Lessons Learned In Combat

Lessons Learned In Combat

This is a discussion on Lessons Learned In Combat within the Defensive Rifles & Shotgun Discussion forums, part of the Related Topics category; I found this posted in a different Forum and thought it would be appropriate to share with our members here. A very sobering read, and ...

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    Exclamation Lessons Learned In Combat

    I found this posted in a different Forum and thought it would be appropriate to share with our members here.

    A very sobering read, and a wounded Marine's urging for people to attend a professional training course outside of what your deptartment or organization teaches. This applies to civilians too who have those EBR's.

    -Bark'n

    Lessons Learned In Combat - M4Carbine.net Forums


    Lessons Learned In Combat

    I originally wrote and posted this in the AAR for my recent carbine course on the Alumni Forum. It has since been published in the March 2010 issue of SWAT Magazine. Feel free to cross-post or share it where and how you see fit, as I want it to have as much of an impact as possible and drive several key points home on those who go in harms way, both on foreign soil (military and PMCs) and here at home (LEOs and civilian sheepdogs). Combat vets and PMCs, as well as police officers and civilians who've been in a gunfight, also feel free to post your own lessons learned in combat.


    Please note that the purpose of this article is not to "blame" the Marine Corps for my injury, or to whine about my circumstances, but instead to impact in a positive manner all of those who go in harms way both on foreign soil (Military and Private Military Contractors) and here at home (Law Enforcement Officers and civilian sheepdogs).


    I am a Wounded Warrior. I served as a Marine Rifleman during the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq some 7 years ago, and was severely wounded while engaging the enemy in a gunfight on April 12, 2003 in the city of Al Tarmiyah, a small suburb just northwest of Baghdad.

    I just got back into shooting again a little more than a year ago now, and several months ago I attended a Trident Concepts Combative Carbine 1 course instructed by Jeff Gonzales. Prior to attending Jeff’s class I thought I was already extremely competent and deadly with the carbine, but I was very wrong. After completing that 3-day course I can now say with complete confidence that had I somehow been able to attend a Trident Concepts, EAG Tactical, Gunsite, or MagPul Dynamics carbine course (or similar training offered by a quality instructor) before I deployed to war back in 2003, and had been able to learn and put into practice all of the things taught in the carbine courses they offer, I would NOT have been shot in the manner in which I was on that Sunday afternoon in Iraq.

    That's not to say I wouldn't have been wounded or killed later on in my deployment or in a subsequent deployment, but I would not have been shot that day and wouldn't be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of my life, which ultimately means I would’ve been able to continue taking the fight to the enemy for at least a little while longer… possibly even still to this day. For the Military and Law Enforcement Officer readers, and those who are planning on enlisting in either of those fields sometime in the future, please take a minute to let that sink in a bit.

    The reason for this belief of mine is fairly simple: When I was engaged in combat the day I was wounded, I made several critical mistakes resulting either from training scars or from simply not being trained how to manipulate and fight with my rifle in the proper manner. I’m well aware that the training, tactics and procedures (TTPs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been greatly improved over the past 7 years since I was wounded, but I guarantee that they are still lacking and could continue to be improved upon. There are some things that can truly only be learned through actual combat, but in my opinion and experience there is a lot of enhanced weapons training widely available in the private sector that is simply going to waste and not being implemented in a unit's training and work-up, and should definitely be included as the "standard" in which all abide by. I believe that it will save lives and prevent a lot of men and women from being needlessly wounded or killed. However, once these skills are attained they absolutely have to be practiced on a routine basis, as gunfighting is most definitely a perishable skill.

    Below is a summary of the events that I strongly feel led to my being shot that day and permanently paralyzed from the waist down. This is not an "official" After Action Review (AAR) of the entire firefight that my platoon was involved in, but rather a small look at only a few moments of combat involving just myself.


