In response to the Athens-Clarke County PD Shooting (July, 2019)

In response to the Athens-Clarke County PD Shooting (July, 2019)

I made the mistake of reading things on the internet. Apparently you’re making the same mistake.

There are few enough reasons to be a cop these days. Low pay, rotating shifts, subpoenas interrupting off days, missing family time, an ever-increasing list of demands and duties, and on and on. I’m thirteen years into this profession with a Master’s Degree, over 3,500+ hours of training, just about every instructor certification Georgia officers, and I’m still making less money than I did at my first pharmaceutical tech-writing job out of college. Despite that, I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Law Enforcement has given me thousands of opportunities to help people. I love those moments, regardless of whether it’s changing a tire, stopping an abusive partner, providing medical aid on an accident scene, or speaking with an at-risk youth. Most of the people I’ve worked with throughout the years have been in this business for the same reasons. Personally, I find the most emotionally taxing part of working in law enforcement to be the constant after-the-fact review by the court of popular opinion, usually made up of people who are under or over-qualified. One group is viewing events based on what television tells them that cops do, i.e.: “just disarm the knife like all cops are trained to”. The other group has been on the job for so long that they have forgotten all the mistakes that got them to where they are.

Since last week Monday, I’ve seen dozens of opinion pieces providing their “would have, could have, should have” in reference to the July 1st shooting in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia. I’m directing this at a few of you that have gone far and above in terms of making sweeping judgments and assertions about the officers and tactics involved. For some reason law enforcement is one of those fields where everyone feels entitled to an expert opinion, in spite of having no knowledge of the field. I’ve come to expect that. However, there’s also a growing trend where seasoned members of the law enforcement, firearms, and self-defense training community are making money on clicks and training classes while disparaging the way good guys win fights. Shame on you. Shame on you for asserting that the actions of these officers were the product of poor hiring standards or failures of character. What are we telling officers when their victories, even messy ones, are cause for scorn?

Most of the folks commenting have been drawing conclusions based on half of the information. What I haven’t seen widely circulated is that the two officers in this incident were initially dispatched to an “unknown problem” where the suspect was standing on a person’s doorstep covered in blood. There were no known weapons at that time. A short time later, dispatch told the officers that the suspect was now chasing a maintenance worker around the complex with a knife. The next update given was that the maintenance man had fired two shots at the suspect in self-defense and the suspect had stopped chasing him. In the videos, you can hear the updates being given over the radio as the officers are pulling into the complex.

So what’s the right play here? You have a criminal actor, covered in his or a victim’s blood, wielding a knife, committing a violent felony against a third party. Shots have been fired. It’s unclear if there are other victims on the property requiring aid. There are also hundreds of other potential victims in the apartment complex. The Active Killer model has taught us that every moment wasted worsens the outcome for victims. We teach officers to go in and engage the threat to prevent loss of life to the innocent. In this case, Officers Bidinger and Harrison were legally justified in using deadly force the moment they arrived on scene and the suspect moved towards them in violation of their lawful orders. The fact that the video is longer than 30 seconds in length speaks to their desire to resolve the conflict without violence. Nowhere in their Oath of Office, Georgia statute, or case law is the officer mandated to become the victim of violence. An irrational and delusional schism of the population has begun asserting that the lives of criminals are more valuable than the lives of law enforcement officers. Maybe I’ve seen it building for so long that I simply dismiss this as mental illness, but the notion that officers are less important than criminal actors is ludicrous.

In an ideal world, I’m sure that more resources could have been brought to this encounter. In retrospect, the officers may have acted differently. However, as the Supreme Court pointed out in Graham v. Connor, an officer’s actions are best judged by what he or she knew and felt in the moment, and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. The members of the Supreme Court offered this opinion specifically because they knew it’s easier to see the bigger picture when you’re not fighting through tunnel vision and the other effects of adrenaline. The camera doesn’t have a heart rate of 180 or the emotional baggage of past transactions. Training helps, yes. But there’s a huge difference between understanding the theory of using force and the reality of being required to use force against someone you’re trying to help.

In my 18 months as a state police academy instructor, I took part in the instruction of eight academy sessions and saw approximately 230 cadets graduate to become rookie officers. When I came on board, my goal was to turn out the highest quality recruits with the most relevant information possible. I wanted to create thinkers, diplomats, and warriors. The problem has been and continues to be that there are just not enough hours in the academy to provide anything beyond a basic understanding of the job. The State’s basic mandate school (meaning the minimum amount of basic law enforcement training mandated by the state) is eleven weeks long. Into that is crammed Georgia criminal law, traffic law, sex offense investigations, domestic violence investigations, crimes against children, firearms, defensive tactics, crime scene processing, criminal procedure, ethics, de-escalation, driving, physical fitness, report writing, and dozens of other topics. Things that the academy DOESN’T include are: disarming an edged weapon, partner tactics to overlap lethal and less-lethal cover, how to use OC/pepper spray, taser training, CQB tactics, or Crisis Intervention Techniques (CIT). Even the Defensive Tactics training provided to the recruits is based primarily on a mildly non-aggressive suspect who isn’t trying to harm the officer. In each session, I would introduce a training knife in the defensive tactics block. The cadets were warned that I would try to use a weapon against them and to watch my hands as we grappled. In every encounter, I was able to access and deploy a training knife and reach a major artery with it. Other than a brief discussion of the Tueller Drill and the distances I’d seen people close in sort amounts of time, no practical exercise or information addressed how to respond to a knife-wielding suspect. There wasn’t time in the schedule to allow for this “advanced” training, which many have come to expect is “standard” for every sworn officer.

Multiple attempts to lengthen the academy to seventeen weeks have been sent to the legislature. While still not sufficient to train an officer, seventeen weeks would be better. Currently, we still have an eleven week academy because taxpayers want highly trained officers at the price you’d pay for a greeter at Walmart. The idea that everything should be free (health care, housing, education, food) is over-saturating our society.

I don’t know much about Officer Harrison, but mutual acquaintances say he’s a good cop. He knows how to speak with people, does his job professionally, and has been willing to step up and train the newer generation of officers at his agency. He and I probably don’t have the same skill sets. He’s probably better with people than I am. He has taken classes that I haven’t on how to deal with individuals in emotional / mental health crisis. That’s a much more useful skill for 99% of the calls officers respond to, where you’re solving a problem without force. As a road officer and part of a team, I’m happy that my shift and I have different skillsets. This job’s ever-growing list of duties is too complex for any one officer to master all of it.

As for Officer Bidinger, he was one of my academy cadets. I found him to be polite, professional, serious, and hopeful. He was one of the cadets who never rocked the boat. He addressed his peers and instructors as “sir” and “ma’am”, asked good questions, demonstrated an understanding of the material, pushed himself during PT, got along with his peers, got good grades, threw solid punches, and shot well. He also talked about how he wanted to make a difference and help people. He was the class leader for his academy session. He was also awarded with the class flag at the end of the session, which is assigned based on the judgment of the academy staff and his fellow cadets. Beyond the academy, he has attended three months of additional in-house training with ACCPD, to include the 40 hour Crisis Intervention Training focusing on non-violent methods of dealing with individuals in an altered mindset.

In March, this officer, who got out of the academy in 2018 and is still currently in Field Training, had to use his weapon when someone pointed a firearm at him. At the time Bidinger and other officers used their weapons, they had every reason to believe the gun was real. In accordance with Georgia law and his training, he used force to stop someone from using lethal force against him. Immediately following that use of force, he learned that the gun pointed at him and his fellow officers wasn’t real. Shortly after the shooting, his firearm was taken from him and the other officers involved. He and the other officers were all left in a room, unarmed, for hours before they were issued new weapons. When a replacement firearm was given to him, it was with the understanding that he was on administrative duty while a criminal investigation took place concerning his actions and the actions of the other officers on scene. Administrative duty was later changed to “light duty,” where he wasn’t allowed to wear a uniform or openly carry a firearm. He spent the next 10 weeks waiting to see if he would keep his job and his freedom.

In May, after the 10 weeks waiting on his agency’s judgment, he and the other officers were put back on the road having been cleared by the GBI and agency brass. He’d been back on the road for approximately two months, still in field training, when he again used deadly force on a criminal actor threatening his life and the life of his partner.

At this point, you really need to understand the politics surrounding Athens-Clarke County and ACCPD. I am completely serious when I describe Athens-Clarke County as a non-permissive environment. Historically, the ACCPD has punished their officers for winning fights with desk details, transfers, and marginalization. You can look at the recent case of Taylor Saulters and the money Athens-Clarke paid out to him in a settlement as a prime example. ACCPD is budgeted to have a sworn force of more than 300, but has seen many seasoned officers with hundreds of years combined experience leave in the last year. ACCPD is currently 60+ officers short, and cannot hire and train officers fast enough to replace those who are leaving. Most of my friends from there have moved on, taking their credentials and experience with them. Their average officer has less than five years of experience. Also, due to budget and staffing concerns, Athens-Clarke County PD officers are limited to 40 hours or so of training every year before they must attend career development training at their own expense.

It’s also worth mentioning that the current District Attorney in Athens, Ken Mauldin, ran against his predecessor with “I would have indicted the officer” as his motto. Ken’s predecessor declined to indict an officer involved in a shooting that was ruled justified. At the time I write this, Ken has not given formal notice that Bidinger and the other officers involved in the March shooting have been cleared. Mauldin has also not cleared two of my former partners of shootings that took place in 2011 and and 2016, in spite of being cleared by the GBI and their agency. In both of those shootings, the suspect was pointing a firearm at the officers before he was shot. During a preliminary criminal hearing for the 2016 shooting, the purpose of which related to the prosecution of the suspect, Ken attempted to compel agency heads to discuss information obtained from officers under a Garrity Warning. Ken asked for information obtained under Garrity four times, until the Judge told him to stop asking. If you don’t know what that means, google it.

To round this entire picture out, let’s look at the City / County Council of Athens-Clarke County. In terms of spending, ACC provides a wealth of Section 8 housing, free medical services, free schooling, free transit, et cetera. There is currently an initiative to make all city transit busses operate on a free basis, with operating expenses paid out of the tax base. What they don’t spend money on is law enforcement salaries or training. A recent pay study was meant to bring their salaries up to something resembling a living wage, but there just wasn’t enough money for emergency services personnel while they’re giving money away to everyone else.

At last count, six of my cadets have been involved in shootings. In February of 2019, three weeks after I left the academy and went back to the road, I was involved in an officer-involved shooting myself. So with all of that said, it doesn’t matter what you or I would have done because we weren’t there. I’m sure there are things that could have resulted in a different outcome. I’m sure the officers themselves might take different actions with the benefit of hindsight. However, their actions were legal and ethical. These two made every effort to spare a man’s life, and he made it impossible. They will both get to live with the aftermath of this incident for the remainder of their lives. If they do stay in law enforcement, they will probably take some lessons away from this and apply them moving forward. Why make that harder by attacking their character or ability from afar? If you have energy for that, write an elected official, offer a free class, donate some money for equipment, or participate in a citizen’s police academy. If you want to review the video as a learning opportunity and teach tactics, fine. Video review is a useful tool that I use extensively myself. However, being snide, condescending, or making character attacks for clicks isn't helping anything. Let’s just stop the finger-pointing, character assassination, and endless complaining.

UPDATE:

I began writing this on July 2nd, after Bidinger's shooting. I posted it on the evening of July 8th. On the morning of the 8th, I woke up to multiple text messages and phone calls to inform me that Deputy Nicholas Dixon of the Hall County Sheriff's Office had been murdered in the line of duty the night before. It's a horrible feeling when someone you know is taken away by violence. I only knew him for a few months, but I liked him. He was an excellent young man who was a joy to speak with and instruct, and we are diminished by his passing. I wish I could have been there. I wish all of this had been avoided. I wish his wife and two children would have the opportunity to see the man he was and the man he was becoming.

Go easy, friend.

Rifle ZERO and Mechanical Offset

Rifle ZERO and Mechanical Offset

WHAT IS A RIFLE ZERO?

Everything you do with the rifle is based upon your zero. I once spent multiple hours with Dave Harrington as he highlighted the importance of the zeroing process and its cumulative effect on your effectiveness with the rifle. Understanding my zero and the difference between my optic's height in relation to the muzzle has proven invaluable when shooting from unstable and non-traditional positions. If you train with folks like Chase Jenkins and William Petty, you'll appreciate knowing this information before their courses, as you'll be shooting through, around, and under anything they can think of. With that said, many people tote a rifle around for work or play without a basic understanding of how to zero and map the external ballistics (bullet path) of their firearm.

Point of Aim (POA) / Point of Impact (POI) will change due to distance to the target, orientation of the weapon, your choice of ammunition, mechanical offset, and other factors. So - a few things to ask yourself:

  1. What are the two distances where your bullet will strike the target in the place your optic or sights are centered? (And there are two).
  2. How well have you learned and documented how your rifle will perform closer or farther than your zero distance?
  3. How does the bullet path change when you have the gun turned on its side or at an odd angle, as might happen when you're using cover or forced into a position of necessity?

When I changed the optic mounts I use on my rifles, I went through a zero and offset mapping process with each of them. I use a 50/200 yard zero, which means that the rounds fired from the rifle will impact at the point my sights / dot are aiming at 50 yards and again at approximately 200. If you're scratching your head at this, just understand that when you're looking through the sights, your rifle's barrel is located about 3 inches below the optic. That difference between the height of the optic and the height of the bore is called mechanical offset. The rifle's barrel is tilted very slightly up to cause the rounds to rise to the aiming point. Beyond that point, they will rise a bit more, then start coming down as gravity drags it down. The second time the bullet will pass my sight line is the approximate 200 yard range. Moving farther out, the bullet will continue to drop until it hits the ground. For my purposes, a 50/200 zero allows me to use my dot for an acceptable hit (6" plate) anywhere from 25 to 300 yards without adjusting my point of aim. It won't be a bulls-eye, but it'll hit a threat without much need to think. Further explained, my zero means that the rounds will be low between 0-50 yards, high from 50-200 yards, and low beyond 200. The two points where I'm going to hit exactly what I'm aiming at are 50 and 200 yards.

There are other zero options out there, and I encourage you to find the one you like best. This one is vanilla and works well for what I do in work or play. For precision rifles, I generally set a 100 yard zero and then dial my adjustments manually based on range, wind, and other factors.

