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I remember doing a short course in the early 90s. One of the many bullshit subjects which were fashionable at that time, no doubt. In one seminar – probably about a crap film – I happened to interject with, “It’s just style over substance!”

The seminar leader replied, coolly, “But have you considered that style is substance; discursive, ideological substance?” Clearly I hadn’t considered it and it stuck with me.

In Airsoft, style inspires and set standards. It’s a highly visually-orientated hobby where style most certainly is substance.

After intervewing Ben Webb, I thought I’d go with a series about loadouts. And loadouts are style; whether they are performance-led on one hand, or impression-led on the other.

Interviewees will (hopefully) provide a variety of viewpoints, representing high-end performance gear like Ben’s, the more rules-based impressionistic loadouts, and the many shades in between.

Enduring todays’s trundle through Airsoft Apparel Semiotics 101 is s23gearmonkey75.

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Welcome back! Where does your impression sit on ‘the spectrum’?

It’s all evolution and I’d say here that it’s only prohibited by disposable income. I’ll explain further. From the outset I was dogmatically tied to the stitch perfect load out, and equally was more interested in general infantry inspired gears of the mid to late 2000’s. These where drawn from either U.S. Infantry and the U.S. Marines. For more than five years, I painstakingly trawled the Internet, photographic reference material, books, periodicals and video footage, tweaking and developing ‘screen accurate’ impressions. I’ll be honest, they worked and despite either bulk, weight or sheer quantity of RS magazine counts, I worked harder than most on the field. Real Kevlar helmets, soft armor, plates – loaded IFAKs, water – it was all there. I’m not sure who’s suspension of disbelief I was fulfilling, but generally I was happy. I’d not be satisfied if I hadn’t suffered for my ‘art’.

However, I started getting out-gunned and out-played. And not necessarily by younger players, but players who’d made vast evolutionary steps with more modern, dynamic kit set-ups. Times had changed. Kit had been developing at a rate of knots. It was getting lighter and better built, with higher quality and esoteric materials.

I certainly don’t recall having an epiphany, but I’d reached a juncture upon joining a new team: Deniable Operations Executive (DOE).

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I started to explore and expand upon the lessons I was now learning, as I transitioned to the group’s take on the 75th Rangers; a light weight, high speed infantry unit. The 75th themselves were switching out and improving their own kit almost monthly. Crye plate carriers, uniforms and helmets were all being drawn off the shelf. I really sat up and started to take notice. Naturally I also began to purchase and experiment with many of the same items.

So, those rules I rigidly imposed on myself from early kit lists started to offer a more flexible framework. They continue to inspire and inform my experimentation; keeping things credible. Whilst the journey is ongoing, I’m at a very happy plateau with my current options. It’s a happy medium f’sure.

You recently parted company with DOE. Has that changed your outlook on what you can and can’t wear?

Well, not really.

Being part of DOE was an incredible experience. As I’ve said before, we went all over the UK and chewed dirt with the best of em’. However, to clarify, I was asked to leave and without any ill-will or feeling; certainly not on my part. We’d simply moved on to other things. I fully respect their decision.

But, I’ll admit I’m hard work. Not possibly the best advert for myself, but I’m wilful and believe in doing what I want to do. I’m particular in my decisions and choices and I guess where I’m going is in a very different direction.

It’s ultimately something I’ll come to terms with and I’ll find my balance. There are plenty of options on the table as to how I proceed from here 🙂

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What are your current loadout influences?

I’ve recently seen a lot of teams, players or kit enthusiasts from the Netherlands who’ve caught my eye. I recognised that they too had similar journeys to mine; starting out with rigid, rule-based load outs – but developing into something more.

Then there’s the ‘New Jack’ players. They’ve worked hard, done their homework and made incredible journeys in very short spaces of time. They’ve done such a good job, they made all the right choices straight off the bat. I recently interviewed Kevgru from New Mexico. He’s a very modest young guy, but he’s developed an incredible sense of form and function. I see the little details that I get a kick out of: pressure sensors or the correct strobe, or cool guy modification to a holster. But, he’s been incredibly brutal in cutting it all back. It’ll sound contrived but just like Pantera: no stage lights, no gimmicks just shorts, amps, drums etc – that minimalist aggressive aesthetic is what drives me and gives me inspiration and a fresh perspective.

