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How to build an impression and do research

One of the most viewed posts on DEVTSIX forum (www.devtsix.com) is from LBT Fanatic and opens a good discussions regarding building impressions and doing research.

Frequently people propose kitlists and ask questions only to be met with the answer “Do more research”, indeed, the word appears 420 times on this forum. But how? This is the pressing question, how can you build a great impression, how can you ID gear, how can you put together a kit on the same level as those German dudes or Scandinavians?


I’ve never encountered any guide to doing research and building kitlists, and I am writing this guide aiming to solve that problem.


So you’ve decided you want to do an impression, there are many reasons to do so, perhaps you read a book, saw a movie, happened across some awesome kit photos, or merely want to bring your gear to another level. Whatever the reason, you need to start collecting information to make your impression as accurate as possible. If you already know what unit you are emulating skip down to Where to Begin. Also please excuse the seemingly obvious answers I may write, I am writing this as a complete guide, nothing I can think of is left out.


What Impression Do I want to Do?

You’ve put together a kit that works great for your Airsoft needs. You can carry all you need, it looks decent, and you want to bring it to the next level. Or perhaps you are starting out with barely any kit and want to begin with an impression. The question presents itself, which unit are you going to aim to emulate? If you haven’t already, read Baleek’s guide: https://www.devtsix.com/viewtopic.php?f=111&t=7544


He does a good job summarizing the evolution of gear, as well as some comments on the gear used by various units. There are two ways to go about this, broadly speaking:

  1. Emulate the unit who uses gear closest to what you already have.

  2. Decide on a unit independent of your current gear

Both approaches are valid, and both have upsides and downsides. Using existing, payed for, gear is going to be cheaper, and the chances are good you’re already using some gear that some SOF unit is using. The downside is that you may be tempted to use or substitute incorrect gear into your kit because you already own it. The other downside is that you may be tied to some unit you don’t particularly find yourself enamoured with, and if your heart isn’t in your impression, it’ll show, in my opinion of course. The second approach is more complex, first you need to decide on a unit, than find gear, leading to more decisions. It will also be more expensive to buy more kit, rather than using your existing kit as much as possible. Now the question is simple; how do I research different units and decide which one I like? I can’t tell you which one you like, you need to discover this on your own. Type “Special Forces” into Youtube and watch documentaries, read books from your local library about them or by former members. Read their Wikipedia pages, or just Google the unit and read the results. Also note that units evolve over time, so look at both new and old stuff, No Easy Day covers the same unit as Seal Team Six, but they are set in vastly different areas and eras. Also remember that filmmakers like to cheap out on their tactical gear, so inaccuracies should be expected. Other reasons exist too, perhaps you want to join a local team that models itself after that unit, or have an inside source in a unit, no matter what, you need to come to your own decision.


Where to Begin!

You know which unit you want to build your impression after, now the hard part begins, figuring out which gear they use, and out of that stuff determining what you will use. Now would be a good time to look at another guide I wrote detailing how to ID Stuff, http://devtsix.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=13124: , this will be helpful to you as you build your impression and analyze photos and videos. If you skipped the first part you should also go and read the Wikipedia page on the unit, as well as books about it, documentaries, ANYTHING that builds your knowledge base. Now is the time to get down to work, and determine what exactly your chosen unit looks like. Your first stop is right here on DEVTSIX, the archives - https://www.devtsix.com/military-photo-video-archives-f10/. Find the thread for your chosen unit and starting reading and downloading pictures! Make a folder for your Impression pics to keep them all together, and organize them accordingly. This is what my Impressions folder looks like:

Folder structure for research
Folder structure

As you can see I organize pictures by unit, and within these folders they are sorted by year. Other people may use different methods, and as long as they’re organized and you can find them it’s fine. Within the year folder I have another folder for pics that have been examined, and therefore I know what kit is used in them.

SF/2012 photos
Sorting photos

This is within my SF/2012/Examined folder, these are pictures in which I am/have finished IDing gear. The main thing here is that I save the details of the picture, stuff like when it was taken, who took it, captions, tags, where I got it from perhaps, so that I have a background for examining it. Sometimes this information isn’t available, and that’s OK, but the more information the better.


Again, this is my method, some people may use different methods that work just as well. One thing I MUST stress is the importance of backing up your pics, find a way that works for you and run with it.


