Vehicle Defense / Counter-Ambush (Handguns)
On June 10-11, 2017, I had the opportunity to participate in the Vechile Defense / Counter-Ambush (Handguns only) course by Talon Defense and hosted by Sparrow Defense. I've trained with Chase Jenkins (Talon Defense) in the past and have written AARs for both the Dark Gunfighter and C2- Fightin' and Fixin' courses. This course was a 2 day, handgun only, and daytime only version of the Dark Gunfighter course. Per usual style, I'll break down the events of the course and then end with the "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" sections.
Keep in mind that this is not a beginner level class, and there was a requisite skill level in order to participate. The exercises that are outlined in this AAR will at times be intentionally vague so as to not promote exercises that should be performed outside the supervision of a qualified instructor nor to disclose sensitive information regarding the instruction, participants, or course content.
Day 1 began with a safety briefing. If there is one thing that Chase Jenkins does superbly well, it's a safety briefing. It's informative, productive, and even entertaining. Chase uses humor to reinforce important points as well as set everyone at ease for the rest of the course. The safety briefing was thorough and emphasized that we will not be instituting a safe range, but rather we would all be safe shooters. The point being that we can't control the variables in our daily lives, but we can control our muzzle. Our muzzle is our responsibility. Period. End of discussion.
After the safety briefing we went to the range and everyone made their weapons hot. As Chase always does, he started us out with a "gun fight" which would be between two individuals at a time. Standing at 5 yards, Chase would provide a threat stimulus and both participants would draw their weapon and place one shot in the A-Zone of the center mass on the targets. Whoever gets that hit first, wins the "gun fight." These drills are always shot cold because "it's unlikely that you'll get the chance to pause your potential gun fight and get some warm-up reps in prior to the actual engagement." It's a fun way to kickoff the course.
After this initial drill, we immediately started working reps on presenting the firearm. We would fire a prescribed number of shots in the A-Zone of the chest and cranio-occular cavity of the target, scan and assess for additional threats, and then go back to holster. We worked these drills until it was apparent that everyone was warm. Interestingly, during this time Chase spent a good bit of time discussing reloads. Generally at an advanced level course, it is assumed that slide-lock reloads are second nature. With that said, usually you aren't having to work those reloads in/around vehicles with partners present- so we discussed in great detail the ways to perform our reloads without muzzling our partners or anyone else around us. It's an incredibly important section because for the remainder of the course we would find ourselves in positions where muzzle discipline would be paramount.
From this point we started transitioning into positional changes. We would shoot from standing, squatting, kneeling (one knee and both knees), seated, suppine (flat on our back), and urban prone (lying on our side) from both sides. We worked through all weapons manipulations in each of these positions, even to include malfunction correction of all four types of malfunctions. These drills have a good bit of "cardio" work to them as your constantly getting up, falling down, and repeating the process. Furthermore, they will begin to test your pain tolerance as the ground is littered with brass and rocks. More on the bruises later...
Around the mid-day point, Chase did a ballistics demonstration by shooting rounds through various areas of the vehicle. While I'll omit some of the detailed findings in this report, the demonstration did identify some points on the vehicle that might buy us some time during a violent encounter. These would be the parts of the vehicle we would work from for the remainder of the course.
Now that everyone understood more about the structure of the vehicle, Chase moved us directly into the next phase of fighting our way out of the vehicle. We worked on getting the seatbelt off, the door open, and a firm foundation with both feet on the ground prior to moving toward the back of the car. Utilizing a temple-index carrying position, we were able to engage immediate threats from inside the vehicle, navigate our way out and behind the car, and take up a better fighting position without muzzling anyone else that was around us. All of the positional changes that we had worked earlier in the day were immediately applicable to working around the structural points of advantage identified in the ballistics demo. In short, it all started to come together. It was entertaining to watch some of the guys who had never done advanced training around vehicles experience that "light bulb" moment when they realized that they just went from crawling to sprinting in a relatively short time frame and without any safety issues or performance degradation.
Now that we know how to get out of the vehicle and work our way to the back, we began doing the exercise with a partner. Again, both parties would engage immediate threats prior to bailing out, and then would meet up at the rear of the vehicle for a more advantageous fighting position. Below is a highlight clip of some of these runs:
Note that there are a few important implications that the video doesn't touch on:
- This exercise is not intended to simulate a half dozen threats attacking a vehicle. It is more to simulate one or two threats which are also moving.
- It is NOT being taught that we should run to the rear of the vehicle and drop to an urban prone position. Rather, it is emphasized that we will fight from the position in which we find ourselves, and if it happens to be on the ground- we need to know how to fight from there.
- Each participant is to operate at the maximum speed at which they can safely perform the tasks. Therefore, if there is a disperity in speed it is understood that the participant is simply not willing to sacrifice safety in exchange for speed.
These exercises would take us through the end of day #1. The group consisted of experienced shooters so we didn't have to take any additional class time to fix any safety, accuracy, or performance issues. It was among the most competent groups (as a whole) with whom I've had the pleasure of sharing the range.
