Get tactical, Marines!
Wednesday, June 11th, 2003, 9:16 AM
A few weeks ago, three members of the Bungie team, accompanied by a professional filmographer, the intrepid Jim McQuillan, embarked on a top-secret mission to gather intelligence. Their mission - watch and learn from the pros, get some excellent footage and, with luck, fire some guns! Robt, our resident gun nut, was joined by the “Cananimators” Nathan and John for a rendezvous with several members of the U.S. Special Forces for a fun-filled day in Myrtle Beach, SC. This is their story (well, as much of the story we can talk about without endangering National Security!)
We’re going in!
On a beautiful Saturday morning, the guys got up at the crack of dawn to meet up with Lieutenant Colonel Mark on his father’s 700 acre farm. John and Robt both said a “hello” as they shook his hand. When Nathan walked up, he said “Sir” with his handshake. The Colonel looked Nathan up and down, and commented how he looked like he could be one of his old SF guys! Definitely not what he expected – no geeky computer guys from the Northwest, these boys. The Colonel introduced them to Curt -- a sniper school instructor, “Red” -- an active Green Beret, Sean -- an SOF sniper, and two-picnic tables’ worth of guns.
“Sniper rifles, MP5 machine guns, pistols, shotguns, you name it,” explains John.
The Bungie guys were walked through the operation of most of the weapons, paying careful attention to safety, proper firing and loading. Though Robt and Nathan have had some experience with firearms, this would be John’s first time handling guns. It was no surprise to some that Jim already had weapons training! The guys found that some of the guns were quite a bit heavier than they looked or thought they would be.
Suited up in full gear – armored vests, helmets, fatigues, etc – Uncle Sam’s favorite sons went through the weapons walkthrough and showed the Bungie guys how a sniper/spotter team worked; the way they moved together, the way they crept through the underbrush unseen, practically rubbing their face into the ground in order to escape detection. The Colonel and Sean were armed and well-camouflaged in their ghillie suits as they went through the moves (though, admittedly, they did feel a little funny crawling about on a manicured lawn next to a pretty flowerbed). Curt narrated while the snipers moved, stressing the point about how they were always camouflaged and how the spotter is positioned just behind the shooting shoulder of the sniper – to better see where his shot went and provide incremental adjustments to the sniper’s aim. It is good to note here that Mr. McQuillan has, as Robt put it, “the balls of a tiger” as he positioned himself and his camera in front and slightly to one side down the sniper’s line of fire.
Curt and Red were wearing over forty pounds of gear in what turned out to be an 80-degree plus weather with about 100% humidity. But these guys were the real thing. Sweating gallons, they went through live fire exercises, running from cover to cover, cornering, clearing out rooms, moving fluidly, the works; never breaking stride, never faltering. When they moved, they were always in communication, either by hand signals or by code spoken out loud. They only demonstrated or uttered the most generic of signals and orders as the majority of what they used on the field were still highly sensitive; read: TOP SECRET.
It all was an eye-opening experience.
Lock and load!
Our guys learned that every soldier’s BDU and equipment-placement on their body is custom-tailored to the individual. Everything from the placement of pockets to the types of gloves they wore. They learned the proper way to fire when moving, from a prone and crouched position, with one hand, and from a standstill. They watched as each soldier expertly brought one weapon down and brought his secondary weapon to bear. One thing the Special Forces guys stressed was that they were trained to always stay on the offensive and keep moving towards the enemy so they were rarely in one place for very long. “The whole moving towards the enemy concept caught me off guard,” notes Nathan. Single soldiers only held cover long enough for their counterpart to move to their next area of cover; always pressing forward. Soldiers always worked in pairs at the least. “If you are alone, you are dead. Period.”
When John asked Red how he would pose with his back to the wall (as if bullets were whizzing by from around the corner) Red looked at John like he was insane. Red said he’d be right there firing at the enemy until he could advance or he was dead. The SF guys mentioned that the military infantry would move forward on their enemy in every situation, not standing still behind cover like local law enforcement; basically, as Robt related, “You stop and you are dead, you lose momentum and you are dead, if you turn to run from a fight, you are dead." Apparently, unless you are grossly outnumbered, you always engage the enemy. And even then, once you made contact, you engage the enemy.
