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Technique Before Tactics

I stumbled across a great website a few weeks ago (which will be the subject of a future blog once I have time to digest what I’ve learned), and I linked one of the guy’s posts to the Facebook lead-in to THIS blog post. Mountain Guerilla Blog… check it out!

Anyway, the point John Mosby made in his blog post today was encapsulated in the title of this blog entry. Technique has to be mastered before tactics can be effectively utilized. This is not to say a noob can’t use smart tactics to win a fight, of course. Doing the right things slowly is infinitely better than doing the wrong things slowly! But really folks:  to get the most out of your tactics, mastery of shooting fundamentals is essential.

Think about it: the guys who are widely considered the best fighters on the planet–the United States Special Forces Command–are brilliant tacticians, but above all that they are supremely skilled shooters. As a testament to their skill, SF guys do live-fire room-clearing drills with live “hostages” in the room being cleared… and their trust in each other’s skill is such that they take turns being the “hostage”. Would you play that game with anyone you plink with out on the north forty on the weekends? No, of course you wouldn’t. You’d only do that drill with someone you know hits his target every time! 

Over the past several years my Shooting With Xray Vision classes have been fewer and farther between, and have been primarily conducted among law enforcement personnel. (BTW, I’m pleased to be able to say that SXRV is currently POST-certified in CO, MN, NE, and TN.) This is good and bad, from my perspective. It’s good, for me as instructor, because cops have had a basic education in use of deadly force so I don’t have to spend as much time going over the ethics and jurisprudence portion of the class, and the cops who take SXRV tend to be a cut above the average shooter. It’s bad, though, when I consider how many non-sworn citizens could be taking advantage of this training. “Civilian” classes have really dropped off even though LE demand seems to be increasing. 

Anyways, let’s get back to the incident that triggered my thinking for this blog. We have to go back several months to an LE class where the live-fire component was not great… not the whole live-fire component, but one of the critical drills, it was the Brainstem Snap Drill. 

Those of you who have taken this class will remember it. We introduce the concept during the Brainstem Zone of Incapacitation lesson in class. I showed you the video of the cop/soldier taking out the bad guy holding the baby hostage… remember? Of course you do. The Brainstem Snap Drill is based on that video: the point of the BSD is to teach you how to go from a non-threatening stance 2 yards from the subject to muzzle-contact distance and release of the shot into the brainstem in less than .75 seconds. 

Step one:  pistol in your dominant hand, at your side. Step two: literally, take a step; a giant step. Step three: bring pistol up to full extension as you step forward. Step four: release the shot the instant your sights are on the brainstem. 

Simple, right? 

Wrong!! In this particular class, almost none of the officers present could release the shot at the moment the sights/muzzle reached the release point. Instead of step/extend-BANG!, it was step, then extend, then muzzle waver, then sort of bang. A 0.75 second maneuver was taking more than 2 seconds, which negates the utility of the drill/maneuver. The BSD is an example of sudden application of violent action, and to my mind possibly the best example of this principle. But instead of being able to demonstrate this maneuver in the first 15 minutes of the live-fire segment of SXRV, I had to spend almost an hour with the class on a square range line taking them through push-out drills (first 2-handed, then strong hand only) to get them to the point of being able to release the shot at the instant of optimal extension. 

SXRV is not a tactics class,  it is an advanced technique class. Yes, we do some “tactical” exercises to illustrate the utility of the techniques, but I don’t teach tactics… I leave that to the experts in that field, of which I am definitely not one. I made the mistake of trying to teach tactics early on, and realized very quickly that isn’t my place. (Those of you who I may have offended by doing that back in that day, I again apologize…)  But a shooter cannot utilize the lessons I teach in SXRV unless s/he has the ability to put their bullets precisely where they are needed on demand. That neessarily requires a level of skill, a level of mastery of the fundamentals of shooting, that is well beyond basic. 

This is why I started telling people who want to host or attend a class that attendees must be able to perform at an advanced level to get the most out of my classes, and that if they can’t perform to an advanced standard, they are not going to be able to do the things I teach. It doesn’t matter what equipment you have, or whose advanced tactics classes you’ve taken, or any of that other stuff. You have to be able to shoot to a competent standard or you’re wasting your time. You’re not wasting my time, because you’ve already paid me by the time class starts. But it definitely frustrates me when this sort of thing happens, you betcha! 

What do I consider an appropriate level of performance, you ask? Well, that’s not easy to define, but I can approximate it. If you can consistently pass your police pistol qualification course at an above-average score, you’re probably there. If you’re an IPSC B Class shooter or an IDPA Sharpshooter Class shooter, you’re probably there. If you can’t draw from the holster and consistently make A-zone hits on an IPSC target at 10 yards in 1.8 seconds or less, you’re probably not there. If you can’t do a push-out drill and make the same hit in 1.0 seconds or less, you’re probably not there. And if you can’t do the BSD in 1.0 seconds or less, you’re probably not there. Note that I give times here. I don’t mean estimated times, or having your buddy time you with a stopwatch. I’m talking about using a shot timer to quantify your performance! If you don’t have a timer, get one. You need one to measure your progress and improvement, to motivate you to smooth out your moves, to stop you from bullshitting yourself about your performance

But here’s the good news: if you practice those drills 2-3 times per week, with a shot timer, from the time you put down your money to take that tactical shooting class next month, or that SXRV class next month, you will improve your performance to at least the minimum level required.  

