It was nightfall. I looked over the shoulder of the guy in front of me. I could just make out the shadow of his Kevlar helmet in the moonlight. By the corner of his eye, I was just able to pick out the eerie green glow of NVG optics, and then I saw bullets hitting steel, each one exploding into a burst of sparks. Tom Perroni turned to me and asked, “Where else could you do this?’
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Just when you’re not expecting anything new, Tom demonstrates why he is a master of training. My sons and I took Commonwealth Criminal Justice Academy's Tactical Carbine II class on Sunday. It was the second half of the program, with Tactical Carbine I offered on Saturday. David works every Saturday, so I had asked Tom for a Sunday program. We had taken previous tactical carbine courses, so the T.C. II course on Sunday worked out well for us all. Will and I had taken the T.C. II course before, but since we’re not particularly experienced, I thought it would be worthwhile to repeat it.
I was prepared for a leisurely “do over” of the previous T.C. II. I should not have underestimated Tom’s dedication to his profession, his creativity, or his contacts. We are familiar with most of his instructor cadre, and their extraordinary credentials. Pete was there, as was Mark. On Sunday we were introduced to Nate, EMT/Medical Instructor, and Jim, optics expert.
The day started at 0800 in the classroom. Since we had been through several similar courses, Tom covered the safety essentials. He then turned the floor over to Nate, who gave us a classroom demonstration of how to use the newest SF tourniquet and Izzie compression bandages. There was a lot of give and take about when, where and how to provide first aid associated with serious trauma. I found this very interesting, and could have listened to this presentation for the rest of the day. I guess I’ll have to come back...
Next we heard from Joe. He is CCJA’s optics guru, and like the rest of the staff, he knows his stuff. No optic is perfect, and he gave us the good and bad points for each type. Like anything else, your choice of an optic will be determined first by your mission, second by your personal preference, and third by your wallet. In Joe’s line of work, the end-user’s personal preference and wallet are not considerations in the slightest. His task on Sunday was to give us an orientation on visible and IR lasers. Tom had acquired use of high-grade lasers and night vision equipment. He spent big bucks to purchase a variance allowing him to use the range beyond the time normally permitted. So, the big news was that we were going to be shooting under the stars!
Mid-morning we made our way to the range. There was a little breeze, which kept the heat level to just oppressive. We started out by doing trigger reset drills. Some of us don’t have the skills that others do, and we benefit from instructions on the fundamentals. I don’t practice as much as I should, and it shows. These basic drills are things that I can do on my own, when time permits. And, the drills allow you to see how one skill builds upon another.
Nate and Tom set up a three or four man medical exercise. One was designated to provide cover fire, one or two were casualties, and the third was the medic. Complete medical bags were laid out with tourniquets and compression bandages. As we moved forward in contractor carry, Tom or Nate would call out where the casualties were wounded. The medic would first assess the wounds, and prioritize the treatments. Was the wound spurting or oozing? Could the casualty assist in his own care? Did the wound warrant a tourniquet? Open the bags, unzip the right compartment and remove the proper item. While the casualty is screaming , you’re crawling on your knees and your teammate is laying down suppressive fire, where’s your muzzle pointing? Doing all of these things in the field is an entirely different thing from practicing on the carpet in an air conditioned office. The next level of reality, which we were thankfully spared yesterday, was to pour warm syrup dyed red over the casualty and the hands of the medic. Try to tear open a sealed bandage like under those conditions. If that doesn’t instill in you a deep and abiding respect for those guys who do it for real in the Sandbox, nothing will.
We then shifted gears, so to speak, in the Suburban. We donned helmets, and plates if could put them in our kit, and teams of two got in the vehicle. Pete drove the Suburban in front of the targets, and we shot at steel from the moving vehicle, slowly at first and then at gradually increasing speed. Like the other things I did before and after that on Sunday, it’s a lot harder than I thought.
Next was the ever popular serpentine drill. When I try to explain to non-shooters what we do at these courses, I tell them it’s like ballet with bullets. Footwork is a crucial element to proper tactical movement. Body position is even more important, so as to provide the smallest target to the opposition. There is a good reason for everything the instructors tell you, and if you ask, they will explain why they do things the way they do.