    On April 12, 2003, my platoon was involved in a very well executed ambush (the receiving end, unfortunately) in the Iraqi town of Al Tarmiyah. The firefight that ensued would last an astounding 3 hours, which even today is rather uncommon. The firefight was basically my platoon -around 55 Marines- versus roughly 150+ Fedayeen Saddam Fighters, or so I was told several months afterwards. I was also later informed that we killed around 100 of the ******** that day. Thankfully we suffered no Killed In Actions (KIAs), but had several Wounded In Actions (WIAs), mostly from shrapnel from RPGs and hand grenades, with mine being the most severe injury of the day. It was because of engagements such as these that the enemy adapted and quickly learned not to go head-to-head with American forces... or suffer the consequences. Soon thereafter the insurgency began and they started using guerilla tactics, such as performing hit-and-run ambushes and placing Improvised Explosive Devices on the country's roadways to inflict casualties on our side without the grave consequences of head-to-head engagements against us.

    We were initially ambushed by Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and small arms fire from enemy fighters to both our north and south, while dismounted from our Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) and pulling security in a T-shaped intersection. Soon thereafter my platoon split up and punched outward from the kill zone to take the fight to the enemy in both directions. The bad guys weren't expecting us to be so aggressive. But we were Marine Infantrymen, and they had just pissed us off. We were already aggravated as hell that all of the Abrams tanks and Cobra gunships, which were always positioned just in front of us in our column of vehicles during the march to Baghdad (for obvious reasons), had been "stealing" our kills ever since we’d crossed the border several weeks earlier, so we had literally been hoping that some bad guys would poke us with a stick and pick a fight with us.

    About an hour and a half into the fight, I found myself in the backyard of a two-story residence. Five to eight enemy fighters had fled the house after our 0351 Assaultmen fired a Shoulder launched Multi-purpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) rocket into it. About five of them were using an adobe style guesthouse/storage building in the backyard as a makeshift bunker, while other fighters were positioned outside of it. When I entered the backyard, my hasty “plan” was to either find something to use as cover while I engaged the bunker, or to make entry inside the house and shoot out of a window or door. I just knew that I needed to find some cover so I could kill some of the ******** from relative safety.

    As I rounded the corner of the house and entered the backyard, I immediately spotted an enemy fighter roughly 20 yards away at my 11 o'clock, low-crawling away from the bunker and dragging an AK47 with him. I assumed he was doing exactly what I was doing: trying to get into a better position to kill his enemy.

    I stopped moving immediately and began engaging him. I fired at least 15 rounds at him, with most of the bullets impacting his body. Each time I scored a hit, his body let me know it by violently thrashing around. My adrenaline was pumping like crazy, which is why I continued to pummel him with rounds. I had never engaged an enemy that close before, and this was the very first time I could actually see my bullets impacting another human being's flesh. It was just such a shock to my psyche and I didn't know what else to do other than completely annihilate the threat in front of me. The only reason I quit firing is because another fighter stepped halfway out of the doorway to the bunker at my 1 o'clock and began firing wildly at me. I responded by shifting my fire over to him. I fired only 5-7 rounds at him before my bolt locked to the rear on an empty magazine. I scored 1 hit somewhere on his torso, though I have no idea where. He fell backwards into the bunker's doorway and out of my sight.

    I assumed that I had taken him out of the fight for good, either by killing him or wounding him badly. However this assumption would prove to be a huge error in judgment on my part.

    Since my M16A2 was “dry” and I needed to reload, I moved about 10 feet to my right. I knew that I wasn't behind any cover and was just concealed, but I thought that if anyone else came out of the bunker’s doorway they wouldn't be able to see me. Besides, I was just going to quickly reload my rifle and get back into the fight, right? Wrong.

    The Marine Corps had shown me in boot camp how to reload my M16 on the rifle range, but speed reloads and tactical reloads were simply never taught. There was one instance during a training exercise before we deployed where a British Royal Marine, who was part of a team doing a training evaluation on my unit, demonstrated how to reload our rifles quickly and put the empty magazine in our cargo pocket so that we wouldn't waste time trying to put it back into our super-tight standard-issue mag pouches. Not to mention that you never want to re-insert an empty magazine into the same pouch that you are going to instinctively index your fresh magazines from. But we never once went over that or practiced it afterwards, so I didn’t retain it and my body never memorized the motions of that technique. We actually never went over or practiced doing ANY kind of reloads; it was just something you were expected to know how to do: when your weapon runs dry, you stick another magazine in it. That sounds simple, but I've discovered that it's a lot more complicated than that... especially when doing it under stress.

