Dogs of War – Mercenaries and Contractors – Pt1

Cry ‘Havoc!,’ and let slip the dogs of war.

William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’

This is a new undertaking for me. While the different aspects and everything surrounding Private Military Contractors (PMC), Mercenaries, Contractors, Personal Protection Details (PPO) has been an interest of mine for a while now, only recently have I started to dig deeper into the subject. We have a group concentrating purely on these things, The Firm. The group is LARP focused, with a lot of knowledge about Airsoft (we are all airsofters, after all) but we take it further. We have ID cards, passports, background stories for our characters, history for the organization, a country of origin, our own language… It is through this that I became more interested in the subject and have been doing a lot of reading during the past year.

While talking with one of our guys, we decided it would be a great idea to do a few blog posts surrounding this. We came to the conclusion that two separate posts would be made. One which would purely concentrate on the “mercenary” side of things and another which will be aimed more towards the “contractor” side. We want to keep these two aspects separate and the reason for this is that we see them as two somewhat different things.

Mercenaries have been around for a long time, dating back to ancient Rome and even before that. Mercenaries are usually understood as “private armies” that have no affiliation with a specific nation and answer only to the highest bidder. Depending on the nature and ethos of these private armies, they take on contracts from different sources. A popular culture example can be found from the TV series Game of Thrones, where the private army called the Golden Company is present.

A historical example can be taken from Rome. Once declared as an Empire, the military structure was changed. While Rome had an army that had proven itself against various different enemies (Gauls, Carthage, for example), the new large empire recruited foreign mercenaries. These mercenary armies had Roman officers leading them. Eventually, these mercenary armies started rivaling against each other, which contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Before this, these armies were not only used for defense, but for expansion of the Roman Empire as well.

Without dwelling too much on history here, the few examples I gave above are just the tip of the iceberg. The attempt was to give some basic information from popular culture and history about how mercenaries have been employed in the past and in movies or television series. Mercenaries have always been around, they are still around and they will continue to be around. One could also argue, that the privatization of war is ahead of us. Conventional armies are not used to the same extent and large corporations either buy the services of or recruit their own private armies. But that is a debate for another day. Let’s take a look at what kind of kit and other equipment these mercenaries have used and how this translates into the airsoft world.

Taking five with my battlebuddy, Sahalaita.
Taking five with my battlebuddy, Sahalaita.

The inspiration from the real world

First, before going into the airsoft world, lets take a look at some images from the real world. These are images that we have used as reference points when building our impressions/kits. Impression is no necessarily the correct word here, as we are doing our own thing and not actually copying anything specific. The general idea is the same, but still somewhat different. Again, the small things matter. All small details are important, but will be looked at later on.

Let’s take a short trip back in time. The African continent and especially the Congo area has seen a lot of mercenary action in the past. From popular movies inspired by actual events and historical account written by historians and others provide insight into what has happened in the area. Largely, this is not that well known for the general public, from what I have understood. Individuals like Thomas Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare, a British born mercenary, is known for his military activities in Africa and his attempted coup d’état in the Seychelles. At the time of this writing, he is still alive, having reached 100 years of age in 2019. Other figures that led military/mercenary activities in Africa are, for example, Rolf Steiner, a Bavarian born, former French Foreign Legion paratrooper. Siegfried Müller, who fought under the command of Mad Mike Hoare. Bob Denard, who was known for his various operations and mainly for the failed 1995 coup, see Operation Kaskari, in Comoros. Jean “Black Jack” Schramme, who was a Belgian mercenary who led a mercenary force during the Katangan secession and also fought with Denard on the side of the Katangese.

For more recent mercenary activities, we just need to look at the current world in conflict. Though armies are fighting in these battlefields, there are a lot of different “companies” involved in these conflicts which provide support. It might now be as visible for the mass public, but they are there. The extent at which they are operating in these areas is different from what it was during the time of the mercenaries listed above, but they most definitely are there. These mercenaries are hired by companies, individuals and even different nations to provide training, logistics, and in some cases, military support.

The “lumberjack fashion”

Since our group is concentrating largely on the PMC/Merc side of things, I wanted to add some needed depth to this “fashion”. I know some of this information might not appeal to the weekend airsofter or someone who is just doing things for the fun of it, but I hope there are a few out there who can appreciate what the small things can do to depth and credibility of the kit. Our kits look the part, but at the same time, are functional and diverse. It is not just for show. These kits are capable. Uniformity is also a factor, since it can be achieved with small things.

Let’s begin with uniformity. One or two things will always be the same for all of us when we are doing this thing. Brown/Khaki pants and cap. Usually both are worn by all of us, but as is the case with the images I am showing in this post, we only have the pants. We opted for the Brown/Khaki as it is visible but not that “visible”. We want to be noticeable in a crowd and if we wanted to stay hidden, we would opt for full camouflage. This is something that we also do, naturally, when it is necessary. But overall, our “uniform kit” includes the cap and pants in matching colors for everyone. We have some other items that are matching in the clothing department, but that is for another time and another article.

