The Making Of A Legend

The Life And Times Of Larry Vickers


From his roots in the Green Berets, Larry Vickers has spent a lifetime training civilians and law enforcement alike for the rigors of real-world threats. (ALIAS TRAINING)
From his roots in the Green Berets, Larry Vickers has spent a lifetime training civilians and law enforcement alike for the rigors of real-world threats. (ALIAS TRAINING)

Internet videos have launched numerous people into stardom, many for doing silly and stupid tricks while inebriated. When I need a good laugh at someone else’s expense, I go to the internet and look for the latest rube who has skirted death and videoed it. But the internet has also introduced some interesting people who we would have otherwise never known about. Larry Vickers is one of these people.

By now, most people in the shooting world have an idea who he is, or have watched one of his videos. After seeing a few, I decided that there was so much more to this guy, so I set out to speak with him. Vickers did not disappoint.

Vickers receiving the Bronze Star with V for Valor for his part  in Operation Acid Gambit in Panama, where American citizen Kurt Muse was rescued from the Modelo Prison.
Vickers receiving the Bronze Star with V for Valor for his part in Operation Acid Gambit in Panama, where American citizen Kurt Muse was rescued from the Modelo Prison.

Vickers was born the son of a World War II veteran and had military service in his DNA. Hailing from a small town in Ohio, he enlisted in the US Army’s delayed-entry program before graduating from high school in the early 1980s. His enlistment gave him the opportunity to go through Infantry School, followed by Airborne School and then the Special Forces qualification course. Following his successful graduation from all of these schools, Vickers was awarded the coveted Green Beret and began his career in the Army.

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During his enlistment, however, Vickers decided that being in the Green Berets wasn’t really what he wanted to do, so when his stint was up, he left active duty. Vickers expressed interest in Delta Force, but was advised that he had to be on active duty to even attempt qualification, so he reenlisted.

The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) is the brainchild of Colonel Charles Beckwith, who served with the British Special Air Service (SAS) as an exchange officer in the early 1960s. After a decade of pitching the idea for a similar group to the US Army, Beckwith was eventually tasked with forming a counter-terrorism and hostage-rescue team of highly trained soldiers capable of operating in small teams. Today, we more commonly refer to this as Delta Force.

Before Vickers was allowed to begin training for a Delta operator position, he had to pass an entrance exercise. The premise was simple: complete a land-navigation course in the mountains of West Virginia. Alone, with a 40-pound rucksack over an 18-mile course. And the time limit to complete this task was only known by test administrators. The students are simply told at the end of the course whether they are good to go or not.

After the full Delta-course training is complete and the enlisted service member is ready to graduate, there is one final test – another land-navigation course, again in the mountains of West Virginia. But this time it’s 40 miles with a 45-pound pack and the time is, again, unknown to the candidate. Go or no-go is all you get at the end. The failure rate during the course is high; estimates are as high as 95 percent, but official numbers are never given. Vickers made the cut and became a Delta Force operator.

Vickers on assignment with Delta Force in Bosnia
Vickers on assignment with Delta Force in Bosnia

The overwhelming majority of Delta’s missions are classified top secret and never made public. Of the few that have come to light, Acid Gambit represents one of Delta’s victories and Vickers was there.

Kurt Muse, an American civilian living in Panama, was accused by President Manuel Noriega’s regime of being a CIA asset. Delta was tasked with rescuing him. The mission involved flying by helicopter to the Modelo Prison in Panama, then landing on and entering via the roof. The prison was heavily guarded and resistance was expected to be heavy.

Delta blew open the top entrance and stormed down a few flights of stairs to where Muse was being held. Any guards who were foolish enough to tempt fate were quickly dispatched. The operators retrieved Muse and headed back to up to the roof. While leaving the prison the MH-6 Little Bird that carried Muse went down, but in the end no American lives were lost and multiple operators received commendations, including a Bronze Star of Valor for Vickers.