So here's how I go about setting my Zero and mapping my offset:

SETTING A ZERO:

  1. Set the rifle up on a stable platform to validate the rifle and ammunition combination, NOT the skill of the shooter. At a minimum, this means a bag rest. When I set up the rifle, the goal is to have it aligned with the target on the bag without my influence. All I'm doing is holding it steady and pressing the trigger. If you're having to support the gun with your muscle, you should alter your bag setup to properly rest the gun.
  2. Mount the targets at the same height as the rifle. It seems like a small thing, but setting a target a foot or two higher than the gun will have an effect. It may be a small effect, but it will still matter when the shots count. I generally use the top target for roughing in the zero, then the lower one for making the fine adjustments.
  3. Establish your zero at the KNOWN distance that makes sense for your environment and optic. A laser range-finder or a measuring wheel make sure you're not just "close enough" to the intended range. I'm also looking for each shot taken during the zeroing process to be as perfect as I can get it. If you know you pulled a shot with a bad trigger pull, call it and discount that from the zeroing process.
  4. If space allows, determine the SECOND KNOWN DISTANCE where the round will once again strike the target in the place that the sights / optic are aimed.

MECHANICAL OFFSET (STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN):

Mechanical offset is the difference between where your Sights / Optics are mounted and where the muzzle is. In most cases, there's a 2.5" - 3.5" difference as the sights are much higher than the barrel. Your optic, mounting hardware, and the gun itself will all contribute to this offset distance. When you Zero, you're basically orienting the gun's muzzle UP at the proper angle to direct the bullet to the sights at a specific distance. At close range, you should expect to see the bullet impact the target much lower than the sights, which becomes important in CQB encounters. Knowing your offset can be the difference between making and missing a shot.

  1. Set the rifle in a stable position and move the TARGET in relation to the gun. This will keep things as consistent as possible. I use the same measuring wheel / laser range finder to set my distances.
  2. Using the center of the target as my point of aim, I then shoot groups at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 yards.
  3. I collect the target and map the deviation from the center at the various distances. This will change as we move closer or further from the target. (5 yard offset shown below).

MECHANICAL OFFSET (ORIENTATION OF THE GUN):

Finally, you need to understand that the gun will behave differently when it's lying on its side. If we are shooting through a port or underneath something, it will sometimes be required to turn the rifle to get our sights on the target or get the gun under an obstruction. When you do that, realize that the gun's muzzle is no longer pointing UP to rise to the target, but is instead pointing LEFT or RIGHT. Here's a simple rule to follow:

  • If you're closer than your first ZERO distance, the round will strike the target equal in height to the sights / optic, but will strike to the magazine side because the bullet is still trying to "rise" to the zero.
  • If you're farther away than your first ZERO location, the round will strike slightly lower than the optic, but will also favor the side of the gun where the optic is located because the barrel is still angled in that direction.

As an example, let's imagine that you shooting from your right shoulder and looking through the gun's sights. In this example, the gun has been rolled 90* to the right, so that the optic is facing the RIGHT side of the range and your magazine is facing the LEFT side of the range. Your ZERO is set at 50 yards. The rounds will now still have a similar mechanical offset to when the gun was straight up and down that we'll plug into the equation.

  • If the target is CLOSER than 50 yards, aim at the same HEIGHT that you want the round to hit, but favor the target to the OPTIC / RIGHT side. The mechanical offset means that before we reach 50 yards, the rounds will be somewhat to the LEFT of where you aim because it's trying to meet your zero point.
  • If the target is BEYOND 50 yards, aim slightly high to compensate for gravity / bullet drop, and favor the target to the MAGAZINE / LEFT side of the range. Because you are past your zero distance, the bullet will have passed the zero spot and will have continued moving to the RIGHT, so we need to adjust for that. Also, because the muzzle is no longer oriented with an upward rise, the round will start falling as soon as it leaves the gun due to gravity.

CONCLUSION:

The best way to understand this is to go do it. It may seem like you don't need to know this, but there are some serious reasons to have a grasp of where the bullet will go. For example, if I have a bag guy with a hostage between us at approximately 5 yards, I need to understand that the bullet will strike 2.5" lower than the dot when I press the trigger. At 25 yards, my round will only be about 1" low. If I get that wrong, I may hit the wrong person.

For me, this process has also recently highlighted the fact that at 40 years old, I've developed an astigmatism. I actually discovered this while performing the re-zero / offset mapping process with these rifles. Whereas I once saw a clean dot, I now see what looks like a comet moving from low left to high right in the center of the reticle. Suddenly, the specific part of the dot I focus on, and the brightness setting of my optic, produce drastic changes in my POA / POI. Ironically, as I swapped all my gear over to new hardware, my eyes were starting to move away from making my optics the ideal choice for me.

Course Review: Gabe White / Pistol Shooting Solutions

Course Review: Gabe White / Pistol Shooting Solutions

In April, I attended a two-day course with Gabe White of Pistol Shooting Solutions. The course was hosted by Lee Weems / First Person Safety in Watkinsville, GA at the same range where I conduct most of my training.

Prior to registering for this course, I hadn’t heard of Gabe White. I don’t spend much time on forums, and Gabe is based out of Clackamas, Oregon. Lee Weems had met him at The Roger’s Shooting School when Gabe shot a clean run on the test from concealment. Worldwide, only four folks have ever had clean runs on the Rogers test, and none of them have been wearing a concealment garment except Gabe. Along with that achievement, Gabe has trained with well-known instructors and apparently puts a bunch of useful documentation and training theory up on the internet. For more information on Gabe’s background and company, you can visit his website, here.

During the class, I ran a stippled and grip-reduced Glock 17 equipped with a SureFire X300 Ultra out of my Veil Solutions appendix holster and IWB magazine pouches. My concealment garment was a t-shirt since it was already hot and humid down in Georgia.

Full disclosure: I was tired and burned out at the time of this course. Saturday morning, I woke up and considered just blowing it off. I’d been on the range for almost every weekend of the prior two months, and after some negative experiences I’d gotten to the point where I needed a break. I eventually dragged myself to class and ended up enjoying myself.

Structure and Setup: “Disorganization is the Enemy of Safety”

Gabe began the class with waivers and an in-depth safety briefing. Following that, he progressed into introductions for himself and the other students, which included what we were going to be using and working with throughout the class. From there, he went into a block of instruction on use of force and his process for breaking down Ability / Opportunity / Jeopardy. He then briefed us on how he progresses through the class, and what students should be considering as they were shooting the exercises for the next two days. Liability and Accountability were two things that Gabe stressed throughout the course.

Gabe is very methodical and scientific in his approach to shooting instruction. Much of the course was shot at approximately 7 yards, and pushes you to work with accuracy, intensity, and consistency at an increasing speed. There is enough time in the class to start at a comfortable and “safe” shooting speed, then push the boundaries of your ability until you start falling off the map, and finally return to a working speed for the performance evaluations. Gabe’s test standards are based in human performance science. Students were given information on the time required for skilled or unskilled individuals to orient a gun at a target, time to fire each individual shot, time required for a human threat to stop from blood loss, and how fast people move in a real-world environment. From there, different levels of proficiency were designed and assigned to specific Pins.

A wealth of information and attention is paid to dry fire and the methods of training using it. Gabe provided more dry-fire exercises than any instructor I’d previously trained with. Drills included firing from register position, finger off the trigger, and at the pressure wall. He discussed the benefits and drawbacks for working with a timer. He provided information on how to set up a dry fire station for routine practice. He also outlined his own dry fire training routines and best practices. Gabe does much more dry fire than live, and provided a roadmap to students on how to tailor their own training.

Two concepts stand out to me from Gabe’s dry-fire block:

  1. “Sight Movie” vs. “Sight Picture” was one distinction he made when teaching how to compress time between shots. By recognizing when the sights were “good enough” to begin the next trigger press, the shooter could deliver more accurate and more rapid fire to the target.

  2. Pre-Loading a Focal Shift: Gabe had the students pay attention to the way their eye muscles felt when they were on the front sight and lined up on the target. From there, he had everyone work at their own pace with trying to pre-load their focal distance during the act of drawing, so that the front sight was already clear when it appeared during the draw. You can find his article on the subject here.

Shooting Exercises and Evaluations: “I can’t follow his Hands…”

When we moved into the live fire block, the first thing that I noticed was that Gabe White’s hands move so fast that I have trouble following them. That’s a cliché you read in fantasy novels. I’d never trained with someone who draws so aggressively that I can’t track his hands from the submission or ready position to slapping onto the grip. Gabe said he wants you to move your hands like you’ve just touched something hot and are flinching away from the pain and danger. While his entire presentation is fast, his ability to clear a garment and access the firearm is truly awesome. Once he’s drawing, there’s no wasted motion or hesitation in his presentation to the target and breaking the first shot; he has little to no perceptible delay in getting the first round out of the gun and it’s almost always a hit. When he did “miss” a shot, it meant that he was outside the A-Zone, and misses happened rarely.

The second thing about Gabe is that he demos everything. Performance on demand could be the other name for this class. There are four performance exercises throughout the course. Students get two attempts on each exercise, which are graded in terms of speed and accuracy. Students can earn a Dark, Light, or Turbo pin by getting four qualifying scores out of the eight attempts in the proper bracket. The Turbo Pin is based around Master Classification shooting times. A full description of the pin levels, along with videos of Gabe Shooting the drills, can be found here.

I don’t remember what my scores were on which events, but I did make the Light Pin level early in the class with one Turbo level test attempt. I’d also missed some Turbo level scores by hundredths of a second. Since I was “safe” with the Light Pin, I decided that I was going to try to push the envelope a bit. That didn’t work out well for me. When I pushed beyond what I knew my limits to be, I made mistakes and missed shots. Dropping shots was worse for the score than anything else would have been, so my scores sank into the Dark Pin level multiple times. That reinforced Gabe’s concept of working accurately and rapidly within your ability level so that you could maintain Accountability. In rushing and hoping for the best, my performance was far worse than if I’d continued shooting at the top end of what I knew I could do.

For Gabe’s part, he easily met his own performance standards, and made the Turbo Pin level easily. Since only one student has ever attained that pin, it’s not a small feat.

After the performance tests were completed and the scores recorded, we did some work on steel targets. The afternoon training incorporated use of cover and how to best utilize it. Also, students went head-to-head and competed against each other in some drills that required rapid presentation and accurate fire while moving rapidly to the side. It was a chance to relax somewhat, while verifying our current level of skill against other shooters.

Tactical Timmy: He’s just a guy…

This was a very comprehensive class, yet remained accessible to shooters of every skill group. The performance test benchmarks gave everyone a realistic goal and allowed for improvement. Gabe’s coaching style was positive and his language was clear. While I’d seen many of the concepts presented differently in previous courses, I couldn’t identify anything that Gabe skipped over or that I felt might have been neglected. The thoroughness of the instruction was commendable, and made possible due to Gabe’s continued effort to keep things moving. Gabe generally reset and addressed the range while students were loading magazines or grabbing hydration, which afforded students more practice and reps on his drills.

The other observation that I made was about Gabe himself. I’ve had occasion to train with instructors who spent more time talking about himself or herself than they spent teaching. In the few instances that Gabe spoke about himself, it was always about how he had developed as a shooter. He acknowledged and honored those with whom he’d trained and who had helped him develop his skills. He was also able to perform at an extremely high level, while acknowledging that shooting in front of a group continued to be a source of stress and discomfort for him. Gabe, who is a self-described “Shooting Enthusiast”, leaves his students with the message that there is always the possibility of improving if they put in the effort to do so.

Gabe should be returning to the Watkinsville area again in 2018, and I plan on taking his course again to try for a Turbo Pin.

Tactical Medical Instructor at Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), Glynco

Tactical Medical Instructor at Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), Glynco

Last week (March 7th-9th, 2017), I had the opportunity to travel to Glynco, GA to participate in the Basic Tactical Medical Instructor training program. The course cost and all materials were paid through a Federal grant, which set aside money to train state, local, and tribal law enforcement on TCCC programs. This was my first trip to a FLETC facility, so I had no prior knowledge about the facilities or resources available.

My initial (and continuing) impression is that FLETC has the nicest training facility I’ve ever seen. The classrooms are well maintained, the equipment and props are top notch, and the training areas are separated into specific geographic areas on the campus. Once you know where you’re going, it’s easy to navigate from one area to the other. In my classroom alone, there were a host of extremely lifelike wound trainers that could be used to simulate traumatic amputations, gunshot wounds, stab wounds, airway obstructions, junctional arterial bleeding, and a host of other injuries. The human-sized wound trainers weighed 200 pounds and cost $50,000 each. Those trainers move, spray blood, and breath on their own to add realism and give the correct stimulus to the students. They also had wound packing stations, and a number of objects that measured the constriction of tourniquets applied to a “limb”. The mock houses that we were using for scenario testing were actual fully-furnished houses. The Federal Government didn’t spare any expense and it shows.

Day 1 began with a medical assessment due to the physical nature of the class. Following that, we were each issued an Individual Field Aid Kit (IFAK), and dove into the TCCC coursework and the MARCH pneumonic. MARCH is a simple way of assessing and treating preventable life-threatening injuries. In plain English, MARCH tells you what to do, where to do it, and when to do it.

M:          Massive Hemorrhage

A:           Airway

R:           Respiration

C:           Circulation

H:           Hypothermia

 

By the end of Day 1, we’d used everything in our IFAKs. We’d placed manufactured and improvised tourniquets on ourselves and others, packed latex wound trainers to stop bleeding, placed Nasopharyngeal airways, stuck chest seals on each other, wrapped trauma dressings, and rolled people up in mylar blankets. It was a very comprehensive course, and could easily have been used as a one day class.

Day 2 

Day 2 began with a review of MARCH with a focus on how to teach this at our respective agencies. Having been through the practitioner course, the focus began to shift to refining instructional skills. Then it was on carry and vehicle loading techniques for extraction from a warm zone. We spent a few hours carrying and dragging each other around and loading each other into vehicles. When grouping up for carry exercises, pick your partners wisely. Skinny kids are a good place to start.

After lunch, we went to the mock village and ran through scenarios. The props used varied from simple fake blood to expensive wound trainers, and also varied in complexity. We worked through a traumatic amputation during a vehicle accident, an officer shot within a house with a suspect still at large, and a person stabbed in an abandoned building. Two of the scenarios required you to work in near-dark conditions.

Having worked through all of that, Day 2 ended with the class being made into two teams to develop scenarios for the other half of the class. Again, the focus shifted to applying what we’d just learned towards the training of other officers.

