081212-14 EAG Tactical 3 Day Carbine Course at Southern Exposure Training Facility
Beginning on Friday 12 December 2008 and ending on Sunday 14 December 2008, I attended a 3 Day Carbine Operators Course as taught by Pat Rogers and Mike Hueser of EAG Tactical (EAG) and held at the Southern Exposure Training Facility in Lakeland Florida. The course description from the EAG website is as follows:
A three day class on how to fight with the carbine. This course is a moderate intensity course that emphasizes fighting with the 5.56x45, 5.45x39 or 7.62x39mm carbines. It is not a shooting course – It is a fighting course.
Additionally, EAG lists the Learning Objectives for the course as follows
4 safety Rules Range Rules Combat Triad (Weapons manipulation skills highly stressed. Stance, balance, grip, mount vertical fore grip/magazine well Ready Positions Optical/Iron Sights Offset External/terminal ballistics Magazine choices Equipment choices BZO Theory Loading/reloading Position-conventional/asymmetrical Pairs, Failure Drills, Non Standard Response Malfunction reduction Multiple Target Engagements Pistol Transition Shooting on the move Shooting laterally Stepping off line of attack Qual Course Carbine
This was my third class with Pat and Mike at Southern and has become my annual traditional Christmas gift to myself and is always a great way to cap off a year of training and gear selection as a method of achieving proof of concept in both gear and technique. Southern Exposure has a county mandated limit on shooting hours beginning at 09:00 which gives each day a mandatory lecture period as we generally arrived at the range before 08:00. I don't find this to be the restriction that some do in that every day really should start with a lecture period to get the students' minds in the game and to see if students have questions from the activities of the day before that they didn't get to answer.
Pat runs his classes in two relays. Since this class had 22 students that meant two groups of 11. What this means is that you get multiple breaks throughout the day as your relay is sent back from the line to "hydrate, urinate, jam mags" while the other relay shoots. It also gives an opportunity to observe other students shooting, and screwing up, and gives you a chance to learn from this. I always try to get back to the shed, pick up my ammo and gear, and get back out to the line to take advantage of this opportunity.
Training Day 1 (TD1) began with a discussion of equipment, gear, magazines, optics, ammunition, etc. This is always an interesting part of any EAG course as Pat and Mike see a lot of gear go through their classes over the course of their travels, and have a pretty good lock on what works and what doesn't. There are invariably a host of questions from the students about one piece of gear or another, ranging from "what rifle should I buy" to "what are the best boots to get". Between Pat and Mike they never fail to have the experience to offer an educated opinion.
From there we moved into a demonstration of two types of prone, how to get into and out of them, natural point of aim, etc. This was done in order to facilitate being able to shoot from 50 yards to check or confirm zero, and as such we moved to the 50 yard line and did so. It never ceases to amaze me the number of students that show up to a class without a zeroed rifle. What is even more amazing to me is the people that think the rifle is zeroed only to find that it isn't. Because of this the zero process is always a tedious one, and by the time we got everyone in the two relays zeroed it was time to break for lunch.
After lunch we moved to the 5 yard line and had a discussion about mechanical offset of optics above the bore line and how that affects point of aim (POA) vs. point of impact (POI). We covered a brief shooting session at various distances to get a feel for the offset of the rifle, and to establish in our minds the aiming points we would need to use at different ranges. From there we went right into a demonstration of the kneeling and squatting shooting positions, and Pat and Mike covered several varieties of kneeling from quick, to braced, to double (Monica). We then fired drills from the various positions.
Somewhere prior to this point, my notes are a little fuzzy, we covered speed reloads, tactical reloads, and other weapon manipulations like dropping the bolt when locked open and others. This, along with the various positions and techniques covered during TD1 are all building to the culmination of the day of training with the following.
