Interview: Rich Norman

Pics: Snook Snaps and Jay

E27 is a UKSF Impression group based in the UK.

– E27’s IG bio.

As understated as the Regiment they are influenced by, E27 are titans of the UKSF impression scene. A remarkable feat, given that the group formed barely 16 months ago.

I have a few mates who are part of E27. When I approached one of them – Gaz – about doing an article on the group, I was told in no uncertain terms that they are definitely not a team.

I spoke to Gaz and E27’s ‘creative director’ – Jay – to find out more…

So, if E27 isn’t a team, is it a collective like TF Exo?

Gaz: I’ve never heard of TF Exo, so no 🙂

Jay: I have heard of TF Exo and I greatly admire their setup, but E27 is different.

We tend to characterise ourselves as a ‘group’ – but the question of whether we are a team or not is somewhat a question of individual terminology. We are certainly eager to avoid a lot of the drama and competitiveness that goes with being a ‘team’, yet we wanted a cohesive identity.

It’s also worth noting that several members of E27 have more casual teams they play with regularly, and we only come together as E27 for specific events. Unlike a collective like TF Exo, however, those teams aren’t constituent elements of E27, and often aren’t milsim or realsim orientated at all.

Personally I am equally comfortable with us being called a team, callsign, group…whatever. The important thing is how we present ourselves

Gaz: We do have a number of roles within E27: dedicated medics, signals, dog handlers, EOD, etc. Some have real world skills, which they can transfer to E27 ops. So I guess that’s similar to TF Exo, now that Jay has explained who they are.

Jay: A good number of us are simply assaulters, but we are looking into other ways we can begin to specialise in things like simulated breaching. This would add new problems to solve, shape kit, and provide further immersion.

How did E27 form?

Jay: I am sure it won’t come as a surprise but UKSF forum threads and groups are often hard to navigate.  You have a variety of people and egos all jostling for attention, and reference pictures and information are contested and fought over.  It is also an environment which is too public to share anything remotely sensitive responsibly, so it discourages that.  As a great deal of the airsoft community’s activity left forums and took to Facebook, many of us took to speaking in private messages about what we were interested in, rather than public forums.  We would speak about kit and compare notes, and it always seemed to be the same few names who got on and were having interesting conversations.  We began to talk about forming a group where we could discuss UKSF kit and share information in a much quieter setting.

After we started the group, we watched the public groups and forums and occasionally invited in others who seemed sensible, pleasant and who shared our interests. Generally, although not entirely, these members were people who had been active for a few years on UKSF threads on forums, but wouldn’t have been considered the central figures on the UKSF Impression scene.

There are a few exceptions. Gaz, for instance, was well known on the scene.  In general though, it was the people who had lurked and watched and learned for a good few years before beginning to produce credible impressions themselves.

Gaz, via HTIS, had been looking to run an event with crisis actors and an ‘exercise’ format, which would be more of a training exercise than a game.  This wasn’t directly linked to the group, but it’s certainly something several of us had mentioned would be really interesting; especially as the profile of real CT drills became much higher in the press. When the event happened, a decent number of us made an effort to get to it, and for many of us, it was a first meeting en masse in person. A few of us had met each other before on a more adhoc basis.

We ran together at that event, and a few of us vaguely coordinated our kit with the Multicam-over-black look.  We got on very well, learned well together and began to mesh as a unit that could clear spaces. We were a lot more effective than we imagined we would be and Ex Final Encore was intense and unique.

We came away really pleased with how it had gone, and when the pictures from Snook landed a few days later and we shared them, they got a great reaction. A few people enquired about how to join the team they assumed we were, and we began discussing the coordination of our callsigns and kit for future events. From there, it coalesced into E27. When you look back at early E27 shots from Ex Final Encore and Op Blue Fox 2 you see a less refined look than we currently have.

The group which led to the creation of E27 is still going, and has about 20 members, of which 12 are E27 members.

What’s the story behind the group’s call sign: E27?

Jay: We took the name from Exercise Final Encore, which happened on 27 August 2016. The letter “E” for Encore combined with the number 27 from the date sounded cool. It also avoided the words ‘Team’ and ‘Milsim’ which didn’t really convey the identity we wanted.

Gaz: It was also created so as to not conflict with real UKSF callsigns, while maintaining an element of realism.

How does E27 ensure consistency in values and attitudes within the group? Gaz – you mentioned a ‘hive mind’ when we spoke recently.