At this time we broke for dinner. We had about two hours on our own while we waited for dusk. There isn’t much else to do, so after getting a few hamburgers we headed back to the range so that I could embarrass myself on the pistol range. Well, the price of 9 mm is coming down, so there’s no excuse for not practicing any more.
In the fading light, we put on the lasers and sighted them in. I am used to consumer-type lasers, and they are not exactly easy to sight in. The commercial-grade lasers are a snap. The visible laser is used almost exclusively for sighting in because the beam is visible, and washes out in daylight. Since the design of the commercial-grade lasers puts the IR beam to the left of the bore, and the visible to the right, the sighting in is specific to a given distance, similar to any other optic. With the visible laser, it was easy to punch steel in low light even with just iron sights.
Now came the time we were all waiting for. With the lasers sighted in, we could use the halo and helmet mounted NVGs Tom provided. We switched the lasers to IR, and turned on the IR illuminators. The clarity was excellent, but with limitations. The hardest thing was trying to load a magazine. Even though it was a dozen or so inches from your nose, there was no sense of depth and it turned out easiest to do by sense of touch. This was old-hat to some of the other students, one of whom actually flew helicopters with these things, but for most of us it was a fantastic and novel experience.
My sons and I were running Golden Bear and Silver Bear. We could win the next shooting war by giving the enemy AR pattern rifles and making them shoot Russian ammo. There were lots of problems with stuck casings and double feeds. I bought a case of decent brass ammo, but specifically decided to run the junk for this course. There is a real tendency when your gun jams in a course like this is to walk over to the instructor and ask him to fix it. The better action is to recognize instantly that your primary is down, and move to secondary. You “fix that bitch” before putting it away, because “if it saved your life once, it’ll do it again,” and then perhaps you can clear the jam. Now we know how to address minor problems, how much you can do quickly, and at what point you throw it down and pick up an AK.
It was nice to see the turnout of significant others and children. We had a great dinner Saturday night at Outback with three families and associated children from toddlers to young adults. CCJA now has special rates with two hotels, the Hospitality House and the Hampton Inn and Suites on Hospitality Drive. For the last two courses, we’ve stayed at the Hampton Inn and have been very pleased. The rooms are new, clean and well-appointed. If you are trying to get your wife or SO to come along with you for a course, you’ll score more points with the Hampton Inn for just a few dollars more.
It’s obvious Tom puts his heart into the courses he offers at CCJA. There is an enormous amount of work in setting these courses up, getting the outside expertise required, and putting it all together. It really comes through.
Oh, and the answer is “Nowhere.”
I will add my AAR here for the same course.
AAR CCJA (Tom Perroni) M4 Tactical Carbine II July 18, 2010
Weather – Upper 90s high humidity
Instructors – Pete, Mark, Jim, Nate, and of course Tom Perroni
Students – Varied background ranging from active contractors keeping their skills sharp to enthusiast learning new skills. All have taken at least Carbine I from Tom, many had much more training than that. I knew almost everyone in the class which increased my comfort level (we have all been to a class with “that guy”).
* Overview of the day – Tom reviewed the syllabus and set expectations. We had a lot to do. Tom also had a couple of surprises one of which was the noise ordinance wavier was secured so we could shoot after dark. More on this later…
* Carbine optics – We did a quick review on all the options available for the carbine, the advantages and disadvantages, trends, recommendations, and placement. Bottom line, buy once cry once.
* Emergency Medical Familiarization – The class was presented with a brief overview of emergency medical treatments for a gun shot wound. I will not go in to detail as the material was not intended to teach us to be medics. Tom teaches a ton of medic courses, some that are open to the public. The big question was “why are we covering this material”? More on this later…
* Trigger Reset – A very basic concept and a good way to start the day. Stance, hand position, kit placement, and slings were also checked over. A good warm up and some needed gear changes for some.
