The biggest lack of skill and equipment in the airsoft milsim world is communications, both hand signals and radios. This article is to show the importance of both, and hopefully get people looking at comms the way they look at most of their gear: highly important and worth spending a little money on.
Hand signals are a very important tool while moving. They allow a team to communicate silently and effectively. It is not within the scope of this article to go into each hand signal, what each one means or how to utilize them. There is a lot of open source information available on the topic, use some Google-fu, find one that works and train your team using them. Limit the number of hand signals to what you really need in your environment, but make sure everyone knows what they are, how to use them, and when to use them. The basic recommendations are: hold, down, number of enemies, and directions.
There are a variety of ways to go when it comes to radios. The vast majority of airsoft events are using FRS/GMRS frequencies, which are limited to 0.5 watts of transmitting power. The easiest way to get basic radios is to pick up a pack of FRS radios at your local stores. If you decide to go that route, make sure you get radios with some type of headset jack, and aftermarket support for headsets.
A very common approach to airsoft radios are Baofeng or Puxing brand radios, manufactured in China, which are then programmed by the end user to transmit on FRS/GRMS frequencies. These are technically illegal, as the minimum transmitting power is 1 watt, and are normally operating at 4-5 watts…about 10 times the legal limit. We don’t recommend these without having a ham radio license. Should you decide to purchase one of these radios, there is an inherent risk of getting charged. Make sure that if you do get one, you only ever transmit on FRS/GMRS frequencies, and not on any others.
Once you have a radio, the next step is some kind of microphone/speaker setup that prevents the enter field from hearing your radio squawking. There are hundreds of options, ranging from cheap to extremely expensive. Generally, you get what you pay for. If you have a radio that you use at work with some kind of earpiece, I suggest running the same, otherwise, the sky is the limit. Be prepared to try a couple of different styles until you find something that is comfortable for you.
I recently played a small, field level milsim, and brought 8 spare radios to the field to give to my team members as a test. Both sides had good commanders, but the team I played on had comms to every group that went out. The opposite team had many groups go out without a radio at all. The ability for the commander to change groups’ taskings while they were in the field was invaluable, and it showed throughout the day.
From my perspective, priority of kit purchases for new players entering the milsim world is as follows: rifle and mags, good boots, effective camo clothing, radio, Load Bearing Equipment.
Now that you have a radio equipped with some type of quiet listening device, it is now time to use your radio on the field. Try to use basic callsigns, something you recognize, and something short. Keep the chatter to minimum. Report things that your commander/section leader needs to know: number of enemies, location, direction of travel. Report any enemy contacts, so everyone knows that you are engaged, and knows where at least part of the enemy force is. Report on objectives, whether you completed them, need more resources, etc. Constantly monitor the radio, to ensure you receive any radio transmissions meant for you. Listen for other sections/team members asking for backup, but don’t automatically go running unless you are instructed to go. Your commander may just have a small team harassing the enemy, while you are going for another objective, and the small team may just all be taken out to keep the enemy occupied. Finally, use respectful language on the radio, as you never know who is listening to the FRS/GMRS frequency.