Blue Forces (BLUFOR) pushed off the FOB late in the afternoon, just as the sun started to make its descent towards the horizon. White Cell “higher command” had issued yet another FRAGO to the patrol before stepping off their LD. Halfway through the week-long field exercise, the strains of the prior days began to make the mens’ legs heavy and the rucksacks became a constant burden. This, in spite of the adrenaline associated with an impending near-ambush a kilometer or so down the lane.

The BLUFOR patrol disappeared into the woods under the direction of their assigned patrol leader (PL) and assistant patrol leader (APL). I listened to radio traffic as they made their way to their objective rally point (ORP) and then on to their objective—establishing the nighttime near-ambush.

It was the third training mission of the day that was to ENDEX with an overnight stay at the designated ORP. I had been with One Shepherd’s men for the prior two days to try to determine exactly what this organization was all about. Over the years, my curiosity had led me to observe various organizations that purported to be head and shoulders above other “pretenders.” From re-enactors to military simulation (MilSim) to paintballers and the perennial Airsoft community, I had investigated them all. What I was seeking, I’m not sure.

As a surprise, I was invited to participate in the opposing force (OPFOR) patrol. Our mission was to make it through the ambush, or at least kill as many of the BLUFOR troops as possible. One Shepherd training is unique for a variety of reasons. One reason is their use of the multiple integrated laser engagement system (MILES) for force-on-force training with real-steel firearms. No other company makes this equipment available to civilians for training. Of course, nothing but a live bullet in a war zone will replicate a firefight, however when MILES 2000/IWS is maintained properly, it is accurate off the AR15 platform up to 800 meters. At 500 meters it maintains a 95 percent “probability kill.” MILES fires in conjunction with blank ammunition and will signal a near miss with a double-beep or a fatal shot with a flat line tone. The shooter’s weapon ID will register on the opponent’s harness if it hit, and shut it down.

Once I suited up and was issued my rifle, the leader of my stick decided that we would postpone the time hacks and move on foot to throw off the expectations of BLUFOR. It was particularly dark that night without the moon. Low-visibility conditions and the absence of a clunky vehicle gave us a fighting chance to survive an engagement, even possibly a near-ambush. Initially, we set out towards our objective of route reconnaissance in a 1964 M151 quarter ton, affectionately called “the Mutt.”

After dismounting, I fell into a staggered column—second man behind point. A bit of helplessness set in, knowing that I did not have the advantage of night-vision devices that so many of the BLUFOR warriors carried. With just iron sights and very little situational awareness, I felt I would be a prime target. Walking quietly, we kept moving forward. I was able to make out a tree line at the side of the road. It had gaps in it and I was looking for the longest, thickest one. A particularly long, thick hedgerow was just ahead. My heart rate started to rise and I started to lose myself in the scenario.

Another minute passed as I tried to orient my rifle toward that area. Suddenly, a flare shot upward with an initial shot followed by the command “Fire!” In less than an instant, fourteen muzzle flashes unleashed towards me. The point man and I were squarely in middle of the kill zone. I tried to pivot towards the hedgerow and fire but I found myself overwhelmed and frozen in place by the explosive, coordinated volley.

Both of our MILES flat lined immediately and I decided in fair play to assume the position of being “dead.” This was even more unsettling. I spent 10-15 seconds trying to unfreeze myself from shock. I had experienced sensory overload. I had never before seen the flash of functioning weapons fire aimed directly at me.