What has happened to us? Why is it that a team or even a good old road dog cop just can’t seem to operate without the latest or greatest gadget, gizmo or technique?
I’ve been involved in Law Enforcement Tactical operation in one way or another since the late 80’s. During that time I’ve seen a lot of new fads come and go. You’d think that at some point we’d figure out that those gadgets really don’t make our job any easier. But we don’t do we? The industry seems to be focused on making money instead of helping us do our jobs better. Just attend a conference or look in any trade publication. There is much more space dedicated to selling us gadgets than to making us better at our art. Have we turned the art of sniping or whatever your mission is, into a commercial venture? Are we more interested in making money than being successful?
I had a supervisor once who used the term “Brilliance in the Basics” That may have been the only thing he ever said that made sense, but it did and still makes sense to me today.
How many of us believe in some greater level of training or operational capacity? “High-speed, low-drag” seems to be the pinnacle for all of us, doesn’t it? Well, what does that really consist of? And where does it apply to our specific missions?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to conduct training for someone and been asked to amp it up and do “cool shit” because the students were great operators and were ready for it. Inevitably though, as soon as we start to move “outside the box” these amazing gunslingers fall totally apart and it becomes apparent that they have no mastery of the basics at all. They can’t reload their weapon systems; they can’t fix malfunctions; they can’t shoot on the move or shoot and move. Over the years I’ve come to believe that there is no real “high-speed, low-drag”. Instead I’ve learned that the best teams and operators simply have an amazing mastery of the basics. They are able to perform them at a level of unconscious competence.
So what is the first thing that gets blame when things don’t go right? Their lack of the latest or greatest: “If I had this” or “I’m gonna get one of those” or “Did you see that on his gun” become common excuses in these situations. Or the other side of the coin occurs when it’s those same gadgets which cause the failure because more time is spent trying to make the new toy work than on training to utilize our basic fundamental skills.
Why and how do we fix it?
Let’s look at some examples…..
I think that the Taser is one of the best force options to be offered to Law Enforcement ever. I firmly believe that every officer who may be in contact with a law breaker should have one. However, it is also very clear to me that not only is the Taser not used appropriately a vast majority of the time, it has also taken away one of the greatest tools cops have ever had…our brains and our mouths. My point is that now, instead of an officer communicating with a suspect, talking to him, doing a cop’s job, now we only have to point the red dot and press the trigger and the suspect is hopefully under control. However, I know we are all painfully aware of the Officer who was recently convicted of manslaughter after shooting a suspect, who was proned out on the ground, in the back with his pistol. His defense was that he thought he was going to utilize his Taser. How about optics? It’s so much faster to just put that little red dot or triangle or whatever on what we want to hit and pull the trigger. Right? Well, how can that be faster? It’s still the same process as far as our eye is concerned. We have to align an object on one plane (sight) with an object on another plane (target). Just like aligning the front and rear sight and superimposing them on your target. The difference is that it takes practice to align those iron sights, get a proper cheek weld and maintain a solid grip on the rifle. But with practice comes mastery and soon we don’t even have to think about all the moving parts, just align the object on one plane (sight) with an object on another plane (target). Have you ever washed out a red dot going from bright light to darkness? Or forgot to turn it on? Or ever been in a stack waiting for a squeeze when you hear, or even sheepishly muttered yourself “does anybody have batteries?” Faster?? Maybe, but there has to be a balance somewhere, doesn’t there. Again, we are finding that we are compensating for our lack of training by using gadgets to fill the void.
I’ll agree that there are many, many useful tools out there and that we should explore every way possible to make our jobs safer and more efficient. But how many of us really do that with an eye toward reality vs. just what is cool. LCCDI, Looks Cool-Chicks Dig It, right?