Day 3

We started our last day at 6:45 AM, setting up our scenarios. Our scenario was a domestic dispute gone bad. The male on scene had been shot. Arriving officers had reported shots fired and then could not be reached by radio. There was a neighbor on scene, who reported that the female suspect had fled. Our setup had one officer down at the residence door, a male victim with a superficial injury in the yard, and a second officer with a heavy arterial bleed down behind the rear of the patrol vehicle. We also used a LOT of fake blood. Our treatable injuries, in priority, were: Arterial Bleeding on cop behind patrol vehicle, sucking chest wound on cop at door, and the superficial bleeding on the male victim. There were also a host of weapons on scene that needed to be secured for safety, and the possibility of a suspect on scene. We also staged an additional IFAK in the patrol vehicle for their use if they looked for it. After taking the Talon Defense / Ditch Medicine C-2 course last month, I was channeling a little injured shooter. I immobilized the dominant hand of one person on each team, telling them that they had been involved in an accident just prior to reaching the scene. This gave each team three hands to work with, and two medical kits. The scenario was over when all preventable injuries had been treated and the officers had been loaded into a vehicle for extraction.

For those students waiting for their turn at the scenario, we had wound trainers and tourniquets so that they could practice their skills in the down time. We then worked them through teach-backs for the test later that day.

Each team worked through the scenario differently. However, there were a few trends. Most officers got sucked into the cop at the door they saw first. Even though they knew they were looking for two officers, they immediately went to him and began treatment. Without a thorough search of the scene, they missed the cop with the most life-threatening injuries and often did not find him until prompted by the witness / neighbor. Only two of the groups communicated with the cop on the porch to gather information prior to entering the scene. The medical treatment was all performed well. In most groups, the officer with two working hands held a cover position while the officer with one hand applied the tourniquets or chest seals. No one looked for the medical kit in the vehicle.

At that time, we had a group debrief and covered the importance of that process to ensure student comprehension and address any issues in the scenario training. Following that, we swapped out and participated in the other group’s scenario. We then broke for lunch.

The afternoon consisted of teach-backs to the instructors and students. There were approximately 30 teaching points that we needed to explain and perform during the evaluations. This took the better part of two hours, but didn’t bog down due to each person having their own teaching style. One of the staff members ran his own nasal airway during the demonstration and volunteered to let everyone practice on him. Everyone passed their teach-backs and demonstrated an excellent grasp over the material for such a short course.

The last order of business that day was a “graduation” ceremony from the program. I was surprised by how many folks from the FLETC administration showed up to speak with us. Directors and Assistant Directors spoke at length of how to bring this program into our local areas and how to keep the grant going. At that time, we were given our certificates and a full IFAK to take with us.

 

Final Thoughts:

1.      “Tactical Medicine” is still just medicine. You’re as likely to need this training on an accident scene with injuries or around the house as you are at a call for service. Everyone should have this training.

2.      Stick with things that work. During the class, I busted out a RATS tourniquet a number of times to see how easy it was to use and if it would stop the bleeding. It doesn’t. I’m much stronger than the average person, but I still couldn’t get enough pressure to stop an arterial bleed on the leg, whereas the CAT and SOFT-T did it in seconds.

3.      Have your med kit on you. No one is coming to save you in a crisis. For those of us who work in rural areas, your problems are yours. If you don’t have it with you, it doesn’t do you any good.

4.      Hands down, some of the best training I’ve had from a Law Enforcement organization in 10 years. The elaborate nature of the facility and resources available made this top notch. That said, there wasn’t anything in this class that I hadn’t experienced in the Ditch Medicine / Talon Defense course the previous month. Just because you can’t make it to FLETC doesn’t mean that this training isn’t out there and available.

 

Course Review: Sheriff of Baghdad - 2 Day Vehicle Tactics Class

Course Review: Sheriff of Baghdad - 2 Day Vehicle Tactics Class

On March 4-5th, I hosted John McPhee, “The Sheriff of Baghdad” for a Vehicle Defense class. I'd trained with John on two prior occasions. I attended his Video Diagnostic Rifle / Pistol classes in Americus in 2016. I then brought him up to our location later in the year for a second run at it to get feedback on running an optic-equipped pistol and expose some of my instructors to his video diagnostic process. John’s Video Diagnostic courses are excellent. The small group setting and the focus on individual skill development makes for a long but excellent training session. It was during his trip to our Watkinsville location that he noticed one of the cars from training I’d hosted there and stated that he had a similar program. I was excited by the prospect of getting another perspective on working around and from cars.

The round count for the class was given as 400 rounds each for the pistol and rifle. There were three vehicles that we obtained for the class.

In reference to prior training, this was the sixth class I’d taken specifically dealing with vehicle defense / counter-ambush. Three of those previous courses were specifically geared towards instructor development and how to research and create a vehicle defense program.

Day 1:

The first day of class began informally. Class was due to start at 9:00, but due to some late arrivals, we didn't begin spinning-up until approximately 9:45 or so. We were told that the first day of the class would mainly deal with the ballistics. We were encouraged to grab anything that we had on hand ammo-wise so that we could test penetration through the vehicle. There was no discussion or safety brief of any kind, so issues such as range rules or a medical plan were never covered.

The first order of business was to move to a vehicle placed length-wise along the berm (a Volvo S70 station wagon) and begin the ballistics demo. John drew out squares on the vehicle and labeled them with each grain weight and bullet type. While doing this, he asserted that “bullets zip right through these cars.” He supported this with multiple stories about engagements overseas that involved .50 caliber weapons. In his words, "the vehicle isn't cover."

We began to go through the pistol and rifle ammunition on the Volvo, each in a specific square. After each of the rounds, we'd check the opposite panel and glass for signs of penetration or deviation. This system for checking bullet penetration and ballistics was repeated on the rear passenger door and then the rear cargo compartment of the Volvo. Each student would come up with his round, fire one round into the box, the class would check the results, and then we'd repeat. This was a lengthy process due to examining and diagramming both panels after each shot. After getting done with a panel or door, the class would take a break that lasted anywhere from 15-30 minutes. The progression went as follows:

  • Front passenger door (Volvo), 19 rounds
  • Rear passenger door (Volvo), 7 rounds
  • Rear passenger compartment (Volvo), 5 rounds
  • Pillars A,B,C,D (Volvo), 4 rounds
  • Both driver side doors (Kia Rio), 6 rounds
  • Driver side pillars (Kia Rio), 3 rounds
  • Side mirror (Kia Rio), 1 round
  • Windshield into the passenger compartment (Kia Rio), 4 rounds
  • Retrieve Rifles and ammo
  • Front passenger door (Volvo), 7 rounds
  • Rear passenger door (Volvo), 7 rounds
  • Rear passenger compartment (Volvo), 5 rounds
  • Passenger side pillars (Volvo), 4 rounds

By roughly 3:00 PM, the class as a whole had fired 71 rounds of ammunition (I’d fired three). We had spent three or more hours of downtime telling war stories and taking breaks.

In regards to the ballistic data, contrary to “zipping through the car”, most rounds failed to penetrate both front passenger doors of the Volvo. The further back on the vehicle we went, a slightly higher percentage of rounds went through the entire vehicle. None of the rounds penetrated the pillars and went through to the other side. When a round did penetrate through the vehicle, we observed a significant deviation in trajectory after passing through the first panel.

 

 

 

 

 

John explained that the vehicle is stronger towards the front due to the reinforcement of the frame. John’s takeaway from that was to shoot through the windows on vehicles that were low, such as sedans. On high vehicles such as trucks, you should shoot the door, but aim high to avoid the internal pillars and support.

After that discussion, John said that we’d shoot up the engine block to see how that would stop rounds. The wheel rotors and the axles were excellent cover as they were solid and metal. One of the students was instructed to put a round into the strut of the passenger side front tire from a distance of about 5 yards. Upon shooting, the round ricocheted and struck him in the stomach. There was immediate apparent bleeding and a cut in his shirt. The student said that he was hit, cleared his gun, and walked off the line. The instruction continued without pause until I suggested we take a break and check on the person who had just been injured.

After a break to ensure that the wound was superficial, we moved onto deflating the tires. We discussed factors that would influence the rate at which tires deflated, such as the internal components of some run-flats vs. vehicles with more robust off-road tires. We shot a number of the tires with pistol and rifle rounds. Some deflated rapidly, while some took a minute or more to go down.

Day 2:

Day 2 began with tactics for working a vehicle. John’s tactics place speed of the shooting above all other concerns such as using the vehicle for cover or working angles. Here’s the condensed version:

  • The Vehicle is the X. If you can drive away from an ambush, do so.
  • If you cannot drive away from an ambush, always exit the vehicle when practical, even on the side from which you’re taking fire. They’re trying to kill the vehicle, not the person in it.
  • When fighting near a vehicle, always do so from arm’s length or more due to bullet fragmentation and rounds skipping off the panels. You should never get closer than arm’s length under any circumstances.
  • Don’t use any part of the vehicle for cover. Bullets zip through that. Shoot over a low vehicle’s roof or shoot through the windows. Leaning out from the pillars was slow and you needed to get kill shots quickly. Shoot through the side windows as well as it’s an open space and you won’t hit the frame.
  • Never purposely taken any position in the fight but standing. If you go prone, you’ll be flanked and die. You can’t see under the car well, and it’s also too confusing to fire a weapon at a 9:00 or 3:00 orientation due to offset.

Here’s an example of properly working the car:

Once we covered those areas, we began working on how to get out of the vehicle. We did a few dry runs, mainly showing us how to work the seat belt, open the door, and get out with our heads over our feet. We worked that dry before we shot 2 rounds each from within the passenger compartment of the vehicle. John explained that when taking fire, the priority was to get the seat belt of and exit if at all possible. You could draw the weapon after exiting. However, there was a different process if you needed to engage prior to the exit.

If shooting immediately was necessary, the process was:

  • Draw the weapon and fire through the windshield.
  • Re-holster the weapon OR drop it on the dashboard if you have a spare.
  • Get out of the seat-belt and exit
  • Run to the rear of the vehicle
  • Access a firearm
  • Shoot back

The re-holstering prior to exiting the vehicle was particularly concerning as I carry my pistol appendix when not on duty. Prior to this class, I’ve bailed out of vehicles with rifles and pistols using muzzle up or muzzle down as appropriate. I've also manipulated my seat belt and firearm at the same time, but with different hands and with muzzle discipline. However, John maintained that it was too difficult to do that safely. There was, in fact, no discussion of how to access the firearms while bailing out of the vehicle.

At noon on day 2, we began to shoot the scenario stages. Prior to this, my total round count was 5 (3 from ballistics demo, 2 from shooting inside the car to get exposure to that). The first rounds students fired in the class that required muzzle discipline or awareness were made at speed, negotiating a new skill set. There were some noticeable safety concerns during this part of the class, and I counted 7 separate times when a student pointed the muzzle of their gun at either their training partner or the entire line. This was caused by anything from complete lack of muzzle discipline when moving towards the rear of the car, to getting snagged on a piece of the vehicle and spinning 180* to face the crowd with a finger on the trigger. None of these incidents caused a discussion about range safety or resulted in any type of discipline or coaching for the offender, in spite of numerous folks yelling “muzzle” when it occurred.

 

 

  

Bailout drills incorporated:

  • Engagement of targets through the front windshield and bailing out (after re-holstering)
  • Moving laterally across the row of cars using bounding overwatch
  • Engaging targets to the rear of the vehicles

Each person performed the drill twice to give exposure to the mechanics from the passenger and driver sides of the vehicles.

After three hours of drills, everyone had shot approximately 60 more rounds of rifle and pistol. We then tabled the rifles and discussed how to perform an L-Ambush. After that, we finished the class with information on how to best disable a vehicle. The vehicle disablement information was the first time I had encountered that content in a course, and plan to work with that once I find a suitable vehicle that had a working engine that can be shot.

Day 2 ended with a recap of what had occurred and giving feedback. When it was my turn, I explained that I would have liked more attention paid to the safety aspects of class. Specifically, prior to bailing out of the vehicles, I would have liked to work on methods for keeping the muzzle indexed in a safe direction. I also referenced the number of times I had observed muzzle safety violations during the scenarios. John stated that in “the real world” people are going to get covered with a muzzle, and that he didn’t want to add any “artificiality” to the training by using those retention positions. He further went on to differentiate between “sweeping” and “flagging” people with the muzzle. “Flagging” is an egregious offense that occurs when you point a muzzle at someone’s head or chest (vital areas) and is not ok. “Sweeping” is when you cover that person’s legs or feet with the muzzle on your way by and is going to happen.

I then explained that I had been “Flagged” seven times. I also stated that as a cop, I couldn’t just point my gun at a bunch of people who didn’t need to see my muzzle on my way to engaging a threat, and felt that a retention position such as Sul or High-Port would have allowed people to move in confined spaces without pointing muzzles at non-threats. John’s disagreed, stating that if anything, the range logistics should have been set up better so that the onlookers wouldn’t be standing behind the vehicles. That way, when students were working drills, people not involved would be clear and the students could let their muzzles go wherever. Rather than making a safe shooter who took their muzzle direction into account, the solution was range management.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, I felt as if the content was modeled more for an overseas encounter where .50 caliber rounds and guys carrying a SAW were prevalent, rather than for domestic law enforcement or civilians who would be fighting from a vehicle. During the ballistics demo, we saw most of the rounds stop or deviate in the surfaces of the car, which would lead me to believe that there is some value in using those surfaces for temporary cover or concealment. However, the tactics in this class had you disregard the vehicle completely based on stories of .50 caliber rounds or automatic weapons fire cutting vehicles apart overseas. While I’m sure that happens, I’ve not seen many instances of that occurring state-side, so that tactics seemed at odds with a state-side setting. Even the idea that the bad guy is trying to kill the car contradicts what we see in law enforcement shootings. Most times, the goal is to injure or assassinate an officer who just so happens to be in or around a vehicle.

When I leaned out from around the pillars at a crouch or kneeling, I was told that it was costing me time and that the car was no good. Better, I was told, to shoot over the top or through the windows leaving myself in the center of the void with nothing between me and the bad guy. After the class, another officer and I shot the B-pillar of the Volvo to see how many rounds it would take to penetrate. It took 97 rounds of Federal 55 grain FMJ fired at close range to penetrate the FIRST pillar. When rounds did finally make it through the first B-pillar, their path deviated, and they began going through the side windows around the pillar on the opposite side. While the pillar itself isn’t very wide, placing two of them between me and incoming fire generally gives me 10-14 inches of protection that’s good for an unknown number of rounds. That’s a lot like a SAPI plate that goes the entire height of the vehicle.

There was some good information in the class as far as how to set up your vehicle prior to an engagement. Examples range from where to stage a seat-belt cutter, to how to ready the patrol rifle if you don’t have a rack, etc. were things that I felt were useful. That information, as well as the information on how long it takes to disable a vehicle by shooting the engines or tires was also interesting.