    So, what did I do when it was time for me to reload my M16 that fateful day? I pressed the magazine release, pulled the empty magazine out of the mag well and inserted the empty magazine back into one of my mag pouches. This took a couple extra seconds to do, especially considering I was inserting it into a pretty tight pouch that already had a magazine in it. The fresh magazine in the pouch was positioned bullets-up as well, because way too many rounds would fall out of it when I tried carrying bullets down in the pouch. I'm guessing that's because the feed lips on the magazine were worn, but I knew nothing about what constituted a bad magazine back then and especially didn't know that magazines were a disposable component. After indexing a fresh magazine, I shoved it into the mag well until it seated and then finally, after at least 8 seconds, pressed the bolt release and sent another round flying into the chamber.

    I was also looking down at my weapon and gear the entire time I was reloading. Thus, when I was finally done reloading and looked back in the direction of the enemy bunker only 20 yards away from me, the very same enemy fighter who I'd just shot and assumed that I had permanently put down was now standing at my 11 o’clock, at the corner of the bunker, and aiming directly at me with his AK47 assault rifle.

    While I had been performing my slow and nasty reload, the Iraqi had gotten back up to his feet and stepped out of the doorway of the bunker in order to search for the American ******* who just greased his comrade and shot him too. When he didn't immediately see me in my previous location, he moved down the wall of the bunker until he spotted me standing there performing my abortion of a reload, while staring down at my weapon and gear. I had basically allowed... no, invited the ******* to get the drop on me.

    It is also worth noting that I was standing in the classic “known distance” rifle range bladed stance as well, exposing the unprotected left side of my chest to the enemy. At that time the Marine Corps never taught us to square up to the target and take full advantage of our ballistic Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates. The only "standing" position that I knew of was the bladed one taught to me by my Primary Marksmanship Instructor back in boot camp, which of course is only worth a damn on the “one way range” when qualifying with the rifle during training, definitely not for use on the “two way range” in combat when wearing body armor to protect your vital organs and spinal cord. It should also be known that I was a "double-award" Expert rifleman, which means jack **** in combat.

    To make matters worse, my rifle was in the Low Ready position as well, instead of keeping it pointed downrange and up in my “workspace” the entire time I was reloading. So once I sent the bolt flying home and chambered another round, I actually had to raise my rifle up in order to engage the enemy, instead of my rifle already being raised and at the Ready, pointing downrange and ready to rock following my reload.

    So when I finally looked up and saw him aiming at me with his AK47, I began to raise my rifle in an attempt to put him down for good. But it was already too late. The last thing I saw was a bright muzzle flash from his AK47 as it fired a short burst of 7.62mm projectiles at me. One of those bullets impacted me just under my left armpit, in the exposed area that isn't protected by the ballistic SAPI plates, and tumbled downward through my body. After shredding my spleen (which had to be removed), puncturing and collapsing my left lung, lacerating my stomach and left kidney, and blowing out a large chunk of my vertebrae, the bullet severed my spinal cord at the T12/L1 level, which instantly and completely paralyzed me from the waist down.

    There's a lot more to this story obviously, but this small piece is all that's relevant in this particular article.

    The point of this story is that muscle memory obtained through repetition can be a great thing when the tactics, techniques and procedures that you're ingraining are good and effective ones. But it works both ways, meaning that, for example, if you handle certain scenarios during training in a relaxed and "administrative" fashion, then you can damn near guarantee that you will handle those scenarios in combat the same way.

    For a quick summary, here are the mistakes I made in combat that I believe led to my severe injury and permanent disability:

    Assuming I killed the bad guy with one shot to the torso area
    Performing such a slow reload
    Retaining my empty magazine during the middle of such an intense gunfight
    Stowing an empty magazine in the same location as my fresh magazines
    Looking down at my weapon while reloading instead of downrange in the direction of the threat(s)
    Having my rifle in the Low Ready while reloading
    Standing bladed and not taking advantage of the protection that my ballistic plates offered

    If you are currently in the military, a law enforcement officer, a Private Military Contractor or even just a civilian sheepdog, I strongly believe it would behoove you to get some advanced weapons training outside of your unit or department. Everything I learned in just the first day of the Trident Concepts Combative Carbine 1 course easily could've helped to prevent the wound that I needlessly sustained... I say that with complete and utter confidence.

