[su_heading]What It Takes To Win Under Stress And Under Fire[/su_heading]
Story and photographs by Andre’ M. Dall’au
After unexpected losses of US aircraft by enemy interceptors during Operation Rolling Thunder during Vietnam, the Pentagon looked for ways to increase American pilots’ ability to survive and prevail during a close-in fight. The US Navy started what was called the Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) made famous by the movie TOP GUN. Now every major air force uses a version of this kind of force-on-force or reality-based training. Why? Well, it works! After graduates from DACT were deployed in Vietnam, the Navy’s kill-to-loss ratio against the opposing MiGs between 1965 and 1967 rose from 3.7 to 1 to a whopping 13 to 1. Interestingly, the US Air Force, which had not yet embraced DACT, had its kill ratio worsen during a similar time period. The Air Force finally realized that if they could get a green pilot the equivalent of ten combat engagements using force-on-force training, their odds of surviving a tour of duty went up dramatically, so they started their own DACT program that was included with their world-renowned Red Flag exercises (an advanced aerial combat training) — which has probably saved more pilots than any other combat training offered.
THE USE OF REALITY-BASED scenario training (RBST) is as effective with defensive shooters on the ground as it is with the US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) — more popularly known as Topgun — graduates who now rule the skies. The biggest question, as was faced by Topgun and Red Flag organizations, was how do you realistically challenge someone without actually using live ordnance and drawing real blood? While the Navy and USAF used various kinds of aircraft — including acquired MiGs and other bad-guy equipment, a ground-based gun fight simulation posed a different set of problems.
One of the first solutions was the MILES System used by the military which is basically slaved laser projector mounted on a rifle, machine gun or tank cannon, with related sensors on the opposing force vehicle or personnel that registered appropriate hits and alarmed if the target was disabled or dead. Law enforcement used the FATS system, which is a realistic computer-controlled projected image tha create shoot-don’t-shoot scenarios. The images reacted by appropriately responding to the student by surrendering or collapsing if hit. However, neither system gives much negative feedback beyond a noisy alarm or critique by an instructor.
For many decades competency with firearms was determined by demonstrating accuracy from a static stance with the only variable being the distance to a paper target. Although useful for showing basic firearm competency, it did not provide any simulated stress of dealing with reactionary feedback in a shoot/don’t shoot decision-making situation.
Without a doubt the value shooting at paper bullseyes or silhouettes on a conventional range helps shooters verify their firearms’ accuracy, reliability and enhances the shooter’s proficiency by repetition of correct fundamentals. There is nothing better to make a shooter comfortable with their firearm than by practicing a consistent sight picture and the repeated proper hold so that your muscle memory will perform when needed. But this kind of training does not exercise the shooter’s critical gun-fighting skills to continually evaluate and respond to what is happening around them, challenge their situational awareness or make deadly force decisions rapidly and correctly. Most people revert back to their training when under stress and will perform what they have practiced. If al lof a shotters training was consuted on a static range, then behaviors such as not seeking cover, administrative reloading and not maneuvering to lessen the threat will be a struggle in a life-or-death situation.
ERICK GONZALEZ, with 30 years of military and law-enforcement experience, noted that “reality based scenario training is the answer!” He went on, “RBST is designed to force students to make decisions under stress, and then regardless of right or wrong, good or bad, discuss those decisions and the actions afterwards during an honest critique. It is much better to do that during a scenario, to learn by doing and make your mistakes in a training environment than fail when it is real!” He went on to tell why he decided that range-based training did not sufficiently prepare him to prevail in a gunfight; “right after Hurricane Andrew there was widespread lawlessness, almost anarchy in Miami. As we were pulling up to the scene of an active shooter, my seasoned partner told me matter-of-factly that we would be in a shooting. Sure enough the situation ended up being my first gunfight.” Erick went on, “Almost immediately I realized my standard police department training did not completely prepare me for what I was experiencing; I was trained on maintaining a sight picture and focusing on the front sight, but I couldn’t help but keep my attention on the shooter! Then I remembered my military training when an old E9 told me to keep my pistol slide centered on the middle of the target which I did and won the fight. In addition it seemed that the event took forever, at least ten minutes while in actuality the fight was over in seconds.”
AFTER SURVIVING HIS FIRST SHOOTING Erick questioned himself and his actions; “why couldn’t I concentrate on my front sight, or even hear the person firing next to me or why the shooting seemed to be in slow motion? That’s when I learned about time dilation and the effect of threat-based tunnel vision, and I realized that I had been taught how to shoot at paper but not how to prevail in a gunfight!”
Erick continued to reflect on how that event led him to improve defensive gun fighting for citizens and law enforcement, “I realized that training in a real-world environment, against opposing forces with the same level of performance, or better, would provide our officers with a unique perspective, which allowed for the development and improvement of tactical performance. After witnessing several good, law-abiding individuals in legal troubles due to poor and or inadequate training, I decided to start EMG Training & Consulting, Inc., and bring the many benefits of RBST to legal gun owners.”
