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After Action Report: One Shepherd BCO FTX, Spring 2024

Note: Though not my first milsim event, this is my first writeup of one on this blog. This will NOT be a play-by-play of everything that happened at the event. I'm gonna give you a short gist of what sorts of operations we performed, then I'm going to focus on what valuable lessons I learned.


BACKGROUND

This March, I had the opportunity to attend a field training exercise (FTX) put on by One Shepherd, a training institute that has been offering courses in SUT and leadership since the 1980s. They operate two schools, known as "A Company" (Missouri based) and "B Company" (West Virginia based). Their FTX occurs as the grand finale of a week long light infantry training program which I did not attend, instead arriving just before the FTX and leaving thereafter.


The way their FTX works is: students are split into two understrength platoon sized units (in this case about 15 vs 16 men) and everyone is issued MILES gear, the blank-fire-combined-with-laser-tag system the US military uses. It's sometimes unreliable, but when it works it's pretty slick and I don't know of any other civilian group doing MILES training. For the first half of the 48 hour event, one side dug in on a hill while the other side located and assaulted them, then for the second half they switched sides and did the same thing with their roles reversed on a different hill.

MILES allows for very realistic weapons manipulation, engagement distances, and ammo capacity

I was XO of a six man "recon team" that was attached to the attacker force for each of the hill assaults. Our job was to help locate the enemy position, then assist in the assault as directed by our parent force. Our recon team was made up of experienced guys who all know each other. We also were all wearing LFRs and basically everyone had a kit straight out of my seminal LFR blog post. To boot, all but one of us also had a full auto lower (it's nice having SOT friends 😎) and we had one NOD monocular, two NOD dualies, one thermal, some SIGINT gear, and one drone.

Our actions during the FTX consisted of a mix of patrolling to do various recon stuff (scope out infiltration routes, send up a drone, try to interdict enemy screening patrols) and resting at our little patrol base. We got into two firefights near the end of the 48 hour exercise; one was a very successful dawn raid we conducted, the other was us getting wiped out because we were high on the success of our raid and got caught smoking and joking. Both good lessons learned, and many more learned along the way. Let's get into them:


RAIN HITS DIFFERENT BACK EAST

For years I've been vaguely aware that the lack of rain in Colorado has spoiled me, and that operations back in the more well watered east coast of the US would be a gut check for me. It sure was. It basically rained on and off for the entire FTX, switching every few hours between cloudy calm and steady rainstorm. Knowing the weather forecast, I stepped off wearing a USGI ECWCS level 6 Gore-Tex rain suit that hadn't gotten much use the entire time I've lived in Colorado. I quickly discovered that the seams in the jacket leaked, and that the jacket and pants combo was too bulky to stuff into my buttpack during periods when it wasn't raining. This is the latest in a long line of instances wherein Gore-Tex and other waterproof breathable (WPB) gear has failed me. You may recall in my post about combat boots that I think WPB footwear is a bad idea, and now I'm becoming more and more resistant to using WPB materials anywhere. The jacket seemed to do the opposite of its purpose, locking in my sweat while allowing rain to ingress and soak my layers beneath. Perhaps my jacket is just too old, but its failure lends even more to my desire to switch to non-breathable, waterproof, silicone, or PU coated rain gear. The other reason to make that switch is weight/bulk. It was annoying that the Gore-Tex level 6 suit couldn't fit in my buttpack, but I know I've seen minimalist rain suits that weigh nothing and can scrunch up small enough to fit into a GP pouch or a pants pocket. The perhaps discontinued EMS Stasher Rain Jacket and the venerable Frogg Toggs come to mind. The War Bonnet Stash Jacket honestly looks pretty great too, I might buy one. Plenty of other companies make similar rain suits, just check your local outdoor gear store. In any case, for the sort of lightweight, long distance patrolling we were doing, I think a stashable lightweight waterproof jacket & pants or jacket & poncho would have been preferable to the big dumb Gore-Tex suit. I'll have to do more testing when I inevitably move back east.


RAIN HITS DIFFERENT BACK EAST PART 2: SHELTER

As afternoon turned to evening in our patrol base, I took out my Helikon poncho and set up a simple lean-to shelter, like this:

Nice and cozy. By the morning though, my shelter looked like this:

As you can see, my shelter was missing. My down quilt was also pretty wet, as was my gun and much of my gear. At about 4am the rain worsened, and was accompanied by a pretty bad windstorm, which pulled all the stakes out of my poncho shelter and led to rain coming in sideways (as well as through the hood hole of my poncho). I quickly had to cut my guylines in the dark, grabbing my poncho and wrapping it around myself in a ranger roll to prevent my down quilt from getting wet and losing its ability to keep me warm. Takeaways? Rain is a more serious threat to your sleep system back east, especially when combined with wind. Solutions? Consider a larger, dedicated ultralight tarp that can be pitched in a more wind-resistant configuration. Also consider using a synthetic ultralight quilt (made with Climashield Apex insulation or similar) instead of a down quilt, because it would hold up a bit better in wet conditions.


