WARNING: this contains narrative internal dialogue that certainly does not reflect an object or unbiased report on this course... for unbiased objectivity, buy yourself a robot.
Spent a few days with Travis Haley and Brannon LeBouef in California working the "Pistol - Darkness/Vehicle" part of their Disruptive Environments courses.
In short, this course will give you super powers.
I'll get a more in depth AAR on later tonight -- consider this a teaser.
Typical first day hazing, followed by building blocks of scenarios in/around/over/under vehicles and small buildings, through forests and over hills. You will hit a man sized target at 150 yards with your pistol in full day and full dark (that's a big deal for me).
All the scenario and training aside, the "disruptive environment" aspect of this is what really gave me the most takeaway. More to come.
And here's some more... I'm a little verbose sometimes, bear with me:
If you don't know who Travis Haley is, google up some mall ninja blogs and read about him. I come from a somewhat abbreviated shooting history -- I never touched a gun until heading into the academy... I've found that I've never really developed the strongest line shooting accuracy, but in combat shooting, I always put effect on target. In watching some of Haley's videos, this was a point I picked up on -- accuracy is great, but the most important thing is putting that effect on your target. This class isn't about becoming super accurate, so to the extent that I went into this class hoping to come out a crack shot, I should be disappointed. Fortunately, there is so much substance to the course overall that I was not disappointed to see a lack of major measurable improvement to my basic (line shooting) handgun skills.
I can't say it enough -- even though it's in all the website literature -- this is NOT A BASIC HANDGUN COURSE!! You are expected to show up knowing how to handle your weapon, not just shooting, but working your holster and carry gear. PLEASE PRACTICE! I suggest getting a copy of Travis's Adaptive Pistol DVD and watching it a couple times to get familiar with how he expects you to operate your weapon and to hear him answer his frequently asked questions... If you show up not being able to handle yourself at the basic level, you will feel like an idiot -- and rightly so. I'm not trying to bag on people, everyone's weaknesses showed through at some point during the 3 day course, mine included. Just please either take a basic course or get a "tactically minded" friend to walk you through the basics of moving with your weapon in hand, fixing malfunctions on the fly, dealing with adverse equipment issues, etc. Test your magazine holders to make sure they keep your gear in place when running, jumping, doing push-ups, etc. Bring the tools necessary to FIX or adjust retention levels on your gear.
We had a wide range of carry gear on attendees at this course, with a few wearing their sam brown with full duty gear and some wearing something they apparently thought looked cool in Modern Warfare. There were some wearing soft body armor under their gear but most went casual Friday mode with no armor. In fact, Travis Haley and I were the only two wearing plate carriers (that might give away my identity to any of you who were there -- shush). I do some work that is hard to accomplish with soft body armor on, so my plate carrier is what I keep in the trunk for those "just in case" moments. I'm not a big gear nut and usually don't have much on my plate carrier besides a bleeder bag and a spare flashlight. Actually, chatting with Travis, I made a few decisions on how to make my plate a lot more functional at relatively low cost without it turning into a spec-ops-ninja-bad-ass-mofo wannabe banner... If you've never heard of a "taco" magazine holder, look it up. It's great if you have the potential to need the ability to carry mags of two sizes (such as both AR-15 and AR-10 magazines or single/double stack pistol mags) on your gear.
The rally point was a local Taco Bell -- the first clue that this course would be epic. Arriving still unsure whether I was in the right place, my doubts were quickly set aside when I observed a small crowd of tan/green/black/grey figures in the parking lot. Oh how "tactical" blends into the urban environment not at all...
A short drive into the hills and we came to a set of typical California foothill box canyons -- something I have a lot of both in my home county and where I currently work. It felt like I was going home. All pitched in for set up -- the range had seen a training course the 3 days prior, so most everything was sort of in place. There was a line of range targets, a small village of plywood huts marked A B C and D, and a few junked cars that were surprisingly mobile throughout the training.
As I mentioned before -- do not show up if you know you can't cut the mustard in terms of basic firearms SAFETY AND OPERATION. If you are unable to be safe, you better hope you get sent home before your fellow students get muzzle swept one too many times and decide to take matters into their own hands. A short combat effectiveness test (CET) quickly makes clear whether you can handle the next 3 days or if you'll be asked to leave. Do not take this lightly.
Most courses spend a lot of time going over basic firearms mechanics -- not so much at this one. You're expected to know all about sight alignment, how firearms work, basic ballistics and how to troubleshoot and care for your own weapon. Travis and Brannon (I'll call them Team Haley, if for no other reason than it'll irk Brannon) were great about zeroing in on the issue that they want to teach and letting the rest go unsaid. We each burned through about 350 rounds in the first few hours -- doing CETs and focusing drills.
