WES TALKS TRAINING
IN THE CORN By Michael Yon
AN IMMIGRATION VIEWPOINT By Steven Krzyanowski
VISION UNDER STRESS By Aaron Cowan
An interview with Dick Kramer
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ISSUE 2, JAN 2015 8
DEATH IN THE CORN By Michael Yon
20 AN IMMIGRATION VIEWPOINT By Steven Krzyanowski 24 VISION UNDER STRESS By Aaron Cowan 44 LEDET MEETS LEGEND By Dave Agata
52 INTERVIEW An interview with Dick Kramer 62 PERSEVERANCE By Mark Oravsky 70 REALITIES IN TRAINING By Wes Doss
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8 By Michael Yon
DEATH IN THE CORN
DEATH IN THE CORN Reporter Michael Yon’s Diary of his time spent in Afghanistan with British Troops
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
In September, the corn around Gibraltar is 10-11 feet tall. Crops grow close to the perimeter of the FOB, giving “Terry” Taliban plenty of concealment.
he soldiers are living like animals at a little rat’s nest called FOB Gibraltar. They call it “Gib.” Named after the lynchpin of British naval dominance in the Mediterranean, this cluster of mud huts in the middle of hostile territory is more like Fort Apache, Afghanistan. The British soldiers from C-Company 2 Para live in ugly conditions, fight just about every day, and morale is the best I have seen probably anywhere.
The few outside visitors arrive in helicopters that are sometimes spaced days apart, so that if a visitor stays overnight, he could be stuck for a week or more. The closest Afghan dwellings are a few hundred meters away, and each is surrounded by a mud wall. The Brits and Americans call these dwellings “compounds,” because in fact they are little forts. Most Afghans here are a primitive lot who live far outside of cities, and even villages. The Brits say that locals live as their ancestors dwelled in the fourteenth century. Iraq is by comparison extremely advanced and familiar. Local homes are made of mud, straw, and poor-quality bricks that were FOB Gibraltar: made from an abandoned farmer’s compound.
By Michael Yon
DEATH IN THE CORN
dried in the sun, not fired in a kiln. Farmers in this area of Afghanistan keep their animals within the compounds, and so the families live in private zoos, and the Brits are in the middle of clusters of zoos that I call Jurassic Park. Though most compounds immediately around Gib are abandoned, crops grow nearly up to the concertina, tripwires, claymore mines and forti-
Taliban in Pakistan, the Taliban supply chain starts right outside the bases. In addition to terrorist and criminal interdictions of convoys, the Pakistan government can, on a whim, shut down most of our logistics convoys. The vast majority of US and NATO/ISAF forces and contractors conduct support/logistics functions, while a relatively small number actually fight. Meanwhile, the Taliban support/logistics functions are organ-
Helmand Province is the largest producer of opium in the world. During the poppy season, Gib is surrounded by beautiful flowers. From the guard towers, or out on patrols, the soldiers can see the full cycle. Farmers plant the poppy; it grows and blooms producing beautiful flowers like in the Wizard of Oz; the bulbs are lanced and the opium harvested. fications that form the perimeter of the base. Earlier this year, the farmers were growing wheat and opium poppy. Wheat is becoming more expensive than opium, so poppy production decreased this year for the first time since the war began. The brown stack amid the corn is poppy harvested earlier this season. The poppy provides less concealment for the Taliban, but helps pay for their operations. Whereas our supply chains originate from places like the U.S. and U.K., with convoys at the mercy of
ic. The corn grows 20 yards from the place they eat it. The farmers can double as informants, hoteliers, and fighters.
Jurassic Park Helmand Province is the largest producer of opium in the world. During the poppy season, Gib is surrounded by beautiful flowers. From the guard towers, or out on patrols, the soldiers can see the full cycle. Farmers plant the poppy; it grows and blooms producing beautiful flowers like in the Wizard of Oz; the bulbs
The soldiers at Gib have no internet, but can call home, and they receive mail and care packages by the sackful. (Note to folks at home in the UK: Packages to British soldiers are extremely welcome and true morale boosters. The cubbards are overflowing with dry foods that require hot water, but most other items get snapped up quickly.) The soldiers at Gib have only a handful of major activities: exercise, clean weapons, eat, sleep, and fight. Thatâ€™s about it. Except for the regular firefights, the place is boring.
We left at sunset; the conditions were a little darker than depicted but the sensitive camera brightened up the image. The two soldiers on the bridge are hauling Javelin missiles.
DEATH IN THE CORN
By Michael Yon
are lanced and the opium harvested. The final part of the opium cycle lasts all year, and can be seen almost every day, when the British soldiers at Gib take small-arms fire and RPG rounds paid for by the crop they watched growing just outside the wire.
CPL Matt Desmond briefing other 2 Para soldiers
There are three FOBs around the Sangin district of Helmand Province: Inkerman, Robinson, and Gibraltar. These FOBs have two missions: Train and support Afghan soldiers and take Taliban pressure off the Sangin area, so that the soldiers and the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) can try to secure the population while improving their quality of life. Civil Affairs is for the PRT at Sangin. The troops at Gib are not there to win hearts and minds, but to kill Taliban. Gibraltar, Inkerman and Robinson form a sort of Devilâ€™s Triangle in the area of Sangin, a region that is to opium what Florida is
The British officers will say they are employing an “oil-spot” strategy. If they succeed in improving one area, people in surrounding areas will want the same, and be more likely to cooperate. This all sounds nice. But will the oil-spot strategy actually work, or is it just a way to buy time until a stinking bag of failure can be handed to subsequent Presidents and Prime Ministers? to citrus. The opium has already been harvested this year and should be flowing through veins in Europe by now. The other bumper crop this area produces is Taliban. The Brits call them “Terry.” The British officers will say they are employing an “oil-spot” strategy. If they succeed in improving one area, people in surrounding areas will want the same, and be more likely to cooperate. This
all sounds nice. But will the oil-spot strategy actually work, or is it just a way to buy time until a stinking bag of failure can be handed to subsequent Presidents and Prime Ministers? Some commanders in Iraq referred to the oil-spot strategy back in 2005, but that country was becoming more like a catastrophic oil spill. Yet the fact is, by 2007 and 2008, the oil-spot strategy actually created tangible results. When Anbar Province (Iraq) began to drastically improve in 2007—thanks largely to the savagery of al Qaeda, and smart US Commanders like Colonel Sean MacFarland—Iraqis in Diyala and Nineveh Provinces began clamoring for the same. But that was Iraq. Will it work in Afghanistan? Many experienced commanders seem to think so. The troops in the three FOBs Inkerman, Robinson
Tools to secure an oil spot out of Taliban.
and Gibraltar are not there to create ink spots, but to kill enough Terry so that an ink spot can start in Sangin. C-company 2 Para doesn’t have to worry about complex counterinsurgency theories because
DEATH IN THE CORN
By Michael Yon
their job is simple: “Smash” as many Taliban as possible (Brits use the word “smash” a lot), while alienating as few locals as possible. Simple. This is the sort of warfare that a lot of young soldiers signed up for.
The week before I arrived at Gib, the camp was sharply attacked three days in a row. Terry was getting as close as he could. The higher the corn grows, the closer Terry can sneak in. During poppy season, the enemy has less cover, yet the corn is great camouflage. RPGs that used to sail harmlessly over Gib are starting to find their mark. The enemy is trying hard to shoot down a helicopter; not many helicopters come to Gib. During an attack in late August, RPGs wounded five British soldiers. Another RPG attack caused a casualty when a soldier running for cover smashed his head on a pull-up bar. It knocked
that a soldier was trying to clear a mine. The soldier was concentrating on the explosive when all of a sudden some puppies jumped on him, wanting to play.) I arrived at FOB Gibraltar via helicopter on 30 August 2008. The soldiers had been fighting for five months, and it showed. When they left the base, among the many other weapons, they carried four types of rockets, including 66mms, AT-4s, and Javelins. One soldier on Gib is trained as a sniper and Javelin shooter, and he also works supply, so the joke is that he will serve the Taliban bacon, and a Javelin in the chest. The patrols were all on foot. Terry has stitched the area with bombs, and the patrols just mark the bombs and leave them. My first mission with 2 Para was an ambush. We trudged over to a nearby ANA (Afghan National Army) compound where a small contingent of Brits from 2 Para are living and running missions with the Afghans. The journey was less than a half-mile, yet the pros-
My first mission with 2 Para was an ambush. The journey was less than a half-mile, yet the prospect of being ambushed by direct fire or bombs was very real. him out cold. Another soldier thought he was fragged and ran for a medic. When they returned, the soldier had disappeared. (One never knows what’s next on the battlefields: SGT Hodkins, the excellent media ops soldier who shuttled me around, told me on 10 September
pect of being ambushed by direct fire or bombs was very real. Some Brits from the ANA camp, along with Afghan soldiers, helped secure our way. We walked through deserted compounds and a large cemetery, all of which have been the scenes of recent fighting. A British soldier named CPL Matt Desmond saw me,
By Michael Yon
DEATH IN THE CORN
and realized there was a civilian in the bunch. He looked me in the eye and said, “If you see the grenade in the cemetery, don’t kick it!” and he chuckled, though I could see by the condition of his gear and the look in his eye that Desmond was a serious soldier. A radio call came in that Gib, which we just left maybe 15 minutes prior, was about to get attacked. Good timing, I thought. If the Taliban attacked infantry style, since we were already outside the wire, they might lose track of us, and maybe the platoon I was with could maneuver on one of their flanks and kill them. But the Taliban must have seen us leave Gib, I thought. Because if they were preparing to attack, it would have been smart to watch the base for as long as possible before launching. But who knows? The enemy makes mistakes just like we do. Some minutes later, we arrived at ANA compound, which was surrounded by Claymores. Claymores are powerful defensive mines that are like super-powerful shotguns. They’ll rip bodies to shreds, and so I never like walking in front of them, but that’s what you’ve got to do to enter these bases. Some Taliban are willing to pay the reaper to “disarm” those mines with their bodies, so that their buddies can follow behind them. Inside the compound, CPL Desmond shed his weapon and body armor gave a safety briefing, cautioning that the ANA soldiers tend to fire wildly when attacked. It was strange to leave Gib and need a safety briefing because the next place was even
more dangerous. CPL Desmond told us the code word in the event that the camp was being overrun. Without going into details, we would have to initiate a violent, explosive, and risky withdrawal. This was more than “keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle” kind of briefing. It was more like, “Do ‘A’ and you might survive. Do ‘B’ and you will die.” Further, CPL Desmond said, Ramadan would start at sunset, and nobody knew what might happen then. For the next five hours, I listened to soldier stories from the Brits and Afghans. CPL Desmond talked about a well-laid ambush the enemy had sprung on them, killing two British. During a Taliban ambush that C-co fought through, Desmond was clearing through the enemy positions they had fought through, when a Taliban commander went for a weapon. Desmond shot him in the teeth.
