The sound of popping and faint metallic echoes came from several directions as I crouched behind a tree trying to stay out of the triangle of crossfire — and hoping the bright orange vest I wore would continue to alert the opposing team that I was not a target.
I got hit in the leg by a stray plastic BB — it stung, and despite wanting to grin and bear it, an “ow” escaped my lips before I could stop it. Sometimes I can be such a girl.
Attempting to view this game objectively, I had to set aside that girlier part of me. Not an easy feat given the mud and bugs and flying projectiles everywhere. I heard distant shouts of “medic” mixed with gunfire. I had to admit this game was far more realistic than I had imagined it would be. Childhood versions of army played in backyards and wooded areas have nothing on airsoft. This is like capture the flag meets army on steroids.
Every Sunday at Mills Stream Airsoft field on Cobbossee Road in Monmouth, owned by Jason Mills, teams of fatigue-wearing airsoft
The game is similar to paintball, and consists of opposing teams, using strategic exercises and objectives that are akin to military simulation. The game is played with realistic firearms that use plastic BBs, with players attempting to outsmart, outmaneuver and defeat each other to win the game. Depending on the game, players even identify themselves according to military rankings.
Airsoft popularity in this area has been on the rise over the past three years, according to Mills, who is commander of the team Spartan Assault and founder of Maine Airsoft Group. But in other areas of the country it’s been drawing large numbers of players for some time. In   Ohio, airsoft is as popular as paintball, while one of the largest airsoft games takes place on an Army base in California, where more than 600 players pay $400 a piece to participate.
There are a number of airsoft teams in Maine, though Spartan Assault is the largest, boasting 60 members. Mill’s airsoft field in Monmouth is the only dedicated field in Maine. He recently expanded it from 28 acres to 87 with the help of a neighboring landowner. A new field, allowing airsoft but not strictly dedicated to airsoft field, recently opened on Saturdays at Harris Farm in Dayton, offering 55 acres for a $5 field fee.

Rules of engagement
Just past the ball fields on Cobbossee Road a path leads into the wood and to the airsoft command post, which is complete with military-style tent, flag post, a grill, old tires and other obstacles used in simulations. Players, mostly male and as young as 9 and up to their mid-40s (people in their 50s and 60s have been known to play as well), loaded their guns and extra magazines.
Donning mandatory safety goggles, the players checked their FRS (family radio service) and GMRS (general mobile radio service) radios, and readied their kill flags for game play. There is a kill-safe distance of 20 feet during play to avoid unnecessary injury.
“We yell out ‘safety kill’ and they are supposed to accept that you could have shot them from that distance,” said Mills.
Airsoft guns come in a variety of sizes and styles, usually electric or gas powered. Each player must first fire their guns through a chronograph to check for firing speed safety. All automatics must fire no faster than 450 feet per second (fps) and sniper rifles no faster than 550 fps.
Airsoft play uses an honor system. Players rely on each others’ honesty to admit to being hit, because unlike paintballs, airsoft BBs don’t leave a visible mark on clothing.

Creating realistic scenarios
Mills has also worked with Coast Guard members to make the game and its scenarios as realistic as possible.
Coast Guard Seaman John (Trigger) Harris, of Rockland, who spends his off-time as part of the Spartan Assault team, says the games are based on military simulation — known as MilSim — and are a great way to get exercise, use skills like problem-solving, team work and honesty, and spend quality time with kids.
Because of their military background, Coast Guard Second Petty Officer Tim (Deuce) Stanton, also of Rockland, and Harris are given more leeway to run their own squads; their presence and know-how adds a realism to the games that might otherwise be missed, members say.
“When it’s organized like this, it is as close as you’re going to get without using ‘simunitions’ or live rounds,” said Harris.
Stanton says the Coast Guard allows enlistees to participate in the games as a community-building and enrichment exercise. Enlistees are even allowed to play while on duty, as long as they get permission or there is an excess of personnel on staff on a particular day, which was the case for both Stanton and Harris when they played on Sunday, May 3.

The draw of the game
As members of five different teams separated into two larger teams, the game scenario was read by Mills. “Operation: Path of Destruction” began with each team at their home base. Twenty objectives were established, including collecting hidden munitions boxes and capturing the code of the opposing team, all while being engaged in fire exchange and mock battles.
Radios were set to each respective team’s frequency and game bags containing a map of the area and clues were examined. Members then split into three squads and chose roles: three medics, support gunners, marksmen, riflemen and snipers. Ten minutes into the game, Alpha team was already anticipating their first enemy engagement.
The terrain was wooded with downed trees and leaves, bridges and streams, adding a level of difficulty to the game. With all the action going on in various areas of the playing field, the desire to complete the squad objectives while trying to avoid being shot had everyone amped up. It was easy to see why players are drawn to the sport.
“There’s nothing like pellets flying by your head,” said Matthew (Moose) Wilson, of Augusta.
“It’s a mixture of testosterone and adrenaline,” said Coleman (Stove) Nation, of Hallowell.
After three hours in the woods, I quickly made my exit, thankfully not getting shot in the process, bringing with me a small amount of the adrenaline rush that players say comes with the game.
To find out more about airsoft, visit either the Maine Airsoft Group’s forum at maineairsoft.com/forum or Spartan Assault’s home page at spartanassault.com.

Airsoft sites, fields and retail stores:

Tips on airsoft and airsoft safety — http://www.airsoftgunhelp.com/airsoft-gun-safety.htm Airsoft safety

Information on airsoft in Maine  — http://maineairsoft.com/forum and www.spartanassault.com

Fields — Mills Stream Airsoft Field, 114 Cobbosseecontee Road, Monmouth (every Sunday); Harris Farm, Buzzel Road, Dayton ($5 field fee, every Saturday)

Retail stores — Locally try Scorpion Paintball and Airsoft for paintball and airsoft supplies and party rentals, at 52B Strawberry Ave., Lewiston; 740-7406 and scorpionpaintandair.com.

Army Barracks 456 Payne Road, Scarborough, www.armybarracks.com and 885-0680


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