In our world, how many of us still shoot in freezing rain? Or blistering heat? How many of us spend the time to document every shot we make, and then analyze those shots to learn what our rifles or loads are doing? Or do we just assume that we can program the distance into our I-Phone or PDA and be guaranteed to make that shot? Just for kicks someday, take a dozen or so scenarios (shots). Let’s say from 100 yards to 1000. Program those shots into the computer of your choice and shoot them from prone, with all the latest greatest mats, bags, bipods, gloves and kit that you can find. Make sure you’re rested and hydrated. Make sure your batteries are charged and make your targets nice and big and unobstructed. Pretty sure you’re gonna have a fairly high hit ratio, huh? So how do you feel? Like the shit, right? Look how well I hit what I shoot at.
So here’s the kicker. Now shoot the same scenarios but from a real world perspective. It’s blowing wind and dust, you’ve been on shift all night and are fighting the flu. The targets are hunkered down behind cover or are moving. Your only position is braced against a moving tree branch. Sure you can have your laser or I-Phone, but now you can’t get enough of a reflection off your target to get a range and your batteries are failing fast. You don’t know how fast the wind is gusting. So what data are you gonna put into your PDA? Quick…before the batteries die. Your bi-pod won’t work because you’re not on the ground. Your super cool kit with all the pouches and magazines is now keeping you away from that branch because it’s too big and bulky. How do you think your hit ratio is going to look now? How are you feeling about it? Like the shit still? Or just like shit?
Which situation is the one we are going to practice the most on? Of course the one where we hit our targets the best, right? Isn’t that our nature, do what feels good and what we are good at? How many gadgets did we use in that first situation to make things work for us? So what’s our programmed response? Hmmm…I hit a lot of targets, I used a lot of gadgets to do that, I feel good about it. So….gadgets make me feel good about my shooting.
However, in which situation is it most important to not fail? When everything is perfect? Or when everything is a soup sandwich? Don’t we need to perform our best when our environment and surroundings are at their worst?
As humans we tend to continue to do the same thing until something bad happens when we do it. The problem is that that most of the time we fail to input the potential for something bad to happen. We focus solely on the outcome, not the other potential outcomes. There is an old saying in risk management, “If it is predictable, it is preventable”. So it’s very predictable that we are going to not shoot as well without our gadgets or within adverse conditions. How do we mitigate that? We practice within those conditions, right? But how many of us actually do that? We usually continue to do what we do, thinking it’s right because nothing bad happened last time. Until something bad does happen and then we are very surprised that something bad happened. Although, the whole time we knew it could and very possibly might. Strange concept! But how many of us do it every day with the lives of others or our mission success on the line?
So should we not use the tools available to us? Of course not, we should use every one of them which may make our jobs safer and enable us to do them better. But I think it is our responsibility to learn to operate without them. The only way we can accomplish this is by training and training realistically, without the gadgets first and then with the gadgets. Train to the point of failure, learn where the tool fails, learn where you fail with that tool.
But be realistic, open any trade magazine available. How many advertisements for gadgets are there? Compare that with how many articles there are for training. Gonna be a pretty big difference, isn’t there? Do you need all those tools or can you accomplish your mission without them?
So the questions I pose to you are these; Have you, unwittingly obviously, sold yourself out to the commercialization of our art? Are you a “Gear Queer” relying on your equipment to improve your competence? Does it improve your competence? Or do you train hard and realistically? Do you constantly strive to master the basics no matter how hard and repetitive? Regardless of your answers are you wiling to change? To train harder and smarter, to the point of failure of your equipment and yourself? You’re the only one who can answer that question and the only way you can answer it is to make yourself train hard to ensure that you master the basics and that you can successfully complete your mission, regardless of what it is.
Two sayings come to mind as I write this. Steve Suttles, renowned Marine Sniper and holder of the longest bolt gun shot in Vietnam tells me often; “Rich, forget the gizmos and gadgets. Know your rifle, know your load and know yourself.”
The other one I know we are all familiar with, but it holds true over and over. I don’t know where it originated but it goes something like this;
“Fear the man with only one gun.”