When it comes to who is the better shooter and why, men or women, the iconic Irving Berlin duet from Annie Get Your Gun immediately springs to mind. “Anything you can do I can do better! I can do anything better than you” is sung while Annie Oakley and Frank Butler prepare for the climactic sharpshooting contest in the classic Broadway musical. For an object as functionally gender-neutral as a gun, why is it that each of the sexes assumes they are better adept at mastering it? Any quality instructor will tell you the real weapon is not the gun. The educated mind that controls the gun possesses the real power. Therefore, do men and women learn and process information differently especially with a gun in hand?
“men are quick to act and apply aggression in a dynamic self-defense scenario”
There is still much uncharted territory when it comes to the human mind. The scientific community offers studies of both children and adults that prove more similarities between the sexes than there are differences at the biological level. Painting with a wide brush can lead dangerously down a path that reinforces gender-specific stereotypes and hinders learning down range. That being said, touching on some of the salient points that make men and women unique is worth investigating.
From an instructor’s perspective, new male shooters tend to learn better when introduced to a concept or technique by presenting the mechanics of the skill first and then putting that activity into context. Women tend to learn the same skill best when introduced to the context of when and why that particular skill is important and then taught the mechanics of putting it to use. The result is the same: the student learns both the action and the application, though from opposite perspectives. Both are fully capable of executing the skill set with precise fine and gross motor skills, regardless of gender, and put it to use when and where appropriate in the real world.
Male and female brains have a number of well-documented structural differences that illustrate how men and women process information. One major difference is in the grey and white matter of the brain and how the sexes use it all to process information. The female brain utilizes more white matter (the connective network that links the information and action processing centers of the brain) by a multiple of 10, and that may be why women are considered better at making social connections, observational connections and are better at multi-tasking than men. By contrast, men utilize seven times more gray matter (the information and action centers that are localized in different regions of the brain), which is largely why men are attributed with being good at task-focused activities, having tunnel vision or a “one-track mind.”
“Women often need to be taught how to tap into that aggressive and competitive part of themselves”
New firearm students offer the best opportunity to see these differences in action, especially in a high-stress environment like their first force-on-force class. Students often break down into two categories that display these brain behaviors without prejudice. Women can be observed as seeing and processing a wide range of critical information, yet they often hesitate to take specific action, while in a first-time force-on-force scenario men can be observed to identify one specific problem and focus intently on it missing other threats entirely. This isn’t to say that both aren’t guilty of making the same beginner mistakes, nor does it mean that these mistakes can’t be corrected with proper instruction.
Flipping the Chemical Switch
The male and female brain differ at a chemical level as well. Women produce more oxitocin and seratonin than men. These two chemicals are associated with an ability to be calmer and have more relationship and bonding behaviors. Men, on the other hand, produce more testosterone that is associated with varied levels of aggression and impulsiveness. Both men and women produce these neurochemicals, but to varying levels. The very nature of self- and home defense require a realistic preparation for an uncomfortable level of violence. Women are the largest growing demographic in the firearms community largely because of an interest in being able to protect themselves and the ones they love.
The fact that they are taking ownership and personal responsibility for their safety rather than deferring to their male counterparts for protection proves that they are capable of flipping the chemical switch to face violence head on. Not only are women making the retail investment of the gun and the gear, but they’re also investing in their continued education on how to use them in context with their lives.
“Mankind has proven time and again that such defining traits are not exclusive to either sex”
Joining a firing line with a dozen bearded, molle-covered, tactical hipsters is out of the question for most women new to shooting. Women generally prefer to begin their journey into the world of firearms by training with other women. This birds-of-a-feather model is successful in part because it appeals to a woman’s inclination towards social interaction and community.
Men represent the predominant student population of run-and-gun, tactical-ninja, and gun-camp courses. These courses are generally physically intense, mentally taxing, and speak directly to understanding violence and how to counter it in kind. This isn’t to say that women don’t also enjoy the athleticism and aggressive nature of shoot house, force-on-force or vehicle close-quarter battle training, but it is typically not their initial launching point for learning. While men are quick to act and apply aggression in a dynamic self-defense scenario, they often need to be taught how to slow down and take in the details so they can take appropriate action. Women, by contrast, often need to be taught how to tap into that aggressive and competitive part of themselves to apply that same action.