Alright, now you’re done downloading all the pics in your chosen units thread here on DEVTSIX, and have decided how you’re going to store them, you’re done, right? Wrong, well at least if you want to broaden your knowledge base. There is an amazing array of information out there, it’s now time to find it.


The next step is simple, go to the Loadout Showroom section: https://www.devtsix.com/loadout-showroom-f13/ and find the “Show/Post your kit” thread for your chosen impression. As you go through note what equipment they’re using, how they’re using it, various comments made, as well as the general look. Also, while most kits will be good there are some that are not good examples and shouldn’t be used to learn more about gear. If the pic quality is high, the person who posted it reputable, and the kit looks like the ones you’ve seen in the pics thread it’s gtg, otherwise avoid it. Also remember that the pictures capture different eras, there may be 10+ years of variation in one thread.


Next go to the Loadout Guide https://www.devtsix.com/loadout-guide-f97/, and look at any interesting topics. There is plenty of good info in these topics. Also, don’t just copy kitlists, impressionists do make mistakes or push the limits of their kit, so just use the lists to learn. Doing this learning will help you avoid misidentifying units further along, since units are often similar, e.g. MARSOC and SF in woodland. But don’t just stop there, keep going, google your keywords on DEVTSIX and read other topics that come up. Impression helpful topics are not restricted just to the Multimedia and Loadout guide sections, there is helpful info everywhere.


Find the pic thread for your chosen unit on the following sites:


Militaryphotos.net (Now defunct, use Web archive, try not to take the anti-Airsofter barbs personally.): http://web.archive.org/web/*/militaryphotos.net


Facebook and Instagram, no seriously . Many units have Social Media presences, MARSOC, Each of the SF Groups, and especially Rangers, so like their page to stay updated (remember to check the little box that makes them show up at the top of your newsfeed!) and download their photos. While we’re talking about media presence, marsoc.com has great photos, just navigate to media.


https://www.dvidshub.net/ , the Defense Video & Image Distribution System. It does exactly what it says it does, distribute images, news stories, and videos. Most stories on DVIDs cover conventional units doing everyday things, but they also have literally thousands of pics of SOF, mostly Rangers, SF, and MARSOC, but also SEALs, and even CAG/Ace/Delta. DVIDS has a steep learning curve, so you need to learn how to use it before it starts paying dividends. The first way is to sign up for an account and subscribe to units that interest you, or to a particular person that takes lots of photos of a particular SOF unit, these are my subscriptions:

DVIDS Subscriptions
DVIDS Subscriptions

This is a diverse list covering many units and it helps keep my pic collection updated.


The second way to use DVIDS is to find older pics, to do this you need to use various search terms. Words like “PJ” “CCT” “Special Forces” “MARSOC” “SEAL” will all generate results, even “Crye” generates great SOF pics. You can also browse the unit pages or personal pages of people who were attached to SOF units. Note who took the photos, there info is listed underneath the title, and see if they took other interesting pics, if they took one photoset chances are they took more as well.


A side note here, often ALL SOF are referred to as SF, this is wrong, only Green Berets may be called Special Forces. However, many people doesn’t know the difference, so they label pics that show other units as Special Forces, when the guys in the pics may be MARSOC,SEALs, or PJs, and are most definitely not members of one of the SFGs. This is true on DVIDS and many other websites.


Now you’ve hopefully got a good base, you know what the typical kit of your chosen unit looks like, you know what they look like and hopefully the major parts that make the kit such as their clothing, helmets, PCs, and weapons systems, as well as their role. This knowledge will be crucial going into the next step.


IDing and Sorting

The sources mentioned first, places like DEVTSIX, are pretty good, pics posted there are usually of the unit listed, however there may be pics that are not, and this especially true of the following sources, which require you to step up your game.


Social media pages not affiliated with the unit are great sources. These are spread across all mediums, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and especially Instagram. These sources are highly useful, some of the pics showing the rarest stuff come from these pages. The danger is that images on these mediums are often misidentified or plain out wrong. It’s not uncommon for Airsofters to leak onto these pages, or for units to be badly misidentified. It’s so bad some of the legit pages on Instagram joke about, just look up #notaSEAL.