We finished up the day with the Modified Navy Drill at 25 yards. This drill requires firing 5 shots from standing, 5 shots from kneeling, and 5 shots from prone, all center mass, with a speed reload in between. This simple drill actually incorporates a lot of various skill sets and even tests your gear since many people never train to speed reload anything more than one magazine and never from any position other than standing (something that can be seen when students perform a flawless reload standing-to-kneeling but fumble the reload badly kneeling-to-prone). Pat breaks down the positions and the movements into steps and stages, and then the complete drill is shot from 25 yards without the pressure of time. Pat reminds us that the drill will eventually be shot from 50 yards with a par time of 25 seconds, and we finish out the day with everyone shooting the drill from 25 yards with the 25 second par time.
Training Day 2 (TD2) began with another discussion of gear, this time focused more on firearms. There was some discussion about The Chart and what it means. I'm glad to see that instructors like Pat can make use of The Chart in their classes in order to help illustrate their points to the students regarding why one rifle is better than another.
As usual we followed this up with a zero confirmation at 50 yards to start the day. This is always a good thing to do just in case students may have fidgeted with their optics over night, dragged out a different rifle for TD2, or just never really got a good zero the previous day.
This was followed by a discussion of the various types of malfunctions ("jam" goes on toast), what causes them, malfunction clearances, immediate vs. remedial action, etc. For a detailed description of what was covered see the two part article Pat wrote for SWAT Magazine in the December '08 and January '09 issues. We then proceeded to set up each type of malfunction and run through the drills to clear them several times each. From this point on if a student encountered a malfunction we were expected to utilize the lessons learned and get the carbine back in the fight.
Next up was turning left and right. Look in the direction to identify the threat, pivot towards the threat, and engage the threat. Specific foot movement was demonstrated and then practiced multiple times. Some may say that this is choreography, or that you'll never do something like that in a stressful situation. I say that it's choreographed and there are steps involved for various reasons, and that if you practice it this way then that's the way you'll do it. I liken it to learning a draw stroke in steps, which may seem choreographed at first but with practice becomes second nature and becomes the default motion for drawing the pistol. Same thing here. We finished up this block by turning based on outside stimulation as opposed to a verbal command. The whole line turns one direction to face 90 degrees to the target. Pat then signals the lead shooter who turns in and engages the target with a Non Standard Response (NSR, 7 rounds). The next shooter in line turns when they see the first shooter turn, and so on down the line.
This was followed by transitions to pistol. Pat advocates turning the ejection port in towards the body. I have come to like this method as well for the exact reasons he does; it frees your firing hand faster to draw the pistol, it controls the carbine better as you lower it, and it traps the carbine tighter to the body. After this we were instructed to transition to pistol anytime we had a malfunction. (Side note: Pat is a big proponent of keeping the carbine topped up. This means performing tac-reloads as needed in between strings to keep ammo in the rifle. As such, if a student is keeping their situational awareness and topping up the rifle, the ONLY reason for a transition to pistol should be a malfunction in the carbine).
We then fired the Modified Navy Qual again immediately after lunch. This time from 35 yards, but with the same par time of 25 seconds. We were reminded that we would be shooting the qual for score the next day from 50 yards. Some shooters had a long way to go.
We finished the day with shooting on the move advancing towards the target. Pat covered various reasons you might want to do this, and then we moved right in to a demonstration and doing it ourselves. The key here is to keep a stable firing platform (as much as possible) with proper footwork, and to shoot when you have the shot. Many people make this more complicated than it needs to be, and general fitness has a lot to do with it as some larger folks just naturally have a more uneven gait to contend with.
Training Day 3 (TD3) began as usual with a reconfirm zero at 50 yards. Two shooters, one an ACOG/Docter owner and one an Eotech user, opted to swap out for one each of Pat's loaner Aimpoint T-1 sights. From what I could see both improved, and both appreciated the swap greatly. I think Aimpoint gained two more customers.
The rest of the morning was breaking down the MEU(SOC) Qualification course that we would be shooting for score after lunch. This included engaging targets at 50 yards from standing/kneelins/prone, running from 50 to 25 and engaging targets from 25 standing/kneeling, and various shooting on the move drills from 25 in to 3 in several stages. Phase 2 of the MEU(SOC) involves two targets per shooter, and we were given a demonstration of the types of engagements we would be making (hammers, controlled pairs, box drill, etc.) and then given several chances to practice them ourselves, again beginning at 50 yards and working our way in. We then shot both the Modified Navy Qual for score from 50 yards, as well as the MEU(SOC) individually for score. High shooter on the MEU(SOC) scored a 93 out of 100, and I scored a 90.