Robt was surprised to learn that it really was possible to fire accurately on the move as he observed how Curt and Red would “move forward and put bullets on target, two at a time, without fail.”
Ready. Aim. Fire!
The Bungie guys each took a turn firing the military-issue HK MP5SD with sound suppression. It was the only gun they fired. But it was enough. Nathan enjoyed it so much he didn’t want to let it go. John was surprised what little recoil it had, that “it was like firing a paintball gun…Well, a paintball gun that would kill people.” He also had to remember to keep his fingers from creeping forward to touch the barrel or otherwise, as the Colonel pointed out “You’d be speaking in an unknown tongue!” The barrel became blistering hot after a few rounds had gone through. Robt was keen to point out that he did not “bullet-hose” the thing, that “even a gun as silky-smooth as the MP5SD could get away from you, that you’d just be pissing away your ammo!” (We’ll have to note here that Robt was aglow with words of praise from the Colonel; “awesome” “very good” and “good shooting”)
The Colonel had a plank nailed to a tree to use as target practice. It lasted until they broke out the shotguns. Robt noted how “the shotgun threw a cloud of sawdust and ragged splinters of bark into the air with every impact” – so much so that he could taste it forty feet away. Our guys asked if Jim could film how the shell impacts would affect the ground. Robt witnessed how the shotgun rounds threw big clouds of dirt and debris in the air “as if a giant invisible mallet was striking the ground”, while the Desert Eagle, loaded with .44 magnum shells, threw big clods of earth and clouds of dirt and debris several feet into the air! That gun was so loud, it even made Jim literally jump.
“Not having been around real guns before,”recalls John, “the first thing I noticed is that these things are LOUD. We were all wearing earplugs and eye protection and the guns were still loud.” He noticed how the guns didn’t sound anything like they did in movies, even the suppressed HK MP5SD. “In real life they’re approximately 92% cooler.”
“They made my adrenaline rush with the actual way they sounded,” adds Nathan. “It was incredible.”
“Oh,” John adds, “we were told that infantry always wear eye protection to keep debris from flying into their eyes in a firefight. The guns also spit out oil as they fire.” So, after half a day of firing, Curt’s glasses had a good layer of oil on them.
At ease, Soldier!
The day ended with an informal interview on the back porch with some Church’s fried chicken and Bud Light.
“It was neat to find out that a couple of the guys were gamers,” Robt said. “The Colonel plays with his son on Xbox and Curt plays with his son online (Quake 2 and the like).” Red has a Gameboy that he would turn to when waiting to go on missions when he can’t get into a card game or other – he didn’t play much else, but “could think like a gamer.” Sean didn’t talk much, though.
When Robt explained that the character you played in Halo was seven feet tall, and that several weapons were scaled up for him, the SF guys looked at each other and shot him a sideways glance. At the mention of the Halo shotgun being an 8 gauge, Red and Curt grinned and said “that’d be NICE!” And then the two laughed like school boys when Robt added that the M6D Pistol in Halo was 35% larger than the Desert Eagle! Curt chimed in how it would be nice to somehow instill the “element of fear” in shooting games – so players wouldn’t just go bursting around a corner and get killed then get promptly respawned and do it all over again. The Colonel thought that in 500 years, vehicles should handle better/ be easier to drive than the Warthog. Red wryly added (after the umpteeth time the MP5SD jammed using subsonic ammo) “Weapon malfunctions; you should put that in the game!”
Red insisted on gathering up all the brass they left scattered on the Colonel’s property from the live fire exercises. Fortunately, a couple of the kids who came with their folks to watch the demonstration were more than eager to do the chore. By sundown, our guys were back at the airport.
All systems green. Situation normal.
The entire experience left our guys much inspired. They reflected hard on what could be incorporated into the game and what was not conducive to gameplay. The entire group, gamers all, knew that there were just some things that was either too minute to notice or just plain counter to having a fun game. The session with the Special Forces guys, two weeks now since the time of this writing, gave our guys a LOT to think about. Between John and Robt’s camera, Nathan’s keen eye, not to mention some super excellent coverage by Jim, there’s still a ton of information to digest and regurgitate.
“It was an amazing experience and it has fueled my brains with tons of cool ideas,” says Robt. “The SF guys seemed genuinely interested in continuing these types of sessions. I know there is a lot more we can learn from them.”