After Action Report – GPS Tactical Handgun Class, 02/09/13

I’ve been remiss lately in my blogging as I just haven’t been setting aside any extra time to type out any thoughts.  On that note, I thought I would do something a bit different and post the After Action Report (AAR) I wrote regarding the class we at Armed Missouri, Inc. hosted, as well as participated in, this past weekend.  I realize this is a bit lengthy for a blog entry, but I wanted to get this out there to help shine the light on good training at a very reasonable price.  Hope you enjoy!

AAR – Gauntlet Professional Services
“Tactical Handgun”
By: Chris Shoffner –

Course Title: “Tactical Handgun”
Instructor: Jeff Dill
Assistant Instructors/Range Officers: Michelle Dill, Derrick Dill
Date of course: 02/09/2013
Location: Armed Missouri, Inc.
Class time: 8:00 – 5:00

Gauntlet Professional Services (GPS) Tactical Handgun course is an objective-based program that utilizes a building-block approach in order to equip students with the ability to make situationally-appropriate decisions under the stress of a real lethal force encounter. While 99 percent of the instruction takes place on the range and includes the use of dry and live fire, it is not so much a shooting class, but rather focuses on the tactics one utilizes in situations that justify the use of deadly force – in other words, this is a course that requires the student to actually engage the brain in critical thinking rather than just punching holes in paper for no apparent reason.

This was not an introductory or beginner-level course as participants were already expected to have a mastery of safe gun handling practices, basic marksmanship fundamentals, as well as an established skill set in loading, unloading, malfunction clearing, basic use of cover/concealment, and presentation/reholstering of a firearm before being accepted for enrollment into the course. The scenarios presented to the students throughout the day were varied and numerous with everything from a one-on-one attacker situation, all the way through two-man team deliberate entry scenarios.

The first block of the course started out in the classroom. After everyone was signed in, Lead Instructor Jeff Dill gave a quick course introduction and outlined the various exercises, in addition to the objectives and goals that the class would consist of throughout the day. This was followed up with a safety briefing in addition to an emergency response plan that was to be followed should the need arise. It was reassuring to know that GPS Assistant Instructor, Michelle Dill, is also an experienced EMT with trauma and first aid training. I was also proud to see no less than 3 fully-equipped trauma kits were brought to the range by various sources, (GPS, AMI, and one student), in addition to several PTK’s that some of the folks had in their range bags.

With introductions and the safety briefing completed, we left the classroom and headed down to the range at about 8:30. After taking a few minutes to set up tables that would be used as reloading stations and getting some targets set up down range, range procedures were reviewed and students were set up on the line and lead through a series of skills evaluation exercises. This gave Jeff a first hand look at each student’s gun-handling skills, their application of safe gun handling practices, and their general ability to present the handgun from a holster and perform basic reloading tasks. It was important to have a base line from which to work so anyone who needed extra remediation could receive it and to ensure that there were no safety issues that needed to be addressed. After helping a couple of students work out a couple of minor details and running through the exercises a few times, Jeff was finally satisfied that everyone was on the same page and we were able to move on to the second block of instruction which is where the real meat of the course actually begins.

The second block of instruction starts out with a series of Combat Accuracy/Target Recognition drills. Essentially, each target board was pasted with 5 randomly placed ten-inch diameter paper plates and then each plate was randomly assigned a number (1 through 5) with a Sharpie marker. Starting from the holster and shooting from 21 feet, students had to balance speed and precision to achieve the hits they needed to get on each plate as the numbers were called out. Students who were placing all of their shots into a tight group on any given plate were instructed to speed up, and students throwing shots off of the plates were instructed to slow down. As we progressed, Jeff started calling multiple numbers in a certain order, or calling “odds” or “evens”, and sometimes calling for shots that were not actually present. This required the students to go through an actual target recognition process, rather than just a mechanical shooting process. This forced the students to make decisions and utilize cognitive discrimination on each shoot/no-shoot situation. Part of the way through this first series of drills, students were introduced to lateral movement where they were instructed to take a step to the left, or to the right, as they presented their firearm from the holster for each exercise. This was done to reinforce the importance of getting off of the line of attack in a real lethal force encounter and to help the students build the response stimulus that only comes through frequent and realistic practice.

