Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Veteran Attitudes About Training: Some of you have it all wrong.

On a Cold day in September of 1999 I Joined the Army, went to Georgia and got a blue cord for a set of Class As I may have worn 4 times during my service.  I learned some interesting techniques for shooting people as part of a team, and a squad and so on.  I went from smelling like the PX moto section to being a seasoned grunt and then 9/11 happened and of course most of the techniques we learned quickly went out the window because that was the cold war and this wasn't.  Something about expectation versus reality.

I officially left the military in 2006.  Its now 2014, almost 2015 and honestly I dont have much knowledge of the day-to-day changes that have taken place in the Infantry since one day after I ETSed.  Unless you are still serving, neither do you.  Dont get me wrong, I take pride in my service but what I don't do is use it as a validation for why someone else is ate up because I know what the eggs taste like in the 30th AG chow hall (cardboard, they taste like cardboard).  I am a civilian.  I am a law enforcement officer, but that doesn't make me any less of a civilian.  If you aren't part of the active or reserve military, you are a civilian too.

I bring this up because I get some veterans belittling the training of guys who have never served.  Look, I get it.  The dude dressed up like Call of Duty doing a 50-pounds-overweight IMT rush is a bit silly.  I wont high five you over the observation but I get it.  I'm not talking about the COD live role players, im talking about what I see as the natural evolution of a pro-2A shooter.

Given the time, the dedication and the money, any one can take classes and build their personal skills.  Perhaps it starts with the basics of the handgun and builds to the rifle; skills are added, refined and adapted and a natural progression begins, sort of like a self directed basic training. Men and women who, even though they have not served, reach a skill level equal or greater than that of your average infantry rifleman.  If that statement makes you mad, think about what it actually means.  I know I shot expert in basic, and so on and so forth every time I got my 40 rounds to do so.  Guess what?  I wasn't an expert, I just shot an arbitrary number of hits to have a sweeter looking rifle badge than the guy who pizza boxed it.  The Army did not give me exceptional gun handling skills, they gave me effective skills no doubt, but nothing to amaze the fan boys.  I was part of an effective element of average shooters.  The size and nature of the line infantry does not allow for exceptional gun handling training; units vary but by and large if you aren't in a specialized unit, you aren't specialized.  But what about those who were in specialized units?  Rangers, SF and the like?  Above average shooters no doubt, but what does that even mean?  To what standard?  Ive seen former Rangers out-shot by an active Air Force Security Forces officer, ive also seen an active SF member out-shot by an IT manager who's closest experience to basic training was being an Eagle Scout.  This may not be the norm but it can and does happen.

Here's the thing as I see it; skill on the weapon is an exercise of the fundamentals of the weapon.  All the dime drills from basic training wont do you a damn bit of good if you forget the lessons they taught you or, and this is far more common, assume that the training you had in uniform somehow remains current and timeless after you leave service.  Your prior training is no excuse for not training.
The very thing some vets make fun of civilians for doing (training) is something they don't bother to do any more.  Combat experience is just that.  Its validating of skills learned and teaches lessons that are unique to the individual and beneficial to a team; some lessons from combat cannot be taught on a square range and this is one of the reasons veteran instructors are coveted by certain training mindsets and shunned by others.  Getting combat experience isn't usually a volunteer decision.  Many people have served, even in war time, and never set foot on a battle field.  Some LEOs go their entire career without ever being involved in a shooting.  We cant always control the experience we get and looking for a gunfight is usually reserved to very specific military operations. If a veteran is looking down his nose at a civilian for being out there and training, I have to wonder what their motivation is, and then wonder if they are staying current on their training or simply spectating while others do...

So you see the dude in the class, the instructor probably has a beard, and there's probably some plate carriers present.  Obviously these civilians are just playing right?  Why would a civilian need to take a 1000 round class, run around in a plate carrier and learn skills that they will never use?  I am a huge supporter of the idea of training for the most to the least likely.  Meaning The rifle for the civilian is for self defense first and its a long road to get to offensive skills but those skills will still be taught at some point.  If there is a technique or skill that can be used to help them defend themselves, im going to teach it to them when they reach that point.  Plate carriers serve three purposes; they carry ammunition, they carry armor, and their appearance pisses off random people for different reasons when worn by someone who never served.

pictured: my favorite military meme, ever.  It really captures the experience.

I've talked about this before, but its something I continue to see, mostly on facebook posts of veterans I personally know and have personally witnessed them trash talk people training based on a few class photos while not doing any training themselves.  I guess the line of thinking is that some skills belong in the military and a civilian has no business knowing them...shit, where have I heard that before?  My time spent in the military gives me exactly zero rights to tell someone who hasn't served where their training needs end.  Where is the line?  At what point do I tell them that's enough, you don't need anymore?  Now if their basic gun handling skills are crap yet they are doing "advanced" training, they should probably dial it back and get their fundamentals in order...that's what a good instructor will tell them and that's what they should do, but it doesn't benefit any of us to rage poetic about it.  Same team, remember?

So to just come right out and say it, you don't really have any place judging the training desires of others, especially if you have stopped learning.  If you think you military service gave you all the gun skills and practice you will ever need, you are wrong.  If you think you are somehow more technically proficient for just having worn a uniform, you are wrong.  You may be able to out shoot a number of civilians, but there's just as many guys who never served who have put in the time to develop skills superior to yours and they keep training.  Its not about where you learned it, its about what you learned and your dedication to continue learning.

Second from the right, pre 9/11 when everything was made up and the points didnt matter.


  1. Being a service member, I love this blog entry. It's humbling. I train as much as I can and I encourage friends family and anyone around to do the same. I've deployed and seen a small amount of combat and up til I read this I always felt I hadn't seen enough or done enough. You have just 're assured me that we can't pick and choose our experiences but we can stay current on our training and just because I wear an army uniform it doesn't mean I am some great warrior compared to civilians. That's horrendously false and I applaud you for stating it yourself. Thank you sir and keep doing what you're doing.

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