Integrated Weapons Training for CQB
In early October of 2017, I had the awesome opportunity to train with "Super" Dave Harrington in his Integrated Weapons Training for CQB. Almost exactly a year ago, I participated in his Integrated Weapon Systems course with a specific focus on Instructor Development. This course had many overlapping drills and exercises from that report, so I will try to focus this AAR on the differences moreso than the similarities of the previous report.
I'd like to start with a note about this training. There will be exercises that I mention that shouldn't be run by inexperienced shooters. This is not a beginner course... In most training environments, especially for more beginner courses, the range is set up to control any/all variables possible to ensure a safe range. Safety areas are generally utilized to minimize the chances of someone pointing their firearm near any other person. There is a 180° rule which limits shooters from pointing their firearms in unsafe directions. There are limitations on where/how you can administratively handle your firearm and/or ammunition... The more advanced the training topics become, the more these control mechanisms start to diminish. This particular course is focused on Close Quarters Combat. There is absolutely no way that you can expect to learn to fight with a firearm in confined spaces while enforcing a 180° rule for the participants. We don't live in a controlled environment in the real world, and therefore we won't be fighting in such an environment. The point of all this is that it is absolutely vital to create safe shooters instead of always trying to create a safe environment for the shooters. Dave ran this course with "big boy rules" and a "hot range" which basically means that you are free to handle your weapon and ammunition at any time so long as it is done in a safe manner. How safe? 100% safe. Safety is ALL of our responsibilities, and Dave has ZERO tolerance for unsafe gun handling.
Day 1: Do the Right Thing at the Right Time, Every Time.
Day 1 began at 07:00 on the range with a safety briefing, medical briefing, and general discussion about logistical items. Dave is an incredibly thorough instructor, and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to planning out the medical and contingency plans in the event of an incident that would require medical care. We identified those with medical training, identified and placed an advanced medical-kit in a known area, and assigned key roles to necessary participants familiar with the range and local area (who would call for medical assistance, who would be a driver, etc.) Dave really goes the extra mile during his safety briefing and reminds everyone of the potential dangers that could happen in the event that anyone is unsafe. To break it down, he says: "Do the right thing at the right time, every time. If you don't know what the right thing is or do not understand the task you are being asked to perform, DO NOTHING."
After the safety brief we spent a decent amount of time confirming the zero on our rifles for a 50 yard zero. Dave is adamant that your zero is absolutely vital to being able to perform confidently and effectively, and he stresses this importance more than any other instructor with whom I've trained. It's a valuable lesson, and makes a lasting impression. To confirm our zero, we then headed down to the 100 yard line and each placed 3 consecutive hits on a steel IPSC plate free-standing.
With our rifles properly zeroed, it was time to do the same with our handguns. We headed back to the top range and began pistol drills for accuracy at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 yards. These exercises were to learn (or confirm) our ability to make accurate shots at each distance. Naturally- as the distance increased, so did the size of the groupings. Once we completed these, we loaded our mags again and headed to the 15 yard line where we shot 10 round groups on each of the 5 targets (which were 4" circles). Then we moved to the 10 yard line and worked the same exercises with our strong hand and support hand, one at a time. The purpose of these exercises was to emphasize the importance of accuracy and our ability to consistently make accurate hits while reading our sights.
Next we moved into a discussion of the "1 meter rule." The 1 meter rule states that I will not allow my muzzle to point within one meter of any part of another live body. There will be no shots taken nor any muzzles pointing at teammates and other participants within one meter. This is the "big boy rules" version of the traditional 180° rule. In other words, we won't be pointing our muzzles at other people, even though we will all be moving around each other. We will be shooting past other people, but we will follow the one meter rule without fail. This means that as we move around each other, fire at targets in various places around the range, etc- we will safely decide how/when to engage targets in a manner which will not place our teammates in jeopardy. (I just felt all of the IDPA people gasp at the horrible thought of someone shooting from behind them at a target downrange from them...) Again- not something that would done with a group of beginners, but something that can absolutely be done if everyone follows the 1 meter rule. This rule becomes absolutely paramount in CQB environments and plays into the way that you overlap sectors of fire.
The next drill that was set up was to get us working on shooting while moving. We shot while advancing toward our targets and while retreating from our targets. Movement is crucial in CQB, and the ability to make hits while on the move is a skill that must be finely tuned in order to be effective. The pace of these exercises is pretty aggressive, and Dave expects each participant to set up their firearms for the next iteration after each run. Important to note- Dave emphasizes the necessity of topping off your firearm and managing your ammunition more than any other instructor I've been around. Dave's experience has shown him the importance of us "reloading when we want to, not when we have to." After each run during each exercise, it becomes an automatic reaction to top your gun off. It's a habit that is worth the tuition of the course, even if you took nothing else away from it.