My major complaints about the class involve downtime and safety. There was a lot of downtime during this class. All told, at least 50% of the time on the range was spent on war stories. That ate up a lot of the time available for instruction and accounted for the fact that I shot a combined total of 100 rounds or less in a projected 800 round class. As far as the safety aspect goes, I do not think it's acceptable to point my weapon at any person I'm not legally and morally justified in shooting. The “sweeping” vs. “flagging” discussion should never have occurred because the shooters in the class should have been given the tools and knowledge to be safe prior to any live-fire exercises being conducted.

Patrol Vehicle CQB Instructor with Centrifuge Training / Daniel Defense

Patrol Vehicle CQB Instructor with Centrifuge Training / Daniel Defense

On February 21st, I attended the Patrol Vehicle CQB Instructor taught by William Petty of Centrifuge Training. Daniel Defense hosted the course in order to provide free instructor development training to law enforcement. Also on hand were Chase Jenkins of Talon Defense and John Johnston of Ballistic Radio, who acted as adjunct instructors throughout the course. There were hundreds of applications for the 20 or so slots in the course. I was lucky enough to be offered a slot. I traveled down there with my friend Matt, who has been through a number of courses with me in the past and is a solid shooter and problem solver.

I’d previously met Will through his friend and step-dad, Chase Jenkins. Will is an approachable and easy-going guy. Humor is a big part of his teaching method, but if you don’t like mom jokes you may have your feelings hurt. His program has developed from watching thousands of videos of gunfights occurring around vehicles, studying the structural makeup of all types of vehicles, and shooting them to see what stops or deviates rounds. What he’s looking for are trends, or statistical probabilities. The class opened with the following information:

·        60% of law enforcement shootings occur in / around vehicles

·        Engagements last an average time of 8-10 seconds

·        Engagements are generally high intensity and characterized by sudden violence at close range

As this was an instructor level class, we spent time discussing Petty’s principles of VCQB and how to apply them when building our own lesson plans. New information is coming out constantly, so a formula for analyzing videos for content is important.  Who wins the fight isn’t important; the video will show the movement of the combatants, vehicle placement, engagement distance, and tactics. With a wide sampling between civilian and law enforcement shootings, patterns of behavior begin to emerge.

The next logical step is to develop tactics that work when opposed. My academy training in felony vehicle stops consisted of kneeling in the V of the driver’s door and directing the suspects out of the car and into a position between two patrol vehicles. That creates a number of safety concerns: handcuffing officer in a narrow lane between two vehicles, crossfire, and lack of good cover / mobility for the officers on overwatch. Those tactics were developed for who are already listening to and obeying an officer’s commands, not the guy who is going to resist with violence.

We also discussed the physical structure of vehicles. Topics included side laminate glass and how it behaves, how to stack pillars and points of cover between you and the threat, and times when it is better to crowd cover or work away from it. Distance, elevation, terrain, number of suspects, and a host of other factors defied the creation of any absolute rules. Everyone at the class was a high level shooter, so the content focused on tactics and problem solving under stress, rather than the mechanics of running the guns.

With the morning classroom portion out of the way, we moved on to the flat range. This was standard line-based shooting to shake people out and evaluate / confirm the minimal skill set for the class. We worked long guns and pistols, focusing on safe weapon manipulation in a crowded environment. We also acted as coaches when not shooting. The class was divided into two relays, with half the class performing the shooting tasks while the other half acted as coaches and instructors for the other. If one of the instructors caught a shooter doing something wrong without a coach catching it, they’d correct that issue and highlight what to look for.

Day 1 ended with a ballistics demonstration. We shot cars of various types and sizes in a variety of places. We shot them with pistols, rifles, shotguns, and looked for trends. Some rounds stopped, some changed course, and some went through. The takeaway from this was that bullets could never be expected to behave in a certain way, but it was always better to get some hard points between you and incoming fire. Stacking hard points between you and the threat provided multiple overlapping areas of protection that could slow or deviate the path of incoming fire.

That concept seems to be a major point of contention with instructors who are critical of Petty’s program. I’ve attended a number of vehicle classes where the tactics involve standing in the center of a window or away from the vehicle. The reasons for this range from “the car isn’t cover” to “the vehicle is the X, so you need to get off of it”. In those schools, the reasoning is that since the vehicle is not providing a 100% chance of stopping a round, it’s not useful or worth incorporating into tactics. That logic has the student abandon the vehicle completely and just slug it out in open ground. Often, these classes are filled with stories of .50 caliber engagements overseas and full auto fire, which isn’t something typical of state-side engagements involving domestic law enforcement or lawfully armed civilians.

Having attended multiple ballistics demonstrations conducted by Will and Chase, nothing is certain when you’re shooting into or around a vehicle. I’ve seen the B-pillars of different vehicles stop between 12 and 97 rounds of .223 caliber ball ammunition fired into the same spot. Petty’s concept is that the car doesn’t actually need to stop the rounds at all; the car needs to prevent the rounds from hitting you. It’s great if the bullets stop in the car, but if they don’t, missing you because they change direction when they encounter the surfaces of the vehicle is also an acceptable outcome.

When you look at the total width of the B-pillars (between front and rear passenger seats), the total width is often between 8 to 12 inches. That’s the width of a ballistic plate and runs from the floor of the vehicle to the roof. By working angles and stacking multiple pillars between you and the threat, you increase your area of coverage. Working the car in this way requires the shooter to conform to the cover, rather than finding cover that supports their shooting stance. This means that you need to conform to the cover, so you may find yourself in a non-traditional stance, leaning, or squatting. Until .50 caliber engagements become commonplace, these tactics are excellent.

Another theme of fighting around vehicles is rapid movement and constantly working towards a better position. Again, these confrontations are violent, close range, and high intensity. The bad guy tends to shoot where he thinks you are. Moving away from that point and taking the initiative gives you an advantage – a concept that held true when we fought each other around vehicles using marking rounds towards the end of the class.

With the ballistics demo complete, Day 1 was over. Everyone went to clean up. Some of us headed out to dinner together with Will, Chase, and John. It was a solid day. As we were leaving, Will made some offhand comment that it wouldn’t dare rain on us.

Of course it rained. It rained a lot. The fact that the range had been freshly bulldozed two days prior to the class and was made up of red Georgia clay and sand was pretty important at this point. For the next three days, we ended up working in four or five inches of soupy, watery, sandy mess. I can honestly say I’ve never encountered worse range conditions in 20 years of shooting. This was the first time I’ve ever brought myself to submerge firearms in a bathtub to remove dirt and debris. At some point on the second day, we began dunking our pistols and magazines in a bucket that was set up on the range. We found that guns with stock parts performed much better than guns with competition parts installed.

 

Day 2 was pretty horrible, truth told. It alternated between cold and rainy and hot with humidity. The mud was everywhere. Throughout it all, some sort of mutant super-gnats continued to bite. This is usually the type of environment that can bog down a course if the students start complaining, but that never happened. Will was the first person to get into the mud on every demo. Puddle of soupy water behind the vehicle? He’d dive in and demo it without a hitch. The instructors’ dedication to modeling their program meant that nobody got off task or sideways because of the range conditions. I’ve been to many classes where that hasn’t occurred. I’m still highly impressed with the attitudes of everyone who was involved in the instruction.

We worked with our pistols and rifles for two days in those conditions. We shot from within and around vehicles placed at different angles, incorporating movement drills individually and then again in pairs. Each exercise increased the complexity and required application of the previous skill sets. Muzzle discipline and awareness was crucial. We used both temple index and Sul around the vehicle as it became appropriate. When working in teams muzzle orientation needs to take into account your partner’s position and height. The retention position is based on the safest position, which can change between up, down, and towards the threat rapidly.

 

On Day 3, we had a tour of the Daniel Defense facility (awesome) and some additional classroom material / video review before heading back out to the range at 1:00. We worked for the early portions of the day, and then went into Low Light content.

The Low Light content well structured. A quick range hack of putting glow sticks on the chest and back of each shooter to mark their position helped manage the range and allowed the coaches to keep track of everyone in the dark. The tactics covered in the previous two days were harder when working with hand-held and weapon mounted lights, so things slowed down. Communication became more important because you couldn’t verify what your partner was doing or the state of his weapons by sight. None of the SureFire gear malfunctioned on me, though my Streamlight backup light chose that moment and environment to fail.

Day 4 was somewhat more dry, so we only had to skirt some puddles and deep spots. We did more work in the morning, and then began running through Petty’s “Alphabet Soup” drill. This drill involves a high number of targets placed around a vehicle. Some targets are only visible from specific parts of the car, which means that you need to move around and search for your threat. The student is given a threat stimulus, searches for the target, and tries to get shots off quickly. If you take too long, a new threat is given and you start the process all over again. Throughout it all, you’re using cover and moving between various positions as needed to engage the target.

A criticism brought up by another instructor in reference to “Alphabet Soup” is that it seems like needless and silly up and down around the vehicle. Specifically, going prone and losing mobility is a horrible idea. Very rarely have the people complaining actually heard the explanation of the drill. Petty himself says that going prone is a bad idea. The purpose of the exercise isn’t to make you get in those positions; it’s to cultivate the ability to engage targets from any angle. Documented cases exist where officers have been shot, fallen to the ground, and then have stood up prior to engaging the bad guy. When asked why they didn’t engage from the ground, they answered that they hadn’t trained that way and didn’t know they could. “Alphabet Soup” is about dynamic motion and working the gun from positions of necessity versus positions of advantage. Stand up when possible. Crouch or kneel when necessary. Shoot from the ground if you get knocked there and it’s appropriate. Try not to do it for the first time when it’s a real gunfight.

The final part of Day 4 was a VCQB force-on-force contest. One student began at the front driver’s side wheel while another began at the rear passenger side wheel. You were given a rifle loaded with 10 FX rounds (high speed SIMs). On the command, the goal was to shoot your opponent before he shot you, using the vehicle for cover and moving as necessary. The fact that we were only a few yards apart meant that you knew when you’d gotten hit. It was a single-elimination process, with the winner of the contest moving on until he was beaten. Once we’d all gone through, the three of us with the highest wins faced off. Sadly, I didn’t take the day, but I was at least bested by my friend Matt. The three of us at the top all received Scout lights, courtesy of SureFire and Ballistic Radio.

From there, it was an after-action discussion and certificates. We cleaned up as best we could before loading all our gear. During this time, Candice Horner of Breach-Bang-Clear was getting interviews in with the students. She’d been out on the range with us throughout the class, taking pictures and taking it all in. Candice had already been through the class as a student, and wrote an excellent article that you can read here. I’ve borrowed some of her pictures for this review. My iPhone was nowhere near this mess, so I've had to beg, borrow, and steal pics.

Final Thoughts:

Not everyone has vehicles to shoot up. I’m pretty fortunate that I have a nearly limitless supply of vehicles to run this type of training at my range. That has allowed me to start working this type of material into agency training when I’m not hosting Chase and Will.

The concepts of VQCB are simple. Move, shoot accurately, stack cover, take the initiative. Like any other skill, fighting around a car needs to be practiced. The Patrol Vehicle CQB Instructor is an excellent package to bring this to an agency or a trainer. You leave with Will’s lesson plan, his multi-media and videos, his cell phone number, and a support group of like-minded instructors. It’s all wrapped up in a pretty package on a thumb drive for you to get this information out to the people who need it. You also leave with options for scaling this training to your resources for live fire or force-on-force.

More than anything else, I enjoy training with a variety of people because it exposes me to new ideas. I haven’t spent thousands of hours reviewing video and shooting cars, but I’ve got a turn-key system for getting great information out to my people now. It also gave me more tools for looking at videos and reviewing shooting data, which will benefit future lesson design and training that I conduct.

A big thanks to Will, John Johnston, Chase Jenkins, Daniel Defense, Candice Horner, and everyone else who was involved in the project. I met an excellent group of people and gained a bunch of information.

For more about Will, you can visit his website at www.centrifugetraining.com.

I may or may not also own the rights to www.willpettysmom.com if you’d like to do some marketing or work a trade.

ALERRT Training: Observations

ALERRT Training: Observations

This week I attended the Level 1 ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training) class for the second time. ALERRT focuses on tactics accessible to the average law enforcement officer responding to an Active Killer event. Ideally, any officer having gone through the training should be able to function when thrown in with officers from neighboring jurisdictions. By design, ALERRT puts officers of varying skill levels and technical proficiency together. A "contact team" of responding officers may include a school resource officer, a SWAT officer, a plain clothes investigator, an administrator, and a beat cop.

The ALERRT program plugs into a larger framework, and allows for scaling of resources based on the nature and extent of the threat, the resources at hand, and the need to communicate with and deploy resources such as fire services, medical services, hostage negotiators, SWAT, and bomb squads. I recently went through the DHS / FEMA Active Shooter Incident Management (ASIM) course, which uses the standardized tactics and language found in ALERRT. ALERRT is the gateway into that system, and defines a common language and set of tactics.

Topics of instruction include solo officer and small group tactics, basic room clearing techniques, mechanical breaching, familiarization with explosive devices, communication and link-up, and formation of immediate action plans once the shooting has been stopped. Multiple force-on-force scenarios using paint munitions are conducted on the second day. In an ideal world, the course would be longer and foster a more in-depth understanding of each topic, but that would limit the number of officers who would be rotated through it.

I've noticed a few things in each run-through of the course (and others) that I thought were worthy of note:

  1. It's hard to stay together. Shooters of varying skills are going to have different processing speeds for tasks such as room clearing, threat ID, and movement to a location. Hence, movement down the hallway or through a room can be tricky. As a solo responder, I can go at my pace and work the problems as I see them. As a member of a team with whom I practice regularly, we move at the speed we've set during prior training. As someone driving a team of unknowns, I need to constantly verify that I'm using a speed where everyone stays together. It's maddening to move at a regulated pace while driving to the sound of gunfire, but having more resources/officers available makes it safer for everyone involved.
  2. Clearing rooms requires constant practice. It took me a long time to trust a buddy to enter a room and cover my back. As the first guy in the room, I'm at risk no matter what I do. The second person in the door has the task of clearing the area I can't see and protecting me from any threats on his side. Shooters with minimal training inside structures are going to hesitate during a room entry more often than not. Even those who don't may not be able to focus on their area of responsibility because of distractors such as bodies, debris, and furniture within the room. When working with someone I don't know, I try to clear as much of the room as possible from outside, then take the largest part of the unknown area for myself.
  3. You will get shot in the hands. In every force-on-force encounter where I actually exchanged rounds with someone, I've been hit in the hands. While I write this, I've got bruises on the thumb, forearm, and bicep of my primary hand. I got those bruises in about 1.5 seconds of an exchange with one of the scenario bad guys. The last time, I took three rounds just about on top of each other in the middle knuckle of my primary hand. If you're not training to shoot effectively with your non-dominant hand, you're wrong.