Recently, there had been a firefight nearby, and British soldiers fired back at Taliban. Unfortunately, far downrange a bullet struck an 8-yearold girl, killing her. The same bullet wounded her mother. The locals staged a protest, coming up to the ANA compound. There were Taliban in the crowd, who shouted to the ANA to hand over the British soldiers. Needless to say, the British
put up a good fight, but the ANA refused to help. At least they did not attack the Brits from within or surely the base would have been overrun. On Thursday nights, the ANA have what the Brits call “manlove” night, or “man-love Thursdays.” Interestingly, Iraqis would sometimes say that a man is not a homosexual unless he has sex with other men when he is over thirty. At that age, they say, a man should stop, or else he’s a homosexual, which is a
see the ANA lieutenant, a 28-year-old man who said he had been recruited and trained by none other than Afghan superhero, Ahmad Massoud. Massoud had been, assassinated by al Qaeda just before the 9/11 attacks. The lieutenant was gracious and hospitable, and in the beginning was mostly complimentary of NATO/ISAF, and certainly the Brits. But as the hours ticked by, he talked of discontent spreading among many Afghans, as they try to decide whether to
The Afghan lieutenant said that air strikes killing civilians were turning the people against the alliance, and that promises to deliver electricity—among other things—had turned into empty words. He claimed to be hopeful, though I was unsure. perversion of faith. I recall reading Ahmed Rashid’s fantastic and prescient book Taliban, which was published before the war. Mr. Rashid described a tank battle waged between warlords over the services of a young boy. Boys are for pleasure, women are for babies, they say. Such is this land, Jurassic Park. I called Mr. Rashid at his home in Pakistan a couple years ago, and he sounded increasingly pessimistic about the region. He has written another book titled Jihad!, which I brought with me but traded with Major Adam Dawson, the British officer in charge of Gib, who had another fine book called Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics, by Martin Ewans.
cooperate with the foreigners in NATO/ ISAF and the weak and fractious government in distant Kabul, or the Taliban who surround them. The Afghan lieutenant said that air strikes killing civilians were turning the people against the alliance, and that promises to deliver electricity—among other things—had turned into empty words. He claimed to be hopeful, though I was unsure.
Later, a British officer told me that Luckily, the night 31 August was not man-love Thursday, the Afghan lieutenant was a puff bag of just the beginning of Ramadan. CPL Desmond took me to sorts. His soldiers go into combat with
By Michael Yon
DEATH IN THE CORN
the Brits, while he stays on base doing admin. The British officer said that the ANA soldiers were losing respect for the lieutenant, because the Brits of higher rank would go into combat, while he stayed in the rear with the gear. I witnessed the same in Iraq during 2005, until the Iraqi soldiers began losing respect for their seniors, because ranking American officers (even full colonels and command sergeant majors) would roll into combat with Iraqi soldiers, while many Iraqi captains stayed on base. But the mentoring began to work, and Iraqi officers were often seen leading the way in combat, and taking casualties right along with their soldiers, which served to build respect for the officer corps, and today we are seeing the fruits of those efforts in Iraq. After nearly seven years at war in Afghanistan, this Afghan lieutenant made it sound like we are at square one, though the Brits said the normal ANA soldiers will fight.
around the rivers and irrigated areas where crops and Taliban grow. FOB Gibraltar is surrounded by Green Zone, while the ANA compound was on the edge of a desert that swallows armies who are never seen again. The Afghan soldiers were supposed to get up around 0400 on 1 September 2008 to prepare for morning worship and Ramadan, but in fact they were rummaging around all night, while I tried to sleep on the ground in the dust, using a rock-hard sandbag as a pillow. All night the ANA guys were coming and going, talking in Dari and Pashto and other languages. I could not tell the languages apart, and was told that many of the Afghan soldiers could not communicate with one other, but that they worked well together. And so I lay in the dust, gazing up at thousands of stars. The Milky Way glowing so bright that it looked like a hand could reach up and scoop heavens from the sky. Occasionally there were the sounds of unseen jets and airplanes. A single aircraft with its lights flashing was likely an unmanned Predator or Reaper. The Taliban were out there, probably singing lonely songs, as they were known to do. This war is just beginning. Great war is in the air. The feeling is as conspicuous and distinct as the smell of rain, or that morning every year when the first chill of winter tickles the senses. The corn will soon be harvested. The fields will become brown and fallow. The snows will come and blow across barren lands, and next Spring the war will be worse than ever before. It will grow higher than the corn.
Still under the Milky Way, at the tiny and remote ANA compound, some of the British soldiers seemed to be sleeping. Everyone wore boots in case of attack. Occasionally a 2 Para soldier In Iraq, “Green Zone” would emerge from the darkness for a guard shift. is synonymous with “safe- The ambush they had prepared for the Taliban lay ty,” despite the fact that quiet. The dogs had stopped barking hours ago. Baghdad’s Green Zone (reSlowly the stars crept through the sky. named to the International Zone) was never safe. But Hours melted by and constellations seemed to here in Helmand Prov- drift through space as the Earth turned below. ince, Afghanistan, “Green Afghanistan is a time machine. Primitive men Zone” means danger. The Green Zone is the place fight with modern weapons, radios and telephones.
The Taliban’s eagerness to embrace ignorance will ish soldiers sleep in the dirt under the stars with their doom them eventually, but how many of us will they boots on. When they go home, I’ll still be here as kill first? They are a relic of the beasts in our nature. witness. And when their replacements go home, I’ll still be here. When the replacements of the reSome of the stars above must already be dead, but placements go home, if the heavens consent, I’ll their light has not finished arriving to this place. The still be here as witness. And so will the Taliban. stars were far and visible, while the enemy was close The path will be long, painful and loneand hidden. Our soldiers kill them constantly, but they keep coming. The Taliban I have seen so far are stupid ly. There will be no signs or markers to guide the compared to the enemies we faced in Iraq. The Tali- weary. There will be no villagers to ask the way, ban in this area are easy to kill, but there are so many for they will not know the way. There will be no of them. For safety they can always cross an imag- fleet messengers bearing scrolls or maps or episinary line into a disintegrating land called Pakistan. tles to warn of dangers ahead. This distance is uncharted and untraveled. The sails in these desert Only the heavens had taken me through Iraq seas billow only with mystery, and the only charts alive and as witness. Afghanistan likely will be far derive from the senses of experienced sailors. worse. It’s in the air. It’s coming. How will this The coming storm will need a witness. war end? I kept thinking, How will this war end? Some countries such as France are clamoring to No less than five shooting stars cut silently leave already. The Brits have the wherewithal. The through the night sky. On each shooting star, I Americans are well-fibered. But tonight these Brit- made a wish that I know would not come true.
FROM THE INSIDE
20 By Steven Krzyzanowski
AN IMMIGRATION VIEWPOINT,
FROM THE “INSIDE”.