We moved on to Speed Reloads next. This instruction consisted primarily of a sort of “competition” amongst the students utilizing a drill Jeff called “Rolling Thunder”. Essentially, the students fired shots in a “chain” down the firing line, performing a reload after each turn while waiting for the “chain” to get back around to them. Each time the “chain” came back around, another shot was added to the sequence, so on round 1, each student fired 1 round, on round 2 each student fired 2 rounds, on round 3 each student fired 3 rounds, and so on and so forth. Eventually, the “chain” moved very quickly, especially as magazines started to run dry, adding more stress as the exercise progressed. This gave everyone a good chance to go through a pretty significant number of mag changes in a fairly short period of time, while keeping the process relevant within the context of actually running out of ammunition during a real shooting event. In my view, this was a much better approach to the concept of performing speed reloads under real live-fire conditions, rather than just having students stand on a line and perform the skill in isolation. From this point forward, students were responsible for keeping their guns loaded and ready to use unless instructed otherwise.

After speed reloads, we switched over to Tactical Reloads. We didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the process, though Jeff went through instruction on both the “Y” and “L” methods pointing out that one method or the other could work better for each individual depending on hand size and magazine size and style, among other things. It was also stressed that a Tactical Reload should only be undertaken after a careful and deliberate decision making process has been performed. It is never wise to render a firearm inoperable during an active engagement when it is not absolutely necessary.

The next portion of instruction focused on Immediate Action responses to common pistol stoppages. This included multiple exercises in which students dealt with Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 stoppages. I was glad to see that Jeff had each student “trade” magazines with another student to have them randomly load dummy rounds so as to make the occurrence of the stoppages more random and more spontaneous during the Type 1 exercises. Of course, Type 2 and Type 3 stoppages require a bit more choreography. At this point, I will point out that I firmly believe in the idea of trying techniques and methods that an instructor recommends in his class, even if they are inconsistent with a particular method or technique that I normally use. When we did Type 3 stoppages (double feeds), this really threw me off my game, as my normal Immediate Action response is slightly different than the method that Jeff had us try. In turn, I found myself really fumbling through the process on the first couple of tries. After taking a moment to consult with Jeff and showing him my normal process for dealing with this type of malfunction, he was more than happy to allow me to use the method I was already familiar with. This was another “plus” for Jeff and his ability as an instructor in my book.

Once everyone had a good grasp on reloads and immediate action responses, we broke from the monotony of utilizing the handgun as the primary weapon system, to using it as a secondary platform. This involved going through a series of Long Gun-to-Handgun Transition exercises. Students were allowed to use a carbine or shotgun as their primary (their choice), but the transitions were conducted under the premise that, for whatever reason, the long gun had become inoperable and it was now necessary to transition from the inoperable primary platform to the operable secondary platform (the handgun).

This is me getting ready for the next Long Gun-to-Handgun Transition drill.

While I acknowledge that these transitions have a fairly limited practical application for most of us civilians, they could be very relevant to a law enforcement officer who carries a patrol rifle or shotgun in his/her cruiser. Additionally, being how this is a POST approved course and since we had active law enforcement participating in the class, it only made sense to include these drills. I also have to admit that it was a bit fun stepping “outside of my box” a bit and doing some work with long guns when the vast majority of my gun work is usually focused on the handgun platform.

The next segment of block two involved performing a series of drills that involved switching hands with the gun (not off-hand draws, just switching the gun from the normal shooting hand to the support hand, and back) and then engaging the targets under various conditions. Some of the shooting was done using a two-handed, off-hand grip, while some of it was performed using single-handed methods. These transitions were performed under the guise that one hand had perhaps been injured to the point that it could no longer effectively fire the gun, thus forcing the shooter to look for an alternative method. Again, we didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on these particular drills, but we went through them enough that everyone was able to see that they were capable of delivering combat accurate hits even under these less-than-ideal circumstances.

At this point, we broke for an hour-long lunch break. The entire class retreated to the classroom where instructors and students all sat down for some casual conversation and a bite to eat. It was a welcomed break considering we had been on our feet for most of the morning in addition to it being a bit cold and windy outside.