    If you do decide to attend a weapons training course, be sure to take lots of notes and pictures at your class so that you can go back to your unit or department and spread the knowledge to your fellow brothers-in-arms. If you are a squad leader, you have an obligation to ensure that your young Marines or Soldiers can perform speed reloads quickly, know when and where not to retain, how and when to perform a tactical reload, etc. Practice these things until they become second nature and fluid movements; part of that good ol' muscle memory.

    When you attend good courses given by quality companies like those mentioned earlier, these things are taught to you, and they are taught for a reason. These tactics, techniques and procedures are taught this way in order to prevent deaths and injuries like mine. So pay attention and learn in class so that you don't get schooled in the middle of a gunfight instead, like I did.

    Oh and just so you know, the oxygen thief who shot me, along with all of his Fedayeen buddies inside the bunker, was obliterated shortly thereafter with lots of 5.56, a few 40mm High Explosive grenades and fragmentation grenades, and last but not least, one of their very own RPGs that they kindly left behind for us to use against them.


    Semper Fidelis!!

    -Paul










    Last edited by Bark'n; July 8th, 2010 at 06:57 AM. Reason: removed the quote box to make it easier for people to repost if needed.
    -Bark'n
    Semper Fi


    "The gun is the great equalizer... For it is the gun, that allows the meek to repel the monsters; Whom are bigger, stronger and without conscience, prey on those who without one, would surely perish."


  2. #2
    VIP Member Array Janq's Avatar
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    I'm going to re-post this to two other sites where I moderate, and forward it to like minded associates and fellow instructors.

    I am a H U G E advocate of learning by proxy as well as the philosophy of 'Each One Teach One', and this is a good example of just that.

    Thank you for posting this.

    - Janq

    "So pay attention and learn in class so that you don't get schooled in the middle of a gunfight instead..." - 'Paul', The school of Hard Knocks
    "Killers who are not deterred by laws against murder are not going to be deterred by laws against guns. " - Robert A. Levy

    "A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman." - Florida Div. of Licensing

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    Member Array TangoMonkey's Avatar
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    Wow, this is an amazing story. Thank you for posting it.

    Even though none of my men has had to engage anyone over here, I am glad my PSG and I hammered reflex fire and mag changes. It wasnt my I idea, but my commander told me to focus on it. I was first suprise how hard mag changes under presure are. This is something EVERYONE should practice.
    "When war does come, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the
    scabbard." -General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

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    Senior Member Array usmc3169's Avatar
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    Though to late for this fine Marine, the Corps now has a rifle training program that is second to none in the US Military.

    Hell of a man to be able to pick apart a gunfight like this and be able to share with the rest of us.

    Hand Salute!

    Semper Fi.
    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

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    Ex Member Array BikerRN's Avatar
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    If we don't learn the lessons of the past we are doomed to repeat them, and fail as they did.

    This Marine has guts to pick apart his own gunfight and share the wealth of knowledge he learned the hard way. I can only hope those of us here are smart enough to learn from him.

    Biker

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    VIP Member Array grady's Avatar
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    That's a sobering account which should help remind me to practice some of the things he mentioned.

    Thanks.

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    VIP Member Array shockwave's Avatar
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    Regarding the story here, the training video Art of the Tactical Carbine, by Magpul Dynamics, addresses all of this in great detail.

    It is somewhat distressing to me to see that our troops receive insufficient training. I don't know what they're doing in basic training - I am not a vet - but I would expect them to spend hours and hours drilling magazine swaps and ammo management.

    I would expect our troops to be drilled over and over on keeping their weapon up high in the workspace, to consolidate full mags to the ready position, to perform lightning clear and checks, and, as in this case here, to work in teams.

    This soldier should have had a buddy laying down suppressive fire while he re-armed his weapon. My understanding is that our system of warfare always tries to use superior force and firepower. I know we can't always do that, but as you can see here, the lack of a partner was almost fatal.

