GUNFIGHTING 101

I wanted to post this a while back, but I needed to ensure that the contents don’t breach 18 USC § 798. Green light from the guys, so here you go!

I recently attended a training event that very few folks are able to get into due to restrictions at the government agency that runs the course. This isn’t your typical shooting course that everyone and their brother can teach. It was strictly about weapons system placement—the system in this case being the shooter—to kill multiple adversaries with ease.

Before attending the course, I attempted to check into the backgrounds of the instructors. Finding information on these guys was next to impossible because their former units are veiled in secrecy, and the groups they work for now won’t share information with other agencies. I knew the instructors were solid, though, because I know a few people who have been through the course and greatly benefited from what they learned there. After learning this skill set, even a computer geek would have no issue destroying an infantry squad or two. There are no fancy shooting skills taught here—just pure tactics and principles designed to vastly improve your chances of winning a gunfight.

Day 1

There was very little classroom instruction beyond the ins and outs of using the marking weapons (picture a militarized version of a paint marker gun). After that, we were shown into a massive warehouse that had been set up specifically for teaching these tactics. The warehouse was full of obstacles—some cover (barriers you can’t shoot through), and some concealment (barriers you can get shot through). The goal was to navigate the environment and kill the other team without getting killed yourself.

The staff had us start with 2 vs. 2. The facility was wired for audio and video, and after the whole group went through twice, the staff pulled us into the debriefing room to watch ourselves in action. They pointed out where we’d made mistakes and fed us a tactic or two to correct them. They also pointed out that if you have a weak side, you’re 50% behind the power curve. You can’t have a weak side. You need to be able to manipulate the weapon and hit your targets on both sides. The staff ran us through a number of drills to drive this home, and then we were back at it.

One thing I learned early in the training is that while taking high-speed drills with some high-priced big-name high-speedo instructor work great on the range, employing these skills under stress while taking fire from multiple angles is a whole different thing. You quickly learn that what wins gun battles is tactics, not how quickly you can draw your secondary princess gun (1911) or do a mag change. If you’re counting on those skills to save your butt, you’re screwed before you even start!

After a few more runs and debriefs, we hit lunch. I rode with one of the instructors out to town. You would never know it from the looks of their vehicles, but they are rolling doomsday mobiles. Take all the cool-guy Tier-1-level kit and add electronic packages that could communicate with the space station, add some massive firepower, multiply it all by ten, and presto—you have their vehicles.

After lunch, we started 2 vs. 3, 2 vs. 4, 1 vs. 3, and 1 vs. 4. These drills forced us to use the tactics we’d learned, and if you failed to do so, you were pretty much guaranteed to get shot from behind cover! The layout of the warehouse was continually changed, and just when you thought you had a great route planned to kill your adversaries, everything was different. Now you had to think about what it was you were hiding behind. Was it cover or concealment? Fail to pay attention to this and you end up taking rounds right through the barriers.

After the first day, I was beat. The goal of the course is to get the students into 50+ gunfights a day. When your body is working in condition yellow/red on and off for 12 hours, you’re toast at the end of the day.

Feel-good training vs. real training

When I got back to town and hit the rack, I couldn’t help but think about how much money folks all over the U.S. waste on “feel-good” training. They buy all this cool-guy gear, wear multicam everything (because that’s what the “operators” wear), spend $3k on a WWI-technology handgun, and have a ton of gear they neither need nor know how to use. Once they have their cool-guy kit set, they seek out big names in the training industry and shell out thousands on training they could easily do at home.

Pick any big name out there—what do they do? They show up at a location, run their suck for a while (a few old guys run it way too much), then have the students go hot on the range. Their drills may vary, and the type of paper/static-steel targets might change, but for the most part you’re paying to have some guy run you through drills you could probably do on your own.

Plus, if the student-instructor ratio is above 5:1, you don’t get much for your money. When Mr. Big shows up to teach a class of 15, he can only watch one of you at a time. If you are jacked up, you will only get a fifteenth of the attention, so you’re mainly doing feel-good drills without learning much. If you do find yourself training with a big-name guy at one of the few facilities in the U.S. that has advanced targetry (where you can engage multiple moving targets that react to hits) and he brings with him four or five other stellar instructors, then you might get your money’s worth. But the few places I know of that have systems like this don’t allow third-party instructors or civilians on their ranges.

My advice to people: Spend your time with Mr Bill Rogers. Go through his course and learn reactive shooting (reactive shooting is NOT point shooting). Bill’s motto is “Be fast, Be Accurate, Be the best”. It should be no surprise that our nations most highly classified units have Bill’s ranges and keep his standards alive and well. Now that you know how to shoot quickly and accurately it’s time to learn how to gunfight!

SIDE NOTE: MY NEXT ARTICLE WILL BE ON HOW TO PICK AN INSTRUCTOR AND GET YOUR MONEY’S WORTH.

Day 2

Once we understood the basic movement principles, it was time to jump into low-light and no-light techniques. The nice thing about training indoors is that with a flip of a switch the place can be black. The lights would be out for the rest of the week. Again the instructors let us go without providing instruction, and after a few revolutions we were debriefed. The staff gave us a few things to consider, and then it was back into the fight.