By Steven Krzyzanowski , Retired I.C.E. Agent
any years ago I wondered if the new agency I had joined, the INS, would continue to be the pariah of the Federal Government that it had been for so many years. I joined the Agency in the winter of 1988 and I can remember the initial excitement I had after being offered the job. I was initially offered a position at the bottom of the enforcement ranks, as an Immigration Detention Enforcement Officer. This position for the most part entailed transporting foreign national to and from different Detention facilities located throughout the U.S., and of course to foreign locations on official Deportation Missions. Little did I know but those early years with the Agency were to become the “best” years in my personal experience. Why, because we could still do our job for the most part! Since that time and several promotions later, I found myself at the end of last year, October to be exact, needing to leave my rather comfortable position and retiring with 25 years of dedicated service. I found myself leaving with a rather heavy heart and extremely frustrated by what I had witnessed over the past 25 years, not just with the agency, but with our nation as a whole. I always tried to make change from the in-
side, but for the most part was unsuccessful. As most of you already know, where the leadership there goes, there goes the country. My goal in writing this series of articles is to hopefully enlighten you on what’s really going on from the inside of this gigantic system called DHS? I know that most of those reading this are of the Security mindset to begin with and are interested in our nation’s security and how we got to where we are today? Let me first start by giving you some of the statistics that I have gleaned over the past couple of weeks from those currently working the job as I write. Most people don’t realize that the number of illegal aliens from all internal source’s indicates that the number is some-
By Steven Krzyzanowski
FROM THE INSIDE
where between 20 to 25 million illegals not just living but thriving in the U.S. The number that you hear in the media of 10 to 11 million has been used since I was hired in 1988! This alone shows that the media machine is clueless of the real numbers we face. Most Americans are in the dark when it comes to the amount of removals from the U.S. The White House has claimed that they have been more aggressive that previous administrations and have deported more than any other administration? Really, the facts simply don’t show this at all. While being assigned to the Fugitive Squad here in the Northwest Region I witnessed the fixing of numbers to indicate a Deportation, when in fact there was no evidence to prove the person had actually left the country! Another fact that most of our citizens are unaware of is that in 2009 the Government Accounting Office or GAO, reported that over
49 percent of the illegal population arrived legally to the U.S. through a port of entry! The concern at the Southern Border is certainly warranted and I can speak to this later, but as we can see then the overall border needs to be viewed through a different perspective. Almost half of the illegals are considered overstays and I know for a fact that we, that is “ICE”, are doing nothing at present to apprehend this population. Just last week we found ourselves releasing an Aggravated Felon to the streets that was a local Gang Banger from Honduras. Most people with common sense would ask, how can the “G” release a “Foreign National” that is a convicted “Aggravated Felon” from a U.S. institution to the streets of America? Great question and I have a simple answer, Were PC! That’s right PC; we are so PC in fact that in our culture today since SCOTUS ruled several years ago that keeping someone who is a Foreign National locked up for more than 120 days if they can’t be removed, is cruel and inhumane? Not only that, but in this most recent case, the “G” thought that this individual would face danger and harm once he returned to his native Honduras! Think of the conundrum that we have put ourselves in? If we have someone who is a danger to our community and is in federal custody, under this current regime, we are precluded from removing them to their home country because of the FEAR that they will be harmed once returned? Can you believe it, we are afraid that the Aggravated Felon: Murderers, Rapists, Pedophiles, Drug dealers and the like, will be harmed by their own people if they are sent packing! This has now become the main concern of our politicians?? So with that in mind, I will explore some of the other holes in the system that you will find disturbing, but will enlighten you as to how we got to where we are today. More next time from the “Inside”.
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
SHAPING FUNDAMENTALS TO ACCEPT REALITY
remember that it took forever to clear my shirt off my gun, I yanked up on it so hard with my off hand, just like I had been trained, that the bottom buttons were torn right off the shirt. I found my gun and drew, my first round was from the hip. The shot was low; hit him just above the waist. I think I expected him to go down, stupid thinking that now, but I didn’t know much about what bullets did and didn’t do when they hit the body. He shot before or just after I drew, I didn’t feel it hit me, didn’t think it did. I just pressed out and fired. They told me later I fired 12 rounds. I was moving and pulling, trying to get to some sort of cover. I thought there was something wrong, like I was shooting squibs or something, I didn’t hear anything. All I could see was his weapon, then nothing. He was down, sort of slumped against the wall, leaning on the edge of a shelf. I reloaded on programming. It wasn’t anything like I had expected it would be. I never once saw my sights, can’t remember my grip, my stance, anything. All the range training I had up to that point may have helped me, but I couldn’t tell you how.” -K.P, UC Officer, when asked about his first shooting.
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
I met K.P. in a handgun instructor’s course. Five days on the range learning methodology of instructing, it was more mechanics than mindset. He was just one more LEO on the line in a course where being able to shoot above average was not only expected, it was required. What got my attention wasn’t his shooting; it was his attitude towards some of the covered material. K.P. didn’t put much stock in sight alignment or sight picture. He went through the motions and was definitely one of the better shooters in the class but he had first-hand experience in something that is both scientific fact and known circumstance to an overwhelming majority of people involved in spontaneous shootings; the chance of you actually seeing your sights when using your handgun under the stress of a violent encounter is slim, very slim.
This wasn’t explained in the class. In fact this instructor’s level course didn’t address the science of shootings at all. Not so much as an anecdotal mention of the Sympathetic Nervous System, Auditory Exclusion, performance heart rates, cognitive interpolation, kinesthetic shooting, nothing; just mechanics and instructor methodology. The level of instruction was excellent; the course was simply not geared for shooting science. I knew exactly what K.P. was talking about, so did a few others in the class. Unfortunately the experiences of lethal force encounters cannot be accurately replicated in training; we can come close, but only close. In all of my formal training I have never actually had it explained to me why I didn’t see my sights under real life stress. Even when attending the Simuni-
sight options tons Instructors course, a class that taught methodology for a system designed to replicate real life as closely as possible, this phenomenon was not covered. I learned about it on my own, from a book called Handbuch der Physiologischen Optik (Handbook of Physiological Optics)(1) written by Hermann von Helmholtz. Helmholtz laid out an understanding of how the eye behaves when processing
stimulus and more importantly, how it processes vision under stress. This Handbuch was cutting edge research…for 1851. Of course the research into how vision works under stress didn’t end with Helmholtz, if anything that’s where its modern exploration began. Dr. Walter Cannon expanded (independently, from what I found) on Helmholtz
as Forward Isosceles was quantified in the pages of Shooting to Live, though it had been known for millennia that a squared-to-threat body position was natural and involuntary in most cases (4). What Fairbairn also gave us was a common sense application of skills for combat, not sport. Not all of Shooting to Live has been handed down directly
Unfortunately the experiences of lethal force encounters cannot be accurately replicated in training; we can come close, but only close. In all of my formal training I have never actually had it explained to me why I didn’t see my sights under real life stress. work with his research that came to be known as the Fight or Flight Response (2), Cannon’s work identified many of the physiological effects of stress, especially those involuntary responses to perceived danger, fear and injury. At some point the science of stress was adopted by those who experienced the most mortal form of it; William Fairbairn authored Shooting to Live with Eric Sykes (3) a short, to-the-point work that was monumental in its functional understanding of concepts yet to be explained by science but already understood by men who had been involved in shootings. Shooting to Live taught practical techniques with the handgun, centered around point shooting against live threats. The shooting position known today
but many of its concepts and principles continue to be taught today. Bruce Siddle gave the shooting community a wealth of knowledge in the 1980s with the PPCT system (5); while it was and remains a system of non-ballistic use-of-force, the research into the Sympathetic Nervous System and a person’s performance under stress gave those who learned it in context a unique insight into what they could possibly expect to experience, or the ability to put a name on what they had already experienced. It was not a complete picture. Siddle continued contributions to stress research with Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge (1995) but attention to vision was secondary or tertiary to the other involun-
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
tary and voluntary effects of life or death stress. Much of the study of vision under stress has been, and continues to be conducted outside of the shooting community. While the data is relatable, it’s not intentionally developed for the use of violence against people. Why? I don’t have a definitive answer for that, instead I can only offer my professional opinion and that is that while trainers may learn the reality of physiological responses to stress and how they affect shooting performance, they may be at a loss as to how to incorporate these facts into their training methods. Some instructors are fundamentals focused and some are defensive focused, I’ve learned from both and have had little attention paid to vision in shooting by either in regards to SNS stress. Understanding the symptoms and the
causes of survival stress does not mean someone can effectively teach coping techniques or methods for accuracy in real life. Instructors who felt stress shooting instruction is vital come and go but the norm remains instruction of fundamentals one or two steps removed from reality with predictable drills or drills without context, closed motor skill(6) training and functional mechanical shooting that addresses marksmanship in the static. This training is important, especially when someone is at the very beginning of learning to shoot. It becomes less important as your skill level improves and your focus moves towards more realistic training. Eventually this sort of training is detrimental to student improvement. It’s an artificial plateau, a performance wall erected by a sort of status quo. This was K.Ps opinion while we were going through and instructor level course intended to teach us how to teach police officers how to shoot.
It was my opinion as well; we both knew what real life stress behind the gun was like; both of our instructors in this course were retired LEOs with similar experiences yet the SNS was hardly addressed and vision under stress was paid no mention at all. Despite the otherwise quality level of instruction,
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
every single one of us in that course were done a disservice by not being taught the plain fact that no matter how much time you put into proper sight picture and proper sight alignment with the handgun, the chances of you acquiring a textbook or even passible sight picture under objective/perceived threat of injury in the compression of time (spontaneous or near-spontaneous defense) is so small as to be an exception, not a rule (if it does occur). Since vision is the single most important sense we have when fighting and shooting in general, this seems to me to be vital information. I find it hard to believe that men who had experienced the physiological effects of a lethal encounter would not impart those experiences to others, but word-ofmouth relation to students of personal experiences only goes so
far. Many of the students we have in front of us will have not been involved in a shooting or multiple shootings. We can explain the stress effects on vision (among other things) but having not experienced them personally, those students are only getting an academic understanding. Since everyone has eyes and can see, they may not grasp that their vision can be changed in a significant way under stress because internally they have been seeing since birth and have far more experience with their vision than we as instructors do telling them how they see. On a live fire range it is difficult to replicate real life. Artificial range stress helps, but the nature of firearms rightfully demands certain safety measures and the nature of many ranges (shooting in one direction, limited movement, no high or low angle shooting, etc) prevents the most realistic training possible. Some of these training artificialities can be worked around with more forward thinking in range design and drill construction, others are unchangeable fact. The certainty remains, stress in a violent encounter will affect your eyes.