Team Haley kept a steady stream of tips and learning points coming at us throughout each exercise. I've been to a lot of law enforcement trainings where the instructor likes to hear themselves talk and spends way too much of your shooting time forcing you to listen to their stories or what works for them. In this course I found that every bit of insight was positive, necessary, and altogether helpful. Along with other students, I got called on the carpet for a bad -- or unnecessary -- habit. Travis in particular seems to hate wasted movement -- it's all about efficiency in weapon manipulation. I'd been taught certain ways to do things and never thought about why I was supposed to do it that way -- it's how the experts said to do it! With Team Haley, you are encouraged to think about why you're doing things a certain way and to actively work to identify new ways to make your movements more efficient and deliberate. Travis is big on training "thinkers before shooters". If you practice this mindset and work through your training that way, it's pretty awesome how you can make life easier for yourself.
By the time it started to get dark, Travis pointed out this metal torso target that's approximately 100 yards away. He put round after round on target with good ballistic effect with his glock. Then the rest of do the same. Everybody got at least one round per magazine on target. I think I got an average of 3-4 per 13 round mag. Not great -- but then again I'm no crack shot. There were some who were way more accurate. It was a bit of a confidence bump, but the important thing was the segue way into a discussion about appropriate engagement distances.
There's something about having these exercises and discussions in the pitch black -- and it was pitch black, with no moon, only a bunch of stars in the sky. The darkness lets your mind engage more fully in the discussion and visualization of scenarios as Travis brought up some things to think about overnight. Again, here Travis wasn't telling you "this is the way it is", instead he posed questions about the possible goals of a firefight -- the reason you might be taking a 100 yard shot. One example that stuck with me, as a parent, was engaging an active shooter at 100+ yards in part to bring his attention away from a group of school kids. Will that distance change your tactics? Sure, but distance alone will no longer be an absolute barrier in my mind. Would I close distance to try and get a better effect on target or would I take the shot to get him looking my way instead of at the kiddies? The answer to all these questions was, in my mind, "It depends." But it gets you thinking.
We broke for the night and honestly I was a little disappointed -- I'd expected more mind blowing experiences from the start! But then it was just Day One, and there were two full days to go. I burned through about 700 rounds that day...
EDIT TO ADD (7/4/12)
Happy 4th -- updating this is a good enough excuse for me to be able to duck out while my wife and the in-laws have their bonding (
So to say that things ramped up on day 2 would be an understatement. We shot a lot on day 1, much of which was centered on fundamentals and then a few "make you think" drills. Great stuff, but as I mentioned before, not quite what I'd expected here. Day 2 started off with another set of CET shoots and moved on quickly to moving and shooting drills. The thing I liked most about these was they moved away from the holster-and-run stuff we often learn in academy or on the street, leaning more toward trusting the shooter to be a responsible runner. Yes, I can run with my firearm in my hand. Yes, I could fall. No, falling with my gun in my hand will NOT result in a negligent discharge. Why not? Because I'm not an idiot who runs with his FINGER ON THE TRIGGER. If you practice moving quickly, in explosive movements, with your firearm in your hand (unloaded), push yourself to the point where you could slip and fall. If you actually accidentally somehow pull that trigger, tell me what happened. I'd love to hear about it -- and make fun of you.
Movement drills centered on closing or making distance, where you draw and run to an effective range prior to shooting. There was some talk about what makes a certain range "effective" and again Travis and Brannon trusted us to be adults by allowing that effective range changes based on what kind of effect you want on target. 150 yards could be effective range to engage a bad guy with a handgun if that guy was opening fire on a group of school kids. What's the effect you'd have? Maybe you'd get him to stop shooting at the kids while he tries to figure out who's shooting at him -- maybe he'd start shooting at you instead of the kids. Either way, you just caused the desired effect -- dude didn't shoot the kids. An effective range could also be 3 yards, depending on the circumstances and your skill and your firearm. So we did a lot of draw, run, fire. Turn around, draw, run, fire.
Another thing I really liked about Travis and Brannon in this one was every drill included clean up. That phrase "always be looking for work" became a mantra. You just shot 6 times in a drill? Get a tactical reload in. Instructor starts talking about a finer point of shooting? Top off that partial mag from loose rounds in your pocket. Classmate stole the girl you were flirting with at the bar last night? Swift kick in the shin. Always be proactive about improving your survival odds. Back at my home department range, I found that this aspect of the drills in themselves made a big difference for me. We do a lot of tactical movement shooting at our range -- very little line shooting.
At dinner, Brannon announced it was Travis's birthday, so we had a nice big cake with number candles "5 5 6" -- good times. I'm pretty sure Travis blew out the candles with his brain. One of the students passed around some cigars and a few of us started to relax... just in time for more shooting. Apologies if the last day and a half of class blended together -- it was relatively intensive and things really did go fast.