During lunch on the second day I noticed that most of the guys stopped taking hits on the torso. Hits were now on the knees, elbows, and foreheads. Anything you hung out there was taken by your adversary, so you learned not to move unless you had cleared your cross-angles and had a safe place to move to.

Things were starting to flow, so the staff threw a wrench in the works. Now that we understood some basic movement and lighting principles, they put us in an office-building setup. Each guy had to clear it on his own, he had no clue how many adversaries were in there or whether there were any hostages, and he had no instructions. The weight of the situation rested entirely on your shoulders, and you just had to figure it out. When the staff asked for their first volunteer, I threw my hand in the air. I figured I’d get it out of the way and come out the other end black and blue from being hit so many times. I was taken outside just long enough for my eyes to get used to the blazing sun, then into the chaos I went. I did all right, seeing that I knew some of the principles they hadn’t taught yet.

After the rest of the crew went, it was back to the debriefing room. Once again the staff pointed out the mistakes we’d all made and added more tools and helpful hints. Then it was back into the office building, working at 2 vs. 7 and ramping up to 7 vs. 7. I should note that we were also filling in as adversaries all week. So the adversaries’ skills kept increasing. Another great thing was the staff would constantly jump into the mayhem and fight side by side with us. By the end of day two we had all the tools and tactics we needed, and the rest of the course was going to refine them even further.

On day two, it dawned on me that I’d previously been brainwashed by the shooting community. Back in the day, I used to have Surefire M900s on my M4s, but I took them off after a few high-speed shooters showed me how much faster you could shoot with your M4 if you extended your non-firing hand all the way out and locked your wrist. I bought it hook, line and sinker. Yes, it worked, but I never knew how useful a tool the M900 really was until I took this training course. On my own M4, I now had the cool-guy Surefire Scout lights, plus mini-scouts. While these put out a good amount of light, they don’t have ambi switches or running lights—features that greatly enhance the odds of prevailing in low-light environments. The sad thing was I didn’t even have the M900s anymore because I thought they were outdated designs. How wrong I was. They have new switch technology—LEDs that can put out up to 700+ lumens of light. They are badass!

Lessons learned

Training continued for two more days. Toward the end of each, the staff would show us the videos from previous days to assess how we’d progressed. It was night and day. Mistakes made on day one were gone by day two, minor inconsistencies on day two were resolved by day three, and by day four we were like greased lightning. Watching the video debriefs on day four from the adversaries’ point of view was like watching a rolling invisible force of hate and discontent coming your way. All you saw was a dark warehouse, then a quick flash of light followed by a burst of gunfire. If an adversary tried to shoot at the light, he was shooting at nothing. By the time an adversary could react to the location of the light, the shooter was gone, navigating in total darkness to his next attack point. When the shooter got there, there was another split-second burst of light followed by rounds into the adversaries.

Seeing how far the class progressed from day one was truly amazing. We now had a solid understanding of gunfighting principles, instilled by trial under fire. Here are some of the most important things I learned.

  1. Read the light and adapt to it. After you enter a low-light threat area, assess the different levels of light.
  2. Always operate from the lowest levels of light. This provides you more concealment, thus reducing the adversary’s ability to see while improving your ability to see without being seen. Time in the light equals time as a target.
  3. Avoid or at least be able to control backlighting. You are most visible and vulnerable when backlit.
  4. See yourself from the adversary’s viewpoint. With a bit of practice, you can continuously analyze your position and sight picture from the viewpoint of any adversaries in the area. This skill combined with an awareness of the light levels around you suggest the best way to approach a tactical problem.
  5. Use light and movement. Light can give you a tactical advantage, but it can also make it easy for an adversary to fix on your location and kill you. Until the adversary is located, it’s best to use split-second bursts of light, moving to a new location each time.
  6. Use light intermittently at random heights.
  7. Dominate with light. Use white light to flood threat areas, disorient and confuse threats, and control light conditions. To do this you need some serious lights—300+ lumens at least!
  8. Be aware of alignment.
  9. Be aware of cross angles.
  10.  All dark holes have gunmen lurking.

Don’t think that these principles only apply in low-light and no-light environments. We had to apply the same principles while moving to the target buildings in broad daylight. Sure, not all the principles are applicable outside at high noon, but most are. There were a host of other principles drilled into our heads, and other guidelines for IR/IR laser usage, but I’m not about to discuss them lest I give an edge to people looking to harm our SOF forces.

This was a true eye-opener for me. Lots of people teach shooting, but none teach gunfighting. Many say they do, but if you’re not getting shot at, guess what—you’re not in a gunfight!

After the course was over, I said to myself that I should have got this training in the Marine Corps, 10 years ago. So a few weeks later I took a trip to grease a few skids with the right Marine Colonels and Generals. I was able to get the instructor crew onto a Marine base where they would train 20+ Marines—LCpl’s-Maj’s all from various units and backgrounds. The Marines came to the same conclusion that I did and immediately set out to get a field manual published. Building these tactics into the entry-level training Marines receive would take years, but for now the fastest way was to get the playbook (just because you have the book doesn’t mean you know how to play) out the door and into the fleet.

I was glad to see the Marines taking the bull by the horns and doing their best to disseminate these lifesaving tactics. After all, it’s why I got into this business in the first place.

Semper Fi Steve