THE EYE UNDER STRESS So why didnâ€™t K.P. see his sights? The human eye is a very complex piece of evolutionary engineering; it has the ability to alter point of focus from near to exceedingly far distances through Accommodation (7) at speeds between 350 milliseconds and 1 second (8) depending on age and general eye health (as well as environmental conditions). But this ability is highly dependent on the levels of stress in the body. In regards to stress,
more specifically the stress we experience from the Sympathetic Nervous System (the body’s natural defense mechanism when threatened) when a threat is perceived, information is transmitted to either the amygdala and then the appropriate cortex or directly to the cortex depending on the stimulus (a spontaneous attack will cause a reflexive response, or a Somatic Reflex (9) in which our natural programming generates a response before the “thinking brain,” the appropriate cortex can generate a conscious response whereas a perceived threat that does not initiate a Somatic Reflex will process to the appropriate cortex and allow OODA (10) to take place). In layman’s terms, the body will produce adrenaline under stress, adrenaline is secreted into the blood stream near-instantaneously and pushed throughout the body by increased heart rate. Adrenaline has a number of effects on the body to prepare it for “fight or flight,” as far as the eye is concerned it effects the Ciliary muscles. The Ciliary muscles are a ring of muscles that surround the lens of the eye. They contract or relax to change the shape (thickness) of the lens to alter desired focal distances, this is Accommodation. Under stress, the Ciliary muscles are directly affected by adrenaline (11), they contract, which thickens the lens for distant focus, literally eliminating the possibility for near focus. When the
In layman’s terms, the body will produce adrenaline under stress, adrenaline is secreted into the blood stream near-instantaneously and pushed throughout the body by increased heart rate. Adrenaline has a number of effects on the body to prepare it for “fight or flight,” as far as the eye is concerned it effects the Ciliary muscles. Under stress, the Ciliary muscles are directly affected by adrenaline (11), they contract, which thickens the lens for distant focus, literally eliminating the possibility for near focus.
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
body’s Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, a number of involuntary reactions occur and they affect normally voluntary systems, in this case, focal point (12). The involuntary loss of control over the Ciliary muscles when we react to a threat is programmed into
eye contracted our “fight or flight” response. Our field of vision is increased to its maximum, the pupil dilates to allow in the maximum amount of light and allow us to best see our threat. Speaking in evolutionary terms, we have been fighting with our
When the SNS activates, this ability is largely lost. The “front sight focus” that has been beaten into every shooter’s brain from day one is gone; we cannot focus on the front sight because our nervous system doesn’t allow it.
tunnel vision example hands and hand weapons much longer than firearms. With implicit hand-eye coordination developed since birth, our threat response is hard wired to focus on the threat. Motor control for hand movements is not dependent on continual visual input. Unfortunately visual input, close focus, is necessary for sighted fire with a firearm. Sighted fire is done by centering the front sight in the rear notch, placing the front sight in focus and driving it to a spot over our threat. When the SNS activates, this ability is largely lost. The “front sight focus” that has been beaten
into every shooter’s brain from day one is gone; we cannot focus on the front sight because our nervous system doesn’t allow it. Loss of near focus is temporary, though appears to last as long as the SNS is active or a conscious decision is made to alter the point of focus. It gets worse. Tunnel vision (visual perceptual narrowing) is another reaction to an SNS activation when a threat is perceived and is also common in high stress situations that do not involve threat of injury (13). When the SNS activates, in addition to adrenaline being released into the body, Cortisol is also released. Cortisol effects perceptual error detection (14) literally
field of vision blocking visual input from being processed by the visual cortex (15) . It’s not that the information isn’t seen, it’s that the information is not regarded as important and therefore not given the same attention as that in the direct field of vision. The loss of peripheral vision varies and is dependent on training, skill level and previous experience with vision under SNS activation but one can expect 20% to 30% loss of peripheral vision (16) which is to
say that the average 190 degree field of total horizontal vision (average 155 degrees per eye) can be reduced to as much as 57 degrees total. Our vertical field of vision is 60 degrees above midline (natural visual horizon) and 70 degrees below. Under the effects of tunnel vision, upper field of vision can be reduced to as little as 18 degrees, lower field of vision can be reduced to as little as 21 degrees. Going back to our evolutionary programming, tunnel vision aids us in zeroing in on the threat, tuning out irrelevant visual stimuli and sharpening our view of what is threatening us. While this is beneficial to
vertical field of vision focus on the bad guy, it doesn’t allow us to see what else could be important information in our field of vision such as innocent bystanders, additional threats or environmental concerns. The more stressful the situation, demanding the task or close the threat, the more extreme tunnel vision is likely to be (17). With the Ciliary muscles already affected by adrenaline and the narrowing of attention on a threat causing visual tunneling, missing potentially vital peripheral infor-
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
mation complicates our inability to focus on our weapon sights. Unfortunately this isnâ€™t the last detrimental effect of SNS on the eyes. Depth Perception, the ability to perceive the world in three dimensions, is largely due to our eyes being in the front of our skull, allowing for stereoscopic vision. When the Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, stress affects accommodation-the Ciliary muscles, which results in a small misalignment of the visual axis (stereo alignment and communication between the eyes), causing contrast problems between either eye (18). This may cause a threat to appear closer than they actually are, or make objects appear closer than they are. While the loss of accurate depth perception can be a negative, it does serve to aid in threat processing and recognition.
SHOOTING UNDER STRESS, A THREE YEAR STUDY. Over the past three years I have been teaching both citizens and Law Enforcement with the Simunitions Force on Force training system. Since the 1980s, Simunitions and systems like it have allowed trainers to place students in as close to real life as possible violent encounters. While the system does not accurately reflect real life, if the scenarios are organized effectively, it is as close as you can get. From my own personal experience and the experiences of others I have worked with and spoken with, Simunitions very closely reflects much of what occurs physiologically in an actual use of force. When I first started teaching LE with Simunitions, I came up with a few very simple questions I would ask at the end of their training scenario. These questions were asked of each student in a handgun scenario immediately following a logical conclusion of their training. As the scenarios spanned three years and covered a number of varied training specifics such as close quarters shooting, low light, active shooter response, vehicle defensive skills, felony
stop procedures, etc. The information is anecdotal, though telling as the type of training is varied yet the commonalities between students is obvious. All scenarios polled placed the threat(s) within 15 feet of the student. 110 Students over three years were polled.
The length of a scenario, and how fast a student was forced to react was largely responsible for the ability or inability to eventually acquire a conscious sight picture. Students that were placed in a sudden shoot situation when the reaction time to rounds fired time frame was mere seconds almost exclusiveThree simple questions. ly answered in the negative. Scenarios that gave the 1. Were you were able to acquire a gross or fine student a greater distance from the threat or allowed them to move to cover, or fight from cover allowed sight picture under a spontaneous threat? some students to acquire a sight picture after those • No: 90% first few seconds had passed, their threat moved and • I don’t remember: 9% they perused, or the situation called for more precise • Yes: 1% 2. Were you able to consciously focus and find your fire (such as the threat using cover). This information is by no means complete, nor was it gathered under sights? a specific set of like scenarios to ensure commonality • I didn’t have time: 33% of data. It was collected from varied scenarios from • No: 31% students with varied back grounds on purpose. In• Yes: 23% stead of establishing the facts within a narrow scope, • I don’t remember: 13% 3. Did you unconsciously acquire a sight picture I wanted data from the widest possible number of circumstances because reality continues to show at some point during the scenario? us time and time again that each gunfight is unique • No: 65% in a number of ways and the only commonality is • Yes: 20% often in our involuntary reactions to stress. • I don’t remember: 15% Why was 15 feet important? My professional and Handguns used during the study: personal opinion is that an overwhelming number of • Beretta 92 shootings happen in conversation range. For the citi• Glock 17 zen, an individual intent on robbing them or performSights used: • OEM Beretta, OEM Glock, Glock Night Sights, ing a similar crime of profit will do so from a close distance. Someone armed with a knife; bat, club etc. must Truglo TFO, XS Big dot, Trijicon, Trijicon HD, be within the effective reach of that weapon to use it. Sawson Precision (fiber optic front). Even in law enforcement, many shootings (most) hapStudent shooting experience: pen at close distances because often some form of in• 0-5 years 20 teraction between cop and bad guy takes place prior to • 6-10 years 45 the shooting. The closer the threat, the less time avail• 11-20 years 28 able to react. With distance we may have the (relative) • 21+ years 17 luxury of time, which means more options than simply reacting; conscious decisions can be made and an
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
The ability to perform without conscious thought no matter how complex the skill is done by practice; each repetition draws on the experiences of the last and if that skill is practiced with attention towards efficiency of movement or proper mechanics, our ability to perform that skill quickly is greatly increased.
obvious decision would be to use a fundamental sight picture; though at what distance from a threat does this become possible? I donâ€™t have an answer for that, Iâ€™m not sure anyone does. What I do know is that the solution to our loss of close focus and reduction of our field of vision under stress lies in the fundamentals of shooting in a special context.
