Operation Helping Hands

On November 8th 2013, Typhoon Haiyan bore down on the Philippines and tore the heart out of Cities, Towns and Communities as it drove its deadly path across the islands.

op-helping-hands-00With sustained winds of up to 195mph and storm surges of up to nearly twenty feet, nothing remained untouched – even the terminal building at Tacloban Airport was no match for the strength and ferocity of the onslaught and was destroyed by the deluge of water that hit it.

Listed as a Category 5 Super Typhoon, Haiyan first made landfall in the township of Guluan and left nearly every building damaged in some way, with many completely flattened. Ocean-going vessels were lifted and dumped among the wreckage of the towns that they used to moor alongside and the population could do little to protect themselves, their property, or their loved ones.

By the time the storm moved away, it left over 6,300 people dead and had caused over $1.5 billion dollars-worth of damage.
Over here in the UK we could not help but be moved by what we were seeing as the depth and scale of the disaster unfolded in the media. Disaster funds were quickly set up and money was made available to provide immediate help to the victims – and the story was soon replaced by some other “news-worthy” item and faded from our television screens almost as rapidly as it appeared. But the Filipino community living in the UK cannot and will not forget their families and friends and continue to raise whatever funds they can to help those back home rebuild their lives.

op-helping-hands-01I was delighted to receive and invitation to attend Operation Helping Hands, a Charity Event arranged by the Filipino Airsoft Community in cooperation with Popular Airsoft and held at MadDog Airsoft in Brampton, Cambridgeshire. Organised by Paul Fernandez and Albert Onrubia, all the funds raised at Operation Helping Hands would go towards the rehabilitation efforts in areas of devastation, via the ABS-CBN Foundation “Sagip Kapamilya”.

Speaking to Paul a few weeks before the event, he said they hoped to have about 50 – 60 players and if they could raise a few hundred pounds it would be considered a big success – but the generosity of airsofters would prove far greater than he could have imagined.
I had not been to MadDog airsoft before and, in truth, knew very little about them so this was going to be a very interesting day indeed.

To get to MadDog you drive along a track behind the Services at the A1/A14 roundabout, up a gentle slope to High Harthy Farm which is on top of one the three hills to be found in Cambridgeshire (I was reliably informed – by a man wearing an orange traffic cone on his head!), where I was greeted by Paul, Albert and a large contingent of airsofters. The 50 – 60 players Paul had mentioned looked to be many more than that!

MadDog Airsoft is owned by Chrissi Griffiths and her partner Demetrios “Midge” Harris who also operate High Harthy Outdoor Pursuits, which offers people the chance to try such sports as Clay Pigeon Shooting, Crossbow and Archery. They “fell” into airsoft almost by accident when they were looking for some decent pistol for Practical Shooting and discovered that airsoft weapons are really rather good. One thing lead to another and MadDag was born, with the philosophy of giving people what they want whilst having loads of fun in a safe environment. When they were approached about hosting the Charity day, they didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The site itself is a large “L”-shape and comprises very distinctly different playing areas and all would be used today, the first of which being the aptly named “Scrap Yard”.

Following a really good briefing from Head Marshal Matt (the aforementioned man wearing the orange traffic cone), players were split into two teams and the day got underway. Interestingly, Matt conducted his briefing from the centre of a rope circle laid out on the ground, with all players on the outside of the circle. It is sometimes difficult to visualise the “blast radius” of a grenade but this was what the circle had been laid out to demonstrate – very simple yet very effective.

op-helping-hands-02The Scrap Yard, a large, open field absolutely full of old vehicles, bits of machinery, small buildings, barricades and various other sundry obstacles and points of cover, would be the starting point of a three-phase game. The total time taken for each team to complete the phases would be recorded with the fastest time being the winners. I really liked this idea as it meant if one team cocked up a certain phase, it wasn’t the end of it and to win, you would have to be on top of your game through all three phases.

Not too much in the way of tactics required here though, with one team on continual regen and the other on “single hit” it was always going to be an out and out spray-fest… Speedball airsoft-style! The game started and swarms of little white angry wasps soon (quite literally) filled the air and I have to say it was just brilliant to watch. I have not seen so many players having such a blast-fest in ages. With the amount of bbs in the air the potential for over-kill could have been a problem but not today, in fact I saw loads of excellent sportsmanship, with players taking hits without question. I also watched as two players arrived at opposite sides of the same barricade and, realising what the situation was, one player popped his gun over the other side and simply shouted “Bang!” – the hit was accepted without question.

The game ended when the last player (sited on the top of a mound and armed with a GPMG) finally ran out of ammo and was overrun.

To ensure a smooth flow and not having to traipse back to the Safe Zone between games, players had loaded extra kit and ammo onto a Quad’s trailer which was used for re-supply throughout the day. The next phase would be a straight-forward attack and defend scenario, played through a very different part of the site.