* Carbine Handling Drills – We covered mag changes (administrative and emergency) and transitions. Everyone was getting dialed in and warmed up, well more than warm, it was getting hot by now. We ended this drill with a series of commands to execute with the focus not on speed but correct technique. This got the blood pumping real good.
* Shooting from cover – The shooter lined up behind cover, got on his sights, leaned out, and took his shot then leaned back in to cover. This was done with the weapon on both sides of the barricade and both sides of the body. Right side right shoulder, left side left shoulder. Three positions were used, standing, kneeling, and prone. A great weapons manipulation drill and a good way to ensure your sling is sorted out. Single point slings ruled the day here.
* Combat Casualty Drill – Ok, here is where the morning emergency medical overview came in to play. Half the students were set out in patrol formation. Of this patrol, 2 would be shooters, 4 would be wounded, and 2 would be medics. This was an eye opener. The patrol would move out and at the sound of AK fire the following would occur:
- The shooters would advance and lay down covering fire on steel targets at ~ 50 yards. Both shooters had to keep their weapons up with out a lull in the rate of cover fire. Communication and team work were a must.
- The wounded fell and started to scream in pain.
- The medics would come and assess and treat their patients (instructors would tell them who had what injury).
Everyone was rotated through each role. What an eye opener. Digging through the med bag looking for a tourniquet or an Izzy bandage while 2 “wounded” were screaming during cover fire was tough. I cannot imagine the real thing. I am going to sign up for some emergency medical training for sure.
* Shooting from a moving vehicle – This was another one of Tom’s surprises for the day. Students kited up with plates and helmets and sat passenger side front and rear. We were taught how to sit and take position to better increase our chance of getting hits (it is tougher than it looked to get hits). The Suburban took 3 passes at the targets (reduced size steel IPSC at ~ 10 yards). Each pass was faster and faster. Precision shooting this was not. Volume of fire was effective if the student could hold his weapon close to target. Some students with folding stocks tried shooting with the stock folding only to find that it was even harder to stay on target. For 6 targets I ran about a mag each run and was getting good hits. Hot brass was flying everywhere, I was wearing a golf shirt and with all the buttons done I was good, my partner wore a Shemagh with good results. One student that wore shorts learned why everyone had long pants on. This was a lot of fun and much tougher than it looked. Shooting while I am moving is one thing but shooting from a vehicle bouncing over gravel was another. Good stuff!
* Serpentine Drills – From moving in a vehicle to doing so on foot. Four barrels set about eight feet apart are used as pylons for the shooter to weave through while putting rounds on target. Don’t cross your feet, remember to breath, transition if you run dry and call for cover. A great drill that stresses several skills at once.
* Pistol Plate Challenge – After the dinner break, Tom had the class divided in to two teams for a heads up elimination match on the pistol plates. What better way to pass the time while waiting for the sun to set. Twelve eight inch plates on each rack with the shooter at 17ish yards out. Not an easy shot made even tougher with sweaty hands and fatigue from the heat. Lots of fun and good natured ribbing going on.
* Lasers and Night Vision – Night was falling so it was time to break out some of Tom’s last surprise for the day and the super high speed gear. I do not recall the names of the devices as I was pretty smoked by then and had long since given up taking notes. The device emitted visible and invisible laser and IR for night vision illumination. We started with the visible laser at 50 yards on steel. The laser was very easy to use, almost like a red dot only harder to control. Interesting note, you I could not see the visible laser when looking through an Aimpoint but could see it through an eotech. Not sure exactly why this is the case but it is though I think that the design of the sight also acted as a filter blocking the laser, this was just a guess. Night vision! Tom had two types, one was a monocular mounted to a helmet, the other covered both eyes and converged to a single tube. The helmet mounted unit was the preferred set up. One eye on night vision the other not. Open one eye or the other to change your view. Very effective. The take away here for me is night vision is a huge advantage but unless you are trained up and use it on a regular basis it can be confusing and disorienting. I do not know how those guys fly helicopters wearing them!
Conclusion – This was one of the best courses I have been to. The day started at 8:00am and ended at 10:00pm. I was tired, but it was the good kind of tired. We all worked hard all day, one of us wearing plates the entire class by the way (you the man Alex), stayed safe, and learned a ton. A great day with a great bunch of guys, not a “that guy” in sight!