KINESTHETIC SHOOTING, THE UNINTENTIONAL ANSWER. Kinesiology is, in the simplest terms, biomechanics; the study and explanation of motor movements at the physical and physiological level. When we begin shooting, proper instruction and practice teaches us motor functions to perform the tasks needed to operate the weapon. When we learn a new motor function, such as the draw, presentation of the weapon, proper two hand grip, trigger control, reloading, etc., we are learning the skill consciously. Repetition builds skill confidence, efficiency and most importantly, it builds unconscious confidence. The ability to perform without conscious thought no matter how complex the skill is done by practice; each repetition draws on the experiences of the last and if that skill is practiced with attention towards efficiency of movement or proper mechanics, our ability to perform that skill quickly is greatly increased. This sort of learning is often referred to as Kinesthetic, or Hebbian theory (19) after Dr. Hebb. Hebbian theory describes a basic mechanism
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
With the addition of mental process and judgment situations (shoot/don’t shoot drills) or three dimensional problems (changing the angle of a shot to avoid hitting innocents) we begin to tie our visual process to our motor process, which already learned to work together when we visually walked ourselves through learning certain skills. If as much training as possible is done with an eye towards overall context (training to shoot people, not paper, shapes, bullseyes or dots) our skill level is dramatically increased versus training out of overall context (21).
of Synaptic Plasticity in which the cells in synapses responsible for firing and communicating to create a movement gain efficiency by repeatedly working together to form the motor control program. When I was first introduced to this concept it was called (and continues to be called) Muscle Memory; while the proper term isn’t important to using it to learn, an understanding of it is. Muscles don’t have “memories” but we do. We program our brain to perform tasks and when it comes to firearms, we hope that those tasks are performed as unconsciously as possible so we don’t have to think our way through them (which slows reaction time). When we run through drills on the range and all the fundamentals of firearms work together, Synaptic Plasticity insures that our level of performance is reflected in our efficiency and dedication to practice. By varying drills or introducing unexpected problems (such as dummy rounds to induce weapon malfunctions or being forced to draw with your support hand to practice wounded arm drills) we can further increase our efficiency through Contextual Interference (20) which helps us find the optimal motor solutions to perform the task even with situational interference. With the addition of mental process and judgment situations (shoot/don’t shoot drills) or three dimensional problems (changing the angle of a shot to avoid hitting innocents) we begin to tie our visual process to our motor process, which already learned to work together when we visually walked ourselves through learning certain skills. If as much training as possible is done with an eye towards overall context (training to shoot people, not paper, shapes, bullseyes or dots) our skill level is dramatically increased versus training out of overall context (21). If training is performed out of its intended context, without the introduction of stress or literal under-
standing of why the skill is important, the learning of the motor function and its relation to other motor functions is negatively affected (22). In basic terms this means that maximum performance is only obtainable when skills are trained and practiced under increasing levels of stress. This is practiced in varying degrees by instructors in teaching; some are more fundamentals than self-defense focused and of those who are self-defense focused, some disregard much of the science on stress because they don’t know it or because they don’t believe in it. Because the eyes are going to work against us, we rely on other present motor skills to fight with the weapon. The proper functionality of the draw, the presentation of the weapon and what visual data is available (seeing the threat even if we can’t see the sights) and shooting is done based on an emotional response to perceived facts. This basic hand/eye coordination is the basis for being able to catch thrown objects, toss trash into the trash can, reach out and grab objects, play games etc. Our hand/eye coordination is one of our most implicit skills; it begins developing at birth and is often advanced in efficiency before any of us pick up a gun to learn how to shoot. We are taught the sights from day one, but perhaps not taught the context of how stress with affect the seeing of the sights. When the SNS kicks in and steals our close vision, we are left with point shooting; the reliance of our vision on the threat to guide our gun and put the bullets where we want them to go, or, Kinesthetic Shooting.
point fire 3 yards
through Proprioception we learn our joint position sense, a method by which (through active observation, feeling and unconscious awareness) we angle our joints to a pre-determined position to perform a task. This can be an instructed task (such as proper weapon presentation) or a random position task (catching a tossed set of car keys). The most interesting aspect of Joint Position Sense is that is not heavily (and sometimes not at all) vision dependent (23). What this means is that we can direct our weapon with a high degree of accuracy with limited visual input, and the more visual acuity we have of a threat (tunnel vision and observation time), the higher degree of joint position accuracy (24). Because we already know that repetition of a new motor function builds its efficiency, the very act of practicing your draw and presenting the weapon is programming it into your mind in much the same way that you once learned to catch a ball or swing a bat. The intent may be different, but the methods for learning remain the same. What increases your performance ability in a violent encounter, when “point shooting” may very well be critical is your time spent working your skills under stress. Is this simple reliance on hand/eye coordination? Yes and no. Many self-defense minded shooters practice firing from the hip, or close tuck position where the gun isn’t Proprioception is a term that is somewhat inter- even in their field of view, yet they get hits (this article changeable with Kinesthetic. Both words serve the started with an account of a hip shot and hit). Being same purpose, though the study of Proprioception is able to see the weapon, even if it isn’t in focus, aids in more focused on body positioning. What is it? Basical- the delivery of accurate gun fire. You can be very acculy we are talking about your body’s built-in awareness rate, even without your sights; alignment via visual data system for where your appendages are at any time. As to joint position accuracy can be very high, even under we grow up and develop our hand-eye coordination, stress (25).
PUTTING IT IN CONTEXT
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
Close action shooting; acclimation to the compression of time against life-like targets is perhaps one of the best methods to understand and learn the mechanics needed for spontaneous defense. Training with targets at arms distance (or closer) to 10-15 feet; time constraints (1-4 seconds), environmental / situational stressors (low light, elevated heart rate, one arm or “wounded” drills, weapon malfunctions, etc.), judgment shooting and many other options can increase close range effectiveness and reduce reaction time.
TRAINING FOR EVENTUALITY The more you train to perform under stress, the more realistic the stress, the better your performance will be. Most importantly, the more acclimated you will be to the stress you will encounter. This had been studied by Bruce Siddle, David Grossman, Dr. Bill Lewenski, Dr. Joseph Ledoux and even (if in a roundabout way) Howard Bloom (among others). Sometimes referred to as “Stimulus/response training,” the methodology is simply to instruct a method for response, provide a stimulus under as much stress as possible (graduating to more and more realism as skill level increases) and allow the student to exercise the skill in conditions as close to real life as possible. With a Sympathetic Nervous System activation, this is the only method to potentially overcome deep structure evolutionary programming (26). Does this mean that we can train under a spontaneous threat to see our sights? To overcome adrenalines effects on the Ciliary muscles? I have been looking for that answer for as long as I knew the question. What I do know is that tunnel vision and errors in depth perception can be, if not overcome, then fine-tuned to minimize their affects through stress inoculation training and Tachistoscope or flash visual training (27). The more realistic a target, the more it mimics an actual human threat and the more stress you are under during the training session (so long as the stress is realistic and not out of context to the training objective) the better you are prepared; the better your vision can be trained for stress. Scanning is a technique used to break tunnel vision; once a threat is down and does not appear to be an immediate threat, we scan. Turning the head left and right to get a full view of the world around us helps break tunnel vision and gives us visual data of the world around us in the event that other threats are present. By introducing additional targets outside of our primary focus, or beginning with no visual of the
point fire 5 yards target (facing away) we begin to tune or habit of scanning and flash sight awareness. Close action shooting; acclimation to the compression of time against life-like targets is perhaps one of the best methods to understand and learn the mechanics needed for spontaneous defense. Training with targets at arms distance (or closer) to 10-15 feet; time constraints (1-4 seconds), environmental /situational stressors (low light, elevated heart rate, one arm or “wounded” drills, weapon malfunctions, etc.), judgment shooting and many other options can increase close range effectiveness and reduce reaction time. Shooting from the hip or close-tuck to specifically target parts of the body (head/thoracic cavity/pelvis) can further increase effectiveness. Stress inoculation training, specifically Simunitons or a similar Non-Lethal Training system will go far towards helping you understand your personal reactions under stress; validate existing skills, practice new techniques under stress, work on threat recognition, shorten problem-solving thought processes and most importantly, identify techniques that do not work under stress. The more complex (and realistic) a training scenario to a situation you could encounter in real life, the better prepared you will be to cope with the actual stressors of a real life violent encounter. Finally, kinesthetic shooting can be practiced in a number of methods. The best beginning method is to assume a sight picture, look away, pull the gun into a high tuck and then press out and fire. Two or three rounds and then assess your round placement against your desired point of impact. This method can be advanced to getting a visual, looking away and then com-
point fire 7 yards pleting your draw and shot group. Another method is to aim but not use the sights at all. Varying the target exposure, height or placement will aid in developing increased Proprioception methods for shooting under stress. Another method is to tape the rear sight notch with the smallest piece of tape possible and then work on increasing distances from your target while reducing your available reaction time (using a par timer or practice partner who sets the drill parameters). Another method is to remove the sights from the gun completely for close quarters shooting practice. Obviously any of these techniques can be controversial. I’m fine with that because I’m open to alternate methods and because this article is based on fact, to argue with the need for such training is to argue with facts. If your focus as a student or an instructor is on Self-Defense shooting, then this is a reality you cannot ignore. To do so is a great disservice to your students or to yourself. Obviously proper sight picture