Gaz: Suggestions and discourse are put to the collective (or hive) in a group chat. Any member has the power to veto a decision, if they have good reason to feel strongly about it. All members stay equally informed, because there is no hierachy. We are all equal partners in strategic decisions.

However, each member has a specific background and experience and therefore operational leadership roles for specific events are assumed by those best suited to the job for that event.

Jay: When playing a competitive game, in the traditional airsoft mould, values like honesty and taking hits are vital. Often at the events we attend it is more about training. Opfor are played by staff and actors.  In these cases a positive attitude, willingness to learn and think, and ability to train safely and as a team are all paramount. A willingness to engage with those outside E27 and work with them is also vital.

As the events develop we add complexity and experiment with new scenarios; so we try and match our own tactics, approaches and attitudes to the challenge.

Same question, but about loadouts. How does E27 ensure consistency?

Gaz: We expect members to make an effort with their impression kit, but most importantly to give full effort at events and to assist others looking to build their kit without being snobby about it.

Jay: It is hard to define standards without coming across as elitist or a gear snob, it certainly isn’t about the amount of money we spend.

We won’t for a moment pretend that good modern UKSF impressions can be done cheaply, but they certainly don’t have to be eye-wateringly expensive, and repro gear has its place.

The trick is assessing where it is worth going for real gear, if the performance and aesthetic justifies it.  Some repro gear looks terrible, works badly and absolutely throws off otherwise good kit, and so it really isn’t worth bothering with. Other stuff is so good that it can be integrated near seamlessly.

Gaz: Replica kit can be very useful for certain items and some of it is very good. There is a decent amount of replica kit in E27 as well as a decent amount of real kit.

Jay: TMC (who were often, quite rightly, distained) for instance, deserve credit for the quality of their newer generation Crye repro gear. Equally, FMA’s MBITR dummies, Helstar 6 clones and Aramid lids are staples of many UKSF impression kits. Conversely, avoid the FMA Ops Core Counterweight copy, repro Blue Force Gear stuff, and replica weapon accessories (other than optics/LA5s).

Using mostly real kit with repro stuff mixed and matched – and worn effectively – makes it hard to distinguish which is which.

The standard of our kit in general is not so much a product of a kit list as a shared ethos and approach. If you all have the same approach, your kit will naturally hit a particular standard and look.  We are all looking to remove excess load and bulk, make sure every pouch position and choice is thought through – and is practical. It leads to us all having broadly similar choices in kit, but if you look a bit closer there’s interesting variation between setups; and specialised roles adds to that.

We are obviously all singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of reference material too, in that we are all using L119A1s or A2s and modern UKSF kit. Having basic SOPs and kit set up for buddy use is also helpful in establishing consistency without prescriptive lists.

Gaz: Reference pics play a role, but remembering to work within a framework rather than copying a photo head to toe is important. Develop your kit as it works for you, in that scenario. That is far more realistic than copying something one guy wore once, which just happened to be photographed.

Jay: There aren’t many groups or teams in the UK who deliver an entire team of kit based around a real world unit. It’s much more a thing in other parts of the world. In that sense we are one of the few in the UK doing it, but we still keep things pretty loose.

Some UKSF impressionists have (or say they have) access to sensitive pics, materials and/or personnel – info which cannot be shared materially. As such, how is the credibility of their advice gauged by E27?

Jay: Partly, we compare it to our own private reference material and information. If it flies in the face of the fairly substantial collection of private information we have, we certainly treat it with a degree of scepticism.

Information on UKSF only ever drips out here and there. It can be months or even years before evidence becomes available to prove or disprove what people say…

Gaz: Unfortunately the UK does not celebrate its special forces like the US or Australia, amongst others, so we only get snippets of information in the public domain.

Jay: It pays to keep tabs on what people claim and bear it in mind.  If something somebody says is later proven correct when evidence surfaces, then their future assertions will be given more weight. Conversely, if, as is the case with several people, they assert things which routinely do not appear to be borne out by the evidence, then their claims are treated with increasing scepticism.