Mankind has proven time and again that such defining traits are not exclusive to either sex. We didn’t attain apex-predator status without a brain that made us adaptable problem-solvers. For all of the differences that have been observed between the male and female brain there is no evidence that one is more optimized for firearms use than the other. Having an understanding of these types of gender-specific tendencies helps instructors build curriculums and better communicate with students. A desire to learn and a commitment to personal development down range is the only differentiating factor between the Annie Oakleys, Frank Butlers and everyone else in the shooting world. The gun allows us a unique opportunity to meet at the firing line, cast off societal stereotypes and engage in friendly competition to prove just how alike we really are. AmSJ
Women produce more oxitocin and seratonin – two chemicals associated with the ability to be calmer and have more bonding behaviors – than men, while men produce more testosterone – which is associated with varied levels of aggression and impulsiveness – than women. Women generally prefer social groups and training with other women. National women’s groups have sprung up over the past decade such as The Well Armed Woman and A Girl With A Gun. Whitlock, Jody Chase, Christi Hissong, Lisa Kendrick and Joy Corrant.
Transforming your Purse or Man Bag into a Life-Saving Kit
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY TATIANA WHITLOCK
More often than not I encounter women who have their concealed-carry permit yet leave their gun at home. During the first six months after receiving my permit I did too. Just like so many, I was almost more fearful of being under prepared to bring the gun than I was about my own safety. I had the gun, holster, belt and more than a few hours spent down range, but had no idea how to transition from the range to carrying every day. What was missing? The tools and the knowledge to address the moments before, during and after the critical seconds when shots are fired. I had never heard of an EDC (every-day carry) kit until the desire to be fully prepared brought me back to the store to accessorize appropriately.
For many women, having an understanding of what key tools and skills are essential to avoid, survive and thrive past a deadly-force encounter makes the difference in living the concealed-carry lifestyle.
Selecting the essential items for your EDC kit is about choosing purpose-specific, quality, functional items that give you as much advantage in a fight as possible. Tools that help you avoid or evade an attack are a good place to start.
LIGHT & SIGHT Without proper vision you are compromising your situational awareness and therefore giving your potential attacker a significant advantage. Simply put, what you can’t see can hurt you. This goes for dark places as well as extremely bright ones. A carefully chosen handheld light source and polarized glasses allow you the most visibility and the greatest opportunity to avoid a potential attack. Selecting a light from the hundreds on the market can be a bit overwhelming. Choose a quality metal light that fits comfortably in your hand and in a coat pocket. How bright does it need to be? The highest lumen output you can afford is the best option to go with. The goal is to simulate high-noon daylight in the darkest of places so you can avoid a problem as far away from it as possible. A handheld light with an aggressive crenulated bezel can also serve as a less-lethal striking tool if things get up close and personal.
Sunglasses are an every day item we take for granted. You probably already carry a pair with you, or at least have a pair in your car. Sunglasses maintain your ability to comfortably see your surroundings and prevent limited vision caused by squinting. I wear Rudy Project Rydon glasses. They are stylish, kid-proof, have flexible lenses, are polarized and very comfortable.
Hopefully, you will never have to use your concealed-carry pistol to defend your life. You realize that bad things can happen, and you have chosen to be prepared if they do. Carrying concealed means you have taken responsibility for your own safety regardless of the crime statistics in your hometown. Why then would you carry an extra magazine if the odds are you wouldn’t even have use your gun? For the very same reason you carry in the first place: you’d rather have your gun and not need it than need it and not have it.
I would rather have a spare magazine, especially when carrying a subcompact with limited ammo capacity, than need those additional life-saving rounds and not have them. Whether to stop multiple attackers, if you’re a poor shot under stress or possibly suffer a nasty malfunction, that extra magazine could mean the difference between having a functional gun or a fist full of useless metal in the fight of your life.
PROBLEM SOLVERS A few simple tools at your fingertips allow you the empowering ability to solve your own problems without having to ask for help from a stranger. A knife that is legal in your state and a multitool are essential EDC items. The knife has a utilitarian function, as well as a last-resort fighting option if you have some training to accompany it.
The multitool is arguably the most overlooked piece of EDC kit you can carry. You can “MacGyver” minor mechanical issues on your own, fix kids toys no matter where you are, and be every Boy Scout’s hero. The best part is they come in all sizes, from as small as a tube of chapstick to the size of your palm, so finding one that fits your needs is a Google search away. The MultiTasker multitool is a gun-specific design, yet versatile enough for every-day use. Carrying this mini toolbox helps eliminate the opportunity for someone to see you as easy prey for a minor fix.
The big “no-kidding” item in your kit is your cell phone. Beware the trap of “phone focus” in public spaces that eliminates your situational awareness and gives an attacker the ultimate advantage of surprise. The phone is your means of letting family know where you are with a quick text and is your lifeline to law enforcement and emergency medical care. Strategically, it needs to be located somewhere in your purse or on your person that you can access quickly, and preferably with your non-firing hand.