We returned to the range to complete the final segment of block two, which involved instruction on using the SUL position and working through a “Safety Circle” drill in addition to several Stacking exercises. Jeff explained that since the class would be performing two-man-team Work and Cover and Deliberate Entry drills later in the day, it was important for everyone to have the techniques and methods for working in “stacked” groups down pat to ensure the highest level of safety. We spent the better part of 30 minutes working through a series of drills that involved groups of students moving in a “stacked” configuration, making turns, changing directions, and moving around obstacles, etc.

Students working through one of the Stacking Drills. I am in the center-left of this frame wearing the black shirt and OD green pants.

With the second block of instruction completed, students returned to the reloading stations to, once again, top off all of their magazines (a recurring theme throughout the day). The third block of instruction officially began with a series of Move and Engage drills. These included exercises in shooting and moving in all 8 compass directions (North, South, East, West, NE, NW, SE, and SW), utilizing both one-handed shooting techniques as well as two-handed shooting techniques. Students were instructed to move slowly, deliberately, and safely, and were expected to focus on delivering combat accurate hits to the targets during the course of these exercises, regardless of which hand they were shooting with or what direction of travel they were engaged in. Upon completion of these Move and Engage exercises, a brief discussion was had regarding the practical application of shooting while moving during a real lethal force encounter and when it might be wise, and when it might not.

From this point, we went into some Positional Shooting exercises. This included both two-handed and one-handed shooting from single-knee high, single-knee low, double-knee high, and double-knee low positions. The kneepads proved to be a very valuable accessory at this point as we went through about 60 rounds during these exercises.

Strong hand only, shooting from the single-knee high position.

For the next segment of instruction, the “1 through 5” targets were switched out and replaced with photorealistic targets of various design. We then moved on to some Moving/Use of Cover drills. Jeff and his AI’s used the target stands to set up simulated “cover” in different positions so we could work through several different scenarios. Emphasis was placed on not only exposing as little of your body as possible when engaging the targets, but also on the most tactically prudent way to move from one piece of cover to the next, which isn’t necessarily the shortest route.

Moving/Use of Cover drill.

One of the scenarios involved a hostage taker target which added even more stress as students not only had a much smaller target area in which to place their hits, but they also had to avoid shooting the “good guy” in order to successfully complete the exercise. I was especially happy with my performance on this particular exercise when 4 out of the 4 shots I fired all found the head of the “bad guy” and left the “good guy” unscathed.

From here, we moved on to some Work and Cover drills. These consisted of working in two-man teams and performing “controlled retreats” whereby one member of the team would “set” and engage the threat, while the other member of the team would be “moving” away from the threat a short distance at which point he would stop and “set” and engage, while the other team member would “move”, and so on and so forth until both team members were a safe distance away from the threat. This “leap frog” technique requires concise communications between the team members, as well as a very high level of trust and impeccable safe gun handling practices. This is also where the prior instruction on the SUL position started to come back into play.

Myself (near) and Instructor Jeff Dill, running through a Work and Cover drill.

I want to point out that these exercises were conducted with “blue guns” when they required any student to be down range of another and at no time was any person allowed down range of any live fire. With all of that said, I can see where this kind of tactic could have some practical application in an inside-the-home situation where a husband and wife might need to make a retreat to a safe room, to a child’s room, or even to retreat from the house. I can also envision practical applications for this type of technique in a public environment during an active shooter situation where a retreat might be possible, but risky. It is with that in mind that I will be sharing and practicing these techniques with my wife during our next training session.

The next segment of instruction required the AI’s to, once again, set up some simulated scenarios. Using a few of the barricades and metal chairs that were available on the range, they set up a simulated vehicle that would be used for the Vehicle Cover/Entry/Escape drills we would go through next. Just as we did in the previous exercises, we were required to work in teams, though for these exercises, we would work in three-man teams rather than the two-man teams we had worked in prior. Jeff led a brief discussion regarding the various strong and weak points of the typical automobile and how to best utilize it as cover. He also talked about how bullets react when they encounter flat surfaces like sheet metal and auto glass from various angles. With a good understanding of what each team member’s responsibility was, students then had a chance to play each “role” (driver and passengers) as we all went through the drills several times under Jeff’s guidance. Again, I believe these exercises could have a pretty high level of practical application in the civilian environment, especially considering that many of us spend a significant amount of time in and around our vehicles. This is another exercise I will be sharing and practicing with my wife on our next training day.