Of course, given the nature of the subject, it’s pretty much impossible to stay on top of exactly what is or isn’t happening, and even people with genuine contacts can pass on incorrect information via misunderstandings or mistakes. The important thing is to present information which you aren’t backing with explicit evidence with sensible caveats. For instance if you’re relating an all-encompassing new piece of information, or just an interesting rumour, or a fascinating odditiy, it needs to be made clear. It’s also worth noting that you can build entire impressions from rare kit, rumoured kit etc. While it might not be outright wrong, when people ask for information they aren’t after the weird, wacky and ultimately unrecognisable for their UKSF Impression. Most are interested in the more general trends they can replicate with their kit.  This latter information is the sort of thing that’s backed up by a decent body of evidence.

E27 has a strong visual identity on social media. Tell me about E27’s creative direction.

Jay: The brand’s management is primarily down to me, but I discuss my approach and decisions with the guys to ensure people are on board.

For our badges, I started with team logos: those teams from where our members originated. I combined elements I found appealing, but with an entirely new spin. Graphically our badges were intended to look similar to a UKSF squadron patch, but without using any motif associated with the real entities – no wings or swords.

The helmet and skull elements were taken from Task Force Corinthians and TNW respectively; with the half face motif inspired by HTIS.  The lightning bolts are a feature of a couple of UKSF logos, and arrayed to the 4 corners of the patch they were evocative of a roman scutum shield. This is a symbol used by London Metropolitan Police armed units. Armed police kits are a common sideline interest of E27 members.

The badge is used either in the standard configuration or with a red ‘E’ intertwined with it. This variation adds a more striking flash of colour and some depth, and reflects the fact real unit insignia often have multiple variations and minor evolutions.

Our Instagram is managed both as a public face for the group and a showcase for our kit and the events we attend. We took a conscious decision not to have a Facebook page – it is an absolute magnet for trolls and drama. Instagram, as a much more visual platform, is more suited to what we are looking to share.

The way we manage the Instagram images is partly to make sure they are presented and edited with consistent captions, tags and editing techniques. This unifies our visual approach, and ties together content from a variety of different activities and events. We also try to avoid hashtags which are overt attempts to boost our follower count and ‘likes’. If people enjoy our content and follow us, that’s great and we’re pleased. We hope to chat with followers in the photo comments, and we hope we keep putting out images that people like. We assume if people like what we do, they’ll find us from our presence on groups and forums. We aren’t on a quest to get thousands of followers. Since we attend events every few months, we try and put out a decent number of images soon after an event, but also keep enough back so that the account isn’t dormant for weeks at a time between events.

More light hearted photos and chat often appear on our individual Instagram accounts or social media profiles, which is a good medium between keeping a professional image, and having a laugh.

The quality of the pictures themselves is down to several factors. Firstly, the scenarios at the events we attend.  They put you in situations which are reminiscent of what the real guys might be pictured doing, and this obviously lends itself to pictures looking authentic.

Gaz: Snook’s images of the CT events are what launched E27 into view of the wider audience.

Locations and the way the images are taken certainly helps. However, the main thing is that the photos depict E27 doing something the real guys do. This is not an extended engagement of one team vs. another like at an airsoft game, but an assymetric contact between the CT team (including E27) and a relatively small number of opfor.

The use of crisis actors – and the fact the guys are taught the drills before the live runs – just means they are holding themselves and doing things in a way that translates to appearing real in photos.

Jay: Absolutely! Snook Snaps is the photographer at most of these events, and he has a great knack for getting awesome pictures. Partly it’s good camera work, but more importantly it’s positioning; sometimes he is in the thick of the action and capturing dynamic close-in shots without you knowing he’s there. Other times they’re zoomed out and viewed from the periphery, as if the action is being captured by a passer by – these are among the most authentic looking shots.

How do E27’s RIF platforms lend themselves to operations?

Jay: Within the entire group, the mix is about a 25% standard AEG, 25% NGRS, 25% GHK and 25% PTW – although it is complicated by people having multiple platforms. Certainly GHKs tick many of the boxes regarding use of real parts and recoil/realism of the action.

Gaz: Because the CT events are not skirmishes and therefore not heavy on combat, the GBB systems have all the advantages of realism and none of the usual drawbacks of the system when used on open days. The use of GBB systems at the CT events helps to keep things a little more real for all involved, as the whine of gearboxes certainly detracts from the more authentic noises.

Jay: It really is a personal choice. As long as it is an L119A1 or A2 or other UKSF spec weapon it’s up to the individual. Personally I run an NGRS L119A1 with A2 upper available, and an NGRS LWRC UCIW as backup; GHK and NGRS complete A2s are in the works.

Gaz: There’s not really a conscious effort for commonality, but there’s certainly a move by members towards GBB builds.

