There is a list of rules for gunfighting attributed to Drill Sergeant Joe B. Frick. It is usually passed around the shooting community in jest, but some of the highlights include these nuggets:
- Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns
- Only hits count. The only thing worse than a miss is a slow miss.
- If your shooting stance is good, you’re probably not moving fast enough or using cover correctly.
- Move away from your attacker and go to cover. Distance is your friend. (Bulletproof cover and diagonal or lateral movement are preferred.)
- If you can choose what to bring to a gunfight, bring a semi or full-automatic long gun and a friend with a long gun.
- If you are not shooting, you should be communicating, reloading, and running.
Most tactical training courses taken by civilian gun owners focus on quickly and accurately running a carbine. The curriculum usually includes the mechanics and care of the AR-15; fundamentals of marksmanship; malfunction clearance; and maybe some elements of shooting from behind cover. These are important skills to learn, of course, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to practice them.
However, these courses only cover some select individual skills. As the rules above indicate, there is more to learn. As I would discover during this four-day course, these other skills are vital- and there isn’t any other way to develop them other than getting out and doing it.
Why Small Team Tactics?
Some years ago, I read an article that talked about the mindset of typical tactical enthusiasts (as well as preppers). In short, these individuals could learn to become very proficient in individual shooting skills, and amass large stores of supplies, but they were still individuals. Eventually, we all need sleep. In the worst case scenarios, individuals will be overrun by mobs attacking when least expected.
At some point, we have to accept that there is safety in numbers, and we will need a team.
I grew up in South Florida. I’ve lived through several powerful hurricanes, including Andrew, Katrina, Wilma, and others. While going without power for two weeks following a storm, someone kicked in my neighbor’s door and stabbed them 17 times. It took hours for the police to respond. We’ve all seen what happened when Katrina hit New Orleans, or what happened recently in Houston. Puerto Rico is still in rough shape from the recent storm season. I’ve lived in places with blizzards, fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. My prior profession also gave me unique insight into the “what ifs” of the world. After that, you come to accept that there will be situations where the veil of civility drops and you are on your own. At least for a while.
If one of my underlying goals is to protect my family and community, or at least my “tribe”, then it stands that I should start learning how to fight alongside them.
This is what brought me to Max Velocity Tactical.
I’ve seen Max’s articles on and off for a long time. It was his old posts that first got me rethinking my battle belt configuration. Max shares a similar background to most of the well-known tactical trainers. However, he gained notoriety through the prepper market rather than the tactical. In a way, that makes a lot of people cautious about his courses and writings. There is a negative undercurrent of “militia training” surrounding civilians learning small unit tactics that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. There is a definite stereotype associated with that idea, and most folks in the tactical market avoid it.
That said, in talking with him during breaks, Max has been distancing himself and his school from that image. He wants to attract a more professionally-minded tactical audience. This group invests in quality equipment, training, and fitness. They aren’t trying to be a bunch of Walter Mittys, just people developing skills. The message I noticed all during class was that this had nothing to do wth politics. In fact, I can’t recall any political comments on the part of the instructors whatsoever. Any discussion of motivation focused on teaching people a more complete tactical skillset. More still, a lot of discussion centered on how to improve the courses and training.
The courses he offers, as well as the supporting events, are part of an ecosystem known as TacGun. This philosophy focuses on developing well-rounded citizens who with not only the ability to shoot, but the ability to function as a team. That also includes demonstrating leadership and work towards the high level of physical fitness.
Those who prove aptitude in these courses sometimes get the opportunity to act as OPFOR when US Army ODA groups come train at the MVT facility. From talking to those who have had this chance, the lessons learned and camaraderie are striking. I, for one, think that would be an awesome opportunity for anyone interested in tactics.
The Training Facility
Max Velocity Tactical (MVT) is one of the few schools in the country that will teach small unit light infantry tactics to civilians.
