Meet the player: Stephen Gilbert

Who I am: Stephen Gilbert

I'm currently 22 years old, started Airsoft just before my 20th birthday. Did it as at that time I was looking for any excuse to not join the military which is what I always wanted to do up to that point. It was a really good way to practice skills and drills, teamwork and of course... It's good fun an a challenge when you are pitted against other skilled players. Looked for every excuse not to join the military from the age of 18, but the civilian life isn't my thing. Therefore I'm currently a potential paratrooper (recruit) in PARA company, 2ITB based in Catterick.

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Why do you play airsoft?

I play Airsoft because of many reasons. Things have changed since being in the military, definitely less time to attend events. Used to attend 2+ events a month, to play games and see my friends and interact with new players. Now I play to apply and develop skills I've learned from either my time in training or skills that were self taught before I joined. I play for a challenge, for fitness and for fun an a laugh (when I actually have the time haha) I also play because I can use the fancy, ally kit that the British Army doesn't let me use ??

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Gear and the Firearms

Disclaimer: this review will be long an detailed so grab a drink, snack an take a seat.

When it comes to loadouts, there is never one that works for everything. Normally you will have to tailor your loadout to the environment and conditions that you are operating in. (hence naval special warfare operators having 'cages' to store all the different equipment they use) In a way my loadouts are formatted the same way an scalable depending on the situations I'll find myself encountering.

Due to the nature of said statement, lots of gear will be spoken about in detail throughout this review (I disagree completely with the concept of 'all the gear, no idea'. I believe you should know exactly what you are using, it's applications, strengths, weaknesses and have sufficient practice using said item) therefore we will start from the feet and work up, describing all the different variants of kit I use with its intended application.

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Firstly I use Salomon XA Forces 2 Mid boots. These are extremely comfortable, compared to trainers but have grip, ankle and instep support an finally Salomon's quick lace system with Kevlar thread laces. Making donning an doffing/adjusting tightness easy and fuss free. With these I use pentagon pioneer socks. No particular reason why, but have great airflow, reinforced and thickened on parts of your feet prone to blisters etc.

For the lower body, I'll always wear Crye Precision G3 Combat pants. These are great for comfort, usability, sizing options and durable. The colour/camo I'd wear depends on the area I'll be working in. Normally I use a block colour such as Ranger Green or Black. For underwear, Under Armour is king. Either compression boxerjocks or standard compression shorts are great for both cold and warm environments.

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The beltline has evolved many times throughout my time airsofting an I believe I have found my preferred setup. This is a line that transfers between basically all my loadouts. It's universal and works with all the different configurations of kit and firearms that I use. The base is a Ronin Tactics Warrior Belt (in black, looking to update to a task force belt in Ranger Green) On said belt we have a Safariland under belt loop and QLS fork system with a trex arms leg strap. With this I use the trex arms Ragnarok g17 w/ x300 light holster. Extremely sturdy and reliable holster, requires no locking system to tightly secure your sidearm and is one of the best holsters I've used. But with the QLS fork, I can easily switch holsters if I need more retention or if I'm using a different sidearm. After is a TS Blades Huntsman practice knife (for dem sic knife kills). From there we have a trex arms medical pouch filled with a basic trauma kit and a combat application torniquet w/cylumes attached to the external of the pouch. The cylumes are great for marking out clear rooms/buildings/casualties/prisoners etc (their intended use in the military). The med pouch is more tailored towards real world applications than Airsoft an as I always say 'good to have it an not need it, than need it an not have it'. Next in line is a trex arms dump pouch, great as it's small profile and elastic strap which fits around your leg, stops it from flopping about with mags in. I'll normally reindex mags from the dump pouch when I have a spare minute to negate the possibility of losing mags during an intense engagement or maneuver. Finally esstac pouches which will change depending on the weapon system I'm using. I'll always carry 2 double stack pistol mag pouches (Glock 17) and the final pouch will compromise of either X1 5.56, X1 7.62 or X2 4.6x30mm pouches (HK416, MK17 Mod 0, HK MP7) A helo retention lanyard is attached to the front (real world application) to keep the user safe in the event of a helo conducting maneuvers or a crash landing.

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For the torso I'll always wear some sort of Under Armour Compression shirt be it heatgear or coldgear depending on the conditions I'll be working in. Over that, a choice of Crye Combat Shirt, Drifire Combat Shirt (M81/NATO Woodland camo is life) or UF Pro Winter Combat Shirt for the elements. It'll be rare that I wear a coat due to the active and physical nature of your standard Airsoft game but that purely depends on weather conditions and temperatures. These are always accompanied by some sort of thin/thick neck scarf/headover and PIG FDT Alpha Gloves in Ranger Green or PIG FDT Cold Weather Gloves in Black.