The people who manage these pages may also purposely throw out a confusing array of hastags (How can someone be a SEAL, Ranger, SF, and MARSOC guy?) to try and broaden their exposure and get more followers. This is why it’s important you know what your chosen unit looks like, so you can sort out the obvious errors, and antagonize over the borderline pics that may or may not be legit. How to determine for sure is difficult and requires plenty of experience, but there are simple ways to try and determine, the first way is to use a Google Reverse Image search. This search is perhaps your single greatest tool, but requires some work to use. “But Instagram pics can’t be image searched or downloaded” you say, wrong. For Instagram you can use a different app (this is probably the easiest), or on PC (in Chrome for this example, other browsers have similar functionality) you can click on the image’s page:

Example IG post
Example IG post

Next you right click, select view source (control+u), than you find a page full of script.


Next search (in that page, using control+f in Chrome) “jpg”, the first result is the image, you shouldn’t even need to hit enter. That result should have a collection of random numbers and look like a link, ending in .jpg. Highlight the link and open in new tab, boom, you can save and image search the image.

Finding an URL of a photo
Finding an URL of a photo

The Image Search

Now say you’re browsing an Instagram page and you happen across this pic:

Real unit or Airsoft?

It looks very cool, there’s a lot of detail, but some things seem a little off, what’s up with those tan Cryes, and that almost yellow helmet? Could these be Airsofters, and how do I find out? The first step is to get the pic’s url and then image search it. You may need to go back several pages to find your answer, but in this case we discover the image is here on DEVTSIX forum, in a thread showing off the awesome pics those guys took! Therefore it is Airsoft. Not every example is this easy, but this is a powerful tool for you to use. You can also use the image search to find captions and other info on a picture.


Back to Instagram…

Now there are many pages on Instagram and even more images, how do I know which ones are legit? You need to use your brain here and think of this question, Who is running the page? Is it some guy sharing his own photos, some Airsofter, somebody sharing pics, or perhaps a SOF organization like Seal Future Fund? This is the first and most important question. Here are some legit pages so you can see what they look like, also note that even legit pages may post pics of other units/civilians.

Now as you go through these pages you may find links to other legit pages, remember, Social Media is about networks, and the legit guys find each other and share each other’s pics. One thing I must note is that you need to make sure the pics shown are from when they are on active-duty. They may have purchased stuff after they left that isn’t legit for the unit they were once part of, this is especially true for guns. Their gear may be 100% spot on (since they’re using their old SOF gear), but their helmet and weapon systems off. Look at the two right guys guys, ex-MARSOC, using legit gear and clothing, but their weapons are incorrect.

Active or Ex-MARSOC?

Also, DON’T ANNOY THE LEGIT GUYS! When you do stupid stuff like pester them “What unit were you in?” “What is zyx piece of gear?” they make their pages private. When they make their pages private the general impression public loses out. Don’t be that idiot, respect their service and them as persons. How would you feel if people pestered you in the same fashion?


On a final note Instagram is an excellent source, but you need to know your way around your kit, and pretty much every other kit, to avoid misidentifing units. There’s a lot of great pics out there, but it’s dangerous because you could inadvertently end up building a MARSOC kit based off of Woodland SF pictures, be careful, know your kit, and it is awesome, and be glad it’s not the wasteland that Pinterest largely is...


There’s a whole New World out there

The sources I’ve shown are great, and good enough to get a good start on your impression, but you can go deeper, there will always be more pics out there, that’s the reality of building impressions. I can’t supply a complete list so you need to develop the skillset to find them, and in this section, I’ll show you how.


As you research you may come across guides showing the kit used by various units, be very careful. A guide cannot possibly capture the complexity of a kit or details of how it’s put together, they also don’t tell you what gear is/was used together. Use a guide to google the items found and learn what they look like, they find them in your pic collection.


Remember the image search? It’s about to prove it’s worth. Take a semi-common SOF pic of your chosen unit and reverse image search it. Make sure it’s not too common, or you get WAY too many results. Next go deeper, sort through page after page, open the (legit and not shady looking) websites that are hosting the pic and seem to also have more pics. After awhile you run out of English speaking sites and run into foreign language websites, mainly Asian blogs. Asian blogs are an excellent source because they have tons of pics and often identify some of the gear for you, letting you get ahead of the game. Use Google Translate and click away! Navigate to those pages, bookmark them, and explore, you’ll find even more pics.