By Aaron Cowan
VISION UNDER STRESS
shooting is just as important, and shown to be possible with distance (and time) from our threat; but reality shows us that we often don’t get to choose distances or circumstances so close quarters shooting with a mind towards the physiological effects of stress is crucial to proper self-defense shooting practice and training. This has been a long read, years in the making, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t make it any shorter. My goal has been, as it always is, to help the students understand what they may face and how best to prepare for it. (1) Handbuch der Physiologischen Optik (Handbook of Physiological Optics), Hermann von Helmholtz (1851) Translated by James P. C. Southall, Optical Society of America (1924), (2) The Wisdom of the Body (1932), Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage Dr. Walter Cannon (1915) (3) Shooting to Live, William Fairbairn/Eric Sykes (1942) (4) A Look at Fighting Stance, Part I/Part II/Part III, www.recoil web.com (2013) A.Cowan (5) PPCT Management Systems, Inc., (19802006) PPCT Defensive Tactics system. (6) On prediction in Skilled Movements, E.C. Poulton Psychological Bulletin (1957) (7) Accommodation-dependent model of the human eye with aspherics, R. Navarro, J. Santamaria and J. Bescos (1985), The eye in focus: accommodation and presbyopia, Dr. W Neil (1998) (8) Eye movements and perception: A selective review, Alexander C. Schütz, Doris I. Braun, Karl R. Gegenfurtner, Journal of Vision (2011) (9) When seeing outweighs feeling: a role for prefrontal cortex in passive control of negative affect in blindsight, Silke Anders, Falk Eippert, Stefan Wiens, Niels Birbaumer, Martin Lotzel, Dirk Wildgruber Brain, a Journal of Neurology (2009) (10) Science, Strategy and War, The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, Frans Osinga (2005) The Emotional Brain Dr. Joseph LeDoux JE (1996) (11) Formation of the aqueous humor, Dr. Janet Fitzakerley, University of Minnesota Medical School (2014) Adler’s Physiology of the Eye: Expert Consult 11th edition, Leonard A Levin, Siv F. E. Nilsson, James Ver Hoeve, Samuel Wu, Paul L. Kaufman, Albert Alm (2011) (12) Autonomic Nervous System, Flinders University, Australia Dr. Bill Blessing, Dr. Ian Gibbins (2011), The Integrative Action of the Autonomic Nervous System: Neurobiology of Homeostasis, Dr. W.W. Jänig, Cambridge University (2006) (13) World Health Organization. Work with visual display
terminals: Psychosocial aspects and health. J Occup Med (1989) (14) Effects of a single dose of cortisol on the neural correlates of eipisodic memory and error processing in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology ,FC Hsu, MJ Garside, AE Massey, RH McAlister-Williams (2003) (15) Tunnel Vision, Its Causes, Treatments and Strategies, Edward C. Godnig, O.D. (2003) (16) The effect of mental workload on the visual field size and shape, EM Rantanen, JH Goldberg (1999) (17) Effects of priority assignment of attentional resources, order of testing, and response sequence on tunnel vision, HS Chan, AJ Courtney (1994) (18) Understanding the Human Physiological and Mental Response to Critical Incidents, Lt. DM. Clay, Dr. Kline, School of Law Enforcement Supervision (2001) Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage, Dr. Walter Cannon (1915) The Effect of Induced Visual Stress on Three Dimensional Perception, Dr. Faudziah Abd-Manan (2000) (19) The Organization of Behavior, Dr. Donald Hebb (1949) (20) The flexibility of human memory, W F Battig (1979) (21) The Effect of Context on Training: Is Learning Situated? Lynne Reder, Roberta L. Klatzky, (1994) (22) What is repeated in a repetition? Effects of practice conditions on motor skill acquisition, Tim Lee, Laurie Swanson, Anne Hall (1991) The search for invariance in skilled movement behavior, R. Schmidt (1985) (23) Reliability of Joint Position Sense and Force-Reproduction Measures During Internal and External Rotation of the Shoulder, Dover, G; Powers, ME (2003) (24) Where was my arm again? Memory-based matching of proprioceptive targets is enhanced by increased target presentation time, Daniel J. Goble, Brittany C. Noble, Susan H. Brown (2010) The Role of Proprioception in Action Recognition, C. Farrer (2003) (25) The Role of Proprioception in Action Recognition, C. Farrer (2003) Cognitive Issues in Motor Expertise, J. Starkes (1993) (26) The Role of the Amygdala in Fear and Panic, Doug Holt (1998) The Anatomy Of Fear And How It Relates To Survival Skills Training, Darren Laur (2002) The Emotional Brain, Dr. Ledoux (1996) (27) Visual field tunneling in aviators induced by memory demands, Dr. L J Williams (1995) The visual perception and reproduction of forms by tachistoscopic methods, S. Renshaw (1945)
THE LEADERS IN LOW LIGHT TACTICAL TRAINING Whether you are a member of the military, law enforcemnt, or are a private citizen, Surefire Institute has a highly effective training program tailored to meet the needs of any caliber of shooter. Less experienced sudents will develop basic fundamentals while advanced students will be pushed to learn new techniques and then trained in as close to real-life scenarios as possible. From certification courses to tactical training, SFI will take your firearms skills to the next level.
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By Dave Agata
LEGEND MEETS LEDET
Dick communicated that it is normal for him to use several photos to establish his final work, this photo is suspected to be utilized for the final piece, “beware of the dog.”
LEGEND MEETS LEDET
ecently, legendary tactical artist Dick Kramer paid a visit to one of the United States Coast Guard’s tactical law enforcement units located in South Florida. At first, not too many people think of the United States Coast Guard as an arm of the law. However they are some of the finest maritime law enforcement officers protecting the United States today.
Getting a perspective To best understand my perspective, we need to travel back to 1990 when I started my municipal law enforcement career in Coral Springs, Florida. While on patrol I befriended a young security officer at the local mall, however this officer was very sharp. He was well spoken and appeared to have a deeper understanding of the law and had an excellent officer presence, that of a military bearing. This se-
By Dave Agata
curity officer was a reserve petty officer in the United States Coast Guard. During the next few years, I came to have a better understanding of the work that the United States Coast Guard performed from the friendship built and developed with this Coast Guardsman. A mutual respect developed and a long time family friendship was built. My friend recently retired after he served the people of this country as a Coast Guardman for 27 years and is still a full-time police officer in South Florida.
Going Tactical As my law enforcement career developed, this Guardian BM2 Martin Castellanos (ret) and I shared professional knowledge and friendship. And in the mid 90’s when I joined my departments SWAT team and the wider tactical community, we extended an invitation to his unit, Tactical Law Enforcement Team South (TA-
By Dave Agata
Over 220 years of history. The history of the United States Coast Guard is a diverse topic, but, “doing more with less and to the highest of professionalism,” would say it all. The United States Coast Guard is about the size of a major police depart-
ment but bears both domestic and international responsibilities. The United States Coast Guard or “Guardians,” are considered a branch of the military service yet among the many missions or several hats they wear, one is that of Maritime Law Enforcement Officer. Their authority and responsibility is unique to any other branch of service or Law enforcement agency for that matter in the United States. Charged with the responsibility of protecting our shores, boarders, waterways and ports, entire books have been written on these fine men and women of the United States Coast Guard. This article will only address one unit of many.
The LEDETs are born. Throughout the history of the United States, the Coast Guard has been involved in many military actions. Original known as the Revenue Marine or the Revenue Cutter Service, their original duties in 1790 were a charge by Congress “to enforce tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling.” Since then the agency was renamed and has taken up several other missions and stood the watch with valor.
LEGEND MEETS LEDET
CLET South) to come and train with my team. This sharing of facilities and knowledge spread throughout the tactical community in Florida. Many other inter-agency relationships were built and still stand strong today.
At the conclusion of the photo shoot Mike Ferguson, Dick Kramer and the author David Agata pose for a photo opportunity and capture the moment.
In 1982 the USCG established Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) and began deploying them aboard US Navy ships. Then in 1989, the National Defense Authorization Act designated the Department of Defense as the lead in detection and monitoring illegal drug trafficking. As a result, the Coast Guard became the lead agency in maritime drug interdiction. TACLETs were developed and support the LEDETS with command and training. The history of the TACLET program is rich with bravery, dedication and diversity. However my personal experience has been with that of TACLET South, in Miami, Florida.
Taking the Fight to the Enemy In April of 2004 one of the member’s of TACLET South was killed in combat by a suicide bomber in Iraq. DC3 Nathan Bruckenthal and two Navy petty officers were killed during this incident. Bruckenthal had volunteered for a second tour because he believed in his unit’s contribution to the
BEWARE OF THE DOG © DICK KRAMER
By Dave Agata
LEGEND MEETS LEDET
In April of 2004 one of the member’s of TACLET South was killed in combat by a suicide bomber in Iraq. DC3 Nathan Bruckenthal and two Navy petty officers were killed during this incident. Bruckenthal had volunteered for a second tour because he believed in his unit’s contribution to the mission overseas. He was the first United States Coast Guardsmen killed in combat since the Vietnam War.
mission overseas. He was the first United States Coast Guardsmen killed in combat since the Vietnam War. This incident, while tragic, helped give resolve to Coast Guard leadership. Along with the September 11th attacks, the loss of Nate Bruckenthal contributed to the development of the Coast Guard’s Deployable Operations Group, affectionately known as the “DOG”, which re-organized specialized tactical units and the same command.
The quiet professionals of TACLET South were recognized in September of 2008 for their part in the war on drugs. Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske presented the crew with the 2008 USIC Award for Best Maritime Interdiction Unit after TACLET South’s LEDETs interdicted over 42 thousand kilograms of cocaine with an estimated value of $1.2 billion and detained 72 suspected narco-terrorists.
Reaching out to a legend In 2004, I contacted world famous artist and legendary tactical illustrator Dick Kramer. This statement makes him blush and he would simply say, “I just love what I do.” During many years in the tactical community and traveling around the country,
By Dave Agata
Timing is everything. In the fall of 2009, communications continued with Dick to see if he could visit the unit and have the crewmembers model for the artwork he was planning for the Coast Guard. In March of 2010, after getting approval from the DOG and Mrs. Kramer, the dates were set. The night before the photo shoot, TACLET South Commander Timothy J. Espinoza invited his command staff and their wives to dinner with Dick. Before long, this crowd was enjoying the meal and sharing stories like a reunited family. Given all the stories and laughter, it was a good thing that this was a family style Italian restaurant, because any other type of restaurant would have asked us to quiet down or leave.
