AAR: Dean Caputo AR Operator Diagnostic Course; Garland, TX
Dean Caputo conducted his AR15/M16 Operator Diagnostic Course this weekend (07/19-20/2008) at the Garland, TX Police Department. The class was attended by 23 students, which included several Dallas PD and Garland PD officers and trainers, construction types, engineers, three of Mark LaRue’s technical support guys along with many other average earth people (to use a Pat Rogers term). This class does not involve the firing of any ammunition, but it’s one of the most outstanding training sessions you could ever receive based on the amount, quality, credibility and value of information received and discussed. All of us were there because of a need or desire to gain more operational user knowledge about the AR platform and that goal was clearly exceeded, based on early feedback.
Dean wasted no time letting students know that this was NOT an armorer’s course, which in my experience, is often a mind-numbing operation of learning how to disassemble and reassemble weapons and/or weapons assemblies that we’ll likely never have the need to deal with after the course in question. As an example, most folks that own and seriously use the AR will never have the need to get into the guts of a rear sight assembly or to be able to replace a barrel. These same folks, do however, need to know proper maintenance and inspection routines and what kind of gear to buy and what to run far away from.
Dean very effectively delivers several different types of important and critical information regarding the AR system over two fast moving days. This information will enable the operators and trainers of the gun to avoid trouble, diagnose trouble and quickly repair most problems that come up with the AR15/M16. This class is purely for folks that operate where the rubber meets the road: cops, military, trainers and serious citizen shooters of the “black rifle”.
Caputo knows that operator/trainer perspective well, since he’s a near 30-year veteran of a Southern California police agency, a long-time LE firearms trainer of his PD (and a multi-agency tactical unit), former Gunsite instructor, Federal Narcotics Task Force investigator and gunfight winner (not just the usual “survivor”). Dean’s accomplishments with his agency in the development and implementation of a very successful carbine program have been a valuable resource and model for other agencies that are smart enough not to try and reinvent the wheel in their own carbine program development.
While most folks immediately mentally shut down during a history lesson, the history and politics surrounding the development of the M16 and AR15 contain some important insights that help us understand how we got to where we are today. Dean furnished that information and suggested some good resources that will allow us history buffs to stuff our brains with more! We moved into discussions of various design iterations of the gun and to my surprise we learned that the original designer, Eugene Stoner, considered and then rejected a piston upper system for the gun early on! I think that was a real eye opener for some folks in the class that are considering changing from a direct gas to a piston upper. Also passed on was information about the reason that Colt and their required adherence to the Technical Data Package (TDP) can generally be counted on to produce a higher quality gun. Hackles often start popping up when folks say their “baby” from another AR maker is “ugly”, but Caputo very credibly explained what the TDP accomplishes; that others don’t HAVE to follow it like Colt does and that Colt doesn’t make everything perfectly every day!
Also covered was parts production methods, parts allocations to other manufacturers and what kind of QC/QA processes are utilized to ensure that the Colt guns meet the TDP. Nomenclature of the gun’s components was addressed in some detail and the importance of proper terminology was explained when ordering parts, especially from the big C, since what you and I call a bolt is a “bolt assembly” to Colt. Order a “bolt” from them and you’ll need to find a firing pin, firing pin retaining pin, extractor and all the other parts to make what we call a bolt after your (very stripped) “bolt” arrives from the factory!
We field stripped and reassembled our carbines/rifles several times each day of the class and you could almost see the “light bulbs” start popping on around the room when critical aspects of the TDP and QC/QA were explained to all of us, especially with regard to carrier key staking, castle nut staking, front sight orientations, chamber dimensions, etc. Dean used Ned Christensen’s MOACKS (Mother of All Carrier Key Stakers) and 5.56 NATO chamber reamer to bring a number of rifles in the class up to spec in those two critical areas (many thanks to Richardson, TX PD Detective Shayne Harris for the loan of those two tools).
The use of animated CAD drawings to illustrate the weapon’s cycle of operation and parts interactions were worth the cost of admission to many. You can read a technical document explanation of how something works, but seeing it on a screen in action makes things much clearer. Caputo used these visual resources frequently and often posed instances of weapon problems and/or failures to the class to have the students diagnose what caused the problem and how to remediate it or avoid it altogether. Some problems seemed to be no-brainers and some forced more thinking than I usually do on a weekend!