Knowing that your phone will likely be taken into evidence when the police arrive, have your attorney’s business card in your wallet. This card can be handed over to the authorities without jeopardizing the investigation if you haven’t committed your lawyer’s number to memory.
SURVIVE AND THRIVE What happens after shots have been fired and you are no longer in danger? Your immediate action is to conduct a self check and make sure you aren’t critically hurt. A wound to an artery can be fatal if not treated appropriately and quickly. Having the tools and skills to render aid for different types of injuries is absolutely critical to carrying concealed.
The time it takes from sustaining the injury, making the 911 call and police rendering the scene safe for EMTs to come find you, can be as little as a few minutes or as long as a few hours. Having a med kit on you and the ability to keep blood in the body no longer makes you seem paranoid. Dark Angel Medical offers the Pocket D.A.R.K. Mini that has everything you need in a small compact package. Whether the injury is yours, a stranger’s or loved ones, you are the first one on scene and it is up to you to take action, stay in the fight and stay alive until the professionals arrive.
Just like your phone, the med kit should be staged in your bag or on your person in a place you can get to quickly and easily. Invest in the training to know how to use the life-saving materials in your med kit. The good news is you don’t have to be a Harvard med grad to learn how to apply a tourniquet or a rocket scientist to know how to identify a wound.
SET UP FOR SUCCESS
Blending the gun and all of its supporting gear into a daily routine discretely, seamlessly and effortlessly is empowering. Unlike our male counterparts, most women don’t wear baggy cargo pants with ample pocket space to hide a pile of gear. We do carry purses, pocketbooks, backpacks and clutches almost every day, however. Just like your gun, you need to access these tools quickly. Combining the Raven Concealment Moduloader Pocket Shield with a Blueforce Gear double pistol mag pouch, for example, makes an efficient and modular carrier.
Fill the pockets or clip-on items so that they are in the same place every time. Position the kit in an outer pocket that you can get to quickly without having to unbuckle or unzip if possible. Not only does this setup keep your tools at your fingertips, it is easy to move from one bag to the next. Changing out your day bag for an evening bag no longer means having to leave key EDC items at home.
Strategically invest in quality equipment and functional tools. Ultimately, the concealed-carry lifestyle goes beyond the retail investment and requires an ongoing commitment to learn and train. Sure, there are other items that can be incorporated into this kit such as pepper spray and tasers, and there are both on- and off-body carry options in addition to your pocketbook setup. It’s all in the training.
In the moments before, during and after the gun is drawn there are only a few pieces of kit you will be reaching for or wishing you had. AmSJ
The Trend Data shows that Women feel Responsible for their own Protection
Story and Photographs by Tatiana Whitlock
Every day, women become less of a minority amongst American gun owners. The trend data shows that women feel responsible for their own protection and are taking the necessary steps to ensure it.
Even more interesting is the quietly growing number of females who are participating in self-defense firearms courses that go beyond the basics. What these courses offer are aspects of shooting that relate directly to real life. Spatial and situational awareness as well as firearm manipulation techniques are just a few of those concepts.
The combination of these skill sets begins to introduce a new shooter to thinking outside of the gun. They learn what the gun’s role needs to be depending on the wide variety of potential situations, and there are a number of ways to incorporate this into your home and range practice. By combining real-to-you environments, distances and manipulation techniques you become better prepared for the world outside of the range. After all, the reason so many women carry and have home-defense firearms is to be prepared if they must use them. Aim to transform your plinking time to reality-inspired training by designing a training plan that builds mental and physical proficiency in your daily life.
Training in Context
To obtain a concealed-carry permit, people must pass proficiency shooting requirements. Those vary from state to state, but most have a minimum standard of 3 to 10 yards. Much of this comes from the self-defense magic number of 7 yards, or 21 feet. Though it does establish a baseline, 7 yards is rather limiting and often becomes a comfort zone that many shooters fail to train beyond. Rarely are the circumstances such that a deadly force encounter occurs at a nice, neat 7 yards, and more importantly, there are other distances that more accurately relate to your unique living situation and are worth considering when building your training regimen.
The distance from your pillow to the bedroom door could be as little as 4 feet. A stairwell comprised of 16 steps measures roughly 13 feet from the first step to the landing.
Transferring each to the gun range gives you real, scenario-based distances that are applicable to your home.
Grab a measuring tape and reintroduce yourself to your home. What is the shortest, average and longest distance from which an intruder could attack you? For example: The average American bedroom measures 120 square feet and is required by building code R304 to have no less than 7 linear feet in any direction. Translation: The distance from your pillow to the bedroom door could be as little as 4 feet. A stairwell comprised of 16 steps measures roughly 13 feet from the first step to the landing. For some, the longest distance in your home may exceed the 21-foot distance where so many of us are comfortable shooting.