DRONES ARE THE NEXT BIG THING IN WARFARE (EVEN FOR CIVILIANS)

Our team gear included one DJI Mavic 3 Pro quadcopter drone. Nice model, but basic off the shelf, unmodified. During both halves of the FTX, it allowed us to pretty much instantly locate the enemy position and make detailed notes of their defenses. We'd all pull security while our drone operator launched it, flew it around for a half hour, logged the exact coordinates of every enemy position he saw, and flew it home. Simple as that. Even through the trees (though they were quite bare of leaves) he was able to easily identify individual enemy troops and their fighting positions. We'd pass all that info up to our parent unit, which then had a detailed map of the enemy defenses. Surely you're aware of the more kinetic uses that both sides have found for drones in a certain conflict in Europe. But besides that, they're just a great tool for reconnaissance. We were able to find the enemy without having to patrol around, possibly getting into contact and taking casualties.


Bringing the drone in for a landing

HIGH FAT, HIGH PROTEIN RATIONS

Myself and most others on the recon team carried for rations a mix of hard cheese, dry sausage, peanut butter, and protein bars, very similar to what I outlined in my blog post on food. This worked very well, and I was able to live off the food contained in a GP pouch for the entire FTX, with food left over to spare. I also added several sources of sugar/carbs to my ration in the form of energy waffles, chews, and gummies. This is something I would really recommend.


TRAIL RUNNERS

I think most of our recon team was using some type of trail runner shoe, which I recommended over a combat boot in my blog post about footwear. We clocked about 20 miles of walking over the course of the FTX, up and down the hills of West Virginia, often in the rain, and everyone's feet were fine. Our shoes dried quickly when sitting in the sun at the PB or while resting on patrol. My feet started to get a little clammy from not changing my socks enough, but that's easily solvable, and a couple of the guys had Sealskinz waterproof socks, which is a piece of gear I'd like to test myself.


PERFORMANCE FABRIC UNIFORMS

About half of us were wearing the Army Aircrew Combat Uniform (A2CU), a two piece uniform vaguely similar to an ACU cut but made entirely out of Nomex aramid fibers. In addition to being flame resistant, these uniforms are much tougher, lighter, and dry much faster than uniforms made of the usual nyco blend. Our uniforms were usually dry an hour or two after the rain stopped. If you're interested, there's also an M81 Woodland version called the IABDU. I wore A2CU pants and a Helikon Windrunner top. Definitely my favorite windshirt I've tried, and I highly recommend it.

A2CU Uniform

DRINKING WATER CACHES

This was a concept we didn't get to test fully. We had two Sea to Summit Watercell Xs which each held 20L of drinking water (as much as a jerry can), each carried inside a 3DAP worn above our rig. The idea was to drop them off and conceal them at strategic points in our AO, so we would have our own secret water source that couldn't be monitored by the enemy. This proved not to be necessary, since it was so easy to get to the natural water sources already present in the AO. But if the risk of being ambushed while trying to get water is high, then I think they could be a valuable asset.


TEAM SHELTER

One thing we wished we had was a tarp large enough to fit multiple people under. As a small team of only six guys, our perimeter was a tiny wagon wheel, and nominally we could have two guys keep watch while the other four ate and rested. Instead of each of those guys having to set up their own shelter, we hypothesized that it would've been easier for us to just pitch one large tarp low to the ground and have all four guys fit under it. Faster to set up and take down camp, and each man could still carry an emergency shelter in case you had to leave your big tarp in a hurry. Something to test in the future.


IFF WITH NODS IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT

Due to a miscommunication with our parent force, one of the attacks on the enemy hilltop position began without our knowledge, at about one in the morning. Myself and one other recon team guy happened to be patrolling with NODs near the enemy position, and watched the whole assault unfold. We both had dual tube NODs, and the element of surprise, and we wanted to engage. But how do we tell which side is friendly? This proved to be an impossible challenge. The two sides were close enough that you couldn't approach or challenge one without exposing yourself to the other, and you couldn't shine them with an IR illuminator because they all had NODs too, and they would've seen it. We were in an excellent position to open fire and take out several guys on either side, but we couldn't tell which was which. This has interesting implications for the civilian world. Say you hear a commotion at your neighbor's house at night, and decide to head over to investigate. If you see someone, can you tell under NODs if it's your neighbor or his family? Can you do it completely passively?