Making History The next day Dick was given the grand tour of TACLET South. Much to his credit, Dick listened and asked questions. Then it was time to get to work. He took photographic studies of the crew in order to make his world famous illustrations. Several hours were dedicated to having TACLET South’s operators demonstrate their training for Dick, from their Aerial Use of Force gunners (AUF) to the LEDET team members. My co-worker Mike Ferguson, a retired United States Navy senior chief and a former SEAL operator himself, worked with Dick to set up the photos. All I could
LEGEND MEETS LEDET
I have gotten to know Mr. Kramer. His modesty is immediately evident as he prefers to be called by his first name and would scold me for calling him “sir” or “mister.” But Mr. Kramer cannot argue that his work is famous in the tactical and military communities. He has been commissioned to create artwork for all manner of special operation units and those in our profession, prize his artwork. He is very popular when he appears at trade shows and training conferences. As things often go, schedules could not be worked out at that time. But in July of 2009, I was afforded the privilege to serve at TACLET South as a civilian trainer, and I reached out to him one more time.
Dick signing a print!
do was stand back and watch the magic, realizing that any one of these photos could capture the history of TACLET South and the United States Coast Guard. The shoot went great and in his down to earth style, Dick signed posters for the guys and posed for photos.
The Final Result
MARKSMEN © DICK KRAMER
Webster’s defines a legend as, “a story respecting saints; especially one of a marvelous nature.” The Artwork of Dick Kramer, tells the many, “marvelous stories,” of those, “Saints,” of the tactical community who have defended our great country from enemies both domestic and foreign. This would include the LEDETS of the United States Coast Guard’s, Deployable Operations Group (DOG). I call myself privileged to have witness the capturing of the Finest Maritime Law Enforcement Officers by the legendary Artwork of Dick Kramer.
52 The Legendary Tactical Artist Speaks!
DICK KRAMER INTERVIEW
INTERVIEW DICK KRAMER AN
The Legendary Tactical Artist Speaks!
I drew on everything. The cardboard liners from my grandfathers starched white shirts, my math work books were covered, especially those wonderful blank pages where you were supposed to work out problems. Pure white, blank paper!!! A natural high. VIEWPOINT: Many of our readers will already know who you are but please tell the VIEWPOINT readers a little about yourself. DICK: I was born in Newark New Jer-
sey, grew up in Nutley New Jersey. My Mom was a single parent, my father died an alcoholic when I was 12. I had one older brother, Pete. He passed away about two years ago and I miss him very much. School was always a problem, due mostly to my wanting to draw and the rest of the world wanting to stop me. I was a real problem and caused a lot of pain to my Mom. The teachers ended up sticking me in the back of the class and giving me D’s, that was passing. Just get rid of me. I still don’t know how to divide. I can add and subtract. That’s all you need for a check book. I ‘m a
HOMELAND HEROES © DICK KRAMER
DICK KRAMER INTERVIEW
The Legendary Tactical Artist Speaks!
voracious reader. I average about two books a week. I love books. No Kindles, I love the feel and smell of books.
she could never come back to her house. Two little kids…she didn’t have much of a choice. She didn’t have much to say either.
VIEWPOINT: When I was very In those days you could join the Navy at
young I spent many hours drawing 17 with no High School Diploma. So, on sailing ships. What did you enjoy my 17th birthday I was on the way to Bainbridge Maryland. That night I knew I would drawing when u were youngster? never get this chance again. I was in a lot of DICK: I drew on everything. The trouble back home, but nobody knew me cardboard liners from my grandfa- here. I know the moment I grew up. I owe thers starched white shirts, my math the Navy my life. I finished High School. I work books were covered, espe- went to Aviation Ordnance School in Norcially those wonderful blank pages man Oklahoma and then on to VF-211 a where you were supposed to work fighter squadron at Moffett Field Califorout problems. Pure white, blank pa- nia. I spent my entire enlistment with that per!!! A natural high. squadron and loved it. I made two deployments to the Pacific, one on the Bon HomEvery Christmas my Mom would buy me Richard and one on the Midway. Going me a sketch book. I would use the to sea was a great part of my life. I have a last page one or two days before the lot of good memories of my life on the flight next Christmas. It was a treasure. deck. Hairy as hell at times but I absolutely loved it. Ron McCarthy and I saw each othVIEWPOINT: We both spent years er and never knew it until just a few years in the Navy… and I know that I spent ago. He was on a Destroyer and we would allot of time drawing various proj- refuel them. I liked to sit on the edge of the ects for everybody while I was in…. flight deck and watch. Ron remembers beYou joined the Navy at 17….you state ing alongside Midway and looking up at the on your website bio that it was one “Airdales”. Ginny and I visited the Midway of the best things you have ever do- a year ago. It’s a museum now. I really enne…I feel the same way about when I joyed showing her where I worked on the joined the Navy…but tell us what the flight deck. A lot had changed, but she was Navy did for you and how much ART a good ship. was a part of that experience? One incident stands out in my mind. We DICK: We lived with my Mom’s were in Hong Kong, anchored out. So we twin sister. She was “difficult”. My had to use launches for liberty ashore. I Mom showed up at the door with was 2nd class Petty Officer at the time standme, about one month old, Pete, he ing watch at the Officers Gangway with the was about three or four and Mom Duty Officer, a Lieutenant j.g. We saw the in very bad shape. My Aunt told her Admirals Gig pull alongside. The Admiral if she ever went back to my father was using Midway as his Flag ship. He was
GRUNT © DICK KRAMER
The Legendary Tactical Artist Speaks!
DICK KRAMER INTERVIEW
blasted. The Lieutenant told me to get lost, but it was too late, I had seen him. Next day I drew a cartoon of him rowing a gondola with a Lord Nelson hat, sword with a roller skate on the end, singing at the top of his lungs. Everyone in the Ordnance shack had a laugh, then I crumbled it up and threw it into the trash. Big mistake. The guys dug it out, took it to the print shop and by the time we were at flight quarters recovering aircraft the next day there were hundreds of copies all over the ship. I didn’t know it until a Marine all pretty with his braid and blood stripe, holding his white Marine hat came onto the flight deck trying to yell above the incredible noise of jets “Who’s Kramer?”. I was ordered to follow him and when we ended up in front of the Admirals Quarters I knew all was not well. He had his back to me and said “So you’re Kramer.” I said “yes sir”. He held up the cartoon, still had his back to me and said ‘Go pack your bags”. “Aye aye sir”. He said “Don’t you want to know where you’re going?”. I said “Norfolk Naval Prison if I’m lucky”. He turned around and laughed. He told me he wanted me to fly off the ship on the Mail plane to Yokosuka and then on to Tokyo to help with our Cruise Book. Every ship publishes a book documenting everything about its deployment. I was on my way to living in a Japanese neighborhood for six weeks with three other guys. A Lieut. George May, super guy. An Ensign, forget his name, made no impression and a Seaman,
forget his name too. I always forget names of people I don’t like or don’t impress me at all. I was a 2nd Class at the time. Great rank. Too high for crap details, too low for really big responsibility. I was having the best time of my life. I could write a book about our time in Tokyo. It was fantastic.
VIEWPOINT: I started doing portraits for
hire when i was in high school when did you begin working for hire?
DICK: I started doing pen and ink work
for a chain of stores called Two Guys from Harrison. It was really hack work illustrating everything from garbage cans to televisions to storage sheds. Pay was lousy but I learned how to draw in pen and ink. Art school is like every other school in the world, learn the basics, about 20%, then go to work and learn the rest. I came home one day and announced to Ginny that I was now officially freelancing! We had about $65.00 in the bank, four kids and I was jumping off of a cliff. Ginny always behind me, never said a word, just sucked it up and fed the six of us on $100.00 a week. I still don’t know how she did it. We were never hungry, but when a check came in, we all celebrated. Going to McDonalds was a big deal. VIEWPOINT: Let’s talk about the biggest part of your life..Family. I have of course met Ginny and your son Steve.. tell us how Family has inspired you….
DICK: Without a doubt Ginny has been the rock of my life. We have been married for 54 years and I’m still head over heels in love with her. I met her coming home from stealing bicycles from a local public swim-
The Legendary Tactical Artist Speaks!
DICK KRAMER INTERVIEW
ming pool. There was a tennis club on the way home and it had a water fountain. I would stop and get a drink. I looked up and saw a vision. She was wearing white shorts, brown T shirt and hitting a tennis ball against a backboard. I was totally twitterpated. After four years in the Navy and many, many letters we were married. Her Dad, until his dying day would say “When are you going to stop this art stuff and get a real job?”. I guess if I were him I would have said the same thing. Thirteen years after we thought we were finished, the rabbit died and our youngest son, Stephen was born. All of the older kids spoiled him. It was a very special time for all of us. Having four teenagers and one bathroom made for very interesting mornings. The law was “There are two things you do in the bathroom and curling your hair aint one of them!”. Looking back we laugh now, but it was tough too. Funny…we have four bathrooms now and no kids. Go figure.