Another source is AR15.com, which is also an excellent source for all things guns, even if they can’t seem to wrap their head around the MK18 Mod 1. They also have a pics thread, but unfortunately it covers EVERYONE, even foreign, so you need to really know your kit to sort out pics: http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_1_5/1551818_Spec_Ops_Pic_Thread.html


The final “easy” source is Shadowspear.com, providing info on all units, as well as an all-encompassing SOF picture thread, similar to AR15, but ShadowSpear’s thread has more of an SF focus. On Shadowspear you can find all sorts of in depth information of SOF units, it’s an excellent source. A forum very similar to Shadowspear is Socnet, which is also a great source and full of great stories.


Continuing down this vein, forums catering to specific guns or manufacturers are also good sources (remembering that the people there can be ardent fanboys or trolling fanboys). Fnforum.net has an excellent thread showcasing SCARs in SOF hands, make sure you can tell your SEALs, SF, and Rangers apart.


Finally you will often come across broken pics, this is for a variety of reasons. The person may have deleted the pic purposely, or they ran out of room in their photo sharing site, or they hotlinked and the website refreshed, killing the link. Sometimes you’re plain out of luck, but sometimes you can recover the pic. Try googling any captions accompanying the photo, if that doesn’t work try webarchives.


The second method will generate plenty of false positives, but is still good. Use the “” signs to tell your search engine to only bring up exact matches, and search for your unit in a general image search. Note that just googling “Special Forces” will bring up tons of false positives, so use a term like “Army Special Forces”, the more specific the better at this point. Look at the legit images, navigate to those websites, and find more pics there. Doing this for extended time periods will allow you to build a nice size collection of pics, and perhaps even videos, that provide valuable evidence of the usage of different gear. Keep on searching, there are always new pics, but at some point you think you have enough and need to move on to the next stage. The more pics the better when it comes to analyzing, since it gives you a broader pool of knowledge. This is research 101, the more data points, the better your data will be.


IDing gear and building your Kitlist

At last you have the pics, the videos, you’ve read the articles, maybe you’ve read No Hero and No Easy Day cover to cover 5 times. The source material is floating around, it’s time to collect it and spit out your kitlist. Now, barring an inside source, you need to ID gear to get this information. Now would be a good time to review my IDing gear guide if you haven’t already: https://www.devtsix.com/id-that-sh-t-t216-s5430.html.


Examples are the spice of life, so I’m going to use a fairly complex one, and a simpler one, to illustrate my point and get you rolling on IDing AN ENTIRE KIT.

How to ID gear 1/3

U.S. Soldiers with Special Operations Command, Europe, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Detachment Alpha 0114 participate with their Hungarian counterparts in small arms training at Szolnok Air Base, Hungary, July 13, 2012. This partnership development program in various locations in Hungary is designed to foster good communication and relationships in preparation for upcoming joint deployments to Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie/Released)


The caption provides is the important information. Who (10th SFG group guys), where (Europe), what (training), and when (July 13th 2012). This lets us assign a timeframe and more specific details to our kit. Now the first thing to note is that this pic, like most, is not in isolation, but part of a set, which means we can get nearly 360* views of some of the guys, allowing detailed gear analysis.


Let’s begin with the guy nearest the camera.


He’s using a 2K (2000) helmet. You should recognize the ACH Ops Core Rails he’s using, as well as the S&S Manta Strobe on top of his helmet. We see he is using an Ops Core suspension system as well. Next we move on to his uniform, which consists of the very common Crye ACs and G3s. His PC is the issued and very common Eagle Industries (EI) MBAV in Khaki. On his back we see a MAP, and on his sides an EI khaki med pouch (V1, not V2). We see he is using a Glock 19, like all the other guys there, and has Mechanix gloves in his back pocket. But what about his right side? Do not fret, for there are more photos in the set, witness the following.

