STORY BY TROY TAYSOM * PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF LARRY VICKERS
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.
IN THE BEGINNING
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.
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.
OPERATION ACID GAMBIT
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.
RETIREMENT AND TRAINING THE CIVILIAN WORLD
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.”
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.
VICKERS AND THE RUSSIAN
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.
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.
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 vickerstactical.com.