With the little time we had remaining, Pat covered shooting strong hand only, a skill you might need if injured in your support arm, dragging a buddy to safety, etc. We practiced controlled pairs to the body, hammers to the body, and failure drills.
After that we broke down, packed up, and Pat and Mike handed out certificates and we all said our goodbyes.
EAG always has a lot of industry partners. What this means to the shooter is that you start TD1 with several goodie bags from various manufacturers. Each student received two Pmags from Magpul, a goodie bag from Bravo Company USA (extractor spring kits, Lancer mag, BCM mag, hat, mousepad) and a goodie bag from Larue Tactical (EAG dillo, Dillo dust, hat). Special thanks to all these companies for the goodies.
Thanks to Irv and Watfa of Southern Exposure. This training facility is a special place, and it is that way because of all that they do. I first met Irv through our local IDPA club several years ago, but it took me a couple of years to get up to Southern and get some training. Once I did I was hooked, not only on the quality of instruction, but also on the extended family atmosphere that all Southern students enjoy when there. It's hard to explain until you experience it (and you should do everything you can to get a chance to experience it), and it's all thanks to Irv and Watfa.
Extra special thanks, as always, to Pat's AI Mike H. Not a lot of people realize what a good AI does, and that's because when a guy is as good at it as Mike is you don't realize it. Mike is a font of knowledge on all manner of things from boots to rifles to med kits and on down the list. Every single student in class benefits from Mike's abilities as an armorer because without him a student's down gun, even if it's not yours, causes a delay on the line. Mike works hard to get a working gun in your hands while he fixes yours, and before you know it he'll have your gun back in your hands again. Mike brings something special to EAG classes and not a lot of other instructors have someone like him.
1) If there is one thing that Pat stresses more than anything else, it's situational awareness. This extends to keeping your rifle topped off, being aware of what the shooters on either side of you are doing, listening for and understanding range commands, etc. Many of the things that they have you do (like requesting permission to stand from, and granting permission to stand to, your neighbors, closing the dust cover, etc.) have a basis in good technique and have practical applications but are also there to get you to do certain things that lead to better situational awareness regarding other shooters and your gear.
2) Some people are just not going to get some things. Pat says you have to have three things in order to be able to learn, a perceived need or desire to learn the skill, confidence that you can learn the skill, and to have fun doing it. I would add that perhaps "realistic confidence" would be another way to describe the second. We had a really broad range of shooters in this class, and some got it and some didn't. I was fortunate enough to shoot next to a guy for 3 days that had his gear squared away, listened to and followed instructions, and consequently really improved over the course of the three days. There were some in attendance that may have even worsened between TD1 and TD3 (through no fault of Pat or Mike, or lack of individual attention from both of them) due to bad gear, bad guns, or bad mindset (or a combination thereof).
1) Fatigue sucks. I was in the worst shape I've been in for the last 10-15 years going into this class and it showed. My arms started to fatigue far earlier than they should have, and it caused my technique to suffer, which in turn caused my accuracy to suffer. Holding the rifle tight against your shoulder is key for so many reasons, and once you start shooting at distances greater than 25 yards or shooting on the move it really becomes critical. My accuracy really suffered on the first Phase of the MEU(SOC) because of this but thankfully I figured it out by the second phase and recovered to a score of 90. I only lost 3 points on Phase 2 once I figured this out, and had I done the same on Phase 1 I would have taken high shooter with a score of 94 (high shooter was a 93). Not an excuse, just a lesson learned.