No one knows your home like you do. Commit to memory a mental snapshot of your view from each engagement area. These measurements now translate to real environments filled with furniture, fixtures, lighting and sounds. The values may be uncomfortably close and personal or surprisingly farther than you expected. Transferring each to the gun range gives you real, scenario-based distances that are applicable to your home.
For those carrying concealed, it is worth repeating this exercise for other places and spaces you frequent. A long aisle at the grocery store could measure 46 feet or more. What is the distance from the parking garage floor entrance to your regular parking space? Translate these distances into your personal training plan. Set your targets at distances meaningful to your everyday life and bring an element of reality into the artificial training environment of the square range. While it is our hope that we are never faced with a situation requiring us to take that long shot, it is our responsibility to be proficient at all relative distances.
Training in Character
Set your target at your closest, middle and longest distance and practice each one. Working your longest distance first will force you to slow down and focus. Close your eyes and visualize the environment, the sounds of your home, what it feels like to be in that space. Now get into character and imagine: There is an intruder brandishing a weapon and making threats to your life as they menacingly advance towards you. Choose to be confident, calm, focused and in control. Open your eyes and maintain this mental image and mindset as you draw, acquire your sight picture and alignment, press the trigger and follow through.
Complete the sequence of fire with a visual scan and assess as you visualize, searching the area around the downed intruder to confirm they are no longer a threat to you and that they didn’t bring friends. Look around and behind you, maintaining muzzle awareness at all times, and keep your firearm pointed down range at your imagined threat. Where are your kids? Where is the dog? Just because rounds are fired doesn’t mean your job is done. Breathe. For the sake of practice, re-holster, reset your mind, your gear and your target distance for another round.
Look around and behind you, maintaining muzzle awareness at all times, and keep your firearm pointed down range at your imagined threat. Where are your kids? Where is the dog? Just because rounds are fired doesn’t mean your job is done.
Top athletes use this mental rehearsal technique to connect the psychological and physical components of a performance or event for optimal results under stress. The more vivid imagery you choose, the greater confidence and control you will have under stress. Those training with personal protection in mind fully expect that critical life-saving moment will be an extreme and stressful experience. Build in the necessary survival mindset into every dry-fire and live-fire training session.
Breaking away from training at comfortable distances and areas where you already excel can result in less than ideal-looking targets, initially. Become less focused on making targets worthy of bragging rights and more concerned with spending your time and ammunition working on perfecting the tough stuff. With a little planning, you can make your next trip to the range a more meaningful one by working on the scenarios, real-world distances and life-saving mindset to hone your shooting skills even further.
You just may find that a measuring tape could be the next accessory you add to your range bag! AmSJ
A well-made, accurate and good-looking AK-47 that is 100 percent made in the USA with no imported parts actually exists. Century Arms introduced the C39v2, 7.62x39mm semiautomatic rifle in 2014, and it continues to exceed our expectations. After receiving quite a bit of user feedback from the original C39, Century Arms made some intelligent changes and upgrades, resulting in the C39v2, which has set it apart from other AKs on the market. Even AK purists are having a hard time finding fault with their latest C39 variant.
While elegant isn’t a term usually associated with an AK-47, the C39v2 earns the descriptor. With a milled receiver machined from a solid 11-pound block of 4140 ordnance-quality steel and lightening grooves on each side, gone is the rough industrial look of the traditional stamped AK. Marry this receiver to the high-quality wooden forend furniture and Warsaw-length stock, finish the receiver and barrel inside and out in black nitrite, and you have one classy-looking rifle!
Century Arms’ C39v2 offers many upgrades from their earlier versions, and is California-law compliant.
The obvious upgrades to the v2 include the sights, magazine release and safety that have been changed from the original Century Arms C39. After much feedback they brought back the traditional AK iron sights, allowing those with standard AK sight tools to breathe a sigh of relief. The new oversized T-shaped extended magazine catch might appear to be cumbersome at first glance; however, just as oversized controls on pistols and shotguns have proven useful, the v2’s large release proved an asset for aggressive and fast magazine changes. Proof in point that bigger can be better. The safety has a very positive, crisp feel, and includes a notched detail that receives the charging handle and locks it in place, keeping the bolt open. In combination with the modified dust cover the C39v2 safety won’t over-rotate past the dust cover, as with some stamped AKs, and is easy to remove for servicing.
The integrated Green Mountain barrel has a 1:10 twist and a concentric left-hand 14×1 metric thread that comes equipped with a chevron muzzle break.