Please reread that last sentence. Note that I am not telling you that you suck and your gun is stupid. I am telling you that if you cannot perform to a standard that I and many other consider a minimum standard for being able to win in a gunfight, it is entirely within your power to change that fact! 

Fundamentals before fun, folks. Technique trumps tactics. 

Buy a timer. Go to the range and burn up some ammo in a productive manner. Improve your technique. Do it again. Do it regularly. Pistol-shooting is a perishable skill, but the more you train, the better you get, and the quicker your skills will return to you after a training hiatus. 

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Tactical Lifesaver: A Life Saved 2/3/2017

Last week: Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Waupaca County Sheriff’s Deputy Clint Thobaden saved a life using training conducted on our SWAT Team years ago, and reinforced by ongoing training since then. Clint was my friend and colleague when I worked in the Waupaca County Hospital ER, and I had the honor of serving on the County SWAT Team with him.

Last Friday Dep. Thobaden responded to a call from neighboring Portage County to aid in intercepting a stolen car fleeing from police. He set up his squad vehicle at the county line, and soon the fleeing car appeared. He turned on his light bar, and as the suspect realized he was cornered the pursuing deputies executed a felony car stop just up the road from his position. Clint advanced his vehicle to render aid to his brother officers. 

Unbeknownst to the deputies, the fleeing felon had threatened suicide to friends and family during the pursuit. He refused to exit the vehicle when instructed to do so, took out a knife, and while horrified officers watched, sliced his neck open from the angle of his jaw to his trachea. Clint tells me that the bleeding was instantaneous and profuse, which strongly suggested the man had severed at least one major blood vessel in his neck. 

One of the Portage County deputies rushed forward, pulled the suspect from his vehicle, and applied direct pressure to the man’s neck with his hands. However, blood continued to flow freely from the wound. Clint recognized the signs of a major and possibly life-threatening hemorrhage, and rushed forward to assist with lifesaving equipment he carries on his person every time he suits up to go on patrol. 

Rewind the clock ten years, to a classroom on the upper floor of the Waupaca City Police building. A group of 25 or 30 members of the SWAT team were gathered there to learn Combat Lifesaver techniques from their SWAT Medical Officer, Dr. James Williams (yeah, that’s me). We had a pretty good time kidding around with each other as we put tourniquets on ourselves and each other, trained in techniques of needle thoracostomy using packages of vacuum-packed pork ribs, and so on. One of the techniques we discussed and mocked up was the use of synthetic clotting agents. Quikclot Combat Gauze, a relatively new product at the time, was one of the products I had on hand. I showed the Team some videos demonstrating the use of this product on anesthetized pigs that were hemorrhaging from major surgical wounds. The guys were pretty impressed. 

Our department didn’t have the money for “blowout kits” at that time, but many of the guys on the Team made up their own kits. The need for our Team to be prepared for the worst in the Hot Zone was manifestly obvious to us all. Basing his selections on recommendations I passed on from TCCC experts I had trained with, Clint, like many of our SWAT operators, took to carrying his lifesaver equipment on his person not just on SWAT ops, but whenever he was out on Patrol thereafter. That equipment was never required on any of the SWAT ops conducted during my tenure as Medical Officer with that Department, which ended in 2011 when I moved to Texas. 

Fast forward to last Friday night. 

Dep. Thobaden recognized the life-threatening nature of the suspect’s wound, as previously described. He sprinted forward to the bleeding suspect and the contact officer, retrieving his Combat Gauze from his pouch. He deployed the gauze as it was designed, stuffing it into the gaping wound in the suspect’s neck, then applying pressure on the gauze-stuffed wound with both hands. EMS personnel arrived shortly thereafter and secured the dressing per protocol, but by that time the bleeding had been stopped

The suspect was transported to the region’s nearest Level II Trauma Center, where trauma docs removed the dressing and found that the suspect had lacerated his carotid artery, which they then surgically repaired. 

The trauma docs told our guys in Portage and Waupaca Counties that without the effective application of Quikclot Combat Gauze, the suspect would have bled to death in minutes at the scene. In my experience as a certified trauma physician, I can only concur with the doc’s statement that “he would have bled out in less than 3 minutes” without the Combat Gauze.

That misguided and depressed young man is alive today thanks to Deputy Thobaden’s quick action, and has a shot at turning his life around, thanks to his willingness to prepare for such an eventuality by having lifesaving equipment on his person ready for deployment in a rapidly developing life-or-death situation. 

I was contacted by Sheriff Hardel and SWAT Team Captain Todd Rasmussen this morning, at which time they informed me of Clint’s lifesaving action. Better yet, they informed me they intend to equip every deputy in the County with a blowout kit modeled on Clint’s, so every man and woman on the force will be able to act to save a life if called upon to do so as Dep. Thobaden did last Friday. My hat is off to the command staff for taking this step! 

Here at Tactical Anatomy, we have been offering training in critical lifesaving skills for officers and civilians in the Hot Zone using proven TCCC doctrine for the past 10+ years. Several police departments have adopted this class as basic training for all their cops, most notably the Metro Nashville Police Department in TN, one of the pioneering agencies in this area.  Our Tactical Anatomy Combat Lifesaver class is POST-certified in several states, including MN, TN, and WI. But it is only one of many tactical first aid courses offered around the nation. There is truly no excuse for anyone, police or civilian, to remain ignorant of these techniques and equipment training.  

Do yourself a favor: whether you’re a cop or a concealed-carry private citizen, you owe it yourself to find a tactical combat lifesaver class in your area, lay your money down, and learn how YOU could save somebody. The life you save just might be your own!