After 20 years, three helicopter crashes, numerous missions and several broken bones and a numb left leg, Vickers decided it was time to retire. “The guys who stay longer than 20 years usually end up dead or even more crippled than I am,” Vickers told me.
Let’s face it, we live in a world where information is easily accessible and there is no limit to the number of people who claim to be experts in a variety of endeavors – particularly firearms training. I’m not saying that they are all frauds, but there are many who are not all they claim to be. Vickers is not one of them.

His interest in training civilians and law enforcement started years ago, before being an instructor was hip. His expert advice has been sought by large federal to small police departments.
Vickers’ rise to popularity came from his internet videos. This is where I first saw him. He was in one explaining why he, as a former Delta operator, was fat. I laughed when I first saw the title of the vid, and was thoroughly entertained by his answer to this question. The question was raised by viewers, and Vickers’ answer was simple: He was fat because he didn’t want to end up dead, so he got out of Delta.

“The alternative, because of my lifestyle in Delta, was permanently crippled, paralyzed or dead,” said Vickers in his video. He continued, “I gave this country the best part of my life. I have no regrets and I’d do it again, but the facts are the facts. Frankly, I’m lucky to be alive.”

Blackhawk crash that Larry Vickers survived in an undisclosed location.
Blackhawk crash that Larry Vickers survived in an undisclosed location.

His videos cover a huge range of topics, from how to reload in a firefight to how much lube is too much and his crazy Russian friends running their outrageously dangerous shooting drills. One of those drills involves an operator being shot in the chest with a real round, and then returning fire at a cardboard target right next to the guy who just shot him. It’s insanely dangerous!

Videos aren’t the only thing that Vickers does or has done. He was also brought on as a consultant by Heckler & Koch during development of the company’s HK416 – the carbine purportedly used to kill Osama Bin Laden – the HK417 (the 7.62mm version) and the HK45 handgun.

Vickers has also helped Daniel Defense get their Daniel Defense M4 to market and pushed Surefire to develop smaller tactical flashlights. Most recently he coauthored a book, Vickers Guide: 1911, which was just released. I’m assured it will be a must-have for any serious handgun lover.

Vickers was also one of the founding members of the very popular International Defensive Pistol Association. According to the IDPA website, the organization has a current membership of 22,000 shooters, and IDPA matches represent some of the most practical stages of any major shooting organization.

Larry Vickers makes no bones about his favorite rifle of all time – the venerable AK-47. His love of everything AK stems from all of the variations that can be found in the world. Once the Eastern European countries disavowed communism, the different versions of the AK became widely available in the United States. The rifle’s simplistic design is its real selling point and another reason that Vickers loves it.

This Little Bird helicopter was carrying American Kurt Muse after being rescued by Delta Force in Panama. Despite the crash, not a single American life was lost during the mission.
This Little Bird helicopter was carrying American Kurt Muse after being rescued by Delta Force in Panama. Despite the crash, not a single American life was lost during the mission.

My favorite Vickers’ story is of his quest to get the autograph of none other than Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47. In 2003, the SHOT Show was held in Orlando, Fla., and it happened to coincide with Knight’s Armament Company’s open house of their new facility in the Space Coast City of Titusville. Kalashnikov was expected
to attend. Vickers knew this was his chance, so he secured tickets to the catered dinner event and went with several friends. As the night drew on he knew that his opportunity was slipping away. He saw Kalashnikov sitting in a private dining room and approached him. According to Vickers, “As soon as we walked in there I knew it wasn’t going to go well. He doesn’t speak English, but his daughter who was with him did. She asked me what I wanted, and I said that I was wondering if I could get Mr. Kalashnikov’s signature. She basically told us to get lost.”

All was not lost, however, because in 2009 Arsenal USA released the 35th Anniversary Gold Edition AK-74. Part of the astronomical price tag included a certificate of authenticity with an original Mikhail Kalashnikov signature. Mission accomplished.

Larry Vickers serving in Delta Force sporting a CAR-15 with a flashlight attached to the bottom. The size of the flashlight should give some insight into the age of this photo.
Larry Vickers serving in Delta Force sporting a CAR-15 with a flashlight attached to the bottom. The size of the flashlight should give some insight into the age of this photo.