How to ID gear 2/3

We see that on his right side he has the common EI 100 round pouches, or “Nutsack”. He is also using a black SERPA holster. However his rifle is obscured so not much can be drawn from it, nor can his front be seen, how hard was that? Pretty easy hopefully, all his gear is very common for SF and shouldn’t take more than a glance to ID, however for the next guy life gets difficult…


We move on to the next guy, A47X. And suddenly IDing gear gets difficult. He’s not running a full load of EI, no, he’s running a whole bunch of private purchase pouches from a whole bunch of manufacturers, making IDing gear much harder, oh well, let’s begin.


He’s wearing an OC High Cut, evident by the front screw alignment compared to the rail, as well as another Manta strobe, he’s using a Norotos tan 3 hole mount, which is evident from this picture in the set:

How to ID gear 3/3

He’s using Peltor Comtacs 3s as well as a Glock 19, and what look like Mechanix Gloves. He has Crye AC pants and an Eagle Industries Khaki MBAV, some Eagle Khaki pouches, and that’s the end of the easy gear. His shirt is a Tru-Spec one. Now we use the skills explored in the IDing gear tutorial. Let’s start on the brown 1x3 mag shingle. In the one pic we see a insert, in the other mags coming out of both sides of the pouch! This is significant because this is a rare thing to see, therefore the search narrows. Searching OPtactical and SKD yields one pouch that demonstrates this, Esstac KYWIs. Unfortunately this is one of the easier IDs. Next up is one of the most difficult, the common brownish/khaki GP pouch. All we know is it’s brown, has a black zipper, and that it appears to have a rubberized zipperpull, let’s leave that one to the end. Next we see a medical pouch, upside down, so we browse OP and SKD and find it looks a lot like the BFG Trauma Now! Let’s google the Trauma Now! and see if multiple generations pop up, lo and behold, one of the first results look identical to that pouch. Now we move on and see a barely visible radio pouch, it displays the common features of Paraclete. Next we move up to a brown pouch which must be a hydro. It doesn’t look like anything on OP or SKD, so we broaden the search. One of the usual suspects, Tactical Tailor, yields a hit. It’s a TT Joey hydration pouch. Moving on to the belt we see another brown GP pouch, which coincidentally looks very close to the other one. Analysis of the zipper tab, webbing, and shape lead to it being a Paraclete one. With him already using two Paraclete pouches the odds are high the remaining one is also Paraclete, so a further search down that alley reveals that it is. His belt is a Crye blast belt, which is cluttered with pouches. Generic dump pouches are up there with brown gp pouches in being hard to ID, but in this one we find a break, it has the logo of Tactical Assault Gear visible. A further search reveals the weapons catch is also likely TAG. Now you can see some of the practical steps in IDing gear, combine this with the other guide and it will be easy(ier) . And remember, if you’re stumped, Devtsix has a ID that Sh!t thread where other people can give it their best try. Also don’t feel bad if you can’t ID everything, I deliberately chose this pic because I had done so, but there are other pics on my computer where I’m still in the dark.


Moving on to the Kitlist

You’ve IDed the gear worn by more than a few guys, or maybe just one guy, now it’s time to decide what type of impression you want.

  1. Copying one guy to the letter

  2. Copying a group of guys

  3. A broad impression

Now those cover pretty much every impression. You can make a great impression out of any of those three options, but each have their own advantages and pitfalls.

  1. These are easier, you only need to ID one guy. In fact, you could do a totally accurate SF impression based off of the two guys I just IDed. Many great impressions take this approach, but there are disadvantages. The most obvious is if you only ID one pic you don’t have the knowledge base about what the unit uses in general. If you only have pictures from the set I just showed off you could draw incorrect assumptions, such as SF only use Ops Core High Cuts in 2012, or that certain items are more common than they actually are. You are also restricted to that guy’s setup, which may not fit your needs.

  2. The advantage of this is you can mix and match stuff to fit your needs, there is some danger here in using stuff that isn’t seen together, but for the most part you should be okay. Some more work is required, but not much. The disadvantage is that you are once again limited, not as much, but you still have plenty of limitations. The other difficulty is getting a large enough sample size.

  3. A broad impression has advantages and disadvantages. First of all is the wide range of stuff you can use. The sky is literally the limit for some units like SF. The disadvantage is that the risk of using kit that has not been seen together skyrockets.

Now you can do hybrid kits incorporating elements from any of the three main approaches. You could mix 1. and 2. by analysing a lot of pics, but only to copy one guy.