After a break for some Q&A discussion and topping off of our magazines, we went back and began some exercises where we would add some pressure to our performance. For these exercises, we would partner up and race our partner through multiple different problem solving. We started by performing the exercises by ourselves, then moved into the same problems racing against a partner. These exercises were performed with both handgun and rifle. They required that you work at a maximum pace, working through a problem, all while running your gun at a high heart rate. Video examples below:
|Solo Exercise||Partner Race|
Having been tuned up for our "fast guy gun drills" we were anxious to move on to the next set of skill-building exercises. These exercises would get us used to not only shooting around other people but also (and equally importantly) accustomed to having other people shoot around us. If it's your first time, it can be nerve-racking to have someone that is standing behind you shooting at a target in front of you. Though you know that they will follow the 1 meter rule, it still grabs your undivided attention when a 5.56 round comes within a few feet of you as it races towards its target. Not being my first time running through these exercises, and the controlled approach to every movement really helped to ease everyone into the process. We ran through several versions of these exercises, which will purposely not be explained in detail so as to avoid the potential of inexperienced shooters getting ideas of setting up similar drills.
Later we had a continued discussion about the principles of CQB, the fundamental skill sets that would be required, and the roles/assignments of each man in general terms. We broke for dinner and everyone was able to get off their feet for a while, also letting us kill some time before the sun went down. Upon returning to the range after dinner, we continued the discussion but shifted subjects to that of low-light fundamentals, techniques, and principles. The sun continued to fade away, and we all met down at the 100 yard line to start our low-light skill-building exercises.
Low-Light on Day 1 began at 100 yards and each person demonstrated (again) that they could hit the IPSC steel at distance consecutively from a free-standing position. This time, however- there were additional lessons learned... It happened to be a very still evening, with no wind at all to help dissipate the smoke from the muzzle blast. Therefore, it became increasingly obvious that a powerful light was absolutely vital in order to use your rifle at any kind of distance. The first shot is relatively easy for an under-powered light to illuminate your target. The follow-up shots each get more and more difficult as you'll need every lumen to cut through the muzzle blast and get to your target. The rifle provides us with the luxury of stand-off through its ability to hit targets at greater distances. Of course, in order to hit the target- you'll need to be able to see it. Don't have a 300 meter rifle and a 25 meter light.
After establishing our ability to hit, it was time to see if we could hit with a higher heart rate. Dave set up "leap frog" drills where we would utilize bounding techniques to both advanced on and retreat from the target. The last man would run to the front of the line and make a hit, which was the indicator for the next man to run up and make his hit. We worked from 100 meters to about 40 meters, and then back to the 100. This exercise helped get additional reps on multiple skill-sets... Shooting accurate shots at distance, with an elevated heart rate, while working low-light techniques, and bounding with your teammates. Fantastic way to end a very long first day on the range.
DAY 2: Everything Is Important. Everything Matters. It's Up To You To Decide the How and Why of It.
Day 2 began similarly to day 1, with a safety briefing and confirmation of our zero at 100 yards. We had been warned that Day 2 would be the longer, more aggressive day out of the three day event- and it would prove to live up to the hype. We quickly jumped into the "run and gun" exercises where Dave had 11 cones lined up in front of 11 targets at about the 10 yard line. We started on the left, and engaged each target with a minimum of 2 A/C hits while moving. When you get to the end of the line, we would work it the other direction. Each time we completed a run, we would top our guns off and fall back in. Seems easy enough, right? Consider that you are carrying four rifle mags (30 rounds each) plus four handgun mags (17 rounds each) and we're working until we're basically completely dry on each run. That means you are maintaining a constant "run and gun" pace until you've gone through the better part of 175(ish) rounds. It got the heart pumping... The next version of this drill was with half of the team on one side and the other half working in the opposite direction. This forced you to pay particular attention to the 1 meter rule and to read/adjust to the people around you. It's a fantastic way to combine the skills that we have previously developed into one exercise, all at a very controlled pace as Dave gave the indication to each side on when to go. Keep in mind that this also means you're getting half the amount of down time before it's time to turn around and go back- so again, the heart rate is definitely elevated.
This drill was altered by moving the shape of the cones into a "V" from about the 25 yard line all the way into the 5 yard line forcing us to work from far to near. We went through multiple iterations of this exercise before inverting the V so that we were working near to far. The "V" version of these exercises was more challenging because inevitably you're moving backwards at times, and there are other people working around you. This means that you have to be 100% switched on to the 1 meter rule and read everyone around you. It was a great exercise combining a number of skills into a single drill.
After we worked through the exercises and everyone was physically tired, we broke for lunch. After returning from lunch, we sat down to discuss more of the CQB roles of each person in a four man fire team. We talked about center fed rooms, corner fed rooms, intersections, and several other basic concepts. This lead into a series of questions/answers and explanations for multiple other topics. We stood up a "mock shoot house" with four walls and the ability to simulate either a center-fed or corner-fed room. We walked through several dry runs of the four man entries, discussing in detail the roles of each man. Though this didn't include hammering shots on targets, it was incredibly value as Dave's experience with CQB is among the best in the world.