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You’re a big fan of Crye’s Jumpable Plate Carrier (JPC) and were an early adopter. You certainly influenced my decision to buy one. What do you like about the JPC over other solutions?

It’s a real happy place to be with that plate carrier. I took the plunge with that and really thought it wasn’t going to work. It addressed so many of the problems I had with earlier loadout iterations but still allows me to load carry, within reason. I made a few drastic changes early on, having had good advice from Cobalt on moving a few things around. Just to reduce my profile and keep within the brief I’d set myself.

I thought it might possibly become redundant over time, but it’s still drawn from the gear locker and has its place; it’s earned it and deservedly so. If I’m playing a high speed, urban AO, or a particularly confined DA or CQB event, as much as I may want the aesthetics of more substantial carriers in my collection, it’s still going to be the JPC. Although that Ronin plate carrier is lookin’ pretty rad right now.

You had a cathartic experience with a set of ballistic plates recently, which is more interesting than I’ve made it sound. Tell me about that.

Aside from scoring a second hand set in fantastic condition, at staggeringly good price? 🙂

I wanted to see if my CPC was really as capable of distributing weight as Crye claims. Well, with the ballistic plates, it does. The weight is equally distributed via the eight internal pads which connect with the torso. Furthermore it now sits correctly. Over a two day event, in very warm weather I felt no discomfort or fatigue. That included running at elevation, covering several miles. It’s an incredible testimony to why Crye’s CPC really is a masterclass in design.

I’d add that it was less cathartic and more cardio but, hell, why not? It’s great for keeping that fitness up!

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Continuing the Crye theme, in the past you’ve been fairly messianic about the Crye Modular Rigger’s Belt (MRB). What’s so good about it?

The JPC prohibited some of my load carriage, as generous as it is. It was minimalist in comparison to the modular real estate I’d been previously afforded. I’d sworn to never again return to belt orders, but was sufficiently swayed by Crye, who at that juncture where at the height of their powers.

I use a belt rig at work. It has little to no load bearing capability. We walk an extraordinary amount, covering ten to twelve miles a day. So, even at nearly 41 I’ve still got the physicality to be a pack mule and carry an awful lot. A lot of what’s on that belt does get used and even when it’s only ‘Plastic Deth’ or a MilSim, I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and…

So the MRB allows me to carry all the additional things I may or may not need, distributing weight equally and without discomfort. I’ve used it for, what, two years now? No issues, but I’m extrapolating what could be improved; what could I make better? And I have a few ideas as to what direction I may go with that.

Is there anything that Crye makes which you’ve swerved in favour of another brand?

A fair few of their pouches!

There are now many more innovative choices out there, which are readily available and at far more economical prices.

I totally agree, especially on their pouches, which leads me to my next question…
What’s your attitude to the smaller, more agile and more artisanal nylon brands like Intelligent Armour, Flimmuur Tactical and C2R-Fast who work closely with UK and other European LE/AF? Do you use any bespoke products?

I don’t. I should. And I would…but I’m restricted by several factors right now. The financial obligations of family life and other responsibilities which draw on my time – and the infrequency with which I play – have made me a lot more brutal in my choices. I just can’t use my kit enough to justify more and whilst I moved just over five loadouts of RS kit recently, I struggle to let go…

However, artisinal nylon is a grass roots movement – underground if you will – which has definitely caught my attention. Undoubtably so – and particularly the UK guys you’ve mentioned. So, I’ll be looking more closely at what they have to offer when my current items from the ‘bigger brands’ need to upgraded.

Flimmuur for example is very exciting; as is an upcoming company that I can’t even talk about yet (laughs)…

These companies develop bold, brave, new and exciting innovations.

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As of right now, what item in your loadout deserves a special mention for working well?

My Aerobie Aero Coffee press, or my Mk II ‘Beer Mat’ patches!

Just kidding 😉

Although the Percolo Stainless Steel filter I got for the press is design at it best (laughs).

No, I’d say Intelligent Armour‘s double-stitched rigid holster belt deserves speacial mention.