Century Arms didn’t cut corners when it came to components. Green Mountain makes the C39v2’s 16.5-inch barrel with a 1:10 twist and a concentric left-hand 14×1 metric thread that comes equipped with a chevron muzzle break. They chose a high quality barrel and used black nitrite to coat it inside and out, which ensures longevity and accuracy over the life of the gun. Similarly, the double-stack bolt design and lightening slots in the bolt carrier – whether you are a fan of that feature or not – show quality machining throughout.
Century Arms has streamlined the lines of this AK by engineering a milled receiver using 4140 ordnance-quality steel and lightening grooves on each side.
Century Arms answered the demand for a better trigger in the v2 by creating and manufacturing the RAK-1 trigger group. Using a double-hook single-stage trigger with Wolf springs, the RAK-1 is arguably the closest thing to an AK match-grade trigger on the market. An innovative relief cut allows the RAK-1 to be used in receivers designed to only accept single-hook triggers. Most AK triggers require polishing on the top to eliminate bolt hang up. The RAK-1’s top-profile design is already optimized, making additional tweaking unnecessary. For an AK trigger the RAK-1 has very little uptake, breaks at 5 pounds and has a crisp reset. While this trigger is nothing fancy compared to what the M4 market is accustomed to, it is well made, does the job and fits other AK-variant rifles and pistols such as the RAS47, WASR, N-PAP and C39s.
But how does it shoot?Get the rifle off the bench and onto the range! Zeroing from the prone position at 100 yards with Wolf ammo, the C39v2 shot a consistent 2-inch group. Why zero at 100? Because friends don’t let friends zero AKs at 7 yards! Century Arms claims that the C39v2 shoots one minute of angle out of the box, which very well may be the case in the hands of a more experienced AK enthusiast.
Over the 500-plus rounds fired through this gun while testing, there were no malfunctions other than the most infuriating and common AK malfunction: running dry! The rifle cycled with boring reliably and smooth operation without interruption, as is expected of a well-made AK. If you love AKs, you probably love a pump shotgun for the physical handling required to effectively run both. Reloads are the best example: rocking the empty mag out with a new one and slamming the next one home isn’t a delicate operation. Simply put, the more aggressive you are with this AK, the better it performs.
Concerning the C39v2’s durability: It’s an AK. They were designed to be driven over, dropped, submerged, survive the Russian “push up test” (where the person doing the pushup balances the AK upright on the magazine, and holds each end while conducting pushups – all the weight, pressure and balance point is on the magazine resting on the ground) and run as intended, depending on the volume of gravel accumulated in the action. That being said, it’s easy to tear down, clean and get back up and running because, well, it’s an AK. Being made with quality components only stands to increase the C39v2’s durability and longevity in the hands of a hard-use discerning shooter.
Downsides to the C39v2?For some, the additional weight from the milled receiver that brings the rifle to a whopping 8.2 pounds may be an issue. Because Century Arms designed the receiver to be compatible with after-market modern Kalashnikovs (slight modifications may be required) and polymer furniture, these components can be changed out if weight is that critical. Gym memberships may also be an option for consideration.
According to Tatiana, the only malfunction she encountered while testing the C39v2 was running dry.
The chevron muzzle break may be the only component that some would wish to change out. That being said, it’s a simple procedure, and arguably the only metal component on the rifle that may not suit an AK shooter’s tastes. A contemporary AK shooter will wish there was a side mount for optics while AK traditionalists may shed a tear when they find the C39v2 lacks a bayonet lug and cleaning rod. However, this allows it to adhere to California laws, and is available in a bullet button version to make West Coasters leap with joy.
Out of the box the v2 already has the majority of value-added upgrades most enthusiasts look to change in stock versions. Century Arms has delivered an affordable, quality AK with the added patriotic benefit of sourcing and making it entirely in the US. Given our nation’s ever-changing import bans and regulations, having an AK-47 manufacturer stateside that listens to its customers and is willing to evolve their product is a great asset to the US firearms community. As more shooters experience the C39v2 and appreciate it, the only question that remains is, can Century Arms keep up with demand? ASJ
Review by Gy6vids Youtuber:
-The shooting test is not an accuracy test but on quick target acquisition
-Gy6 takes the C39V2 through its pace by going through some target acquisition – doing single, double and triple taps with magazine change.
-A great feature that you can install is the increase paddle mag release. It will help you do magazine change quickly with this ambidextrious paddle.
-Gy6 also does some dirt torture testing, where he tosses the C39V2 into the dirt with the bolt closed and open and fires it with no problems.
-If you’re looking to decrease your trigger pull down to 3 lbs, have a look at CMC triggers.
Some advantages to having this weapon is the ammo.
-Ammunition, the 7.62x39mm has some oomph when compared to the .223 round. This obviously has more stopping power at close range and long ranges. For home defense, its perfect for close quarter encounter, its not likely that you will be sniping at your burglar.