Whereas the Scrap Yard was flat and open, this phase would be played through what I can only describe as a quarry-like environment… a steep-sided area which led to a large, open “Quarry” and at one end of which was a small structure standing on a raised mound within the pit. The same rules applied and again it was all down to how quickly the defenders could be cleared but this time, tactics would be a factor as well.

op-helping-hands-03Simply put, whoever controlled the high side would have the greatest advantage and this would be particularly important for the defenders. If the attacking force could push them back then they would be able to rain fire down onto those below. Also coming into play was a small area of woodland on the opposite side, which had a track running the length of the area and lent itself perfectly to a flanking manoeuvre. However, the attackers didn’t get it all their own way as the wind had picked up and although they had the advantage of height, they were being out-ranged by the defenders, who had the wind behind them. As in the first phase, weight of numbers slowly began to come into play and as the last man was taken out the clock was stopped to record the time and players reassembled for the third and final phase.

For this phase the defenders were split into two groups; one was sent to defend a “downed pilot”, whilst the other was tasked to intercept an incoming horde of attackers (shades of Black Hawk Down). The objective was either for the defenders to rescue the pilot, or for the attackers to capture or kill him. As the attackers poured past them, one defender (who had now swapped his GMPG for a Barrett) has a smile a mile wide on his face as he picked off player after player. Once again though, regen slowly proved to be the deciding factor and the attackers pushed through and eventually “eliminated” the pilot.

The clock was stopped and everyone made their way back to the Safe Zone for a well-earned lunch break.

As I mentioned earlier, MadDog Airsoft is on the site of High Harthy Outdoor Pursuits which has a very nice Café where hot and cold food and drinks are available throughout the day, along with proper toilet facilities (something I am sure the ladies were very appreciative of). The place was soon buzzing with the sound of “airsoft banter” as players enjoyed their lunches and recounted the morning’s events.

To cater for players having problems with their kit, Airsoft Monkey (Phil Woods) runs a small shop and service centre and will handle most repairs and upgrades almost immediately.

Before the afternoon’s play got underway, a raffle was held for a range of guns and other prizes that had been donated by a variety of airsoft retailers and an auction for an MG34 worth over £1,300, donated by RedWolf Airsoft, was held. This single item raised well over £500 – a great bargain for the player who bought it and a huge boost to the funds raised.

op-helping-hands-04With full bellies and everyone wound down, the afternoon got underway with a one-off game called “Light Cavalry”. Not including the Scrap Yard but spread throughout the rest of the site were a number of lighting units, each with two, different coloured lights. The objective was simple; the Red Team had to find them and turn on the red light whilst the Blue Team had to do the same with the white light (obviously turning off the other if it was already on). They then had to decide whether to stay and defend, or move on to try and find the rest and the team with the most lights on at game-end would win. A simple but very effective game which brought all sorts of elements into play and a great way to get fired up again after food before moving onto the afternoon proper – a replay and reversal of roles from the morning.

The afternoon played in much the same way as the morning, with the defenders being slowly whittled down whilst the attackers fought to beat the clock. However there was one incident that I feel should be reported and it is one we don’t like to think about; a player injury.

The Scrap Yard phase had been running for a few minutes and the attackers were pushing up fast when the “Cease Fire!” shout went up and three whistle blasts resounded across the area – a player had gone down and was injured.

Over the many years I have been involved in force-on-force events I have seen quite a few injury situations and know two things… 1) Injuries can and will happen. 2) It is how you deal with them that matters.

I have been on sites (not necessarily airsoft) where an injured player triggers “Headless Chicken Syndrome”, with everyone running around in a panic and achieving very little. This was not the case at MadDog Airsoft and I would go as far as to say that it was dealt with in probably the most efficient and professional manner that I have seen on any site, ever.

The player in question had slid into a barricade and thought he may have broken his ankle. Play was instantly stopped, players told to remain still with mags unloaded and guns on the ground whilst the on-site Medic, Dave Keen, assessed the injury. Dave is a 15-year army veteran and trained Team Medic and Battlefield Casualty Instructor, skills which he put to good use on more than one occasion whilst serving in Afghanistan.

Thankfully, the injury was not too serious and Dave treated it with cold spray before bandaging it securely and getting the player off the field to recuperate and be watched for a few minutes in case shock set in. I have since heard from Dave that the injury was a sprained ankle and understand that the player is absolutely fine.

The game restarted and the rest of the afternoon continued and went right down to the wire before the eventual winners were determined.

op-helping-hands-06With the despatch of the downed pilot ending the game, the Red Team managed to beat the Blues by just two minutes which, after over six hours of play, was a very close-run thing.

Back at the Safe Zone I managed to catch up with Paul and Albert but didn’t have to ask them how they thought the day had gone, their smiles said it all.
Operation Helping Hands was run to raise funds to help people thousands of miles away and once again showed the depth of generosity of the airsoft community – a community that I am proud to be part of and one that I hope never loses its desire to help those less fortunate than we are.

Thank you to the 100+ players that took part in Operation Helping Hands and congratulations to Paul Fernandez, Albert Onrubia and the UK Filipino Airsoft Community for rising to the challenge.

Over £1,500 was raised and that money will go in its entirety to help those who lost so much.
If you would like to make a donation to the Disaster Fund, visit the Disasters Emergency Committee website: http://www.dec.org.uk/appeals/philippines-typhoon-appeal