The afternoon started to slide into scenario based training. We discussed moving while shooting and did some line practice just for practice sake, walking toward our target while shooting, and walking backwards from our target while shooting. Then we did some basic room clearing, mostly to discuss movement fundamentals. Travis seemed pretty emotionally involved in this subject. There was a lot more first hand experience talk and anecdotes about coworkers being shot and killed because they moved slowly or did not react or adapt to their environment quickly enough.Part of the Disruptive Environments philosophy seems to center around how every environment has aspects that are disruptive to our shooting, disrupting to our ability to survive a situation. Constantly working and thinking to adapt to those disruptive aspects of your environment will give you a greater chance of survival than any particular shooting skill.
Each person in the class demonstrated how they (or their department) would clear a typical small room (12x12) with a door centered on one wall and the door swinging in (typical for doors to coming in from the exterior of a building). It was interesting to see a few different schools of thought I recognized. There was the creeper -- slow and steady, checking every angle before moving ever so slightly further across the doorframe. There was the hard charger, throwing the door open and sweeping the room as he runs in to a likely hail of gunfire. A couple guys did the whole room clearing in a retention position of some sort (low ready, compressed ready, etc.) which was kind of interesting. Personally, I kicked the door open, swept across the doorway pie-ing as I went, then pushed in and cleared my hard corner before covering down on an obstruction in the room. As I moved to the obstruction to check behind it, a hostile was exposed in the frame of a window. It was a good reminder not to let your brain stay inside the room -- there is always something on the other side of that door, window or wall. I totally got the bad guy...
Travis had an interesting slow-quick-fast method. He approached the door frame from the knob side (as most of us "professionals" did) but then he paused to look, listen and feel on the door. I hadn't seen that before. He put his hand on the knob and let it rest for a second. I'm not sure what you feel at that, but his point was if bad guy is waiting to open up on someone as they open the door, sometimes that doorknob jiggle can be enough to set him off prematurely, giving you a chance to recognize the threat, retreat and regroup or otherwise respond appropriately. After the knob touching (har har), he pushed the door hard, swinging it as open as it would go, eyeballing the crack of the hinge side of the door (trying to clear that behind-the-door corner) as he quickly pied across to the other side of the frame. By quickly I mean one and a half Travis Haley strides (if you've seen his videos, you know he takes big steps). As soon as he got to the other side of the door jamb, he moved deliberately and FAST into the room, clearing the remaining hard corner on his way in and addressing any threats with no pauses along the way. It was impressive, but I think I'd need some practice before I feel comfortable putting that method into use on my building clearing. Luckily, most regular alarm calls give ample time to practice.
As full darkness fell, we did some steel shooting without lights. We would line up by some steel targets at low ready. Travis or Brannon would shine their flashlight quickly across all targets then shut off their light and call "threat". If you've never shot in full dark without a light, shooting steel is the best method -- in my opinion. It's satisfying not just to hear the "ding" but to see the sparks! I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy it was to shoot at light artifacts -- although I can't recommend this for regular training since obviously positive target identification could be an issue. But in a worst case situation where light fails and you're one on one with a bad guy, it's good to know how easy it is to take a shot based on transient light -- such as camera flash, sweeping headlights, lightning, etc.
Final scenario included some walking in the woods and engaging targets. I was both impressed and horrified by this exercise. And I wasn't just horrified at Brannon's sharpie-on-cardboard artistic renditions of bad guys (they were awesome). I'm a big proponent of light discipline. When I teach survival and rescue tactics, we discuss night vision and how it works. You never, ever, shine your flashlight in your buddy's face, or even in his general direction, unless he asks you to. You also don't turn on your super bright tactical light and shine it at the ground at your feet to see where you're walking -- the splashback alone will night blind you. I saw a lot of splashback and a lot of accidental light discharges that night. I even had one dude shine his light AT MY FACE as I was walking around in the dark trying to develop my night vision. I guess he was identifying friend or foe? Definitely foe. So there were rural cops and city cops at this, in addition to the civilians -- most of whom were city folk.
Watching each person do their scenario, it as obvious who the city dwellers were. That light was barely off during their whole walk through the woods. The rural folk were way more comfortable walking in the full dark.
I've been involved in rural public safety for almost 20 years -- and the two things that really stick with me in the woods is conserve your power and pay attention to your environment. That means don't use your light, radio or GPS unless you need it, because you might not have replacements or a charge for a week or more. Travis pushed this with his light searching technique -- which I really appreciated. Lots of flashes in a pattern that you can use to recognize your entire surroundings. It saves batteries and makes tactical sense.
As for using your environment, a full TWO people used trees or rocks as cover when engaging a target. What the heck?
The final scenario made me feel good about my comfort level in the woods, but definitely pointed out some tactics issues I can work on -- mostly in search patterns.