While by no means the entirety of what I took away this go-around, the observations above are ones that I see time and again. Personally, any feedback on my practical shooting and tactics ability improves my understanding of what I can and can't do. As a supervisor and an instructor, these same courses provide me with a performance analysis for my officers, which in turn guide my training agendas.

C-2 (Tactical Combatant Casualty Care) with Talon Defense and Ditch Medicine

C-2 (Tactical Combatant Casualty Care) with Talon Defense and Ditch Medicine

On February 3rd, 2017, I met Hugh Coffee of Ditch Medicine for the first time. Hugh met me on the range to set up his “trauma theater” for the C-2 Tactical Combat Casualty Care the next day. I had heard great things about Hugh from Chase Jenkins (Talon Defense), and various other people in the medical field said that he was an excellent instructor. I’d seen pictures from C-2 courses that Hugh and Chase had taught together in the past. I noticed that everyone was covered in fake blood and had tape all over their arms. As Chase has been known to throw everything from rocks to fire ants on people, I assumed that all the unpleasantness was due to him. Hugh Coffee has the face of your kindly uncle; he set off zero warning bells in my head. I’m usually not fooled by folks, but Hugh snuck by my radar.

C-2 focuses on the use of the pistol for defense under any conditions. For instance, you might be upright with perfect stance. You might be lying on your side behind a barricade for cover. You may also be kneeling on someone’s femoral artery to get stop gap pressure and slow the bleeding, having carried a 300 pound person ¼ mile out of the woods on an improvised stretcher, while shooting with only your support hand, trying to clear a double-feed malfunction, with fake blood streaming into the only eye that hasn’t been taped over to deprive you of your normal range of vision – all while your buddy attempts to get a tourniquet on and stop the bleeding.

So I’ve spoken about Chase and his skill sets. I’ve been to four of his classes now and have continually been impressed by his knowledge base and his ability to manage a range. Each time I’ve come away with some teaching points to take back to my agency and my own classes. That said, we’ll focus on Hugh.

If you read Hugh’s bio, here, you’ll see that he’s got more than 30 years of experience in the medical field. He’s written a book, patched holes in horrible places and under horrible conditions, and has an extensive history with tactical medicine. Beyond that, Hugh is a historian and an actor. Part of his teaching style is to relate moments from history to the student and try to bring them into the moment. Some people like it, some don’t. Regardless, his knowledge over his subject matter is obvious. He also has a quiet presence and grace when you speak to him. At slightly over 5 feet tall, many people wouldn’t think that he has the type of work experience that he does. That would be a mistake.

So getting back to the 3rd of February, I’m helping Hugh stage the range. We assembled an easy-up awning in a clearing of the woods. We then wrapped it in tarps to enclose it, then doubled it up to cut all the light out. From there, he began dragging generators, smoke machines, a boom box, strobe lights, fire alarms, and props out of the truck. When it was all assembled, we had a 12’ x 12’ enclosed shelter filled with smoke, noise, flashing lights, and every other manner of distraction available. We tested it out at the end and I couldn’t see anything in front of my face. It was amazing how well that tent cut you off from your senses.

The next morning, we had a class of law enforcement officers and one highly qualified civilian on the line. Chase Jenkins gives, hands down, the best safety briefing I’ve ever witnessed. It outlines the difference between a safe range and a dangerous range filled with safe shooters. To paraphrase: Good training is inherently dangerous. To make it safe, the shooters need to be safe. You can be safe or you can spectate. I can’t do it justice here, so you’ll just have to believe me that it’s awesome and gets everyone on point.

The group was split up, with half of us starting with Chase while the other group began with Hugh. Having written up Chase’s “Gunfighter” courses, you can be sure that the same type of shooting exercises were performed. Dominant hand, support hand, malfunction clearing, and positional shooting. Muzzle discipline was ingrained through constant repetition of moving with the firearm around other people.

After two hours, we moved on to Hugh’s portion. He began with the MARCH pneumonic. With simple props (1 liter bottles filled with red water / beef roasts shot with hollow-points), Hugh outlined just how fast blood loss begins to affect the human body. He outlined the stages of shock. He gave us information on how to slow blood loss while applying tourniquets. Also, Chris Richards of Compression Works was on hand to demonstrate their product, the Abdominal Aortic Junctional Tourniquet (AAJT), which was just approved for use by EMT/Paramedic staff in Alabama.

Hugh moved us through tourniquets of various types and their strengths. He had approximately 20 different types of manufactured and improvised tourniquets on hand, but recommended the CAT and the SOFT-T from personal experience and also due to TCCC guidelines and testing. We also worked with chest seals, gauze for wound packing, splints, bandages, and everything else that you might find in a field med kit. Each piece of gear was explained and then demonstrated. The students then performed every task they’d been shown to Hugh’s specifications with commercial and improvised medical tools.

After two hours, we swapped back out and went back up to the range. Chase gave us another two hours of work on the range, cycling through exercises of increasing complexity. Building on the morning’s work, we lost the ability to use both hands on the gun. Tennis balls came out. As the shooting evolutions became more complex, the shooter needed to regulate his pace to avoid mistakes. Mistakes by one shooter generally equate to burpees for all shooters. It doesn’t (and does) help that he’s trying to get you to go too fast so that you can figure out your working speed. By the time we left, we all had a pretty good idea of how well we could run the guns.

Two hours later, we’re back with Hugh for the last medical block. This time, Hugh has us improvising stretchers, dragging dummies, carrying each other, and applying medical tools as we go. It was this point that I was pretty sure I’d messed up. Hugh had been on his feet, moving and running for six hours. He showed no signs of tiring and continued to outpace people half his age during the periodic runs from position to position. He never stopped smiling, said please, thank you, and called everyone brother. By the end of that round, people were tired. We’d also performed every medical procedure covered in the first block under stress. That brought us to the end of Day 1.

Day 2 started bright and early. We went with Uncle Hugh directly to the tent for “Trauma Theater.” Joining us that day were Jesson Bateman and Jay Paisley of Crisis Application Group. Jesson Bateman is the 2016 National TacMed Competition winner (apparently a pretty big deal). The other was Jay Paisley, former Green Beret / 18Z who sat on the committee for TCCC for a number of years while it was being developed (again, apparently a big deal).  First things first, we began with a bunch of running and crawling around to get everyone tired. Jesson likes working out – a lot. From there, blindfolded, we crawled one by one to Uncle Hugh’s tent, while Jesson and Jay put noise distraction devices out around us to add some smoke and noise. Upon reaching the tent, Uncle Hugh began yelling at us, tore off the blindfold, hit us with a wave of fake blood, and threw us into the tent to perform medical procedures in a smoky, dark, loud, disorienting, wet place. And there was stage blood. Lots of it. Uncle Hugh LOVES that stuff. You’ll have to experience it for yourself. The Wizard’s Curtain is different for everyone, but not knowing what to expect made it that much better. You want to peek behind, you can see a trailer here.

So… after emerging from the tent covered in red, we went back to Mr. Jenkins for more of the same. Chase’s block built on the previous day, only now we were working around a partner. Reloads, malfunctions, and movement were all conducted in confined spaces with other warm bodies next to you. The barricades, the ground, or your body could be used to accomplish your tasks. You’d also need to get tourniquets and such on yourself while staying behind cover and keeping your gun running. Believe me when I say that the shooting aspect was much less stressful than the medical side of the house.

 

 

 

 

After we’d completed Chase’s shooting evolutions, we had a break prior to the final scenario testing. This was a downed officer drill. The teams needed to locate the injured officer, render emergency medical aid, evacuate the patient to a cool zone for transport using improvised carry techniques, perform a variety of shooting tasks, and then render self-aid. In true Jenkins fashion, I found myself without the use of my dominant arm and my left eye.

We spent the better part of 45 minutes dragging a nearly 300 pound human around, applying medical devices, shooting, carrying a stretcher, communicating, setting perimeter positions, and loading all 8 people into a compact car. There was smoke. There were flashbangs. There was a gallon of fake blood per person. We applied tourniquets to ourselves and our buddies, then continued to shoot and move with them. We needed to evaluate and check on the patient throughout. We probably carried the injured person (always the heaviest guy) about ½ mile, which doesn’t sound bad until everyone is down to using only one arm and you’re on broken terrain. Pro tip: Get on a group of skinny kids. The biggest guys always get to be the wounded.

At the end, it was excellent to be able to relax, take off our filthy clothing, and watch the other group go through their scenario. I spent my time washing my Glock and duty gear in a bucket until the water stopped being pink. We had an after-action briefing, talked about what we’d learned and what we wanted more of, and then everyone left. A note on situational awareness. I actually went into Barberitos just like this and stood in line for three minutes before the person next to me noticed how I looked. That was an excellent teachable moment.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

Due to some pretty epic procrastination on my part, I’m writing this AAR after completing the Tactical Medical Instructor program at FLETC – Glynco. The review appears on the website as well, here. Tac Med Instructor was an excellent course. Students had approximately $500,000 in props, equipment, buildings, and prosthetics available. The instructors are all from law enforcement or military backgrounds. Many of them have seen combat and have treated these conditions in the field. That said, there was nothing in that course that I hadn’t encountered during C-2. With the ability to use all five senses and both hands, the scenarios at Tac Med Instructor were straightforward and my response to each stimulus was immediate. However, by design, Tac Med Instructor spent more time cultivating the understanding of the medical protocols of TCCC in each student. My one criticism of the C-2 class is that with 8-10 people in the final scenario, not everyone was able to work through the medical aspect. However, it did reinforce the need to work as a team in a way that the Tac Med Instructor course couldn’t.

Obviously, this class appeals to a specific audience. It’s not a class where you leave feeling like you’re a rock star or that you’ve got everything figured out. Instead, you get to see where you are in terms of your physical limitations, your firearm handling, and your medical knowledge. You get to see how you perform under the stress of fatigue, diminished sensory input, and a highly confusing environment. Truthfully, I leave these classes understanding just how much more work there is to be done. It’s humbling.

That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment for two guys using tennis balls, duct tape, red water, and a smoke machine.

Combative Pistol with Kelly McCann / Kembativz Brand

Combative Pistol with Kelly McCann / Kembativz Brand

On October 22nd, Shane Gosa and I attended the two-day Kembativz Brand Combative Pistol course taught by Kelly McCaan. Kelly retired as a Major from the United States Marine Corps, serving from 1980-1990.  Among his other achievements, he standardized hostage rescue tactics and equipment during his time in service. After leaving the USMC, he founded the Crucible, which provided training to military and law enforcement units. After 20 years at the Crucible, he founded the Kembativz group in 2012 and began training a civilian market under that banner.

I hadn’t trained with Kelly prior to this class, but was interested for a number of reasons. Kelly has been running red dot optics on his pistols since they were created. He has more time behind an optic-equipped pistol than anyone else I’ve trained with.  It was an excellent opportunity to run and evaluate my own RMR-equipped Glock 19. Kelly also blends combative skills such as edged weapon work, batons, pepper spray, and empty hand techniques into his shooting. Many instructors treat the firearm like it exists in a vacuum. Everything is a shoot scenario that occurs with a perfect sight picture well outside intimate space distance. That training fails to address confrontations in which you’ve been ambushed, or in which you’re not legally justified in using deadly force. The Combative Pistol course gave students use of force options to use as the situation warranted.

The first day began with a discussion of the need for intermediate force options in conjunction with the pistol. Kelly demonstrated how presenting a gun or knife preemptively or before legally justified diminishes the unarmed capacity. Rather than getting the gun in hand as the first action in any conflict, he advised keeping hands free to strike until a lethal option was necessary. According to Kelly, most people fail in this step because they’re not confident with their ability to defend themselves without a firearm. That lack of confidence is a byproduct of doing things that are convenient on the range, rather than making training realistic and blending use of force options into each scenario. Not every problem was a shooting problem, and training needed to reflect the volatile nature of violent confrontations.

That moved us into the next teaching point of carrying your firearms and equipment in a system that is consistent and appropriate for the environment. Swapping between multiple carry positions or methods confused a person’s motor memory, or the neural pathways that get your hand onto the gun and the gun on target. A better solution would be to find a carry method that works for you and refine your skill with it.

Part of Kelly’s course addressed the concerns of law enforcement instructors. Specifically, he spoke to the time constraints and equipment limitations for the average LEO on the street. He modeled methods of making the training focused and realistic so that LEOs could function at the highest level during a deadly force encounter. Training should involve high duress with no time limits, rather than the minimally stressed yet timed conditions usually found on a flat range during qualification courses. That’s a departure from the methodology generally found on law enforcement ranges, where instructors focus on getting recruits to pass a specific set of timed standards at specific distances.

When we arrived on the range, one of the first things we noticed was that the targets were covered in shirts to hide the scoring areas. We’d continue to work that way throughout the entire course so that students began to search for reference points on the clothing, rather than an A-zone.

The shooting exercises began with cold shots to establish student ability at 25, 15, 10, and 5. We worked through the draw technique, clearing our weapons from concealment, and getting good hits on target. Instruction was given for both Appendix and Strong Side Hip methods of carry. Much of the first day was spent cleaning up the fundamentals and developing a smooth presentation to the target. Kelly teaches a thumbs forward grip to get the bone structure of the arm behind the gun. He also spends a decent amount of time reinforcing trigger control and the concept of sear reset. Later in the day, we trained on strikes and kicks using palms, knees, elbows, and the head. It was a full day, after which we went as a group to a local Irish pub for a few drinks post-training. The Kembatives Brand folks like to socialize with the students to cultivate fellowship.

The second day began incorporating some divided attention tasks into training. Kelly uses the term “position” rather than “stance” when he reviews the fundamentals. His program reinforces that point by making students work from a “startled cue”. He’d give a series of directions such as turning in one direction, facing backwards down range, picking something up off the ground, or looking at the person next to you on the line. From there, the command to fire would occur in mid-motion. Students were encouraged to activate the gun regardless of their footing, rather than beginning with a perfect pistol match stance. Later, we began striking pads prior to the cue to fire.

 

 

The course moved into shooting from retention positions while defending the weapon. Students used their non-firing hands to clear ground, push the target off line, or make distance. The firing in this case was not sighted, and occurred rapidly with minimal warning. The option of a pelvic girdle shot was discussed. This was then worked as a transition from OC / Pepper spray to a firearm when the non-lethal force option failed.