-Ammo economics, for some high quality brands of 7.62x39mm costs about $225 per 1,000 rounds. (thats not bad)
Review by Tatiana Whitlock • Photography by Oleg Volk
[su_heading size=”30″]Who Is Tatiana Whitlock?[/su_heading]
BY ROBIN TAYLOR • PHOTOGRAPHS BY OLEG VOLK
Owner of ID Target Systems, Whitlock created a reactive, visually lifelike target complete with interchangeable components that allow the target and its threat level to be modiﬁed per scenario.
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]T[/su_dropcap]o look at her, this slight, almost elﬁn woman doesn’t look like a “gun person.” With her hair in a short “pixie” cut, her dark eyes contrast sharply with her “winter” coloring, making them look larger than they actually are.
After just four years in the shooting world, Tatiana Whitlock ﬁnds herself a spokeswoman for the NRA Women’s Network and a member of the Maine Hunters TV pro-staﬀ. She’s quickly changed from industrial designer to a ﬁrearms instructor, active hunter and owner of a target manufacturing company. In some way that’s probably why the NRA picked her. She symbolizes the dynamic, independent lives that women in America lead.
I caught up with Tatiana at home, and got a chance to chat with her about her journey. Although she did a little bird hunting with her brothers and father as a kid, she walked away from that life until she had children of her own. Her husband at the time encouraged her to get out and socialize, to do something for herself – this led to an NRA Women On Target event.
“I was surrounded by 25 to 30 women who ranged from experienced shooters, to people who were absolutely terriﬁed and trembling,” says Whitlock. “By the end of that day I was completely hooked. I purchased my ﬁrst ﬁrearm two weeks later.”
That weekend excursion set Whitlock on a course that would change her life. She started shooting at an outdoor range on “ladies night,” and learned about an entirely diﬀerent side of ﬁrearms ownership.
“Once a week, we’d get together to talk and shoot until we ran out of daylight or ammunition,” says Whitlock.
Whitlock’s company, ID Target Systems, incorporates balloons in the head and heart areas. These suspend and consequently drop the target when the shooter has made a critical hit, offering immediate feedback.
On the advice of a salesman, she bought a Beretta Neos .22 and shot that for a while, before her martial-artists’ aesthetic began to assert itself. Whitlock grew up with the martial arts, starting in shaolin kempo at age 10.
“I’ve always loved the beauty of it from an artistic point of view.” In high school, she earned her black belt, then started Brazilian jiu-jitsu while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design. Unbeknownst to her, she’d need both before she graduated.
“Being a bit naive I attended some venues I wouldn’t attend now that I’m a knowledgeable adult,” she recalls.
At one point a man attempted to kidnap Whitlock – much to his dismay.
“Fortunately, my mother sent me to college with a black belt. The gentleman who attempted to whisk me out a back door and stick me into the trunk of a vehicle wasn’t successful,” Whitlock says and chalks up that experience and successful escape to training and absolute determination.
That close brush with danger reinvigorated her interest in the applied martial arts, eventually taking her down a diﬀerent artistic path. Krav maga is both modern and hard-edged. It drops the formality of the more rigid Asian styles, choosing to train in regular street clothes and focus on defense against real-world-based attacks, including multiple opponents. It wasn’t long before the krav maga mindset began to inﬁltrate the way Whitlock looked at ﬁrearms.
“My interest in ﬁrearms is not from a ‘gaming’ perspective,” says Whitlock. “I’m interested in the martial side of it. I want to learn to use my weapons in the environment where I might need them, and realistically, that’s inside a structure.”
While shooting with the ladies’ night group, she bought an S&W MP 9 and started taking the two- to four-day training courses available from local instructors. “I ran into lots of military doctrine from the 1990s,” she says.
Just as there are diﬀerent martial arts, there are diﬀerent schools of ﬁrearms training. Some are competition-oriented, some military-oriented and some focus on civilian self-defense. Whitlock started gathering samples of all of the above, developing her particular take on the subject. After taking all the courses available locally, “I started getting on airplanes and visiting people around the US,” she says.
She trained with Steve “the Yeti” Fisher (owner of Sentinel Concepts), whom she describes as “a 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-pound mammoth of a man, and an incredible instructor,” followed by others. Gradually, she found schools that broke out of the “square-range” mentality, emphasizing a 360-degree dynamic.
Recently she’s been training with Pat Rogers, John Chapman and Doc Spears of EAG Tactical.
“EAG oﬀers a close-quarter-battle shoot-house program wherein students learn what it means to ﬁght in buildings,” says Whitlock. “The shoot-house environment became the conduit for me to translate the square-range environment into skills that people can use everyday.”
