. We’d been in there for a few more minutes than he’d have liked.

We left the house, leaving everything exactly as we had found it, so as not to arise any suspicion from the occupants of the house that could rearm Rwanda.

Driving down the road back to the Operational HQ, we saw headlights coming towards our convoy. This was odd.

Trojan 1, who were leading our cars out of there, shouted up on the Firearms channel that the car had stopped, moved, and stopped again and that they weren’t happy.

Trojan 2 and 3 held back slightly to gain the bigger picture – at this point we’re really only watching for runners from the car. Is this a few kids who have TWOCed their mums car? Am I going to be running after someone who is probably younger, fitter, and wearing significantly less body armour? Please not now. I’m not quite in the mood for running.

I saw Trojan 1 floor it, you could hear the first gear redline from our slightly relaxed and held back position. It became apparent that something was absolutely not right. This is the kind of move only pulled when presented with an immediate threat.

The next we saw were two males walking down the road towards us, and the crew of Trojan 1 dragging a male from the believed ‘bandit car’.

Noticing the mobiles in their hands, pointed directly at us, filming the cars, Andy booted our BMW towards them. Blues are on, and before we fully realised we’re out the cars with a combination of batons and tasers pointed at these guys.

‘ARMED POLICE! GET YOUR HANDS OUT! DO IT NOW!’

This was about the only thing I remember shouting as I approached a bearded male, with a grey full zip hoody on.

He’s not complying with my requests, and doesn’t appear phased by the six blokes in black Crye who are now cutting around him and his friends.

I tucked my baton into my body armour, and get him cuffed up. I need to get control of this guy, as none of my lads have come to join me. As it transpires, the others were having a slight issue with another chap who was being obtuse, to say the least.

‘Is everyone secure?’

Reassuring ‘YES!’ answers all round, meant we had controlled whatever this situation was, before it had gone haywire. Now we just had to figure out what was going on here – and why were these sketchy bearded blokes driving towards the house we’d only just scarpered out of?

Quick fire questions, met with silence. Who are you? Any ID? Where are you going?

The only noises were the diesel engines chuntering away, and guys catching their breaths after a moment of unexpected excitement.

George, as TFC, went for a quiet chat with ‘C’. Who knows why he’s back involved, but he’s now ditched his MP5 and is swanning around our suspects in his odd coloured baseball cap.

George came round, took photos of these guys, and gave us the order to release them back to their vehicle.

We had no idea who these guys were, why we’d stopped them, or why we’d consequently let them go. All within ten minutes. George said we’d be travelling on blues to the Op HQ as we had a private briefing room ready and waiting, and all manner of people from the Intelligence Team to SF Commanders.

What on Earth have we just been involved in, and why are we stepping into a dynamic briefing with blokes who would all tell me their name was ‘John’.

This had absolutely 100% been the weirdest hour I’ve ever spent on one of these Exercises.

BREACHER UP

From the intel we had received during the SFO excursion, the assault teams were put on immediate standby for an assault on the property. As this was still a police matter and the suspects had links to Terror organisations, the CTSFO element would be leading a raid with the support of Special Forces. This meant we were first through the door, with SF forming an inner cordon to stop anyone trying to escape by foot, and SFOs were down the road to stop anyone escaping by vehicle. The way it turned out in the stack I became pointman so it was down to myself to make initial entry to the property, so as we got to the door and I felt the squeeze on my shoulder, I grabbed the handle, and pushed the door. It took a couple of attempts as it was slightly jammed but after a quick shoulder barge, we were in, followed by a crescendo of ‘ARMED POLICE!’

END OF PART 1