Dean covered the use of the limited technical inspection (LTI) by the serious user and how to conduct it, standards to apply and remedial actions to keep a carbine functional, safe and reliable. Suggested parts, tools, gauges and accessories were noted throughout the course and the elusive Brownell’s parts numbers were furnished. I love Brownell’s but I hate their website search engine, so those numbers were a big help to all of us.
Cleaning and maintenance issues were covered and many myths were slain at this point and some of the former Marines were fronted out. Topics were things like the unfounded necessity to clean the bolt tail of all the carbon fouling, staggering bolt rings, cleaning gas tubes, etc. were all addressed and the real world truths furnished along with the reasons why. As a long time trainer, I was very impressed with Dean’s constant explanation of the “whys” of what he teaches. I think all of us have endured “training” in which a speaker was simply “vomiting” off a lesson plan or PowerPoint and who doesn’t have the interest, knowledge, desire or ability to justify what they’re teaching. To Caputo’s credit, this was never an issue. Agree with him or not, he could clearly articulate the basis of his knowledge and could usually show you a picture or tell one or more horror stories. Dean focus was on teaching cleaning and maintenance procedures that kept the guns reasonably clean and functionally reliable and not for “white glove” inspections. Based on the fact that this class has been presented to, and well received by Marine units that have deployed to and returned from the Mid East, I’d say his stance on this is pretty well vindicated.
The cost of the course was justified to me by the information devoted to weapons malfunctions and a very quick and easy way to diagnose magazine related and extractor related failures. It’s so simple, you almost wanted to slap your head and say, “why didn’t I think of that?” This AAR isn’t to give away Dean’s course content, so I’ll just say you need to get in the class for that nugget. To further assist in problem mitigation and avoidance, Dean’s acronym “MEAL” gives a user an organized method to address preventive maintenance areas and to identify likely sources of functioning problems. “MEAL” is fully expressed as: Magazines, Extractors/Extraction, Ammunition and Lubrication. If your AR (or other auto or semi-auto firearm) is having problems, this is a good resource to help you work through the problem.
There was a discussion on ammunition selection, performance, quality and manufacturing issues that covered lots of ground in a hurry. Caputo leaned towards users not considering their AR as a sure-fire “death ray” and to also consider that the weapon and ammunition combinations selected by most users are in reality about a 100-200 yard package. Issues of catastrophic weapons failures were discussed and shown through photographic presentations. As an added bonus, one of the students brought a kaboomed AR that had sent a large fragment of bolt carrier through his abdominal wall when the gun blew some time ago.
Finally, Dean covered some useful gear selection ideas with regard to lights, optics, magazines and other critical gear. He pulled no punches and again backed his assertions with facts and incidents. Brownell’s numbers or vendor contact information was made available to all who needed it.
Each student received a course notebook with the presentation slides photocopied therein, along with a CD of many solid AR resources, publications, graphics, etc. An added bonus was supplied by the LaRue Tactical guys in attendance, who provided their armadillo bottle openers, ‘Dillo Dust meat rub and LT ball caps for the class. Many thanks to them (and Mark) for their generosity!
If you’ve heard of this class and thought it was not for you, I’d say that you’re almost certainly missing a great opportunity. This was two solid days of useful, real world information for folks that are serious users of the M16/AR15 system. I’ve known one of the Dallas PD instructors in attendance for over 25 years and know the length and breadth of his experience with the gun. He was impressed and stated it was a very valuable course. This class is a great one and is well presented by a guy who clearly knows his stuff and wants to help the good guys get into a better place, knowledge wise, than they were when they walked into the classroom.
Finally, many thanks to Officers Scott Lichtenberg and Kevin Ross of the Garland PD for their assistance in the production of this class and for use of an excellent facility.
Hey Wayne, thanks for the great AAR. It's a kind reminder that all the hard work that I have been doing to make our class in NC happen is going to be worth it.
For those not sure if they should attend one of Dean's AR Operator Diagnostic Courses, you should.
About two years ago I almost passed up the chance to take this course while Dean was in the Detroit area. I am glad I went. Dean truly knows the AR platform like only a few do, and his ability to infuse the class with information was great. Don't sit on the fence if Dean gets to your area.
Dean's class is great. I only had the one day version but it was outstanding.