Note on heat – The instructors stayed on us all day to stay hydrated with good cause. A few guys got close to dehydration but with some gentle words, a foot up their ass, and a gallon of water down the throat they were fine. I was please with my hydration strategy for the day and finished every last drop of fluid I brought to the range, about a gallon of Gatorade and over a gallon of water. I won the award for most piss breaks. ;^)
It is hard to really know where to begin when evaluating CCJA’s recent Advanced Tactical Carbine course. Because it was definitely a step up from a basic course, definitely a higher level of expectation was present, and although everyone in the class was rather squared away, it was clear that things instructors might let pass in an intro course were not going to be allowed here.
Although the day was a blur because of the intense heat, certain things definitely stand out. The instructors were definitely on us, but every time someone corrected something I was doing, you could feel the obvious care that he was attempting to make you be the best shooter you could be.
Some examples of the level of correction: Many were corrected for chicken-winging. The problem was mentioned, the reason why it’s a problem was described, and corrective action was taken. Jim Santoro was the gentleman who gave a very nice description of the pros and cons of various optic systems. While out on the range, he worked with us on speed reloads and tactical reloads. Oddly enough, people were fine on speed loads, but everyone needed more work to be efficient on tactical reloads. Jim was great about giving us the information we needed about the best way to do it. He explained both multiple modalities as well as different ways for left-handers to perform that operation.
Mark, who has been with CCJA for some time now, and has a fascinating background in both private protection as well as with the Hong Kong Constabulary, paid great attention to our using resets properly, and really brought a smile to my face later on. When we were performing a much more involved set of activities, the scenario where some of us were practicing bandages with students lying in the middle of the field, Mark spoke to the people shooting about not forgetting what they learned about trigger reset just because they had moved on to something else. It was so understandable that when you were no longer working on just one thing, it is easy to revert to what you did before. However, Mark’s calling people on that did a lot to really engrain that training on us students.
The medic stage was great. AK shooting from Pete (clearly recognizable as being different from our ARs), initiated designated shooters to start putting rounds downrange, guys lying down and yelling that they were hit, and the poor guy with the pack had to start crawling around (to keep as low as possible) and put bandages and tourniquets on the “injured” team-members. It was challenging to crawl around over uneven ground in intense heat with rounds going off just a few feet away, and effectively get people taken care of.
We did practice shooting out of the truck while it was moving, but, although it was great fun, it was amazing how much accuracy was degraded. There were passes with good shooters with 0, meaning ZERO hits.
The heat was searing, unrelenting, and affected everything we did. Bright direct sunlight with high humidity (easily over 80%) and a high of about 100 degrees. Tom was unstinting in his demand that people stay hydrated and get electrolytes (when necessary). Just about everyone brought their own water (usually Camelbaks, etc.) but Tom supplied over a gallon per person himself. A couple guys started to show some worrisome signs (no urination, no sweating), and Tom was right on it. He made them rest, stay under cover that he set up for everyone, drink, and he immediately checked their temperatures with electronic thermometers. I know some of the other students were disappointed that the thermometers were oral, but we didn’t need to embarrass the sick!
Doing serpentine drills is always a challenge, because you’re focusing on at least three things at the same time: moving in particular directions without bumping into obstacles, using heel/toe, or toe/heel, and getting hits on target. I enjoyed revisiting this especially while getting used to new sights!
One last word: I have never trained with Nathan before: he’s the guy who assisted us with learning how to treat bleeding. His discussion of tourniquets and bandages was very clear, and it was great for everyone to get some hands-on time. He is obviously completely knowledgeable on the topic, and is excellent at conveying that knowledge to others.
On the whole, Tom’s courses are excellent for instilling core skill-sets in students. There is a nice balance between getting in your face with things that need to be changed, and offering positive encouragement. I heard a lot of both, and I have no doubt that every person there learned something they will use to improve their shooting abilities. Tom’s classes are about surviving and winning gunfights, and that’s what they’re excellent at driving home.