 

 

From there, we moved into target discrimination drills. Various geometric shapes, colors, and numbers were placed on the targets. The instructors would call a stimulus, and the shooters would turn from the startled cue position they were in at the time, scan the target for the matching stimulus, and engage as necessary. The targets were switched multiple times so that you couldn’t game the exercise. The focus was still on accuracy at your best speed. Processing information was critical to success, as many times the scenario didn’t call for any shooting.

The complexity of the drills continued to increase throughout the day. It ended with a multiple target exercise that required engagement of targets in rapid succession at various ranges. The shooter engaged a target at retention distance with non-sighted fire, transition one-handed to a near range target, and then side-stepped to engage a target at 15 yards. In closing, there was a course debrief, some pretty cool give-away gifts, and course certificates.

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and spending time on the range with the Kembativz Brand folks. Most of the students in the class were coming from prior combatives training, but had a limited degree of firearms training. Many Kembativz Brand courses focus on unarmed or non-firearms courses. For example, Kelly has a specific course on how to use sticks/batons for defense. While many of the folks attending the class had taken instructor development courses with Kelly and crew in the past, one of them needed to borrow a holster prior to class as he’d never worked from concealment. While that mixed bag of skill sets can easily destroy the continuity of a course, this one moved smoothly. With three instructors present, everyone worked at their own pace and developed their own skills. I received constant feedback from the staff on running my RMR pistol. I also had the opportunity assist with instruction on the range and run some students through drills, as I was attending with the goal of incorporating some of the content into training at my agency.

I’ve been to many different courses over the past twenty years. This is one of three courses that addressed the use of intermediate force options in conjunction with a firearm. The other courses were Craig Douglas’ Extreme Close Quarters Concepts (ECQC) and Dennis Martin’s Enhanced Performance in Conflicts (EPIC). Kelly’s methodology is most similar to Dennis Martin’s preference for powerful strikes and blows to disorient your opponent, rather than the grappling and jiu-jitsu favored by Craig Douglas. Of the three classes, Kelly’s blended more force options into the content, such as edged weapons, pepper/OC spray, strikes, and batons. It was an excellent overview of what equipment a person could work into their everyday carry loadout. Kelly’s course was also more accessible to law enforcement officers on uniform patrol, who need to do high intensity training with constraints on time, budget, and resources.

Finally, this wasn’t a high stress course. The atmosphere on the range was casual, though there was a definite expectation of performing all tasks safely. I don’t recall a single incident of unsafe conduct on behalf of the students or the instructors. Also, in spite of Kelly’s experience, the course was blessedly free of war-stories and “been there, done that” yammering that eats up actual training time. Anecdotes and stories took place over some beers and food after the class, but never with a superior attitude from any of the staff.

I’ve been fortunate to train with a number of good folks, and this continued that trend. I’d definitely recommend training with Kembativz Brand if they travel to your area.

Course Review: Super Dave Harrington / Combat Speed, LLC - Integrated Weapon Systems

Course Review: Super Dave Harrington / Combat Speed, LLC - Integrated Weapon Systems

"Everything matters and everything is important. It's up to you to decide the who, what, when, where, and why of this." - Super Dave Harrington

On September 2nd through 4th, nine of us signed on to train with Super Dave Harrington of Combat Speed, LLC. If you don't know who Dave is, Google him. His list of accomplishments is long and storied. He also actually has the distinction of having literally written the book on shooting, or at least the original working SOP for Range 37 - D/2/1 at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That seems pretty close. I'd trained with Dave before in Americus, Georgia for his Combat Speed Pistol program. Having thoroughly enjoyed myself during that course, I approached Dave about putting on a class in the Watkinsville area.

Dave is pretty easy to speak with over the phone, and is invested in making the course as professional as possible. We discussed the goals for the class, I sent range dimensions and pictures, and we arrived at his Integrated Weapon Systems course as the subject for instruction. More than any instructor I've worked with, Dave set out to tailor the class with specific training points with the range boundaries and resources in mind. Due to the fact that most people attending the class were instructors at their law enforcement agencies or had training companies on the side, the course eventually turned into an instructor development workshop. When you work with Dave, his interest in helping his students succeed is obvious. He'll take you as far as you can go in the time he has, and doesn't ever seem to be satisfied with the gig for lack of getting more information out there. He even offered to write an information brief for my agency to inform the firearms training program.

 

The class began with a discussion on instructor mindset and teaching theory. Dave has done a great deal of research and had the opportunity to verify and refine his technique through years of teaching gunfighters. Instructor mindset was a theme that he spoke to at length, including the need for the instructor to lead by example and be consistent in all types of verbal and nonverbal communication. Following that, we moved on through his Principles of Marksmanship and discussed range etiquette.

Dave runs a hot range, which for many in the law enforcement and civilian training world is anathema. Students in his class are "free to handle weapons in any manner you choose, as long as you do the right thing, at the right time, every time." It's a big boy / big girl rule set that requires each person attending the course be switched on and aware of their surroundings. That would set the stage for some of the more involved shooting exercises throughout the class, including his modification of the Hackathorn Snake drill towards the end of the class.

Dave's classroom lectures on Day 1 consisted of:

  • Principles of shooting
  • His 8 fundamentals (to include Recovery)
  • The Accuracy Equation
  • Ballistics
  • Technical cycle of function / operation of the weapon
  • Equipment setup
  • Low Light shooting / flash suppressant in conventional ammunition

In spite of the time spend on lecture, we did a high volume range day. It was mainly due to the fact that day one ran from 7:00 AM through about 11:00 PM. Dave trains to a standard, not a watch. He doesn't wear one and doesn't care what time it is. You're getting the content or you're not. If you're not getting it, he'll press on until he's covered what he intends to impart to the student.

The range exercises on Day 1 were focused on pistol only, and we shot everywhere from 3 yards to 25 yards. We focused on the relative zero of the pistols and ensured that we could deliver accurate fire. From there, we drove on and began progressively more difficult shooting exercises with both our dominant and support hands. Following a break for dinner, we came back and put in time doing low light shooting with emphasis placed on both speed and accuracy. Every round is evaluated. If you're not making your hits, it's noticed and discussed. Missing isn't an option.

Day 2 started at 9:00 AM, following some rest after the first 16 hour day. Day 2 saw the rifles being incorporated into the mix. Dave struck home his point on the Accuracy equation by giving everyone the simple problem of confirming zero. Since he was speaking to instructors, he explained how elaborate setting a zero could actually become if you were trying to completely remove the student from the equation and evaluating the mechanical accuracy of the weapon and the accuracy of the ammunition. Target height, immobilizing the firearm, checking the ammunition, etc. could become a very elaborate process for an instructor and merited thought for those of us training the next generation of shooters. After 20 minutes or so, he let us off the hook once his point was made and allowed us to do a quick zero confirmation. Most of us were on point, but a few people needed to get their gear in order, which ate up some training time. This was also a concept we touched on in terms of class administration and management: Dave hates wasting training time. When you train with him, you shoot, reload, rehydrate, and get back in gear. He'll often point out areas of instruction and simple range setup issues that cause a lack of flow to the training. Things as simple as not staging extra ammo and hydration closer to the line to prevent additional walking time can add up to hours lost over a three day class. Dave's range setup was incredibly precise. Everything was measured specifically, not paced or eye-balled.

Day 2 classroom discussion included:

  • Range setup and administration
  • Designing skill evaluations / qualifications
  • Zeroing the pistol / rifle

From the morning portion, we began working on increasingly complex shooting exercises. From individual exercises focusing on accuracy at various ranges to ensure we knew our zero / offset, we progressed to shooting evaluations where we crossed past each other laterally across live firing lines. Again, students needed to be aware of their environment, their muzzle direction, their ammunition count, their gear setup, and dozens of other things. Everything was important, and everything mattered. By the time dinner time came around, we were happy for the break. After dinner, we progressed to low light rifle exercises, to include using the lights on rifles / pistols to illuminate the target for the other weapon system in the event of lack of ammo or a terminal malfunction. Class that day went until 10:00 PM.

Day 3 began again at 9:00 AM. We moved back into the pace set the prior day. Building on the exercises from the first two days, most of the shooting was dynamic in nature. However, Dave always brought the content back to accuracy over everything else. I've heard Dave explain his training methodology a few times now, and it always begins and ends with accuracy as the ultimate standard. Begin with accuracy and exercises designed to highlight that. Move on to dynamic and fast-paced shooting to build speed, gain confidence, and refine skills. End with exercises to focus on accuracy and reinforce the importance of hitting what you're aiming at. Even though it was obvious that Dave was tired from more than 9 straight days of instruction and shooting, he never let it slow him down. He was intense, intent, and driven to get the content out there.

"When communication fails, the only thing that works is violence." Dave Harrington is aware more than most that his training, at its core, is about killing other people with firearms. While his demeanor and intensity can be unnerving and even off-putting for some, it's not for show. He's trained countless soldiers to go overseas to fight and die, and the magnitude of that task is readily apparent in every moment he spends on the range. Having spent a few days with him, and speaking with him away from the range, he's a funny dude with whom I enjoyed a cup of Kopi Lewak ("cat shit coffee") one morning prior to the first pistol course. He's got a wry sense of humor verging on sarcasm, made more interesting by the fact that it takes a while to realize he's actually joking about some things. At one point, while we were discussing the course, he asked about a helicopter to do some dynamic shooting. I'm pretty sure he was kidding about that, but you're never sure.

All in all, I put about 1,200-1,500 rounds of both pistol and rifle down range during the three day, 34 hour course. At the end, I'd shot some exercises that most POST instructors would immediately deem unsafe and unfit for a training environment, but which were similar to exercises I'd done during my first day of SWAT school and every subsequent SWAT practice. For example, I had people shooting past me as they worked through shooting evaluations. I heard bullets pass by as I was technically down range, but didn't care so much because I trusted the people with whom I was training. There comes a time when you need to admit that training someone to shoot other people is inherently unsafe, and just trust in your brothers and sisters to make the right choices and not shoot you.

At the end of the course, I came away with another challenge coin from Combat Speed, LLC and another picture of myself with Dave Harrington and a bunch of great dudes who attended the training with me. More than that, I came away with a stack of notes and some great insights into the training philosophy of Dave Harrington. The course cost $500.00 per student and covered more than 34 hours of instruction. It's the best deal going in the industry, and should easily be double what Dave charges.

I'm looking forward to seeing Dave again in the future. I'd like to make training with him a yearly endeavor at the very least.

Talon Defense - "Gunfighter" (again)

Talon Defense - "Gunfighter" (again)

In August, we were happy to have Chase Jenkins / Talon Defense back for a second Gunfighter course. Having taken the course as a student, I helped to instruct this time around to get some local law enforcement students through the class. Chase is a high-energy instructor with a well-rehearsed program. I was eager to understand how his teaching process had shaped my experiences as a student. You can see my first review of the Gunfighter program here.

As with the first course, we spent the first day working on weapon manipulations and finding benchmarks for student performance under stress. Chase's range safety briefing departs from the normal "Four Rules" talks and focuses on applying those rules to a combat mindset. In his words, the training area is not a safe environment. The shooter needs to be safe by staying on task and manipulating their weapon in such a way that no one is swept with a muzzle. Many of the drills require two shooters to work in close proximity to each other, often at different heights, or moving behind or in front of each other during live fire exercises. Muzzle direction is dictated by the location of the other shooter and the staff on the range. The exercises during Day 1 highlighted the importance of mindset and keeping on task. "You can be safe, or you can spectate" was the rule of the day.

As an added bonus, William Petty of 88 Tactical was attending the course as a student. Will is an excellent instructor in his own right and teaches a variety of courses that complement Chase's classes. The banter between Will and Chase was entertaining, and focused on who stole whose program (among other things). Will was roped into doing the ballistics demonstration, and explained the physics of bullets striking vehicles in language simple enough for everyone to understand. Will's research on the subject has informed his program, and he has a statistical and scientific basis for telling you to do certain things around a vehicle. To highlight one of his points, he put 97 rounds of .223 ball ammunition into the B-pillar of a vehicle, with no rounds penetrating to the other side to strike the target hung there. I found that material interesting and easy to apply, as the simple version of the two hour talk is "get as many pillars or points of cover between you and the bad guy as possible."

Day 2 was all about vehicle work. Students performed alone or in pairs to engage targets from within or around vehicles. The drills were conducted multiple times, with increasing layers of complexity folded in. Short runs exposed the students to the necessary skills and movement required to engage the targets properly. Once they were comfortable, the longer drills pushed the students to the point of exhaustion to see where their physical and mental limits were. The training methodology highlighted the importance of thinking clearly and calmly, regardless of physical fatigue. From the outside, looking into the scenarios as an instructor, I found that there was an amazing amount of information to keep up with in terms of personnel on the range, adding complexity by inducing weapon malfunctions, and staying ahead of the student to call out the next target or vehicle position. As an instructor, you need to be aware of EVERTHING that is happening at a given moment, which is a very tall order. The course is much easier to attend as a student.

It was a pleasure to watch Chris Woomer of Veil Solutions team up with Will Petty to take on Will's "Alphabet Soup" exercise, where students engage a variety of targets on the range by searching for them from various cover points on the range. This is an intense drill in terms of movement, rapidly transitioning between cover points, and maintaining accuracy. Will and Chris has a run that lasted approximately 12 minutes, and at the end of all that there were a combined 4 rounds in the targets that were out of the A zone of the IPSC target. To make it more impressive, they managed to joke and taunt each other the entire time they were running the exercise, whereas most people were laboring for breath. Those two are at the top of their game, and their performance showed that.

Day 3 saw us doing more work around the vehicles. The shooting got further away as the day went on, and we ran to the end of the range to shoot at about 80 yards. Students were required to use pistols and rifles to engage targets at this distance, and most did very well at that range. With the focus on getting good cover positions, students had enough time to deliver good hits to the reduced size steel targets down range. The drills were partner-oriented again, and reinforced the importance of safe muzzle direction, situational awareness, and finding the priority of all the tasks to complete.

Having taken the class as both a student and instructor, I've got to say that the Gunfighter program is excellent in terms of getting students out of their comfort zone. It is a course that requires a high level of individual skill. Students need to be operating the guns at a nearly unconscious level to succeed when the fatigue kicks in. During the two courses I've hosted, I've witnessed three students with solid skill sets throw in the towel on Day 1. If you're willing to leave your ego at the door, Chase will highlight some areas for improvement.

A big thanks to Chase for letting me assist him and getting some of my local cops through. Thanks also to the students who attended, Will Petty for the awesome ballistics demo and constant humor, and Chris Woomer / Veil Solutions for making most of the kit I wore on the range.