I’m hearing a lot of good things about Intelligent Armour (IA). Tell me more…

That belt really is the final word right now. If not particularly exciting, it is incredibly well made, has the obligatory AustriAlpin buckle, and whilst I’ve not been brave enough to do so you could just belt-mount all the kit you load carry onto it. It’s a great value, hard wearing design.

Have you identified anything recently in your loadout which isn’t working so well and needs further iteration?

My MRB (Modular Riggers Belt), ironically!

Don’t get me wrong, it works really well. Everything is exactly where I want it to be. It neither slips nor rolls and gives me all the load carriage I want for any and all ancillary items I carry.

But I’m still frustrated with donning and doffing it. As such, as much as I like the OEM internal rigger’s belt, I may just run the IA belt through the sleeve and wear it that way…

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Is there anything you put up with, because it’s a core requirement of your impression?

In the past, definitely. Everything from NVG arms, strobes, IFAKs, Assault Packs replete with spares, repair equipment, MREs – and to be fair, lots of little details which, while inconsequential, were there just to complete the impression. I recall a painstakingly completed FSBE Force Recon load out I used at a CQB event and I insisted on using the SPIE extraction harness. Laughs aside, I was happy!

Living the ‘Crye or Die’ dream is a great ideal, and a convenient way to choose kit. Are people limiting themselves with brand loyalty, or are they simply freeing themselves from having to make too many kit choices? The options nowadays are mind boggling.

It’s a mindset that undoubtedly could be and is restrictive. I think the game, no pun intended, has been blown wide open. It’s the sensible thing to broaden your sensibilities when selecting kit. Nowadays, smaller, more agile companies are making incredible advances and developments. I’m already looking further afield and can see my self unshackling my brand loyalty in search of more exciting, effective equipment. High Ground Gear’s ‘Tilt’ MBITR pouch is one example. It’s a masterclass of innovation and design, and comparably cheaper off the shelf than the predictable choice.

Outdoors company Hill People Gear is also really, really doing some amazing work with pouches, load carriage and packs too. So, yeah, the Crye thing can be very limiting. I think people should make informed choices based on what they need, rather than what they’re expected to want.

I recently wrote about this in Airsoft International. The firearms and tactical gear industries have become very savvy with branding. You’ve really got to ask, “Do I really need it and does it do what I need it to?” But hey, we all see something shiny and then wait until that treasure drops through the mail box 🙂

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We chatted about haters, recently; particularly airsofters who troll other airsofters for wearing another country’s flag. As a Brit, what does wearing the Stars and Stripes in Airsoft mean to you? I know you are deeply interested in Americana.

I’m naturally proud of who I am, where I’m from and what I do in the real world.

In airsoft, I’ve replicated US cool guy units, so naturally I’ve worn that flag correctly. I genuinely support what it stands for. More importantly, I respect what it means to those it belongs to.

But, it does also lead back to another very personal love affair: a deep seated, long standing appreciation of modern American culture.

It really is an extension of many thing. American Hardcore and Metal bands, Judge Dredd, etc. Although Dredd is a very British creation, the charcter is a very clever celebration/critique of American cuture. Call it akin to film director Paul Verhoven’s interpretation of American culture with Robocop.

So, I don’t get niggled when questioned about it. It’s strange that there are those who get bent out of shape about it. Ironically, those who’ve been the most receptive to my explanation have been Americans.

Lastly: ballcap or helmet?

Helmet.

Preferably real 🙂

Caps are great. I have an ever rotating collection of ball caps I use at home; be it baseball or hockey teams, or bands. But I’m incredibly fussy about quality, fit and finish. There’s just not been a ‘tactical’ cap out there yet that I like…

I have and do use ‘Boonie’ hats, or watch caps on cold days. In fact I’ve two USMC Polartec ones that are still going strong to this day. Regardless of season, one or the other is always in my day sack.

Helmets are my preferred choice for airsoft. I get on well with most I’ve used and they often have a functional part to play – be it comms, NVG mounts, lights, etc. And, of course, a helmet offers proffers a modicum of protection.

A huge thanks to S23gearmonkey75 for giving his time and answering all of my questions fully and with candour.

In the unlikely event that you’re not already following his blog, check it out here.

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