As day #2 spun up, the range was setup in such a way that would allow for lateral runs between multiple vehicles. Essentially this was similar to the previous day's exercises, but instead of working from trunk to hood (and vice versa) we were working horizontally around the vehicles. With two cars backed up butt to butt with each other (and about 8 feet of space in between them), we began working around the pillars of the vehicle to threats on the other side. Recalling information from the previous day's ballistic demonstration, we had to accomodate for potential trajectory deviation, points of "unreliable cover" around the vehicle, positional changes, and working with and around other people. Working with one person in each vehicle, Chase would work one participant while Clark S. worked the other. The two would inevitably criss-cross each other repeatedly throughout the exercise, so communication and muzzle discipline were the keys to success in these drills. These drills are mentally challenging and physically fatiguing, and it became more and more obvious that physical conditioning can only improve your chances of success in this simulated situation. The instructors would call out a position (ex: "Gold Car, B pillar") and we would move to that position and engage the appropriate targets while utilizing that point of unreliable cover as best we could.
Everyone did multiple runs through this drill and that lead us into the final iteration of challenges... Alphabet soup...
Alphabet Soup is an exercise similar to the one outlined above with a key distinction... Instead of the instructor telling you which position you needed to occupy and engage from, they would call out a letter. Each target had a letter painted on them in order to identify the target. So the instructor would yell out "Omaha, Omaha" and the participant would have to rush to the position associated with that threat, utilize cover appropriately, and engage the target until a new target was identified. There are curve balls in this exercise... First and foremost, the instructors will push you physically to the point of exhaustion. So they would intentionally call out threats that were not close to each other, forcing you to work around your partner and other people using proper muzzle discipline. Several of the threats were also laid out prone, so it required us dropping down into a prone position to engage them. More physical work... The instructors are also always present with a stick that they use to cause malfunctions in your gun. Even more fun... Another curveball: the instructors would call out letters that don't exist. I'm certain I spent at least 45 seconds running around searching for "Foxtrot" only to determine that "Foxtrot" was #FakeNews. Awesome... Thanks, Clark.
Being one of the more experienced participants, I had the chance to team up with three other guys (instead of one) to work a four man version of this drill. We had two people in each vehicle and worked the exercise with double the amount of people involved to show that with muzzle discipline and ample communication, we could solve the problems at hand one-by-one until the problems started to go away. Of course, having gone through Chase's injury-driven courses, I was also told that I had an arterial bleed in my right leg and needed to self-apply and complete the exercise with a CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet) on my right leg. One of the other participants in our group got to experience the same luxury. It was physically and mentally challenging, and also a hell of a lot of fun. Repetitions of this exercise took us through the end of day 2.
This course is pertinent to both Law Enforcement and civilians as we both spend siginificant amounts of time in and around vehicles. The instruction, provided by Chase Jenkins with the assistance of Clark Sparrow, was succint, clear, concise, and informative. The group as a whole was a fun group of guys who both supported and ridiculed each other throughout the length of the course. We were also fortunate enough to have a good group of guys with excellent gun handling skills. We didn't have to take breaks to work on accuracy issues for "that guy" who is in over his head with the course curriculum. We were able to maximize the amount of time we spent on the exercises instead of having to drag someone along. This allowed us to get more work in than the original syllabus called for and still have time to cut up with each other. New friendships were forged, everyone learned a ton, and excellent repetitions were worked through. It was an awesome course.
I would love to recommend this course to everyone I meet who owns a gun, but I can't. In good conscience, I couldn't even recommend that half of the people who own a gun take this course. It's an advanced course, and just because someone grew up deer hunting does not mean that they are ready to tackle this curriculum. If you are of the requisite skill level, then you should absolutely take this course. If you have any doubt whether or not you are, then you need to knock out some other training courses prior to jumping in this one.
Furthermore, there is a physically demanding aspect to this course. While the physical requirements aren't necessarily as much of a turn-off as the skill level, be aware that this class is going to be challenging. For us- while the venue is always a great venue for training, June in Georgia can be fairly warm. Add in the fact that we're working in and around cars all day, and you can understand that the heat was distracting at times. Compound that with the physically demanding exercises included in this course, and it left each participant sore for days to come.
Bruises. Many bruises. I made a conscious effort to push myself in this course since I have done similar curriculum in multiple other courses. I decided to really get after the positional changes. My zealous efforts and ambitious intentions did not reduce the number of rocks, the amount of spent brass, or the splotches of vehicle glass that were amply available on the ground to help ease your fall. I would venture out to say that at least 85% of the participants had some sort of bleeding going on from small cuts and scrapes, and I was certainly in that group. Keep in mind that there is a reason I didn't include this part in the "bad" section... I like the physical discomfort when training. Everyone is a bad-ass when they're at 100% and everything is working in their favor. I'm interested in the performance of myself and those around me when everything has gone to hell in a handcart. It's "ugly" but it is certainly not "bad."
Expanding on that sentiment is the abuse that your gear will inevitably take in this course. Again, this isn't "bad" because I'd much rather learn that my gear won't hold up in bad conditions during training as opposed to in a violent encounter- but you should be aware that you're likely going to find out exactly that. Clothing might get torn, extra crap on your belt or chest rig might get ripped off, and components you thought were rock solid might turn out to be a liability. It's all part of the training, and it's an incredibly important part. Just be aware that both your gear and your body are going to take some lumps in this course.