Max, the owner and lead instructor, is a life-long infantry soldier who “grew up” in the British Parachute regiment. He also spent time with the British Special Forces Support group. He has six deployments as both an enlisted soldier and officer. Of note, he spent a tour selecting and training recruits for the Parachute Regiment. After leaving the military, he spent five years as a government contractor for both the US and UK in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The main training facility is about 40 miles west of Winchester, VA, occupying a 100 acre wooded section of the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. It includes a variety of ranges for training a wide breadth of skills from CQB to Combat Patrolling. Dug in pits dot the terrain. These pits include PT-61 pop-up target systems, to which Max fixes 3-D “Ivan” targets.
The terrain in much of the facility is…unforgiving. Once off of the flat ranges, the hills and trails are punishing to those who have a poor level of fitness or have elected to carry too much stuff in their kit. The terrain on the ranges themselves is uneven, with hills, roots, soft soil, and other debris often making correct positions difficult to obtain. On more than a few drills, I found myself shooting into cover in front of me rather than the target due to height over bore issues with the optic. These are the things you don’t get on a groomed 25 yard range.
The Training Course
Rifle Skills/Combat Team Tactics is a combination of two different courses spread over four days. The first two days consists of Combat Rifle Skills. The first day of which is a review of the AR-15 platform, marksmanship fundamentals, zeroing, and basic rifle handling. The second day teaches malfunction drills, reinforces the lessons of day one, and begins to teach movement and cover techniques on a square range. CRS concludes with buddy pair movement and an assault through. Historically, the first day was optional. Students could elect to start on day two, if they thought their skills were up to snuff. However, that will be changing next year. Students will be required to attend both days of CRS prior to Team Tactics. This could all be done in one four-day chunk, or on separate weekends within six months of one another.
I attended the RS day to help knock off some rust from my rifle handling. Four years of being stationed in California meant that I simply didn’t practice a lot of the carbine skills I picked up while living in Montana. The eccentricities of California firearms laws also meant I developed some awkward weapon handling habits.
The second two days, Combat Team Tactics (CTT), leaves the square range and takes place on Tactical Ranges 1 and 2. An outdoor classroom stands at the base of these ranges. CTT builds upon the foundations developed during CRS with a focus on communication, movement, cover, and safety. The end goal is to learn basic fire and movement drills as well as variations of breaking contact. It is these two days that showed me the things I didn’t know. It is one thing to read about these drills in a field manual, Ranger Handbook, or Max’s own manual, “Contact.” It’s another to understand the challenges associated with them.
The CTT course follows a crawl-walk-run method. Students are first provided a lecture and discussion of the drill about to be performed. Sometimes, when appropriate, there will be a demonstration. Then, students perform a rehearsal without weapons. Lastly, they perform the drill with live fire. Tactical Ranges 1 and 2 are essentially “Jungle Walks” where a team advances down a lane until they are “contacted” by pop up targets and the drill begins.
I want to point out that safety was always a paramount focus of the instructors. From the opening drills on a square range to the jungle walk lanes, the student to instructor ratio during live fire never exceeded 2:1. The instructors made sure that safety angles, muzzle discipline, and positioning were enforced at all times. I constantly heard the instructors taking note on whether or not students clicked their weapon safeties on while moving (they all did). On more than one occasion, an instructor would joke with me after a drill about, “What you didn’t see was me standing behind you with a large rock if you had raised your weapon at that moment.” Luckily, I always kept safety angles in mind.
I wrote a recap of each training day as a way to keep track of the activities performed and lessons learned each day. In hindsight, I found the course material well organized, and effectively built upon itself with each iteration.
Day 1 of the whole training event was the optional Rifle Skills day. The class opened with a safety briefing and clarification of expectations provided by Max. Through discussion, Max learned a bit about each student’s background and prior experience. It became clear that the four students (including myself) who arrived for the first RS day were all experienced rifle shooters. Two were multi-class returning alumni of Max’s other training courses, another was a retired USMC infantry officer who continues to do government security contracting work overseas.