Course Review: Sheriff of Baghdad Revisited

Course Review: Sheriff of Baghdad Revisited

After having a great experience with John "Shrek" McPhee (The Sheriff of Baghdad) in December, I decided to host him at the Watkinsville location. I wrote a lengthy AAR after my first training classes with John in Americus, Georgia. In the 15 years that I've been attending training through law enforcement and civilian trainers, John is the first who has used video to diagnose and correct issues with students' form. As an instructor, I immediately appreciated John's "modern sport-coaching" model.

John was booked for multiple 1-day video diagnostic courses in pistol and rifle. June 18th was Pistol, the 19th was a Rifle course, and a second Pistol course was scheduled on the 20th. It was scheduled purposely over Father's Day weekend as my parents were visiting and my dad was turning 70 on Father's Day. We both audited the classes on the first two days together and did some shooting. Sharing that time with my dad, who first introduced me to shooting 30 years ago, was an amazing experience. While dad didn't shoot, watching the 8 students get video critiqued and seeing the common mistakes in form helped him correct a number of issues he's been having on the range. He made a measurable improvement in his own shooting just from watching the courses and seeing what most people need to improve upon. The subconscious is a powerful tool, which is one of the themes of John's training.

John began the course with the "Shoot two, reload, shoot two" exercise that I'd performed during the first class. Taking a 5-second video, John then broke it into four separate videos, onto which he narrated and made corrections using the Coach's Eye software. Each student received four videos, focusing on Stance, Grip, Presentation, and Reload. The videos were generally between 3 and 5 minutes in length, and had John's voice and commentary on them when the students received them through Dropbox.

Since taking John's first class, I've transitioned to Appendix as my every day carry option. As more students have begun showing up to classes with red dot pistols, I built a Glock 19 with a Trijicon RMR on it to educate myself on that equipment. I decided to run that with my Veil Solutions appendix holster to get new feedback on my draw and presentation, rather than the strong side hip holster and iron sights I'd run in the first class. My goal was to get a head start on this platform by getting a list of best practices before I developed any bad habits.

I modified a number of things about my shooting style after my first SOB Tactical class. I've been shooting seriously for 15 years, and generally, I'm in the top of the pack at the classes I attend. Because of that, it's common for instructors to simply say "That's good.  Keep it up." While that can be gratifying, I take classes to improve my skill set, not to get head pats. In the last three pistol classes I've attended, I've had no feedback or critique of my form. The instructors have left me completely alone on the range to do my own thing, rather than identifying areas of possible improvement. In contrast, John's video critique of my form has helped me isolate areas for improvement, because the video can see at 240 frames per second and doesn't lie. As he says, there's no perfect shooting, just better.

When I compare my videos from the first SOB Tactical class to the ones from June 20th, I can see a marked improvement in my shooting setup. I'm learning forward into the gun. I'm controlling recoil more efficiently. My presentation gets the gun in front of my eyes sooner so that I can clean up my sight picture on the way to the target. The delay between presentation to the target and my first shot has gone from .35 seconds to .10 seconds, giving me a 1/4 second first shot advantage over my previous shooting.

When I compare my videos, I can also see areas where I haven't improved, such as a tendency to look over the sights at close range, a failure to lock my arms to full extension, and a gap that continues between my eye line, the sights, and my shoulders. Also, my right elbow tends to flare into a chicken wing on the draw, resulting in a slight downward cant to the firearm that makes sight acquisition difficult.

As John says, the "so what" of all of this is that while I'm an accomplished shooter, spend more days than not on the range training people, been involved in multiple real-life force on force incidents and presented a gun at living human beings, there is still a great deal of room for improvement in my shooting. I'm not a perfect shooter and never will be. What's awesome about all of this is that it gives me something to strive for and improve upon. It's nice to have goals and see measurable improvement in my skill. It's even better to have pertinent, professional feedback on my current skill level and a list of ways to improve.

Finally, I'd like to give a nod to John's teaching style. John is non-judgmental and patient in his instruction. His teaching method is modeled on professional athletic training, so there's no screaming, yelling, or demeaning of the students. The atmosphere is positive throughout the instruction, regardless of the skill set of the individual shooter. Because of that, the focus is on shooting every round in as a manner as close to perfect as possible. It's a refreshing change from a number of classes I've taken where old men with handlebar mustaches have yelled at, mocked, and demeaned the students. The professional attitude John displayed throughout the class was greatly appreciated. The fact that he's capped the classes at 8 students is also excellent, as it gives him time to work with everyone 1 on 1, rather than 1 on 27.

The pros and cons of the Sheriff of Baghdad courses are as follows:

Cons: $375 per student per day, downtime for students during the morning hours during the video diagnostics, static shooting only (no movement)

Pros: 1 on 1 coaching, video diagnosis of their shooting, students receive the videos made during the class, low stress, detailed method for improving your shooting beyond the class, small class size.

If you'd like to see an example of how John diagnoses shooting issues through his video, I've uploaded my STANCE video to YouTube HERE.

We'll be hosting John again in the near future, most likely during a cooler month.  In the interim, if you'd like to learn more about John's classes, you can find that info on his website, www.sobtactical.com.

For those of you who like swag, John usually awards something to the person who wins a specific drill at the end of the class. My first go-round, it was awarded to the person who got the farthest during a walk-back drill. This time it was the smallest group size of 30 rounds between 3 and 10 yards.

Instructor Development: Range Master - Firearms Instructor Workshop

Instructor Development: Range Master - Firearms Instructor Workshop

Andrew Still and Clark Sparrow attended (and completed) the Range Master 3-Day Instructor Development Course.  As you would expect from the name, the course content focused on methods for critiquing and correcting any problems with the student's form as it dealt with concealed carry firearms manipulations.

This Range Master course highlighted the skills most important to the citizen (non Law Enforcement or Military personnel) who carries a concealed firearm.  The shooting  exercises focused on speed of presentation and engagements within "three steps, three seconds, and three rounds".  The statistical information taken from the 66 civilian shootings in which Tom's students have been involved have driven hand guided his lesson content.

In order to graduate the course, students must shoot 90% on both the FBI and Range Master qualification courses.  They must then complete a written test measuring knowledge of the course content with a minimum of 90% accuracy.

Andrew Still and Clark Sparrow both completed the course.  Andrew shot very well with well above a 96% accuracy on both shooting tests.  Clark Sparrow took the Top Gun award with 100% accuracy on both shooting tests and 97.6% on the written test.

This will be the fourth entity through which Clark is certified to instruct.  Prior to this, he was certified through the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (GA POST) Council, the NRA, and John Farnam of Defense Training International.  Andrew Still adds the Range Master certification to his prior NRA Instructor certification.

Sheriff of Baghdad: Video Diagnostics

Sheriff of Baghdad: Video Diagnostics

It’s been a few months since I attended the Sheriff of Baghdad video diagnostic Pistol and Rifle courses.  I’ve used this time to evaluate what I learned.  When I attend a class, I’m evaluating the training from the viewpoints of a student as well as an instructor.  I focus on improving my skill set as a shooter, but I also look for teaching methods or tools that will allow me make my own instruction more effective.

I knew almost nothing about John “Shrek” McPhee prior to attending this class.  Shane Gosa had booked him, and I’ve come to trust his judgment on instructors.  I knew that John used the Coach’s Eye software to a video review of each shooter’s technique.  That intrigued me, because I’ve never attended a course that used video or photography in that way.  A search of student AARs for John’s courses generally made a statement to the effect that I would fire “the best four rounds of your life.”  Andrew Still accompanied me to the classes, so we had most of the Sparrow Defense staff on hand.

The class started at 8 AM.  John was there early in order to set up the electrical equipment necessary for the course.  We began with a simple exercise: Draw the firearm, fire two rounds center mass at a target, reload from slide-lock, and fire two more rounds.  Each student performed that drill while John used his phone to video the drill.  Once each of the students had completed that drill, we moved to the covered shelter for the video diagnostics.

John broke the raw video footage into four different areas: Stance, Grip, Presentation, and Reload.  Each of those subject areas was discussed in a separate video.  Using the software package, John would narrate his comments while drawing lines in red, yellow, and green to show what was being done correctly and what was being done improperly.  The software allowed him to slow down to frame-by-frame progression to show the path of the gun.  He could also run a timer to show shot delays and split times, the amount of time wasted through extraneous movement, and plot a path that would shave off fractions of seconds.  The video review took approximately 30 minutes per student.  Each student came away from the course with five videos that they could download and review in the future.  I’ve watched mine many times since, incorporating them into dry fire exercises at home.  I’ve also taken some of his views on form and plugged them into the lessons I provide to new shooters.

As a student, I found the video review very helpful.  It’s one thing to tell a student that their stance is improper. It’s another to show them an outside view, draw on it, and show them HOW it is improper.  In my case, I found that I was standing up much straighter than I had initially believed.  I was also able to see the progression of the recoil as it traveled down my arms into my shoulders and core.  The video was detailed enough that I could see the progression of the muscles in my forearms and triceps move with the recoil impulse.  I saw my muzzle rise, saw where my eyes were looking at the sight, and saw where my wrists were not locked out.  I saw how I needed to refine my reload to clean it up, and how I was losing time on the sights by not bringing the gun up in front of my eyes fast enough. It was an awesome and eye-opening experience.  All of that came from a 7 second video segment taken during a shoot two, reload, shoot two drill.

John’s segments were well-rehearsed because he moved through the process fluidly.  Each student received a review specific to their shooting style.  While I found great benefit as a shooter from the review of my own form, I learned just as much from watching the video reviews of the other students.  Everyone at the course was a seasoned shooter with hundreds or thousands of hours behind the gun.  Each one of us took something of value from the course.

As an instructor, I took more than twenty pages of notes on how John reviewed the video and progressed through the different focus areas.  I immediately began thinking of how his model could be plugged into agency firearm training.  During a break, I asked him if he did work with law enforcement and told me that he consulted with several metropolitan agencies on building a student video database.  It’s time-intensive, but departments with a full-time training staff could easily rotate students through a video diagnostic review.  In the course of an hour, an officer could perform the entire process from start to finish.  After the diagnostics, dry fire exercises and/or a 50 round box of ammo could refine that officer’s shooting techniques and model ways to improve on their off time.  In a time when budgets are being tightened, John’s process was highly effective in terms of cost vs. gain.

Following the video review of each student, we moved onto the range and performed shooting exercises that focused on the changes that John had made to our technique.  It was a low round count day; I shot less than 250 rounds during the entire 8 hours. Many of the shooting exercises were performed individually, with John providing 1-1 instruction while the rest of the class watched.  While it caused each student to have down-time, each round was scrutinized.  We were looking for perfect practice to retrain muscle memory, not a high round count.  While some of the range exercises seemed almost remedial, I found that I focused on making every shot count and paid more attention to my shooting process than normal.  John would generally stop each shooter mid exercise to correct form issues.  He’d tweak your stance, rotate your support hand, roll the shoulders up, or bring make some other small adjustment.  By the end of the day I had soreness in my legs, back, and arms from maintaining such a strict form.

John broke down the range at 5 PM.  It was a true 8 hour day and not a second longer.  Following the end of class, we gave feedback on the course.  Many of the students, myself included, expressed that we would have enjoyed an “out video”, showing how our form had changed throughout the day.  John stated that he’s still attempting to work out how to do that within the confines of a one day class, and that the out video was the most common request he received from students.

The following day, I attended the Rifle Diagnostics course.  That course followed the same progression as the pistol, working on the same four fundamentals: Stance, Grip, Presentation, Reload.  I again saw problems with my form that would be impossible to detect with the naked eye.  I came away from that course with 5 videos that I also continue to watch when I perform dry fire.

In conclusion, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to train with John.  While his courses aren’t cheap ($375 per day), I ultimately found the experience to be worthwhile.  As I wrote earlier, every shooter attending was operating at a high level of efficiency and had a great deal of time behind the gun.  For shooters looking to go beyond the 90-95% and shave off fractions of a second, this would be money well spent.  The micro-changes in form and technique that I’ve made were things that I believed I was doing properly until I saw my videos.  It took an outside view to see how I was losing time and making mistakes.

John has recently made a change to his booking policy and capped his courses at 8 students.  I appreciate the commitment to personalized instruction on his part.  There’s nothing worse than paying $500.00 to split your time standing should to shoulder with 26 other shooters.  John will be coming to Athens, GA in March of 2016 for his one-day video diagnostic courses on the pistol and rifle.  I intend to take the pistol course with my Veil Solutions appendix rig this time, rather than the strong side hip holster that I used in the first class.  It’s my way of getting an “out video” and seeing how I’ve progressed since the first class.

Talon Defense - "Gunfighter" Vehicle CQB Course

Talon Defense - "Gunfighter" Vehicle CQB Course

It's taken me almost a month to get this AAR up on the Vehicle Gunfighter course I hosted in June. I had never trained with Chase Jenkins prior to this course, but a number of friends and co-workers had. I had the following information available when I began talking with Chase about coming to Watkinsville:

  1. Chase was going to teach me how to shoot at things from inside and around a vehicle

  2. My weapon manipulation and malfunction clearing skills would be tested (heavily)

  3. I would learn the limitations of my equipment and of my shooting skill

  4. I would most likely want to hurt Chase by the end of the course

That was a ringing endorsement from some people I respect in the shooting community. I also took the time to listen to an hour-long interview that Chase gave on Ballistic Radio, during which he talked about his training philosophy and how he came to develop the Gunfighter course. If you know me, you'll know I'm not a podcast kind of guy, but I managed to make it through the entire thing and it confirmed that this would be a great opportunity to add to my toolbox.

The course was three days in length (Friday - Sunday) and it was mid-June in Georgia. Chase requires students in this class to have a solid skill set prior to being admitted. As such, the shooters were vetted by other instructors, through their respective law enforcement agencies, or from past training with Chase. We had approximately a 50/50 mixture of civilian and law enforcement (local, state, and Federal) students on the line. There was a huge variety of gear. The required ammunition for the course was 1000 rounds of rifle and 400 rounds of pistol.


Day 1: Flat Range

Day 1 began with a safety briefing that was very candid and left nothing unclear: This stuff isn't safe. Inherently, there is a danger in any dynamic training. The options are to make the range so safe that the training becomes useless, or to require that the shooter be responsible for eliminating the risk. "You can be safe, or you can be a spectator" as Chase said. We discussed the "Trifecta of Engagement" at that time. When the threat, sights, and eyes aren't in alignment, the trigger finger needed to be straight and away from the bang switch. Combining that with a constant awareness of muzzle direction kept anyone from getting hurt. When moving rearward or between positions of cover, there wasn't any competition-style silliness of pointing a weapon at the berm at all times. If you were moving rearward, you MOVED rearward. That meant muzzle down, safety on, and sprinting. There was no meandering down the range with your pistol pointed backwards over your shoulder in a "safe" direction like I see every time I go to an IDPA match. It was realistic, and it was tactically sound.