    Lessons learned: Drill constantly.
    "It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first."

  8. #8
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    For a quick summary, here are the mistakes I made in combat that I believe led to my severe injury and permanent disability:

    Assuming I killed the bad guy with one shot to the torso area
    Performing such a slow reload
    Retaining my empty magazine during the middle of such an intense gunfight
    Stowing an empty magazine in the same location as my fresh magazines
    Looking down at my weapon while reloading instead of downrange in the direction of the threat(s)
    Having my rifle in the Low Ready while reloading
    Standing bladed and not taking advantage of the protection that my ballistic plates offered
    I can only speak for my unit, but all of these are things we now train against. I think part of it is that when I came in the Marines had been fighting for 6 years (now 9), so especially in the grunts knowledge goes from one generation to the next as far as what works in combat and what doesn't. When this Devil Dog deployed, a lot of Marines were peacetime enlistees, who didn't have that knowledge base to learn from (not saying it is their fault at all, but you can tell a difference in attitudes still between SNCO's who were in pre 9/11 and those who came in after).

    But Marine rifle training, especially for us grunts, is good, although some of it depends on units. Before Afghanistan if my Devil pups were sitting around during a field op, I'd make them grab gear and start doing mag reloads. And then I'd make them start doing reloads with the wrong hand, and lying down, and in all sorts of other situations they never thought of before, and it paid off when it counted too.

    I am very grateful for this Devil Dog's honesty and his sacrifice, definitely a sobering read. It would be great if the Corps would send every grunt through a course, but for now we will have to settle for running our own with the collective knowledge learned the hard way in combat.
    Fortes Fortuna Juvat

    Former, USMC 0311, OIF/OEF vet
    NRA Pistol/Rifle/Shotgun/Reloading Instructor, RSO, Ohio CHL Instructor

  9. #9
    VIP Member Array Janq's Avatar
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    I've copied and pasted the entire posting including citation of author info, images with image source link and original forum site posting link into a PDF document which is what I'll use for distribution.

    If anyone here is willing to offer a free hosting of the document to share with others broadly, then I'd gladly forward the PDF I've made via private e-mail.

    Honestly, I wish more persons who are involved in shootings would give similar _public_ first person AARs such as this. Be they military, law enforcement, civilian...Injured or not....We all can learn from items like this and become better at what we do, or hope not to be called on to do.

    - Janq
    "Killers who are not deterred by laws against murder are not going to be deterred by laws against guns. " - Robert A. Levy

    "A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman." - Florida Div. of Licensing

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    Distinguished Member Array MinistrMalic's Avatar
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    Semper Fi Devil Dog...I am grieved that you had to pay such a high price for that knowledge. I am at least glad, though, that your sacrifice seems to have led to changes in the Marine Corps' training programs for grunts.

    Well done to get back into the fight in the way you can. That takes big guts, and it tells us all that you're a good man with a big heart.

    /salute.
    "...whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one." (Luke 22:36)
    Christianity and Self Defense from a Biblical Perspective

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    His tragic scenario will serve a useful and helpful purpose here also.
    Thanks for putting it up Bark'n

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    VIP Member Array paramedic70002's Avatar
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    I have never been in the military however I have a few observations about training. Universally, training courses tend to cover the basics and then go advanced as possible or in follow up courses. Occasionally things change and we don't find the real impact of those changes until they are put into practice, as the Marine experienced with his stance and body armor. Training also tends to devolve when it is not put into real world practice. Inevitably outside constraints are placed on trainers for a myriad of reasons.

    Not only is this a lesson for the Marine, and his readers, but for all trainers everywhere, and their superiors. I hope they take it to heart.
    "Each worker carried his sword strapped to his side." Nehemiah 4:18

    Guns Save Lives. Paramedics Save Lives. But...
    Paramedics With Guns Scare People!

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    Senior Member Array Texag's Avatar
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    Paul is very active on a few other forums I visit. He is a badass that doesn't let the events of this story stop his training, and is constantly pushing himself to improve.

  14. #14
    VIP Member Array Janq's Avatar
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    BTW, the lessons stated in his report should not be viewed by readers as being specific just to those who in the past or present have been involved n military action.