The bottom line for me is this: When I need legal advice, I get an attorney; if I’m sick, I go to a doctor; and if my car is acting crazy, I go see a mechanic. If you have questions or need training, you seek an expert. Larry Vickers is just such an expert when it comes to surviving and winning a gun fight. His style of teaching is straightforward, and his personality is easy going and fun. If you are looking to improve your shooting skills and knowledge, give Vickers a shot – you won’t be disappointed. AmSJ
Editor’s note: For more information on Larry Vickers and training opportunities, you can visit his website at

Training with Ex-Delta Force Legend Pat McNamara

As this article is being written, the nation is both in celebration and mourning in honor of Memorial Day, as we pay tribute to those who served and paid the ultimate price.
American Shooting Journal proudly supports the military and the men and women who serve this great country, as well as those who have served in the past and are now passing on their knowledge, training and experience.
In the shooting world, there are many professionals to train with and learn from, but one cadre of folks is at the very highest pinnacle of the training world. These warriors come from the greatest combat university in the world, better known as the Combat Applications Group, formerly known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, or Delta Force!

Delta Force operators are considered the best combat marksmen in the world. In head-to-head shooting competitions, Delta has out-shot every counter-terrorism force worldwide. Surgical shooting is their stock in trade, and Delta Force Operators train long, hard hours, shooting in every conceivable position.

Here is a brief overview of what a Delta Force Operator goes through. After a stringent physical fitness test and grueling land navigation course that weeds out a large percentage of the class (and the selection is all people at the top of their professions), the Operator candidate then goes to Operator Training Course (OTC). There, the Operator is retrained in a variety of weapons for weeks, eight to 10 hours a day, systematically teaching the Operator target identification techniques for target acquisition cycle.

Operators shoot thousands of rounds a day in a variety of drills, from transition drills to malfunction drills to reload drills ad nauseum. They are then introduced to a “shooting house,” where range work and teamwork comes together. Operators spend eight hours a day here, sitting as hostages while their fellow mates blow doors and make entries, shooting precision groups on targets that are mere inches from their teammates. This is the raison d’être of why Delta Force members are so great at what they do.

WHAT MAKES A Delta Force Operator larger than life? They are predominately conservative, religious men that put God, country and family first. This is the same measure of a man that describes Pat McNamara, a leader in every aspect of life. A 22-year veteran of the Army, McNamara spent each one of those years in Special Operations, the last 13 years of which were with Delta Force. He retired as a Troop Squadron Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank a non-commissioned officer can attain.

Recently I had the honor and privilege of attending one of McNamara’s intense two-day T.A.P.S. classes held at Nail Ranch in Palm Beach, Florida.
As expected from a professional of McNamara’s caliber, his class included the following:

  • Lecture on proper weapons handling and safety;
  • Refresher on marksmanship fundamentals and shot placement grouping exercises;
  • Conduct a diagnostic course of fire;
  • Grouping exercises with both pistol and rifle;
  • Target discrimination;
  • Proper use of barricades;
  • Close-quarters battle techniques and Movement;
  • Immediate action drills

McNamara started out by making some pretty sound impressions to the class, one of which was, “There are a lot of gun owners out there, but just because you have a gun does not mean you’re not armed.” He further pointed out to the largely civilian class that “civilians have an equal duty (as law enforcement) to protect and serve as well… to protect ourselves and our loved ones and serve our communities as responsible, trained gun handlers.”

“We have to be our own first responders. We cannot rely on law enforcement, fire, EMS, to be there at a moment’s notice,” McNamara said. “We need to be trained, and we need to be able to take care of our families, our loved ones and ourselves… in first aid, in basic survival and in protecting ourselves. Now, that can be via conflict resolution, going fisticuffs or by being lethal!”

McNamara believes in performance-based training versus outcome-based training. The difference, he said, is that outcome-based training is “how many, how much and how fast.” It can be simply defined as execution with consideration of the consequence of “will I succeed, or will I fail?”
“But performance-based training asks, ‘how well?’” explained McNamara. “Where is my home and how can I make incremental improvements to the structure of my home?”