An experience in that shoot house led to Whitlock launching her business. During a room-clearing exercise, Whitlock engaged a series of targets meant to impersonate people, but didn’t do a very good job.
“I walked past a target because I looked at it and my mind didn’t register it as a threat – I saw a box behind a big-screen TV. I went home with that experience and created what later became the ID Target System. It’s a 3D, true-to-life torso with a photo realistic image printed on the target. It is suspended from a balloon, so it falls when hit in a critical area. It adds that additional level of realism – that’s an actual face looking at you, not just a piece of cardboard,” she says.
Whitlock’s background in industrial design included making and patenting polymer products for the medical and packaging industry. This is the background she pulled from to create her target systems.
The targets work in layers. The base layer has an image of a person holding a gun, but there are patches that add a second layer – changing the image so that it shows someone holding a cell phone, or a knife, or another gun. The patches not only change the threat level, they resurface the impact zone, repairing the target for further use.
[su_heading size=”17″ align=”left”]Story by Tatiana Whitlock[/su_heading]
Trace Sargent and Cinco
[su_dropcap style=”light”]L[/su_dropcap]ooks can be profoundly deceiving. At first glance, Tracy “Trace” Sargent could easily be a high-powered corporate CEO or lead a marketing firm. This petite Georgia blond with a commanding presence and the charisma and intellect to match, looks like she would fit elegantly at the head of a boardroom. You certainly don’t envision this refined, vibrant woman with a sweet Southern drawl to be out enthusiastically hunting lost persons, getting dirty, crawling through rubble, or chasing down fugitives by moonlight. Yet that is exactly what she has been doing with her K9 partners for over 20 years, gracefully shattering stereotypes and saving lives along the way.
One of Sargent’s pack members Chance
Sargent is one of the nation’s leading K9 handlerswho specializes in search, rescue and recovery missions. It’s not something most people want to think about, but there is nothing more precious than a specialized K9 team when loved ones are lost or missing.
One conversation with Sargent and you realize that she is one of those extraordinary people who found her calling, changed her life’s path accordingly and never looked back. A story in Reader’s Digest would depict her as someone who went from not knowing which end of the dog wagged to founding K9 Search and Rescue Specialists, Inc. (K9 SARS) in Georgia. Sargent has also been a program manager for Homeland Security, and has conducted search missions across the globe.
The article Sargent credits with starting it all was of a woman and her German shepherd who found a missing three-year-old boy in the woods. The short story resonated with her. “If she could do it, dog gone it, so could I!” recalls Sargent. She could clearly see that having a specialized tool, a K9 partner, to help people in need was her calling in life. The switch was flipped and a dog enthusiast and her pet were transformed into a nationally acclaimed, life-saving K9 team.
“I want to end my life’s sentence with an exclamation point, not a question mark.”
Chance receives national recognition with CNN in 2013.
Sargent’s methods for teaching her dogs, and herself, on how to find a human being would time and again prove successful, but the scope and depth of her knowledge in public safety didn’t stop there. After her initial beginning, Sargent asked herself, “What if I actually found somebody? What am I going to do?” That’s when she became an EMT. Throughout her work, she noticed that most of the crews used specialty radios. “Everyone was using these funny radios,” Sargent notes, so she learned how to use them and became a certified HAM radio operator. As she was working with firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel, she asked, “Ya’ll get paid to have this much fun?” She then became a firefighter, police officer and certified in emergency management. She has also earned several college degrees along the way, and continues her life-long passion for learning, as evidenced by her recent certification as a forensic sketch artist, putting her naturally gifted artistic talents to work in the never-ending battle of good versus evil. Any one of these professions can define a career, but Sargent gracefully embodies them all.
Sargent and her K9 teams have been deployed on numerous highprofile cases, such as the search for Natalee Holloway, the teenager who disappeared in Aruba in 2005; the Casey Anthony case, a mother accused and acquitted of murdering her two-year-old daughter; and the runaway bride case, where Jennifer Wilbanks disappeared four days before her wedding. At any time Sargent can be found searching through the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and tornadoes like the one that decimated Tuscaloosa, Ala., for survivors or human remains. (DAVE MARTIN)
Chance, Cinco and Drako are three of Sargent’s current K9 partners. All are highly trained in search, rescue and recovery, and are some of the most highly decorated dogs in the country. Cinco, a 10-year-old black German shepherd, is perhaps her most talented K9 partner. By the time he was a year old, he had received five national certifications. His predecessor Brooke, a sable German shepherd, was the first dog licensed for SAR work in Georgia, and is honored in the Georgia Animal Hall Of Fame. Together, Sargent and her dogs have found lost children, Alzheimer’s patients and tracked down violent domestic terrorists such as Eric Rudolf, who was known as the Olympic Park Bomber and was responsible for a series of bombings across the South between 1996 and 1998.
