Hot! How To Survive Your First Tactical

2013-08-16 15.34.59

Yesterday I wrote a post about what to expect at a Tactical (private) reenactment.  Hopefully, it got some of you who have never been to a Tactical interested in attending one.  With that in mind, if you’re intrigued by the idea of Tacticals and are considering attending one, here are a few bits of advice for how to make your first Tactical a successful one:

1.  Watch, listen, and learn.

Listen more than you speak.  You’ll learn a lot this way.  You won’t just learn more history this way, you’ll also learn the dynamics of the event (each one is different), you’ll learn who to listen to and who to ignore, you’ll learn how to improve your impression.  Nobody likes a know-it-all, especially if you’re the New Guy™ at the event.  Just watch, listen, and learn.  If you can, stay in the rear during the fighting so as to get a more “big picture” understanding of your side’s tactics.

2.  If you have modern military training or experience, don’t take it too seriously.

In fact, it’s probably best to just not mention it at all.  Let your skills and leadership speak for themselves.  There’s a stereotype of modern military folks within the hobby as obnoxious braggarts with something to prove, and if you want to help to get rid of that stereotype, don’t fit it.  Besides, modern military training often doesn’t apply to historical tactics, so you can end up making yourself more farby if you try to use it.

3.  If there’s one thing to take seriously, it’s safety.

I’ve seen a lot of reenactors get injured at events, and I’ve been injured myself.  I’ve learned what it feels like to have gunpowder residue embedded in your face thanks to an idiot who didn’t watch where he was pointing his firearm (and I was lucky, I could have lost an eye or ended up permanently scarred).  I’ve seen Marc get wrapped up in real barbed wire.  I’ve seen friends with sprained ankles, broken bones, damaged eardrums, and a lot of cuts, scrapes, bruises, and even a few major puncture wounds.  Watch yourself, but most importantly, watch out for others.  Also, if you’re carrying a weapon, be aware of where it’s pointed at all times.

4.  Adhere to the command structure.

This is for both logistics and safety.  There will be people in charge of the event, people in charge of your “side”, and people in charge of your unit.  They know more about what’s going on than you do.  Listen to them.  Try not to question their judgment unless there is imminent danger.  If everything seems FUBAR (especially if it seems FUBAR), let them deal with it.

7735898838_739c8920db_c5.  If you can, get into shape, or prepare to take on a less active role.

Tacticals are often very physical events.  There’s lots of running, carrying heavy stuff, and general misery.  If you’re out of shape, the resulting discomfort and annoyance can increase tenfold (ask me sometime about how I ended up 400 yards behind my squad at my first WWII tactical).  You have two options, really: either get into shape (at least work on your cardio) or choose a role that befits your activity level.  Marc and I have a friend who loves tacticals but doesn’t love the physical activity, so you know what he does?  He cooks amazing food while the rest of us are out in the woods, shooting eachother.  He enjoys getting to just hang back and enjoy the ambiance.

6.  Get used to not having your creature comforts.

Make sure that you’re okay with being cold, wet, and miserable for a weekend.  If possible, learn to enjoy it.  You will also likely be camping quite a ways away from where vehicles are stored, so pack light and travel light.  Bring only what you actually need (some people find that they have to redefine “need”) and you will not only save yourself a lot of hassle but also impress your fellow reenactors.

7.  Be open to instruction, correction, new experiences, and being uncomfortable.

This is a new experience for you, and it can be a great one.  So run with it!  Take in everything you can, and you will come out of the event a better reenactor than you went in.  Listen to the folks who have been doing that particular event for years when they give you advice.  You don’t have to do everything everyone says (nor should you, in my book), but do listen, and don’t get defensive when someone offers you advice or instruction.

8.  Enjoy yourself!

Tacticals are all about personal experience, so be sure to enjoy yourself.  Take some time away from the socializing to take in the experience.  Pay attention to the little details that make the event more “real” for you.  Some of my best moments at Tacticals have been solitary, quiet moments to myself in which I really do feel like I’m experiencing history.  It’s an amazing feeling that stays with you until some idiot makes a Simpsons reference.

 I hope that you found this helpful if you’re new to the world of private reenactments.  For those readers who, like me, are experienced at this side of the hobby, what advice do you have for a new recruit?  Feel free to leave a comment!


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  1. Having read you latest offering I find much value in most of your talking points. However, I will offer an opposing view of Point No. 3: Modern Military Experience.

    ……….”In fact, it’s probably best to just not mention it at all.” Why not? The one thing a veteran will have that is so often lacking in the non-vet at an event is dicipline to follow directions and take appropriate action if necessary. I too often see the opposite when participants to incredible stupid things that would NEVER occur in real life

    ……….”There’s a stereotype of modern military folks within the hobby as obnoxious braggarts with something to prove.” I have hardly ever noticed this (see above dicipline) rather I see FAR TOO MANY people obnoxiously pontificating that you can not be authentic if you are a vet. Usually this comes from the individuals and units who consider themselves “elite”.

    ……….”Besides, modern military training often doesn’t apply to historical tactics, so you can end up making yourself more farby if you try to use it.” Yes and no. Qualify the period you refer to. Line tactics of the Rev War, Napoleonic or ACW only to a degree; light infantry, skirmishers and dragoons used tactics far closer to modern (post ACW) than stereotype line infantry. There may or maynot be a relationship. F&I in the Americas again often saw tactics far closer to modern day than Line tactics. From ACW on up to modern day basic C&C on the small unit scale has not apprciably changed. Specific tactics have but that is a simple matter of basic research and even then the average reenactor will not be able to master anything beyond on-line or in-line. They just don’t train enough to execute more than those two.

    I believe that there is far more resentment against verterans in the ranks through jealousy or by people feeling threatened by the veteran’s experience than the opposite. Yes, I am certain that there are the veterans who do attempt to usurp a situation but I will sum it up with a perfect story to demonstrate; I was part in a discussion with a WW2 German vet years ago as he spoke to several SS ubermen. The actual vet told the SS ubermen things they did not agree with about how it was in the ranks on the Eastern Front. In short when the vet walked away the rationalization from the SS ubermen was that he was old and senile therefore he didn’t know what he was talking about. That is similar to what I too often see non-vets give veterans at events.

  2. I have one opinion that I would like to share about point number Seven. I am ok with suggestions from other reenactors. I take it with both gratitude and a grain of salt. I am a cavalrymen. I have been for the last five years, for eight years before that I was artillery, and for the other eight years I was in the hobby as a soldier (ACW) I was an infantryman. I have done the trifecta and I have learned that there are some things that are branch specific, and nothing annoys me greater then when a ‘know it all’ from another branch comes into my camp, which by the way is my weekend home, and starts professing to me how ‘farby’ I’m being. So I will offer a counter recommendation. If you’re not in the branch of the person you’re “correcting,” don’t try to tell them they’re wrong about something they’ve probably dedicated a whole lot. of research to. Don’t come into my camp and tell me that I’m not being accurate as a cavalry men by wearing an infantry sack coat. by 1862 it was happening in increasingly common numbers. There are literally hundreds of period photo’s to support it. I’m all for being receptive to constructive criticism. But speaking as a mainstream reenactor who really couldn’t care less about progressive reenacting. It as nothing to do with my lack of dedication to the hobby. It has EVERY THING to do with my not willing to be associated with the way most progressives (in my experience with them) Conduct them selves when giving pointers. I’m all for being corrected and assisted. But so help me every time I hear one of those stupid little snide assed comments about my impression spoken with that superior elitist tone, the only thing it leaves me really wanting to do, is demonstrating period correct butt sweeping technique.

  3. I’m genuinely curious what event those photos are from.