The plate carrier is a Crye Precision JPC 1.0 in Ranger Green with 6x6 side plate pouches. But the standard front flap has been removed so I can use placards. These comprise of Ferro Concepts Adapt Front Flaps with triple esstac 5.56 and 7.62 pouches. The admin pouch is a NESworkshop Crye admin pouch which is nice an small to contain antifog, spare batteries, adjustment tools etc. The cummerbund is kept flush apart from the rear left side where my TCA PRC-152 Multi-band radio is located. This is connected to a JCI comms custom U94 PTT. The shoulders have PIG shoulder pads and the rear plate has PIG pontoons attached to relieve pressure on the spine an allow airflow to the back. On the rear of the carrier is a Haley Strategic Flat Pack which will contain spare mags (2 max if needed), 1.5 litre source water bladder, Night Vision Goggles (if stowed away) and any warm kit depending on the conditions.

Another plate carrier I use (rarely) is the Spiritus Systems LV-119 Overt. This was made as a concealable plate carrier but with the ability to scale from being completely flush, to a fully equipped vest more tailored to direct action. Currently I will use either the LV-119 5.56 placard or the Spiritus Systems MK4 Micro Fight Rig, either equipped with three 7.62 pouches and a half admin flap, or four 4.6x30mm pouches and a full admin flap. My TCA PRC-152 will be placed in the same spot as my JPC but will be inside the Spiritus Advanced Cummerbund (three pouch like pockets either side) and the others will fit either 5.56 or 7.62 mags depending on what weapon system I'm running. The U94 PTT will also be ran the same way as it is on the JPC. A NESworkshop admin pouch (same as JPC) will be placed in the same area and currently the rear plate bag remains flush (however looking to buy Spiritus Systems rear zip on panels when released) This plate carrier I would normally wear with casual clothes to be in keeping with its covert design and intended use in low profile kinetic ops.

When I am not using a plate carrier (more tailored towards rural and combat in remote areas) it'll be the Spiritus Systems MK4 Micro Fight Rig ran as a chest rig with the fat strap and thin strap. Attached to the chest rig will be fight extenders which will house the PRC-152 (located front left) an either a spare 5.56 or 7.62 mag depending on weapon system used (located front right). I will also use the Spiritus dangler for my admin pouch which could house GPS, batteries, antifog, spare sidearm mags etc. The Micro Fight Rig will be ran in one of three configs (depending on weapon system which we talked about with the LV-119 Overt). The choice being Three 7.62 pouches and a half admin flap, or either four 4.6x30mm pouches and the other choice being three 5.56 pouches, both used with a full admin flap. The U94 PTT will be ran on the left strap above the radio an will be used with either the helmet system (uncommon) or a Invisio M3S earpiece which is my default config.

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The helmet took a very long time to complete and put together, and was anything but cost effective. But it's by far one of my favourite parts of my kit. It started off as a Dragon Red Ops Core Carbon replica. From there the head loc system was replaced by a genuine ops core worm dial head loc and chin strap (minus the Lux liner impact shell and pads), TNVC 4D zero G pads (expensive but easily the best helmet pads currently on the market). The arc rails, shroud and velcro were all swapped with genuine parts after I sprayed the shell Ranger Green (from original black colour). I run a Wilcox L4 G24 nvg mount, Firefly MS2000 strobe (looking to update to a S&S precision Manta strobe) and a PVS 31 battery pack on the rear with 2 s&s precision V lites. For the headbourne Comms I will run either Peltor Comtac III or IV hybrid headsets (depending on fighting and weather conditions) with arc adapters.

For eye pro I use Oakley M Frame Alpha (gotta be one of the most versatile set of eye pro I've ever used. Hence it's referred to as an ecosystem) in the eyeglass configuration mostly. Will use the gasket if in sandy/volatile conditions where you can get debris in your eyes. The HALO goggle I'd only use for airborne ops and free fall jumps (real world applications of course). Before these I used the Smith Optics Aegis Echo I and II glasses. Amazing for what they are and served me very well. Thin arms fit comfortably under ear pro and the glass is clear and has great clarity, but in my opinion Oakley reigns supreme with their Prism lens technology and varied array of lenses tailored to different light and environmental conditions.

Finally if using the MK4 Micro Fight Rig in a forest/naturally built up or rural environment, I will use a custom made ghillie suit which covers the shoulders, arms (down to forearm), head (attached to 5.11 boonie hat) and back where it will cut off at the beltline. This was made by myself to be a 2 piece system, one piece being the upper body and the other attaching to the boonie hat to cover the head, draping down onto the shoulders. It was made using camo netting given by a friend and adapted using natural foliage from the area I'll be operating in. It's an aggressive cut which doesn't cover the front portion of my torso and legs. That's intentional due to a full suit easily snagging on foliage and being difficult to access mags and kit from. This makes me mobile, combat effective in engagements where my position is compromised and also having the ability to easily blend with my surroundings and remain camouflaged from the enemy.

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In regards to specialist kit, I've used PVS-31 NVG's (lent to me by he who shall not be named) for use in night time conditions, Garmin Fotrex 401 GPS, Garmin Tactix Charlie Watch and a Contour Camera mounted to my helmet via a Unity Tactical KNUCKL mount.

The next part will be the weapons and their intended applications

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