    These _exact_ same lessons do apply 100% toward domestic law enforcement officers AND they also apply in full to that of civilians who may find themself at their home or on the street.

    The items among his "quick summary" are specifically poignant, and on target.
    Everyone who imagines themself to be an instructor/trainer, professional gun carry person, combat/defensive shooter or simply a civilian with mindset to protect their own should walk away from this as either being all that much wiser (new information) or with a feeling of validation against real world proven by third party results.

    QKShooter I do not know the policy for as much but if allowable by a non-mod, I would like to formally nominate this posting for inclusion at the
    'Reference & "How To" Forum'.
    IMHO this information is that useful, beneficial and important for readers...And not just because the writer was military or because he happened to sustain significant wounding.
    AARs written such as this should IMHO always be set aside for archival as addition to that of general knowledge.

    - Janq
    "Killers who are not deterred by laws against murder are not going to be deterred by laws against guns. " - Robert A. Levy

    "A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman." - Florida Div. of Licensing

  15. #15
    VIP Member Array First Sgt's Avatar
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    A truly courageous Marine. What a gut wrenching story. I salute him. Thanks for posting Bark'n....I would like to point out that even though this is posted in the Defensive Rifles and Shotguns forum...the lessons learned apply equally to all that carry a handgun.

    I quote: My thoughts to the quote are in bold.

    "For a quick summary, here are the mistakes I made in combat that I believe led to my severe injury and permanent disability:

    Assuming I killed the bad guy with one shot to the torso area NEVER assume the BG is out of the fight just because you hit him and he goes down.

    Performing such a slow reload If carrying a semi-automatic, LEARN to do a tactical reload. If you are involved in a gunfight, it will be no time to take your time.

    Retaining my empty magazine during the middle of such an intense gunfight When you do that tactical reload, let the mag drop to the ground (if you have more than one spare) and stay in the fight. If you only have one extra mag, when you drop the mag to the ground, put your foot on it if possible to retain it's position so you can pick it up at yours earliest convenience. You may not be able to stay in position, so also practice retaining your empty mag in your reload hand, and when your reload is complete, tuck it in your back pocket as you continue the fight. You MUST practice these things for your own and your family's survival if ever put into a do or die scenario.

    Stowing an empty magazine in the same location as my fresh magazines Never put an empty mag back in your mag holder or pocket that holds your reloads. It's a costly and timely mistake to grab a mag when needed, only to discover that when you slam it home, it's empty.

    Looking down at my weapon while reloading instead of downrange in the direction of the threat(s) Always maintain your eyes on your target while reloading and for goodness sakes, MOVE MOVE MOVE as you get yourself back in the fight.

    Having my rifle in the Low Ready while reloading Again, have your weapon pointed down range at your target while reloading. It saves precious time when re-engaging.
    Standing bladed and not taking advantage of the protection that my ballistic plates offered Not much a civilian sheepdog can do when being shot at other than seek cover and/or concealment and if in the open you need to be MOVING since you won't have the luxury of a worn protection system (Unless you are LEO)

    If you are currently in the military, a law enforcement officer, a Private Military Contractor or even just a civilian sheepdog, I strongly believe it would behoove you to get some advanced weapons training outside of your unit or department. Everything I learned in just the first day of the Trident Concepts Combative Carbine 1 course easily could've helped to prevent the wound that I needlessly sustained... I say that with complete and utter confidence." I can't say this enough...unless you have had professional training, you are at a disadvantage. I don't care how many rounds you have put down range, how many videos you've watched, how many forums you've read, if you haven't put yourself in a "high stress" training environment that will push you to the limit, then you are only doing yourself a disservice by thinking that you are prepared.

    I posted my thoughts in BOLD above. Just my opinion guys. I am training and practicing what I preach...ARE YOU????
    Last edited by First Sgt; July 9th, 2010 at 04:47 PM.
    Sometimes in life you have to stand your ground. It's a hard lesson to learn and even most adults don't get it, but in the end only I can be responsible for my life. If faced with any type of adversity, only I can overcome it. Waiting for someone else to take responsibility is a long fruitless wait.

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