SINCE A LARGE focus of the class was on the rifle, I paid particular attention to what McNamara recommended as far as a good rifle system. While he hesitated to recommend one rifle manufacturer over another, it is very clear he likes Bravo Company Manufacturing (as do other former Delta Operators Larry Vickers and Tom Spooner, which says volumes about that rifle company). McNamara recommended the AR platform barrel to be in either 14.5 or 16 inches, because he likes distance in shooting.

As far as triggers, McNamara likes a good two-stage trigger (Geissele SSA trigger is what he runs). For optics, the hands-down favorite amongst the Ex-Delta alumni is Aimpoint in the T-2 series, but the Aimpoint Comp M5 is also getting great reviews from all the ex-Delta alums. On a tactical light system, McNamara prefers his at the 3 o’clock position using a sure-fire scout light, once again very popular with the graduates of Delta University.

Other items that are absolutely necessary according to McNamara are a good set of back-up iron sights like Scalarworks Peak sights. Another essential piece of equipment is a good two-point sling because it stabilizes the shooting platform and keeps the rifle close to the body or back. McNamara has his own version of a two-point sling for sale, but another option is the Blue Force gear sling adopted by the United States Marine Corps and designed by fellow Delta Operator Larry Vickers.

As far as pistols go, McNamara said that “a pistol should be ergonomically correct for your size and weight and should feel like an extension of your body. It should also be comfortable to conceal.” The class he was teaching had a variety of different handguns made up mostly of Glocks, Sigs and 1911s.

ANOTHER MAJOR EMPHASIS of the class was on marksmanship fundamentals. McNamara stated that the two most important fundamentals are sight alignment and trigger control.

He covered in thorough detail the proper stance, grip, presentation, trigger control and follow-through. McNamara stated that there can never be enough of the basics, and to this day, he continues to learn new things each time he practices.

“Everything starts with a single shot,” he said. “Marksmanship should be practiced one round at a time. BRM forces us to concentrate on the fundamentals. These fundamentals should be engraved into our hard drives and we must be able to perform these specific skills intuitively. There are facets that must be felt and performed at a subconscious level – loading, pre-combat check, safety manipulation, building a position, achieving a natural point of aim, sight alignment, trigger control, feeling the metal-on-metal imperfections in the trigger group, calling your shot, seeing how far the sights rises, seeing where the sight settles, follow-through, realigning the sights, and resetting the trigger. Marksmanship should be practiced in near slow motion.”

One cannot move on to tactical shooting until marksmanship fundamentals are sound, because tactical shooting is about target discrimination and proper bullet placement.

McNamara put his class through a variety of demanding shooting drills with a tempo hard to describe, other than that is his norm and his bailiwick in which he does his business.

AS ONE WOULD imagine, the class was filled with well-trained men coming from a variety of skilled shooting backgrounds, including an officer from the Army’s Special Forces, law enforcement officers and competitive shooters. There was one exception, however.

A seasoned shooter, the owner of her own ranch and a mother to three grown women, Deb Sullivan was holding her own in that class and was at the very top of the shooting against her male classmate peers.

I asked her why she decided to come to the Pat McNamara class and her thoughts about it.

Sullivan stated that she lives alone on her ranch and she alone takes care of all her animals. She knows she must protect and defend not only herself, but her property as well and everything on it. She admitted it was difficult to keep up with the men in the class, but it did not impede her in any way, as she made up her mind that she was going to get through the task that was demanded of her.

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When asked her impressions of McNamara’s class, she had this to say: “My father always said buy the best and learn from the very best. There are no people on earth better with guns than Delta Force Members. I appreciated Pat explaining things I did not understand and he took the time and had the patience with me to make the things right that I needed to get right. The fact that Pat treated me no different than the men, I respected that immensely.”

Pat McNamara is truly exceptional in all he does and teaches; he is the living embodiment of pushing yourself to being the very best that one can be. His thoughts on self-preservation are truly top-notch, which he has turned into an outstanding book titled Sentinel: Become the Agent in Charge of Your Own Protection Detail. It is a must-read.

Pat McNamara’s training cannot be recommended enough! For more information, go to

Story and photos by Paul Pawela