The first day’s curriculum was adjusted in light of the students’ experience levels. We skipped over discussion of the AR-15’s history and maintenance, and moved to loading/unloading drills. The focus was on knowing the commands that would be issued on the range.
Once satisfied with load, reload, and unload, we moved on to zeroing and marksmanship. We didn’t spend much time talking about (or demonstrating) marksmanship fundamentals or positions. I would have liked a bit more here, but that’s because I’m a marksmanship nerd. We had a short discussion on preferred zero distances, point blank zero, and practical effects. Shooting positions were briefly covered. The gist of this portion of the course was to explain that there are many ways to skin a cat. It is more important to do what works for you (within reason) than obsess over minutiae of technique.
The rest of the day broke into various weapon handling drills, position transitions, and basic individual movement techniques. A large amount of emphasis was placed on communicating what was happening with you and your weapon. This would become very important later.
For the second day of training, four more students arrived. One was an LEO, another was a fire fighter, and another was a father-son duo. Of the eight in attendance, we broke into buddy pairs that persisted through the rest of the course.
The second instructor, Scott, joined us on day 2. Scott is a retired First Sergeant who came up through Army LRSC and deployed everywhere from Gulf War 1 to Afghanistan.
Scott opened with discussing malfunctions, their causes, and how to fix them (as well as inducing them for training value). Corrective actions focused mainly on variations of tap-rack-bang, but also double feeds and bolt overrides. The importance of actually looking into the ejection port to identify the source of any stoppage was emphasized.
My habits from California’s bullet button and my ambidextrous charging handle caused me grief, as I had grown accustomed to using my firing hand to do a lot of things.
The rest of the day continued to build on the basics of individual and buddy pair movement. Other topics included throughout the day were tactical reloads and scanning. The instructors are not fans of the cursory quick scan left and right that has grown popular. Instead, they emphasized a good steady scan of the surrounding terrain (and ejection port of your own rifle). This would be reinforced in the following days on the tactical ranges.
The second day finished with basic fire and movement, with a buddy pair advancing in short successive bounds covering one another.
The third day started in the outdoor classroom at the base of Tac Ranges 1 and 2. It was chilly, in the high 30’s, and there was a fair bit of shivering during the morning lectures until we actually started moving. The first half of the day built upon the closing drills from Day 2.
Rather than a single buddy pair advancing up a square range behind plywood sheets for cover, the pair would advance up Tac Range 1. The range consisted of uneven wooded terrain on a steady uphill climb. The teams would fire and maneuver while suppressing a pair of pop-up targets. Again, this was demonstrated, rehearsed, and then done with live fire.
Every time the drill grew in complexity, the course grew longer. We would “fight through” the first position, only to be contacted again by the next one further up the trail. This is where the importance of scanning began to grow. In the wooded terrain, it was not always obvious that the next “bad guy” had popped up unless you were carefully looking around. Getting “sucked into the target” was a recipe for failure.
Through it all, the instructors stuck right behind each pair. They ensured safety angles were never violated and muzzles were kept in safe directions.
Side note: these drills are the reason for the new fitness requirements (timed ruck and timed lunges) to attend training. Fighting up these hills is no joke, and people’s focus begins to drop off when they are tired. Even more so, if someone is unable to stand up from a kneeling or prone without waving their rifle in every direction, they are a safety hazard.
In all, these drills were exhausting but extremely fun. I tracked my heart rate through them, and it routinely hit 160-170- even just walking back up the hill to fetch spent magazines. My partner, the perpetually cigar-puffing retired Marine, spoke fondly of the drills. He also admitted that the terrain was humbling.
The back half of the day focused on breaking contact.
Demo, rehearse, perform.