We have two main kits, “high threat” and “low threat”. High threat is the one I am talking here on this post. As you can see, uniformity is achieved with the use of matching pants, but I personally am wearing an OD cap. Top part of the uniform is personal preference. My friend, our team medic, is wearing a woodland combat shirt while mine is OD. Our medic usually carries a fully kitted out (for LARP purposes, which means all needles have been removed) medical backpack. This can be used in situations where medical treatment must be administered. Situations can range from a gunshot wound to anything else that might happen in a LARP/Airsoft scenario.

Other kit, like vests and weaponry, are personal preference. Most of us use M4/M16 series replicas, so we can swap magazines if needed. There has been talk of going for an AK platform, but we do not enforce this. Money is always an issue here. In the real world, availability and local sources can determine what kind of weapon systems you use, but in the airsoft world, everyone is a hero. Sidearms vary greatly within the team and again is a personal preference. Weapon attachments are the same way. You use what you deem necessary to carry out the actions that are required of you. Lights are a good option and some of us carry them. Either directly attached to our primary weapons or separately.

I am using an old school TG Faust (replica, sadly) and an Emerson copy of the Mayflower UW gen IV chestrig. Both awesome pieces of kit. The reason I have not opted for a full vest system like my buddy has, is that I can easily use the chestrig without the armor underneath it. This is a personal preference of mine, if I want to run a lighter kit (for reconnaissance and other such purposes). The TG Faust only has soft armor inserts currently, but I will add plates at a later date to give it some more weight.

Kit layout with a few updates from the photoshoot.

What about the other small things I talked about then? As mentioned, we have passports and ID cards for everyone, plus a patch to identify us as Firm personnel. All are custom made and the passports and ID cards have our own personal character information. How deep you want to develop your character is completely up to the individual. We have people with comprehensive backgrounds for their characters and our characters develop after every “operation” we take part in. Since we are playing Airsoft, our characters do not die, per se. Pure LARP events are a different matter, but in the Airsoft world of LARP, getting hit is part of the game. Due to this, we do not kill our characters off. This would involve too much work and effort to put into new characters. We play these deaths out in different ways, depending on the scenario. In some events, especially if we are around with a larger presence, we have business cards. These have information about our social media outlets and a working in-game phone number.

In addition to these items, some of us carry other personal items. These can be small totems, letters, pictures, operation orders, diaries… Those small things that give the people searching you something to ponder on when they rifle through your “dead body” at events. These items can be handed out to the person searching. Just a little present for them, for going through and searching us.

While the kit featured here in this post is more modern, there are endless possibilities with old school kit as well. Some of our members ran some of that more old school style kit at an event that was held here in Finland in August 2019. The main story was based around the African Kongo in the early 2000s and kit was rather free form for the attendees. Some of our guys went with old school ERDLs, ALICE LBEs and other types of kits. Remember, mercenaries have been around for a long time and the kit used can reference a certain era, but old school kit can be used for more modern impressions as well. It all depends on location, the supply and availability of kit. Money is always an issue as well, since not all can afford that most high speed kit and it might not even be available. So many variables to consider and doing a “stylization” of these kinds of kit is rather easy. See the image below for some possible options to consider when running with a more old school style setups.

I also ran something a bit different at a game which was organized in spring 2019. In this setup, I was using more modern cut woodland trousers, modern M4 platform and some civilian clothing to mix everything up. Chestrig is a Toy Soldier replica of the old school AWS chestrig, which was popular with some special units during the early 1990s. In addition to these setups, I have added some other photos, which are a bit older. These “lumberjack” style kits were for our Berget 16 trip a few years back. The kit is otherwise rather similar, but I am running an unknown JPC replica in those images. I also added one image from a photoshoot we did this spring, where I was testing my new Mayflower replica chestrig.

You have a lot of possibilities when it comes to this style of kit. Uniformity is a good thing among team members, which also makes for very cool looking shots. We don’t always run the same kit (trousers, that is) but our ID cards and patches are the same. Depending on the “mission” or airsoft event, we decide whether we run with uniform styles or personal preference. Top is always a personal choice, but we attempt to have the same color trousers in these cases. I hope this gives some kind of an idea about the PMC style kits and what to go for. These are not set in stone, unless you are portraying a specific company. We do our own thing. The right attitude and small props make for far more interesting looking kits. Below are some real life images that we have used as reference for our kits. Credit to owners of these images. For more images, head over to S21K’s Facebook page and check out his awesome album about Contractors here.

And links to our team’s social media pages:

The Firm (Instagram)
The Firm (Facebook)
People’s Republic of Zembala (Facebook)



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