2) I can do this. Most people have a very steep learning curve early on and see vast improvements over a short period of time (provided they un-screw their gear and their heads). This applies whether learning to shoot, ride a bike, or whatever. The tough part is what to do when you reach that plateau and you have the basics down pat, have your gear and your head un-screwed (most of the time) and your performance begins to stagnate, or even to backslide. I have no problem charging the gun, reloading the gun (with the occasional bobble), pressing the trigger etc. What comes now is really focusing on the minutia and using it to improve the overall in terms of speed and accuracy.
3) Shooting the AK has actually helped my shooting overall. Dealing with a less-than-ideal trigger, iron sights, ergonomics, etc. were all great lessons over the past year that really made me hunker down and focus on the fundamentals. Hopefully, going back to the AR in 2009 will have the same affect but with my prefered platform. I have a better appreciation for the strong points of the AR, but I also have a better feel for trigger take up, focus, breathing, body position, etc. Changing platforms for 12 months was a great experiment, and I think it helped increase my abilities as a shooter as well.
1) Having your gear squared away before class really helps. Yes, it is physically possible to run this class with a Vietnam era triple-mag-pouch intended for ALICE belts on your pants belt and get through the class. But, you are much better served with a modern solution that allows you to know the orientation of your magazines, get good access to your magazines, and keep your magazines secure on your body. While there were far fewer show-stopping gear issues in this class than previous ones, it just made the minutia stand out so much more, and I saw a lot of fumbled reloads because people didn't know at what orientation their magazines would come out of the pouches. All of this just made me appreciate my setup that much more as I was able to fight the "enemy" (the paper guy at the end of my lane) instead of my gear.
2) One place I still would like to work on with the AK is the location of the emergency magazine. I've been using the front thigh pocket on my Woolrich Elite pants for this magazine and I know that it's less than optimal as it's clothing dependent. Another shortcoming of same that came to the forefront is the lack of security as I lost that magazine every time we ran from the 50 to the 25 in the MEU(SOC). I don't know what the alternative is. I'd like to use mag cinches but that will add a whole lot of weight. I wish someone made a viable belt-mounted and secure AK magazine pouch, but none exist that I'm aware of. On a related note, I've been toying with separating my pistol and rifle gear into all-belt-mounted for the pistol and all-chest-mounted for the rifle. Doing this with the AK would certainly help address this issue, or in fact eliminate it.
3) The AK experiment is largely over. I was hoping to have one of the new Larue Irondot sights for this class but it didn't come to pass. As it is, the Ultimak/H-1 setup is more than functional, if less than ideal. My biggest reservation is that the optic and mount cost more than the gun, which is counter to the very reason (low cost) that I wanted an AK to begin with. Ironically I have also come to learn to deal with the original AK safety over the past year and probably would not change it out for the Blackjack SWIFT if I was buying a new AK today. Ideally, the AK will revert back to what it always should have been, which is an inexpensive alternative to the expensive AR setups that I've been running. I have a few shade-tree modifications that I'm going to work on to see if they are serviceable or not, but these are very inexpensive modifications to the sling mount and such that I don't believe go against the intent of the project.
One of these things does not belong here...
Mike doing what he does, un-f*cking someone's carbine.
Confirm Zero TD2
Confirm Zero TD3
MEU(SOC) Running from the 50 to the 25
MEU(SOC) Running from the 50 to the 25
"Shooters, this will be shooting on the move from the 25 to the 15"
MEU(SOC) Shooting on the move from the 10 to the 3
Firing one handed
Transition to Pistol
1) Rifle runs dry
Transition to Pistol
2) Drop rifle to sling
Transition to Pistol
3) Draw pistol
Transition to Pistol
4) Fire pistol
The ever-elusive Magpul lower, rarer than hen's teeth
Frost on the ground on TD2...
...sells a LOT of sweatshirts to the Florida crew!
Pat found a caddie!
Our host holding court on the sidelines.
Showing up with Vietnam-era web gear will earn you the Moosecock on TD1.
Tactical boat shoes will win you the Moosecock award on TD2.
But running the carbine to empty AND reloading when you should have transitioned on the last leg of the MEU(SOC) on your way to high shooter will win you "THAT GUY". Hey, at least you get a free hat Fred!