The hardest thing you will ever do in combat is extract a casualty under fire. The second hardest will be to locate the enemy. – MVT Instructors
The final day took place on Tac Range 2, which follows along a curved wooded creek bed. The drills remained the same, but the terrain grew more complicated. This is where the quote above became a factor. Finding targets to shoot at became downright difficult at a times. It was easy to focus on the ones you already knew about, and if the team wasn’t communicating as they spotted more, then we had problems. I often found myself shooting at the same few target because the cover I was behind blocked my left field of view. Had I moved my head a few inches to the right, I would have seen them and engaged.
I came to appreciate my Elcan and ACOG. They are fantastic at this sort of thing. The magnified optics helped peer into the background and hunt for targets. The illuminated reticles helped draw the eye to the aiming point. Since multiple shooters were involved, speed was less important than hits and communication. This is an important takeaway for me.
I don’t want to give too much away, but these were fantastic drills.
This was an excellent training event. I was much more satisfied with the second two days (CTT), but I understand the need to bring everyone up to a basic foundation in the first two days. If anything, I would like to have had more practice on unconventional shooting positions. Staircase barriers were already present on the square range, so it wouldn’t take much effort to cut holes in them (like the VTAC barricades) and teach those lessons. Not super important, but it would be useful to have if there is extra time with a quick-learning class.
The next logical course for me to do is Combat Patrol. That course takes the team tactics drills and expands them into planning and conducting patrols. Beyond that, I am very interested in trying my hand at the Force on Force Team Tactics event. In FoF, students split into competing squads and drill against one another using UTM bolts and rounds. However, my funding does have limits.
I would highly recommend this course for anyone looking to grow beyond just being able to shoot quickly on a square range. Learning to communicate and coordinate with others during a firefight is a skill that isn’t going to be taught by reading a manual or watching a DVD. Until more trainers get past whatever it is that stops them from teaching it to open enrollment courses, Max has a pretty solid lock on this material.
Personal Lessons Learned
- It’s not about me. Once you start bringing your friends to the fight, it has a whole lot less to do with your individual speed/skill and a lot more to do with coordinating and communicating with those around you. Marksmanship absolutely matters, as only hits count, but a lot of the fancy whiz-bang stuff people attach to their weapons becomes a whole lot less important when you are keeping your rate of fire controlled and avoiding shooting from the standing as much as possible.
- Communicate, coordinate, communicate- but do it quickly. I had a discussion with Scott at the end of the whole course, and the basic feedback was that my weapon handling and maneuver mechanics were pretty good, but I was simply slow to communicate. This slowed down momentum. I think my careful communication style stems from my prior military background, which required high a lot of verbal coordination and positive “echos” of commands. Still, they would prefer that a team do it correctly a bit slower than attempt to fly through and become a mess. Remembering to communicate and coordinate constantly while also trying to put shots on target is very difficult, and it simply can’t be learned from reading.
- Lack of practice is killer when combined with even a little stress. Even though I set goals for myself for some weapon handling skills, I hadn’t actually been practicing prior to class. On the very first reload on Day 1, I ended up pulling out two pistol mags before finally grabbing the rifle mag I needed. Oops.
- The fitter you are, the better you will be able to keep your head in the game. If you’re already sucking wind after a short walk, and then make contact, you are far less effective and may even become a safety hazard.
- Do the drills to practice the skills, but don’t let them make you stupid. Two moments stick out to me regarding this. The first happened on day three. During the first two days of square range training, the react to contact drill included firing and then taking a kneeling position to simulate getting into cover. On the jungle walk, I went stupid and actually took a knee in the open on the trail rather than darting to the side behind actual cover. The second moment involved correcting a stoppage (reload) and then taking a shot at the last known target’s location (even though it was no longer visible). I did that because the drills we had practiced for the prior two days involving stoppages ended when the rifle was fired and shown to be “back in.”
- The more you practice correct marksmanship fundamentals, including positions, the better able you are able to improvise when conditions are less than ideal. After we left the square range, I don’t think I ever adopted a fully correct kneeling position again. The terrain just didn’t allow for it. However, I have practiced enough with understanding NPOA and bone-on-bone to make it work anyway. The target was still hit.