YOU GET COLD WHEN DOING NOTHING

For the second half of the FTX, we were well informed about our parent force's assault on the enemy position, and our recon team was to play an important role. We had spent several hours carefully climbing up a mountainside behind and above the enemy position, and when the main force attacked them from below, we would attack them from above. So we got into position in the pouring rain just before sundown, and waited for the attack to commence, and waited, and waited. The rain ceased as night fell, but we were all still wet, and began to all get VERY cold. I had a swagman on over my uniform, but that wasn't cutting it. We tried eating food to warm our bodies, but that wasn't cutting it either. Eventually once it got dark and was safe enough to do so, we took turns walking in circles and hopping up and down to keep warm. We all held on for the four-ish hours before it was time to move, but it sure wasn't good for morale or security. If we had had to stay on that mountainside all night, we would've been in trouble. For some stupid reason I didn't have my quilt, but I think pulling out my quilt and draping it over myself like a cape would've kept me warm. That's another reason to use a quilt over a sleeping bag: it can provide enough surface area to be worn while in the standing or sitting position.


BE WHERE YOU'RE NOT EXPECTED

History is full of tales of stunning military victories that occurred simply because the attacker took the long way around, rather than a direct route. I know it's a Sun Tzu trope, but he had a point: showing up and attacking from an unexpected direction, at an unexpected time, sometimes can be the biggest factor. After freezing up on the mountainside for several hours, we were informed that the assault was delayed because our parent force had taken several cold casualties. The assault was rescheduled for the next morning. But we had found a very advantageous position above the enemy, and wanted to exploit it. So we spoke with event staff and it was agreed that the next morning, our six man group would be allowed to stage a raid on the enemy hilltop before our parent force arrived. We started moving in the dark, slowly crept up to their perimeter as twilight started to gather, and kicked it off at 0630.

By about 0634, it was over. Two of our six guys were still up, and all fifteen of the bad guys on the hill were down. We reached the first foxhole and "safety killed" the three guys in it before anyone knew what was happening. After that, we pushed as fast as we could through the whole position, from foxhole to foxhole. Two of our guys' MILES lasers turned out to be nonfunctional so they couldn't kill anyone, but it didn't matter. Showing up on the most unexpected side of their perimeter, at an unexpected time, with a lot of aggression and a well-rehearsed plan to overrun their position allowed what was essentially four guys to overrun fifteen guys who were dug in and expecting a fight. A lot of full auto helped (in those four minutes I went through just shy of seven mags) but I really think that fight was won because our arrival was simply so unexpected. Apply this to real life preparedness and community defense as you see fit.

Waiting on the mountainside above the enemy position

ALWAYS MAINTAIN SECURITY (EVEN IN THE HOME STRETCH)

After overrunning the enemy position, the event staff respawned everyone on both sides, and had us switch factions, now moving out in front of the position we had just raided to defend it from our old parent force that was on its way to attack. So we strolled down the hill and found a little defilade position along a likely approach to the hill, and it wasn't long before we were sitting in a circle, passing around our rations, and joking and laughing about our recent success. We were so engrossed, in fact, that we were still sitting there when we noticed our enemy approaching in a column less than 30 yards away from us. We all got down and tried to lay as low as we could, but when they got to within 15 yards or so they spotted us. Gunfire erupted from both sides, but our little pow wow circle was unable to bring its full force to bear against the now sixteen bad guys who were right in front of us, and we were wiped out within a couple minutes.

This is footage taken by me (already dead) of one of our last guys breaking contact. He got away, but was later killed trying to hook back around to re-engage the enemy. We really deserved this to be honest, as we were high on the success of our raid, and had been smoking and joking instead of doing the job we were supposed to be doing. The feeling of success can be exhilarating, but it's important to stay serious until you've done everything you have to.


CONCLUSION

This is the third time myself and others have tested the LFR concept at an actual force-on-force event, and it's been a huge success. Realistic simulations like this really are a great place to test yourself and your gear, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's serious about their capabilities. You don't necessarily have to attend One Shepherd; Milsim WestBroken Arrow Events, and DARC TUSC are all good options. But all in all, this was a valuable gut check and a valuable opportunity to build sweat equity with some good friends.


As always, if you have any questions, feel free to comment or email me at support@nixieworks.com


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4 commentaires


Excellent after action report. Always good to see how things will run and how weather always changes the plan. I like no smaller than an 8x8 tarp for my over head cover when I know I will be staying out. The poncho size is good for emergency but just not enough for sustained weather. I also use a 10x10 as a palace for one during camping but can house 2-4 if need be low to the ground.

Nate

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En réponse à

Thanks! Yeah I definitely will be looking into larger tarps in the future. It really is tight to fit you + all your gear under a USGI size poncho. Not much room for error there

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Great AAR.


One piece of gear that I use a lot is the USGI bivy bag. I've still got an old woodland camo version. It's still going strong. Still waterproof and surprisingly breathable for over 10 years old. I wrap myself in my Kifaru Woobie and I am good to go. I can put both the bivy and woobie into a small or medium (don't remember what size it is anymore) Kifaru 5-string stuff sack. Very easy to pack.

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En réponse à

you know I've actually got one of those too, but haven't used it because it never rains here in Colorado. I'll have to break it out and do some testing with it

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