As the sun started to go down, we began gearing up for our low-light runs. We stuffed our mags and prepared our gear as Dave got the range setup for the exercises he wanted us to work through. As we worked into the evening, we would repeat all of the "fast guy" exercises mentioned above. This time, however, we would perform each of these exercies in the dark. We worked through multiple iterations of each run in the dark, and by the end of the night we were physically drained.
Trust me when I say that in order to work through these exercises with proficiency and safety, you have to be mentally engaged the entire time. Dave is a demanding instructor who can take you as far as you want to go- but (as he often reminds) he "can't do the work for you." You have to put in the reps, pay attention, learn, adapt, and improve. He can show you how and teach you why, but you have to do.
DAY 3: There Is Always Work To Be Done
"As the Number __ man, upon entry, I cleared the fatal funnel addressing my primary sector of fire, collapsing my secondary sector of fire while moving to my point of domination, one meter off the number __ man."
Day 3 was the work in the building that was secured by our local SWAT Team Commander. It is a building that is no longer in use, but was previously a nursing home for elderly people. Hear me when I say it was a myriad of problems for CQB. There were opposing doors, intersections, large rooms, tiny rooms, outdoor courtyard areas, desks and dead space, curtains in the middle of rooms (visual obstructions), and every other problem you can imagine (with the exception of stairs). We worked run after run through the house both in 4 man teams and as a complete 8 man element. There were targets placed in various places through the facility that included math problems. For instance, Dave might say that "7" is the enemy number. If we encountered a target with a 7 or any combination of numbers that gave us 7, we were to engage it (dry fire). Example, we might have two targets in room. One might have 4 - 1 on it and the other might have 5+2. We were to engage the 5+2 target. What does this do? In addition to working on the roles of where you are supposed to be, how you're moving, following the 1 meter rule, and everything else- now we're also working through positive threat identification. It was a fantastic way to make us really work through the mental problem of identifying who needed to be engaged vs. who did not need to be engaged.
Though Day 3 didn't include any live fire, it was the day where I personally learned the most. While I've done other CQB training, everyone has their own way of solving problems. Dave is a world-class instructor at CQB, and the opportunity to learn from him was simply phenomenal.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Per usual, I will try to summarize my AAR into three key take-aways for anyone considering this course.
Dave Harrington is among the top instructors for CQB in the world. Without a doubt, he has forgotten more about gun-fighting than I could hope to learn in three lifetimes. Everything he does has a reason behind it, has a lesson to learn, and has something that will make you a better shooter and gun-fighter. 16 of his 23 years in the military were spent in the Army's Special Forces. He was an instructor at the famous Range 37 of Fort Bragg where the most elite warriors our country has to offer are trained. My point being that it's impossible to list out all of "the good" that you can get from training from a world-class instructor. His knowledge from direct, real-world experience as well as his ability to push you as an instructor are top-tier. Train with him, period.
As one would imagine, Dave has a very aggressive personality. He knows what is possible and demands that you produce the best results you can produce. When you train with Super Dave, you're going to shoot... A lot.... The required round count for this class was 1,500 rounds for your primary and another 1,500 rounds for your secondary. We used about 1,000 of each. Keep in mind that the third day was all dry-fire, so that round count could have easily been higher (as it was last year for a similar course). The days were long and physically demanding, and the round count was high. Being a civilian, the course tuition was actually cheaper than the three cases of ammo that were prescribed for the course as I didn't have a department to pay for it. It's pricey- but you get what you pay for.
This course had an ugly aspect for training unlike anything I've previously encountered. On the morning of Day 3, the day I was most looking forward to- I received a phone call very early in the morning regarding a family emergency. I had to drive several hours in the morning, and wasn't able to catch up to the crew until about lunch time. Therefore I missed some of the early instruction from Dave on the third morning. However, I was brought up to speed quickly as Dave spent the majority of the morning covering some basic CQB Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. I have been exposed to these TTP's in previous training, so it wasn't detrimental to my training after missing the morning briefings. The afternoon was when we did all the runs and were watched and corrected based on our actions and decisions- and I was there for every part of that. Regardless- you never want to miss a minute of instruction when you have a top-level instructor present, let alone for a family member with severe health issues.
I took more out of this course than I did out of the course from last year... Why? Well, likely because I'm a more competent shooter than I was a year ago, and also because I had been exposed to the problems we would be working through. Also, Dave seemed more mobile and in less pain than he was in prior to his double bi-lateral knee surgery. I'd like to think that we are both better off than we were a year ago.
Regardless- the concluding take-away for anyone considering taking this course is clear.
If you possess the skill level required to safely participate in Super Dave's course, you'd be a fool to not do so.