TO ACHIEVE THE DESIRED REALISM and high level of knowledge retention, both the role players and students use less-lethal impact weapons and ammunition to provide kinetic feedback. Airsoft pistols (for role players) and plastic pellet projecting weapons (for the students) are used allowing a complete 360-degree experience. The primer-powered pellets are accurate out to common gunfighting distances, and leaves behind a splatter of paint to identify where the pellet hit. While impacting with a respectable force the plastic pellets do not penetrate, but reliably cycle the firearm, and can be loaded and carried just like duty ammo. The plastic pellet training rounds are available in various major service pistol and rifle calibers, and usually can convert a firearm by simply exchanging the slide, bolt and magazine. Once converted, the training firearms can no longer chamber regular ball ammo, but can be reverted at will. That means that a user of a common service pistol can use the exact same model for training so that their sight picture, trigger control, recoil management and even reloading muscle memory can be enhanced instead of confused with a different system
This training also emphasizes the need for the student to respond to hostile fire, even when one of the shots from a bad guy connects. When a student feels an impact, they learn not to look at the nearest coach, observer or trainer and ask, “Am I dead?” Why? Because when it is for real, staying in the fight and putting the bad guy down is the priority while stopping mid-fight to focus on if and where you were shot might have deadly consequences.
Recently in Ohio, a shooter emerged from a vehicle during a routine traffic stop firing an AK-type rifle at the two deputies who were in the unit parked behind him. During the brief exchange, one officer was hit in an extremity that was undoubtedly painful but not an incapacitating or fatal wound. The first officer immediately dropped out of the fight to concentrate on his individual trauma and took no further defensive actions, although the assailant was still actively shooting, eventually expending thirty-seven 7.62x39mm rounds towards the two officers. The second officer who had sustained some minor injuries did not concentrate on his wounds but continued to engage the shooter with aimed pistol fire, fatally wounding him, which ended the rampage. The second officer was the perfect example of staying in the fight, even while bloodied, until the threat was neutralized. That is the desired result of RBST.
Erick explained that the EMG training curricula. “Our RBST is a complete training methodology. It begins by familiarizing the student with their specific defensive equipment which includes their handgun, holster, gear and choice of outerwear. Then the student is walked through the dynamics involving use-of-force in a self- defense situation, emphasizing that just the display, let alone use of deadly force will most assuredly have legal consequences.” Erick continued, “The student then performs live-fire drills designed to test their gear and equipment, and once the student feels comfortable he or she is introduced to real-world scenarios.”
THE USE OF APPROPRIATE and enthusiastic role players ensures that every interaction is responsive to the performance of the student, and that there is no preconditioning, so the student will not have any idea what their desired response will be before a scenario begins. Erick has a portable, multi-room shoot house that he uses for on-site training that allows defensive shooters a real-world experience of being confronted with various decision-making, shoot/don’t shoot situations. Erick further explained; “The scenarios are exceedingly realistic because the role players might or might not threaten or pose a deadly threat but just be annoying or intrusive. That is to ensure that a CCW holder will not be preconditioned to solve every problem by using a firearm.” Just as with every kind of simulator training the post-scenario discussion is key for a successful training experience, Erick noted, “the student’s response and actions are discussed during the follow-up critique so they can justify and explain their actions. Why did you shoot the guy that approached you shouting with only a cell phone in their hand? Why didn’t you engage the guy with a knife 10 feet away who kept yelling threats and wouldn’t heed your commands to stop? Why didn’t you seek cover that was just 2 feet away? Every student is evaluated during the scenario for performance under stress, the ability to maintain his or her situational awareness, their use of effective communication skills and finally demonstrate the ability to perceive and identify threats and follow through by applying the appropriate level of force.” Erick went on to discuss what his classes have shown him, “during our courses of instruction, I have had the opportunity to work with individuals of varying levels of training and experience. Some of the students with extensive range experience seem to struggle with the most basic of dynamic engagements. One of the most common issues I see is the inability to effectively draw the handgun from concealment once a role player is introduced into the drill. I’ve observed students stay flat-footed in front of the role player as they exchange fire just a few feet away from cover. That may be an unintended consequence of shooting thousands of rounds on ranges where hits count but movement is not allowed!”
Erick and his EMG Training cadre teaches combat gun fighting in threat-based controlled scenarios so that when shooters revert back to their training it will save their life, not respond like they are squared on a motionless, harmless silhouette. Instead they learn to move and seek cover while effectively placing rounds on target in response to real-world, life-threatening situations that have become all too common place where we live, work and play. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more information on Erick Gonzalez and EMG Training Consulting, you can visit them at emgtrainingconsulting.com