The last segment of instruction was, again, scenario based. Jeff and his AI’s re-set the range to setup a simulated room with a doorway that two-man teams would breach using Deliberate Entry techniques to clear and search the room. While there are countless different room configurations and door positions that a person could encounter, there simply isn’t enough time to address all of them in a one day class, much less during a single segment of instruction. With that said, the focus here was on a typical rectangular shaped room with a fairly centralized door location that opened “in” such as what you might encounter in a typical bedroom in a typical home. Students, again, worked in two-man teams. A team member started out on either side of the entry door where they had to communicate with each other as to who was going to, making proper use of the cover, use the “pie slicing” technique to clear their half of the room first. Once the first team member had his half of the room cleared and announced, “CLEAR”, the second team member would work from behind cover and “slice the pie” to clear his half. Once both sides were clear, the team again had to communicate with each other as to who was going to enter the room first for further clearing/searching purposes. Teams entered using a button hook technique and, again, having a mastery of the SUL position was imperative to making a safe entry. This kind of entry demands that you have absolute trust in your partner (because he is the one responsible for covering your back), in addition to having excellent communications amongst the team. Any failure on the part of either team member could prove to be detrimental to them both. Of course, students ran through these exercises with “blue guns” until Jeff was satisfied that everyone had the fundamentals down pat, and then we were all able to run through them multiple times using live fire. Just like the last two series of exercises, I can, again, see where this has some practical application for the civilian environment such as when trying to retreat from a home or some other type of building, or perhaps in the event that you had to make your way to a loved one or child. This is another one that will be shared and practiced with my wife on our next training day.

Here is a short video clip of one of the Deliberate Entry Drills:
Once all of the range work was completed, we headed back up to the classroom for debriefing and evaluations. Jeff and his AI’s provided each student with an evaluation sheet that outlined their performance on the range in seventeen specific areas. The form also includes some notes regarding the personal observations of the instructors throughout the day. This provides students with valuable feedback regarding any areas they might need to work on in addition to providing reinforcement for the things they are already doing well. I must say I was very happy with my evaluation sheet at the end of the day, and indeed, with my performance level throughout the day. With ammunition being so scarce and so expensive as of late, I really haven’t been able to practice as much as I would like lately, and I’m sure I had a bit of “rust” starting to develop when Saturday morning came around, though it didn’t take long to get into the swing of things.

In all, I fired around 400 rounds of ammo throughout the day. Despite the fact that I have previously worked with most all of the individual techniques and skills that were covered in this class, in the end, I really took a lot away as nearly all of the team tactics were new ground for me. As I pointed out above, there were a number of things that I learned that I will be sharing and practicing with my wife as she is most likely to become my impromptu “teammate” in the event that I ever find myself in a situation in which I would encounter any of those scenarios.

I can’t say enough about the level of professionalism and competency that Jeff and the rest of the GPS team showed throughout the day. Jeff stayed on track and worked at a good pace all day. The entire program is very intuitive and utilizes very little choreography, which allows the students to work in a manner that is much more consistent with what the body already does naturally. Each and every drill and exercise was preceded with clear, concise explanations, and all goals and objectives were spelled out clearly before anyone stepped up to the firing line. Safety was emphasized throughout the day and students were introduced to new exercises using dry-fire and “blue guns” first, allowing them to firmly understand the fundamentals, before moving on to any live-fire. Any issues that came up with students were dealt with through tactful and helpful remediation. The level of instruction was consistently high, while the environment remained consistently relaxed, and Jeff, Michelle, and Derrick were all very engaging and eager to interact with the students throughout the day.

I’ve known Jeff now for about three years through our communications on the Internet as well as our numerous phone conversations. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to train with him for some time. I am very glad that we were able to work together to get this class set up and finally make it happen. I thank him and his family for dedicating their time and resources to traveling up here to be with us for the day and look forward to having them back up in the future. In the meantime, I have no doubt that I will be referring students to seek out the training that Gauntlet Professional Services offers. There is no doubt that they have a lot to offer at a great value.

Lastly, I want to thank the wonderful group of students who came out for this class. A couple of them traveled a considerable distance and dedicated considerable resources to be here. It was a pleasure to get to work with you folks for the day and you are all welcome back anytime.

~ Chris – Armed Missouri, Inc. ~

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