DON’T CONFUSE QUALIFYING WITH TRAINING
“Training” is defined as “The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior.”
Qualifications are creatures that are put in place to satisfy administration and attorneys. They are a proficiency check of equipment status and basic fundamentals. They document that an officer can meet minimum acceptable performance standards. Nothing more and sometimes much less.
Standardized qualifications do nothing to raise the sniper’s ability to adapt and be more flexible in real life operations. While better than doing nothing at all, going through the steps of simply qualifying is NOT training regardless of frequency.
Having embedded skills without knowing when and where to apply them can amount to little more than knowing how to do a trick.
There is a story where Bill Jordan (1) challenged a world champion Table Tennis player to a game of Ping Pong to prove a point. Bill had not seriously played ping pong before. The standard rules of the game would remain in place with one exception, both he and the champion must play using glass soft drink bottles instead of traditional ping pong paddles.
One can imagine the difficulty in intercepting and then accurately propelling an incoming ping pong ball back to your opponent while using a curved bottle surface instead of a flat paddle.
They played best 2 out of 3 games and Bill Jordan soundly beat the Korean champion in 2 straight games. By changing only one condition of the game, Bill totally upset all of the other skill sets the champion had in place to successfully play a game of ping pong.
Bill’s point in the whole exercise was that otherwise dominating skills can collapse when certain variables are introduced and the player (or shooter) cannot quickly adapt.
Almost by definition, your agency qualifications are administered at set frequencies and are fixed courses of fire. Typically there are no variations in the COFs and therefore little or no true training occurs in my opinion. You are simply “preparing” to pass the qualification threshold.
What is the most unpredictable and variable thing on the planet? . . . Humans. What are you training to respond to? . . . . Humans. . . .
It is critical that you are mentally flexible. You must keep an open mind and never assume anything. One of my often repeated lines when I am instructing a class is that “You can no longer go to work thinking that the next Call Out or confrontation will be just another drunk Redneck with a shotgun.”
We currently have more foreign nationals and domestic terrorists moving freely within this country than at any other time in the history of our Republic. Many of those are trained to a very high level of proficiency by not only organized groups outside our borders but sometimes also by our very own military and/or Law Enforcement programs. This, combined with intent to do harm at all costs can be the recipe for a deadly encounter for our professional law enforcement officers.
Being mentally flexible and able to adapt on the fly is a perishable skill that is a subset of everything you do. The ability to critically think and make the best decisions while under stress and duress absolutely has to be developed, nurtured and frequently used.
Get off of your home range!
All training should be as variable as possible from one session to the next. It should minimize predictability. It should force the sniper to be creative and find a solution to the problem (which will always be multi-faceted).
The term “Home Field Advantage” is really a thing. EVERY TIME you deploy or respond to a deadly threat it will happen on somebody else’s turf, on somebody else’s time line and in unpredictable weather.
I cannot overstate how important it is to stimulate your senses and challenge your routines with the rigors of successfully executing a response on ground you have never previously set foot on.
Big Fish in a Small Pond
Ego is a terrible thing to carry around. It can blind us to our own limitations and seduce us with a false sense of security. This leads to not only the absence of growth but an actual decline in operational ability. In current professional circles if you are not committed to continuing education, physical conditioning and evolving your skill sets, you are actually falling behind.
As you read this, the potential threats you may face continue to grow in numbers, complexity and ability to do harm.
Showing up and then completing your qualification with a good or even perfect score can foster a false sense of your preparedness and ability. If you are not careful, you will justify it in your mind that you are ready for anything. When we get that little mental fix, we can fall into a comfort zone that blinds us to reality. This leads to complacency. Complacency can lead to disaster.
This is where it can get tough to diagnose. You see, we are often blind to our own shortcomings . . . sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously.
Because you may be the “best” at what you do within your own professional community, you can be lulled into thinking this automatically equates to a universally high state of readiness compared to those everywhere else. This is where we could see the Big Fish in a Small Pond meet its own demise because the Pond is dangerous, diverse and ever changing. Special emphasis on those last two words . . . .ever changing. Surround yourself with professionals and students of the art that you perceive to be better than you at the same job. You will rise to the occasion.
You absolutely have to grasp the fact that even though there is a ceiling or maximum achievable score on a qualification COF, there are no ceilings on someone’s capabilities.
Equipment, training and tactics are constantly evolving. It is the ultimate arms race where one side advances their effectiveness and the other side counters with an improvement. This all spills over into Law Enforcement and the potential threats that Law Enforcement could encounter.
I believe it is of great value, in fact an absolute requirement to pull yourself from your own circles of work and training on a regular basis. I believe you must immerse yourself in all the issues and anxieties that come with leaving your familiar circles of training.
Only through this repeated exposure to new scenarios on unfamiliar ground can we increase the ability of a deployable sniper to manage their variables and maximize their chances of success.
Making your Operational Software Deployable
Being able to critically think and react appropriately in life threatening situations is crucial.
Our species has exhibited the ability to adapt and learn for thousands of years. This trait not only allowed us to survive but has brought us to the point of being the apex predator and custodian of everything within our domain.
Now the bad news. . . . . The same advanced brain that brought us to this level has also gifted us with conveniences and securities that have allowed the relaxation of that highly developed ability to solve problems at a primal level.
When those conveniences and securities are challenged by a person or persons intent on doing harm, you are then suddenly and sometimes violently pulled into the equation.
This is where your decisions to deploy learned skill sets are made in compressed time frames and usually under a great deal of stress. Qualifying on a set COF does little to develop and nurture this ability.
Having many skill sets but not knowing how and when to quickly bring them to bear will greatly reduce your ability to create a positive outcome during a critical incident. Take the extra time and effort to diversify your training. Keep it focused on pertinent and executable problem solving.
Remember to keep yourself physically fit and be mindful of stress inoculation exercises. Constantly question how you are training and expand your professional development outside your local bounds.
NOTE: I wrote this article specifically targeting L.E. officers assigned to Sniper positions on their reaction teams. I strongly believe the points I try to make above have equal relevance in every aspect of officer training regardless of whether you are in criminal patrol, full time SWAT or other commissioned L.E. duties.
Even if you disagree with my thoughts above but reading this made you consciously evaluate what you are doing and why, I will take that as a win.
I welcome your critique and input regarding this subject matter. I can be reached via email at: Terry@1MilRt.com
Born in 1911 in Louisiana, he served for over 30 years with the U.S. Border Patrol. He also served as a US Marine during World War II and the Korean War. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Colonel.
Among other things, Jordan is credited with developing the 'Jordan' or 'Border Patrol' style of holster. He also collaborated with Walter Roper in the design of wooden grips intended for heavy-caliber double-action revolvers, which are now made by Herrett's Stocks as the "Jordan Trooper". He was largely responsible for convincing Smith & Wesson to adapt its medium K-frame series revolver to accommodate the .357 Magnum cartridge, resulting in the (S&W Model 19 and S&W Model 66) "Combat Magnum".
Bill exhibited incredible talent through decades of exhibition speed shooting with S&W revolvers and was a noted authority and S.M.E. on gunfights.
He wrote numerous articles on all aspects of firearms, as well as books such as No Second Place Winner, Mostly Huntin' and Tales of the Rio Grande. Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.
Using a double-action revolver, Bill Jordan was recorded drawing, firing and hitting his target in .27 of a second. He appeared on such television programs as To Tell the Truth, I've Got a Secret, You Asked for It, and Wide Wide World.
Bill Jordan died in 1997.