Cadaver dog Chance sits on a pile of rubble during a search for tornado survivors in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, April 30, 2011. The dogs will sit when they come across the scent of humans. (DAVE MARTIN)
The great affection and intense professional relationship between Sargent and her K9 partners is undeniable. While at home they are very much her “kids,” when it is time to get in the truck and respond to a call the dynamic shifts. In the field the mutual respect and professionalism forged through thousands of hours spent working together appears to manifest in an almost telepathic connection. For example, watching Sargent and Chance move through the debris of crushed homes in Tuscaloosa, it is clear the dog’s tuned senses are an extension of Sargent’s instincts, and her ability to translate for her partner enables them to communicate what they find to those who simply don’t speak dog.
K9 Search and Rescue Specialists Inc., Tracy Sargent works with her cadaver dog Chance as they search a wooded area for survivors in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Wednesday, May 4, 2011. (DAVE MARTIN)
Like Sargent, her K9 teammates can’t be measured by first impressions. You might think that these exquisite breed specimens, with such skill and intelligence must be hand picked from very specific breeders – not the case! “They are all rejects,” says Sargent lovingly. Either a show dog with a cosmetic defect that left him unfit for the championship ring or castoffs in line to be euthanized at the local pound, Sargent’s team is made up of great minds, not pedigrees. She admits, “Not every dog is meant for the kind of work and lifestyle that a SAR dog leads, and shepherds and Labs tend to be more naturally inclined for the job.” It takes a special personality and temperament as much for the dog as for their human to do the work and thrive in a work environment filled with death and destruction.
Search and rescue is not without its perils or personal sacrifice. Logan, one of Sargent’s first dogs, was killed in the line of duty. Although that was over 10 years ago, the loss is still one she can’t bring herself to speak about, except to say, “I have learned that it is OK to be afraid. You just can’t let that fear stop you from living.” Sargent even joined the front lines and served overseas in Iraq as a bomb-dog handler, contributing her array of skills in the fight against global terrorism and keeping Americans safe. While some calls result in the joy of finding a missing hiker or child who is still alive, other calls have a grim and emotionally
The dogs in Sargent’s team are made up of what she lovingly calls “rejects.” Some were scheduled to be euthanized and were instead saved from the pound, while others were considered cosmetically flawed to be considered as show dogs. (RALPH REICHERT)
Cinco receives national recognition with Good Day Atlanta in 2013.
On the lighter side, Sargent is a trainer who developed and instructed an award-winning training program for the state of Georgia, has coauthored an internationally published book titled How to train a human-remains detection dog and conducts seminars and workshops for groups seeking this type of specialized training. She finds balance on her farm, which she describes as her sanctuary from the craziness of her life and the world. She also volunteers with her local Humane Society and has plans to launch a new program training dogs to partner with our wounded warriors. Among all of this, she also founded STAR K9, a professional animal talent and wrangling business that trains and casts a Noah’s ark of varying animals and their handlers for the entertainment industry.
On a lake in Big Canoe, Ga., a fisherman’s boat was found drifting without the owner. There were no signs of the angler because the lake was so large. Sargent and her K9 team were deployed and alerted on a very specific area. The law enforcement divers found the fisherman in that exact spot. He had suffered from a heart attack, fell out of the boat and sadly drowned. Thanks to Sargent and her team, friends and family were able to give him a proper burial. (RALPH REICHERT)
Porterdale Search – September 22 2007 (RALPH REICHERT)
As much media and publicity as there is about Sargent and her extraordinary dogs, she is a quiet and low-key person. Her dogs remain the keystones of all the interesting things that she has done over the years, from Iraq and TV reality shows to international searches and hometown cases. “It’s incredible to think that it all started with one little puppy. I still can’t believe I’ve been everywhere that I’ve been, had the adventures I’ve had and lived to talk about it!” says Sargent. By now Sargent’s family is comfortable with her ever-evolving career, though early on they were skeptical and worried for her safety. Her life is led not by what society expects her to do or be, but by the natural progression of where her life’s passions have led her. She is often asked why she lives her life “outside the box,” and it is an easy question for her to answer.
“I want to end my life’s sentence with an exclamation point, not a question mark. I don’t want to have any regrets in my life, and if I should live to be a 100, I don’t want to look back and wonder, ‘What if?’ I’m gong to find those answers while I can, and live my life with passion and purpose,” she says.
It is the dedication and service of first responders like Sargent and her dogs that makes our country a safer and more compassionate place. ASJ