Now that you’ve decided what approach you’re taking you need to put together your kit. How you do so depends on your approach, for 1. you don’t need to do much thinking, but for the other approaches you need to think of what needs you have and what they have in common with your chosen unit. ? How are you going to carry little odds and ends, a GP pouch? How many mags do they use, and where do they put those pouches? This is where analyzing all those pictures comes in handy; you can see where they put the pouches, and various other gear setup decisions.


Some Miscellaneous notes on Kitlists

Be prepared, this section will be disjointed as it will consist of various things I’ve learned over the years.


There is often a degree of variation within a SOF unit. Different guys make different gear decisions, have different priories, different bodies, and different roles. Therefore their gear differs. In some units, like Rangers, there is comparatively little variation, for others like SF there can be a massive difference. This is important as you need to be able to recognize outliners, otherwise your “typical SF kit” could well be using rare gear.


Secondly different people in a unit have different roles, which translates into different kits. A grenadier will need a way to carry his grenade rounds, a JTAC extra comms equipment, a sniper who spends a lot of time on their belly will set up their kit differently than someone who is always upright. Noting these differences helps you gain a better understanding of your impression.


Another issue is common gear vs. less common gear. Sometimes people want to do an impression, but shy away from all the stereotypical things. Well there’s a good reason for that, those items are by far the most common for your unit. They may try to use rare items together “Can I use my Airframe for a SEAL kit?”, stringing several distantly related items together. Now, there’s nothing wrong with using less common gear, it’s still seen after all, but the issue comes when you get picky you significantly limit your options, and the risk of using unrelated equipment once again skyrockets. Now might be a good time to go back through the appropriate show your kit threads and see what choices other people made. Which impression pics do you like the most? Use that answer to help make these decisions.


Timeframes. Units use different stuff, and oh what a difference a few years can make. Compare Rangers in 2009 to Rangers in 2013, a world of difference. A timeframe narrows your kit and focuses it, you can’t do a kit with gear that doesn’t exist yet, ala, a Maritime in 2008. Older kit tends to be cheaper, unless it’s super rare, compare the prices of khaki Eagle to multicam Eagle… New kit may also be more difficult to acquire, like say the new SEAL LBH helmets. The final timeframe issue is that the conflicts around the world have changed as years passed, the sheer scale of the deployments back during the heydays of the War on Terror meant lots of photos and different kits, now that the military is moving towards peacetime there is less, although SOF units do have some immunity to this and are always busy doing something.


One of the SOF truths is that they cannot function without non-SOF support. Even the most elite guys need some to feed them, protect them while they sleep in their FOBs, and fly them around. This extends to missions, where the SOF unit will have enablers. Enablers are people who are not part of the main SOF unit, but may be part of another SOF or non-SOF unit like an Air Force CCT. It’s important to distinguish between enablers and the members of the unit itself, for otherwise it can be very confusing noting the stark differences in gear. Take this pic, one man is a fully qualified Special Forces soldier, the other an enabler.

SF and an enabler

Another thing to remember is that old gear doesn’t drop off the face of the planet because new stuff is issued. A SOF unit may get issued shiny new stuff, but some will still use old stuff. Take this picture, we have one highspeed SF guy, and one wearing older gear.

SF with newer and older kit

One man has Crye and Patagonia, a modern MK18, and the other an older Block 1, CIRAS and ACU set.


Back to the kitlist…

Keeping all these lessons in mind build your interim kitlist, keep studying and learning, and let your kitlist evolve with your growing knowledge, it takes time, but a good kitlist is worth it. One thing I would advise is figuring out which stuff on your kitlist is commercially available, and what you need to get through other channels. Put aside money for the rare/not commercial stuff first, so if that rare item pops up you can buy it. It would be really annoying to have that green bodied L9 shirt pop up on Ebay, after watching for weeks, and just have spent your gear money on stuff you can easily pick up later.


Now that you have a kitlist you may want to post it in the Loadout Guide here on DEVTSIX forum: http://devtsix.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=97


You can use it to ask final questions and get answers about little things, or to see if you missed something. Soon you will have purchased the items, figured out how to set them up, and can enjoy the fruit of your labour, a well-researched, well done impression. Impressions aren’t cheap, but in the end you can feel that sense of accomplishment.



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