Jay: Yes – across the group there’s a gradual trend toward GHK L119A2s. Any movement towards a shared platform is organic, and stems from us all having similar value systems and performance expectations from the platforms we use.  The benefit is more in the shared body of knowledge about a platform and passing on lessons and setups between people.

Sharing mags is rarely an issue, since we aren’t exactly trigger happy, and the events we attend most commonly are mock CT exercises. We rarely get through a mag each. So that’s not a driver for commonality.

The question many budding UKSF impressionists are asking is, “How do we get into E27?”

Jay: This is one of the questions we get asked most commonly ourselves. At present every member of E27 is a founding member, we haven’t invited anyone new.

Gaz: As E27 is not a team there is no recruitment. However if we find someone attending the CT events fits in well after a few events, we will likely decide to invite them inside.

Jay: Yeah – we don’t have a membership application process or anything like that, and you don’t get in by asking. We do however have our eye on a couple of people who may be prospective members in the future.

We don’t want to hoover up all the good UKSF impressionists out there, either. We’d also like people to join existing groups like TF AB, or to form their own entities which we can work alongside.

So no one’s yet been ejected from E27?

Gaz: All members that started are still here.

Jay: Part of why we don’t let people in easily is because we never want to be forced to kick people out, if we’ve made a mistake by letting them in prematurely. We make sure at the start we are very sure about people, so the situation shouldn’t arise.

We have ejected people from the group that spawned E27. That was a long time ago and was due to leaking of private information/pictures and suspect behaviour on a public group; or very long term inactivity.  It is regrettable but was absolutely necessary.

We’ve only been going about 18 months as an entity, so it’s early days yet.

E27 is already responsible for raising the bar in the UKSF impression scene. Would E27 ever consider a franchise operation, similar to what DEVTSIX has done on the SEAL impression scene?

Jay: I wouldn’t say we’ve raised the bar so much as picked it up again after it had fallen for a time. Certainly many of our members were learning their stuff as other UKSF impression groups were putting out some great kit, and sharing information with the rest of us. Groups such as Red Troop, the UCAP guys, and Team Kraken were doing some great kits before we formed.  They’re all gone now as entities, and there was a bit of a barren stretch for good UKSF Impression groups before we picked up the baton.

Gaz: I don’t think franchising is something we need, or would consider – purely as it’s not something we would want to get into.

Jay: We would very much like to see other UKSF impression groups form and thrive, but we certainly wouldn’t want to put them under our banner.

Partly it is an issue of practicality. Any large expansion, especially over a considerable geographical area, means a very high risk of a decline in quality: of kit, professionalism, and most worryingly, integrity. Any misbehaviour by anyone in a group reflects on the whole. The more diffused the group, the more risk that the reputation you would be using to push things forward would itself be damaged.

It would seem to represent a risk with no tangible benefit to ourselves. I would suspect that the very things we like about our own setup and skills – and the social side – just wouldn’t be there anymore.

The groups I personally admire – HHK and TF Exo, Team Kraken, Berzerkir Mechanised, STAS, SOE_SWE – all seem to be compact, focussed and just do what they do. Devtsix is a cool setup, and has a great forum, but it isn’t the approach we’ll take.

Are there any plans to extend E27’s remit to greenside/recce field craft?

Jay: We would like to get involved in the odd event that’s outside of what would be considered our usual fare. We all have greenside/recce kit and a couple of the guys have real world experience of that side of things. We enjoy elements of it at the CT Exs, undertaking Close Target Recces and setting up Observation Posts, but it’s the sort of thing we don’t get photographed doing. Often it’s at night, and we don’t have an event photographer nearby. It’s certainly something we’d like to expand on though.

Gaz: Green ops have been planned but have just not happened as yet.

Lastly, future plans…

Jay: I think the future is about continuing what we are doing, developing our skills and specialisms to increase the immersion and effectiveness at events, and continuing to enjoy ourselves…and hopefully look good while doing it!

We’ll also continue to contribute to the UKSF impression community online. We don’t have any sort of masterplan though.

Big thanks to Gaz, Jay and all of E27 – plus Snook Snaps for use of pics!

Read more from Gaz:

Done Right: Gaz’s L119A2

Done Right: Gaz’s L119A2 – Part 2

Read more from Jay:

Tokyo Marui NGRS L119A1 Build

“Barely Airsoft” – Final Encore Realsim Report

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