- You don’t need to “hug cover.” I was corrected several times for trying to bound too far ahead of my partner and the other buddy pair. In my mind, I was simply trying to get up to the next reasonable piece of cover, be it a wide enough tree or bundle of fallen logs. The reality was that I didn’t have to be next to it for the cover to do its job. As long as it was between me and them, it was working. By bounding too far ahead, I put safety angles at risk and potentially forced my partner to have to move again. Short aggressive bounds are better.
Notes on Gear
- Rifle #1 went down 2/3 of the way through day one with short stroking issues. I have been unable to determine what the root cause was, so I am chalking it up to poor lubrication for now. The TR24 1-4x optic on it worked great for that application, though. However, the rear ocular focus didn’t want to stay put. Until fully diagnosed, this rifle is being moved to backup status.
- Rifle #2, the LW BCM with Elcan Specter OS4x functioned flawlessly. The light weight was awesome when humping it up and down the trails, and the Elcan was perfect for target ID and engagement. The illumination setting (I used max brightness almost the entire time) was perfect for the shaded wooded terrain. It stood out just enough to draw the eye, but not so much that it was distracting. This rifle has been promoted to primary status.
- Rifle #3, the 20″ Musket with UBR 2.0 and TA-110, worked great for the afternoon that I used it. The LED ACOG was superb, as expected. However, the extra weight of the entire set up was definitely noticed. The stubby foregrip was very useful for carrying the rifle in the patrol position without inducing wrist strain. All things being equal, I wouldn’t mind having to hump the musket around longer term- but I definitely preferred the lighter weight of rifle #2.
- The medium battle belt was perfect. Two changes I made right before class was to swap out the HSGI Bleeder pouch for the Chinook MED TMK and I mounted a dump pouch at the center rear. Thankfully, I did not need the med kit, and the dump pouch just wasn’t useful except for gathering mags after drills. I won’t be keeping it there. The medium battle belt made a great layering item for controlling profile. I will have to write more about this.
- When it comes to hats, short soft brims work better than long stiff ones. I wore a patrol cap for the first couple days, and switched to a short brim boonie hat for the second two. The patrol cap, an Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap in Multicam was certainly convenient. I could fold it up and stuff it in a pocket, and it didn’t interfere with my electronic ear pro at all. The boonie, a Tyr Tactical Huron short brim boonie, interfered far less with sight picture through magnified optics. Once I figured out how to make it work with my ear pro, I much preferred the boonie hat.
- The MVT chest rig I picked up last year did its job well. It was low profile enough to not get in the way of any positions, or become a snag hazard, yet it worked well for reloading. Not being split front, it was a little bit of a chore to get on and off, but was otherwise nearly unnoticeable.
- I wore my Vertx smock for all four days. While it sometimes grew pretty warm when in the sun, its pocket space was indispensable. On the first two days with the square range, I carried extra magazines inside the pockets (where mag sleeves were sewn in), and replenished my belt from them as needed. At no point did it interfere with movement, and I could easily see it being a trusted piece of kit.
- I felt like quality eye pro made a big difference in the class as far as vision went. I used a pair of Revision Sawflys through the entire thing, swapping from tinted to clear lenses for the second two days.
- I didn’t think it would matter, but I happened to wear a pair of TAD Force-10 pants for the whole course, which proved great. Not only were they durable and allowed freedom of movement, but I never realized they had magazine sleeves sewn into the cargo pockets. In all, between the pants and the smock, I could discretely carry eight 30-round magazines in purpose-made pockets.
- I tested two slings during the course, the FTW multipurpose and my long-standing BFG Padded VCAS. Both worked well, but I ultimately liked using the VCAS more.
This was an awesome way to spend four days and enough money to make my wife a little mad at me. Aside from the training aspect itself, I appreciated the opportunity to vet some of the gear I’ve acquired over the years. To be honest, it all worked pretty well. I suppose that is another mark in the column for buy something good up front and it won’t fail you later.
Thanks for reading!