For the rest of the day, we worked with our pistols and rifles on the flat range, which was shooting on the line in relays. We covered positional shooting, during which time I was introduced to the concept of pinning myself to the ground for a stable stance while on my back. We shot our way from multiple prone positions, discussed how different positions not typically taught in a basic class (roll-over prone, squatting, etc.) became highly effective when using a vehicle for cover, and how the rifle or pistol needed to be positioned depending on how we were using the vehicle for cover. To make matters worse, Chase has an instrument called the Paw that he uses to induce weapon malfunctions on rifles and pistols. He can create a stovepipe or double-feed, drop the magazine out of your rifle, and generally break your gear whenever he wants using just that metal dowel rod with a piece angle iron welded onto it. The flat range was made more stressful and sweaty as you were generally jogging or drilling the positions while you waited for your turn to shoot. This was where I began to develop some decent bruises, and where people began to see where their equipment worked or didn't. Holsters broke, magazines fell free during movement, optics went down. It was a great shake-out for the gear.


Day 2: Vehicle Dynamics

Day 2 was all about vehicles. Shooting from within vehicles. Shooting into vehicles. Shooting through vehicles. Shooting around vehicles.

First thing up was a ballistics demonstration to show what bullets do when they hit cars. Lesson learned: You can't ever count on it to do something reliably. Some rounds stopped in a single door panel. Some rounds tore through the entire car. Shotgun slugs stopped in the vehicle posts. Frangible ammunition punched through like barrier rounds. While it proved that there is no guarantee that what you're using on the vehicle will stop a bullet, it did give us a better understanding of what might be better if you find yourself taking fire.

From there students moved onto the dynamic exercises for the day. We started with the pistols, engaging targets through the windshield at near distances. We then bailed out of the vehicle and worked cover at the rear of the vehicle, moving between targets that were set on the ground or over the hood, requiring you to get into prone and kneeling positions to put hits on target. These were done from the driver and passenger sides and you worked with a partner. Trigger and muzzle discipline were imperative. Next up was a similar drill at longer distances. Students began by drawing pistols from a seated position in the vehicle, engaged targets down range, bailed out to the rear of the vehicle, and began using rifles. We moved from prone, squatting, kneeling, standing, changed sides of the vehicle across your partner, and even moved between two vehicles roughly ten yards apart. Throughout all of that, the Paw as constantly jamming guns, releasing magazines, and generally pissing people off. My own personal experience with the Paw is still scarred pretty deeply into my psyche at this point. When I messed something up (which was often), I would hear someone say "You must pay a penance" and then something would go wrong with my weapon. If I fixed it without following the proper steps, it happened again immediately. That type of training forced you to maintain your cool in a very dynamic shooting situation, while being yelled at by Chase (whom I did wish to hurt by then), and follow the steps that we'd practiced the day before. That took us up to lunch.

After lunch, we worked longer range shooting (approximately 85 yards) around the exterior of vehicles. I learned the "junkyard prone" position, which is accomplished by laying the rifle on its side and shooting from a more covered position that if you brace the rifle on top of cover in the traditional manner. As with everything else, there was a high degree of movement as students moved through roughly 12 pre-marked shooting positions across two vehicles, attempting hits on steel targets downrange.

 

Day 3: Putting it all together
By Day 3, almost every student had purchased a Frogg Togg to keep them cool. It was hot. Day 3 involved only two evaluations / exercises that put all the skills covered during class together. Both of these exercises were conducted one shooter at a time, so we stacked our rifles on a cross-tie and waited in the queue under some shade.

The first exercise was a close quarters engagement from a seated position within a vehicle. You drew the pistol while seated, engaged targets behind and in front of the vehicle through the glass, rolled out onto the ground to shoot under the vehicle, then retrieved your rifle after scanning your surroundings. Once you had your rifle, it was a 40 yard sprint to another vehicle, at which point you were constantly moving between pre-marked positions on the car to get shots on steel targets down range. I've had more fun doing Burpees. The Paw was once again making my life miserable. In addition to the movement, the shortness of breath, and the inherent stress, Chase continued to provide "feedback" on my performance. In total, the scenario took more than 6 minutes, which is a long time to be jumping up and down and crawling around a vehicle while putting fire on targets. It was definitely more intense than anything I did in SWAT school, including live fire and SIM round exercises.

The second exercise was at closer distance, but was more dynamic in nature. You again started inside the vehicle with the pistol, then bailed outside the car to use cover. Chase would give the student a number or letter. Letters were associated with a specific target that you may or may not be able to see from your current position. If you couldn't see it, you were expected to move and locate that target to engage it. Numbers were associated with positions on the vehicle from which you could engage a number of targets. If you were given a number, you moved there and put fire on what you could see. This exercise used rifle and pistol interchangeably. Your rifle might go down ($*#@*# PAW!!) and you would transition to the pistol (also not Paw-proof) until you had engaged the targets and could then fix the malfunction during a lull. That exercise took approximately 4-6 minutes per shooter.

For those students who had taken Talon Defense's Injured Shooter course in the past, they were subjected to a special treat of having parts of their body immobilized through duct tape, tennis balls, water bottles, etc. For those lucky folks, they had to work through the same scenarios with only their primary hand available, or with a limited range of motion to their support arm.

 

Final Thoughts:

So hands down one of the best classes I've ever taken. It was fast-paced, took each shooter to the point that their skill sets were tested (and in many cases exceeded), and induced a TON of stress. Almost all of this material was new to people who hadn't taken the Gunfighter course before. I've never been to any type of law enforcement training that has been conducted in this manner or which approached a vehicle in this way. For one, agencies are too terrified of the specter of liability to allow much training of this type. Second, many trainers have a problem making their students fail. Personally, I get the most out of training that requires me to sink or swim. In an era of participation trophies, going through this course successfully actually means something.

This course is by no means for beginners or intermediate shooters. You need to have your skill sets dialed in before you come out or you will find yourself a spectator. This is not the course to fix problems with your fundamentals or to learn how to shoot while kneeling. However, if you want to stop standing in a static fashion in front of a target on a line and actually DO something, this is a great course to take.

While there was a substantial amount of down-time during the course on the second and third days, I believe that each shooter learned a great deal from the class. I am already working on getting Chase back up to Watkinsville for another Gunfighter so that I can have another crack at the scenarios.

 

Combat Speed Pistol, with "Super" Dave Harrington

Combat Speed Pistol, with "Super" Dave Harrington

On June 6th and 7th of 2015, I had the opportunity to attend "Super" Dave Harrington's Combat Speed Pistol course in Andersonville, Georgia. Over the course of two days, the eight students fired between 1900 - 2000 rounds. It was, without doubt, one of the best courses I've ever taken.

Dave's focus was to develop the ability to effectively operate a pistol with either hand (preferably equally well.) Topics covered included precision shooting, combat marksmanship, dynamic drills and exercises, positional shooting, low light, and team/partner tactics. Beyond that, I was fortunate enough to be staying at the same place with Dave, so I had the chance to do some brain-picking over some high-end coffee. All in all, I took twenty pages of notes during the course.

Normally, there's an opportunity to relax, take pictures, grab some video footage, record the instructor, etcetera. With Dave we only left the line to hydrate, take notes, and load magazines. He was zealous about staying on task to avoid missed training time. Because of that, there's a huge gap in what I could actually record with pictures or videos. However, the lack of joking and smoking allowed more learning to occur. The high round count really burned all the students out, but it also gave us time to get a number of skills firmly set in our tool boxes. It also required us to perform while fatigued.

I've been in a number of courses where I didn't shoot farther than the 7 yard line. In many of these, student movement was limited to a step to the side or rearward while drawing or reloading. Students in Dave's class engaged targets well beyond the 100 yard mark and were still making effective hits. Additionally, we performed exercises that required a high degree of trust in our fellow students. We moved back and forth on the line, passed in front or behind each other while engaging targets in live fire exercises, and moved in and out of a line in the Snake and Dave's adaptation of it. Muzzle discipline was extremely important during the course. While some would consider the exercises dangerous, the added elements of risk made the training more rewarding and effective. This was Operator Grade training that would be at home with tactical teams or special units, and not many instructors are willing to run those exercises in an open enrollment course. While there were elements that had more inherent risk, the serious nature of the training required the students to trust each other and pay attention to what they were doing. To quote John Farnam, "Perfectly safe training is perfectly useless."

While many of his exercises were dynamic and fast-paced, Dave always came back to precision marksmanship as the key ingredient in winning or losing the fight. That is why, after 1800 rounds over two hot range days, students found themselves slow-firing full magazines one-handed into tiny bull's-eyes in a quest for the smallest group possible.

I would definitely repeat this course and would definitely take further training from "Super" Dave.

Training with Dennis Martin / CQB Services

Training with Dennis Martin / CQB Services

In April of 2015, I was fortunate to attend training with Dennis Martin and Slacky of CQB Services.  Dennis has an extensive resume in Europe, Asia, and Africa.  He’s trained people in some of the most dangerous and anti-law enforcement theaters in the world, then vetted his techniques in the field.  He teaches what he does because the instinctual nature of his techniques makes them rapidly accessible to students, and also because his stuff is brutally effective.  As citizens of the United Kingdom, Dennis and Slacky aren’t allowed to carry firearms, knives, or weapons of any kind.  Liverpool, their home, is one of the most dangerous areas of the UK, so effective combatives techniques are a necessity.  Dennis generally makes the pilgrimage from the United Kingdom to Georgia on an annual basis so that he can get some trigger time and see old friends.  He’s very pro law enforcement, and restricts some of his material to active duty law enforcement employees.  There were three courses offered by Dennis this year:

 

  • EPIC (Enhanced Performance in Confrontations)
  • HRP (High Risk Personnel)
  • Officer Survival (LE Restricted)

EPIC: Enhanced Performance in Confrontations
EPIC was a one day course focusing on immediate proximity threats and did not involve live fire. The course taught techniques against unarmed and knife-wielding opponents. One of the central concepts of the class was that defense is the art of losing the fight slowly unless you eventually go on the offensive and take the fight to the enemy. The class began with some conditioning work to loosen the students up.  There was then a block of instruction on unarmed strikes with palms, elbows, the head, and knees.  The class then moved to meticulous by-the-numbers instruction in knife defense techniques.  Following some repetition and practice, the class then required the students to intercept those same attacks at real speed and to gain control of the weapon long enough to establish balance and a position where strikes could be delivered while retaining control of the weapon.  From there, the final exercises required students to put all of those elements together and deliver strikes to focus mitts and pads while repelling a knife attack against another student who was trying very hard to stab us with a training knife while striking the “victim” with a glove or focus mitt in the head and body.

I found the techniques that Dennis and Slacky taught to be practical, intuitive, and effective. They were also fairly brutal - each hit is meant to be a game changer, so you hit with high intensity and focus every time when you train with them. Ten perfect strikes are much more valuable than 100 that are done just going through the numbers. This leaves you tired and mentally fatigued after an eight hour day.

HRP: High Risk Personnel
With the exception of an hour-long lecture, HRP was conducted entirely on the range. The course was designed for individuals who work in protection, law enforcement, or military theaters where you'll be mixing with the local population and may not observe a threat until it's very close.  Dennis designed much of this program while working in South African shack towns, where his students could easily find themselves under attack through the cardboard wall of a structure with no warning.  While domestic law enforcement in the US doesn’t face those challenges, his techniques are highly applicable to officers who suddenly find themselves under attack by a person brought into our personal space during a field interview or an arrest. The course focus was immediate action and fighting back to your feet after being knocked into a position of disadvantage.

A majority of the shooting was done from within 7 yards, and stressed precision shot placement under pressure and time constraints. The use of minimal target areas forced the students to get rapid sight pictures and find a practical mixture of speed and accuracy to meet the shooting goals of the exercises. Additionally, the range exercises incorporated the previous day’s EPIC class, so students would begin some exercises by striking the pads or fending off an aggressor before turning and addressing a target on the range. Pairing aggressive physical strikes against an opponent and then transitioning to a firearm instilled a higher level of stress than standing on the flat range running drill after drill.

Officer Survival
The third course was Officer Survival, built specifically for active duty law enforcement or security services personnel. The course was a mixture of physical combatives from EPIC with some more advanced firearms techniques similar to what was done in HRP the previous day. Whereas EPIC was designed around the armed citizen, the Officer Survival was tailored to an officer's need to transition back and forth between intermediate force and deadly force depending on the suspect's actions. Techniques from EPIC were elaborated and expanded upon so that the aggressive suspect was placed in an immobilized and disadvantaged state that allowed for handcuffing.

I was again impressed with the intuitive nature of the techniques. In a previous defensive tactics course, I heard an instructor tell a student that he could be proficient enough to excel in the class after only “six months in a mixed martial arts gym.”  That’s a tall order and requires a high degree of commitment and out-of-pocket expense.  By comparison, Dennis’ techniques are grounded in human instinct and don’t require a working knowledge of a specific martial art to be effective. Many of them were literally taught within 15 minutes.  For example, his knife defense drills teach the student to trap the wrist holding the weapon, then position your body to bring the attacker off balance, and then to deliver strikes with head, knee, and elbow until you can gain a position of advantage. Again, “defense is the art of losing the fight slowly.”  Dennis’ techniques are built upon a brief moment of defensive action, followed by a violent counter-attack utilizing powerful offensive strikes.

After approximately four hours in the gym working knife and unarmed defensive techniques, we moved to the range for live fire exercises.  The range exercises worked during the Officer Survival course were focused on close proximity encounters and on conditioning the officer to change the level of attack whenever possible. Target transitions, seeking non-traditional positions to get behind cover, and making rapid precision hits were the skills that the exercises imparted. I found that another level of stress was added due to the bruises and fatigue from the previous two days, which is also realistic for those of us who find ourselves required to work injured or with little to no sleep.

I attended all three courses, and also had the opportunity to share multiple meals with the instructors to talk shop.  I found Dennis and Slacky to be humble, personable, and knowledgeable on a variety of topics.  They were very open to discussion and dialogue during the training, and were willing to take student feedback to heart.  In fact, Dennis credits most of his material to the feedback that he’s received from thousands of students using those techniques in the field.  It’s obvious that they are constantly adapting and refining their techniques to meet changing times.

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