VIEWPOINT: You have met quite
a few people since you have embarked down this road. Tell the readers the story you told me years ago about meeting Ronald Reagan.
was President doing his absolute best to kill me financially. I felt like a vulture, but damn I needed a job real bad. I applied and was hired. It was a nothing job, putting viewgraphs together, making charts and graphs etc. etc. Somehow, I caught up. I went to my boss and asked him if I could do a painting in my open time of the EA6-B Prowler. ITT had a jammer on it and I thought it was a pretty neat looking plane. I worked on the painting in between the charts and graphs and when finished, called my boss. He came in, took a look and walked out. “Guess he doesn’t like Prowlers” I thought. Shortly he was back with the President of the company. They mumbled for a while and then said, “You send everything out to outside jobbers. From now on you paint”. Begin Rocket Ride!! I somehow convinced them I couldn’t paint the planes unless I flew in them. Before it was all over I had flown in just about everything the Air Force had that had two seats. Starting with the 27th Tactical in Langley AFB and the F-15 to the B-52 to tankers to flying from Langley AFB to Nellis for Red Flag to flying 500 feet above the Rhine in an F-15 out of Bittburg. Wonderful days. Great adventures. Ginny and I went all over the country and eventually to England and Germany to research what started as a great joke. The greatest moment in my life. The Berlin Airlift Mural
I was in Ramstein Germany doing some Air Force art for ITT. A good friend, a piDICK: One of my clients was ITT lot from the 27th at Langley was driving me Avionics. They built radar jamming back from a local bar. It was pretty late devices for the military. Bill Cook and we were feeling no pain. We passed was the Art Director and a good a house and my friend said that’s Frank’s friend. Unfortunately, Bill passed house. STOP THE CAR!!! I got out and was away unexpectedly. Jimmy Carter pounding on his door shouting “You mess
my wife I kill you Yankee dog! Come out I say!”. He opens the dorr and yells up the stairs “It’s only Dickie”. We started partying big time. His boss, a three star was a big historian, especially about the Berlin Airlift. Frank’s big idea was to tell ITT that I should paint a mural depicting the Airlift. I knew nothing about it and knew it would never work. Back in the U.S. I typed up a proposal, knowing nothing about murals or the Airlift. “How big? 8’x16’ sounds good” “What should it show?”. Hell, I don’t know! So I read a little article about the commies blocking off Berlin and the Americans flying coal in. I sent the proposal up to the main building and forgot about it. About two weeks later it came back. “Great idea! Let’s do it!” Oh my God! Now what! Then they found out that President Reagan was making huge speech about the wall during the celebration of the 750th birthday of the city. “Let’s have it ready by June 12th, 1987!’. I had just stepped on my peeney weeney. The first thing was to gather photos, so Ginny and I were off to London and the British Archives. They were great and filled me in on the huge part England played in the airlift. Then on to Berlin where there was a huge source of information and photos. We returned to the States with over 500 photos. The surface for the mural was four 4’x8’ sheets of tempered Masonite reinforced with a wood frame that could be broken down into four sections and then easily reassembled once we were in Berlin. The Air Force would fly it over in a C-5. Now, all I had to do was paint it. ITT had a very large barn on the property that the carpenters who maintained many
After eight years in the corporate world I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I quit. I went back to freelancing. Who needs a great paycheck, 5 weeks vacation, hospitalization, pension fund, etc. etc? I was probably stupid. I’m sure I could have made a lot more money, but I know I would never have had the fun I’ve had over the past twenty years. No regrets.
The Legendary Tactical Artist Speaks!
DICK KRAMER INTERVIEW
My favorite piece? Actually there are two. The first is “The Grunt” a pen and ink drawing of my son, Steve while he was in the Marine Corp.
That drawing is probably the most famous drawing in the Marine Corp.
buildings on the property were housed in. It was perfect. I told them I needed a refrigerator to store my paints…I got it. Immediately filled it with beer and steaks. I told them I needed an exhaust fan for the smell of the oil paints…I got it. We immediately put a grill under it to cook the steaks. Things were looking up. We installed a scaffold and all was ready. I laid out 500 8”x10” photos on the barn floor with just enough room between the rows to walk. Every day I would make coffee and start walking between the photos, picking out one by one the ones I didn’t want. It took a long, long time. Finally I had the ones I wanted and started painting. Every face in the mural is historically correct except for two. In a grouping of German drivers of the coal trucks are two faces. Bill and Jimmy, the two carpenters who helped me in the barn. Somehow, we made it to Germany well before June 12th. My son, Steve and I spent a week at Templehoff tweaking the mural and making final touch ups. Ginny met us in Berlin a week later. The big day arrived and President and Mrs. Reagan arrived. I presented the mural to the President and he was going to then present it to the people of Berlin. Mrs. Reagan asked me “How do you paint something that big?”. I answered “ Mam, I started in the upper left and when I reached the lower right, I signed my name”. She
and the President had a good laugh. more painting fat ladies in peacock artists who may wish to make a livThey were a class act and very, very chairs. Twenty years later and it’s ing at what they LIVE to do? nice people. still fun. The guys are still our heroes and Ginny and I love every DICK: Twenty years ago I was the After eight years in the corporate one of them, SWAT, Military, we first to draw SWAT. There were some world I knew it wasn’t going to love all of you and we thank you. really good military artists, but no work out. I quit. I went back to one was drawing SWAT. Now, there freelancing. Who needs a great VIEWPOINT: I have one painting are a few more out there. Welpaycheck, 5 weeks vacation, hospi- that I did some years ago that is my come to the best occupation in the talization, pension fund, etc. etc? favorite…I would assume that all art- world. Have fun. Don’t ever, ever I was probably stupid. I’m sure I ists have that one piece that they take the people you draw granted. could have made a lot more mon- hold above all others for whatever I have had so much fun and I’m ey, but I know I would never have reason personnel, professional etc.. nowhere near finished. I still have had the fun I’ve had over the past What is yours and why? many, many pieces of art to do and twenty years. No regrets. places to go. DICK: My favorite piece? ActualVIEWPOINT: Who Most affected ly there are two. The first is “The VIEWPOINT: Is there anything your business life? Grunt” a pen and ink drawing you would like to SHARE? of my son, Steve while he was in DICK: I met a guy named John the Marine Corp. That drawing is DICK: To all of the folks who have Meyer while trying to sell animal probably the most famous drawing purchased our art over the years, art to clients at SHOT Show. He in the Marine Corp. The other is Ginny and I say thank you from asked me what it would cost to do “Homeland Heroes”. It’s the Fred- the bottom of our hearts. To the five or six vignettes for the H&K eric Maryland SWAT Team. It was hundreds of guys and young ladies training facility in Sterling Va. I just one of those magic moments who have posed for the art, thank finished the art, (John screwed me when the light and the pose was you. We could never have done on the price!) we still laugh about absolutely perfect. But I still feel any of this without you. You’ve that, the check cleared, and I for- the best one is still out there. A been so good to us. We can never got all about it. Meanwhile they great teacher of mine in art school repay you, the debt is just too big. sent the poster all over the world. once said “When you’re satisfied, God bless all of you and your famThe phone lines lit up at H&K, not quit. You’re finished”. He also said, ilies. You can never say “Nobody for the school, the folks calling “The more you draw, the better loves us”. Dick and Ginny Kramer wanted to know who was doing you will become. So draw, draw, this art! How could they get copies draw”. He was right. My art has VIEWPOINT: Dick you are an inof the art. The rocket ride was off evolved over the last twenty years spiration to me for sure and I have and running. We literally started so much it’s unbelievable. But, I’m always enjoyed speaking to you. Thank you very much for taking at the kitchen table. A small sin- still far from satisfied. your time to be a part of gle fold catalog with four drawings. Ginny picked 100 medium size cit- VIEWPOINT: Is there anything my VPTAC! GOD BLESS ies and we were in business. No you would like to share to inspiring YOU AND YOURS!
Photo by Mark Oravsky
By Mark Oravsky
MISSION CONTINUES MY
left a 14 year Army career after our last deployment to Afghanistan (July 2009-2010). It was an especially difficult year and deployment on many levels. We lost a lot of great people in the first two months and the deployment continued to drag on for the remaining 10. It was this deployment and the time away from family which led to my desire to transition from service to civilian.
I never knew just how difficult that transition would be.
By Mark Oravsky
Prior to hitting the streets, I finished the EMT-B course (Emergency Medical Technician) and enrolled in my first semester of college. I thought it was time to put the GI Bill to work and pursue an education. One Photo by Mark Oravsky down, solid GPA and on to the next, weeks into the second semester I felt gone by. I was surrounded by disconnected, unsupported empty pizza boxes and piss and without real purpose. In bottles; depressed, detached, essence, I felt lost at sea with- upside down, and inside out. out a life preserver. The highlight of my day was I quickly withdrew from lying balled up in the bathtub school and took up residence crying my eyes out. Day after on my couch, at home, alone. day I would stare at the loaded Before I knew it, months had pistol on the coffee table and
By Mark Oravsky
wonder what the metal would feel like in my mouth. After about a year of living this way, I decided that I lacked the intestinal fortitude to eat a bullet, and with pressure from friends, I decided finding a career was what would fix me. I applied for every apprenticeship in the state of Washington and landed a job in construction. Back to work I went, feeling a temporary sense of relief from the misery of the couch. I was hopeful I would find my sense of purpose and community in construction. I got to work on the Husky Stadium project for a year and landed an additional position in what
Photo by Mark Oravsky
It wasnâ€™t long before the dark corners of isolation and detachment crept in. After five years clean and sober, I relapsed.
Photo by Mark Oravsky
I thought would be my dream job, working with incarcerated youth through the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration. It wasn’t long before the dark corners of isolation and detachment crept in. After five years clean and sober, I relapsed. The slippery slope of addiction was one I rode all the way to the bottom. Once again, I was alone and feeling the gravity of mortalPhoto by Mark Oravsky ity without purpose, without direction and without community. I took a trip to Sacramento to dry out; I made it back to Washington alive. At two months clean and sober, with eyes Their mission statement crossed, head pounding and the red numbers on the clock glowing 3:45AM; I found myself searching for meaningful employ- grabbed me, “The Mission ment, “ a diamond in the rough” on Craigslist. I typed in “veter- Continues empowers veteran” “non-profit” and after six pages of digging, I ran across The ans adjusting to life at home to find new missions. We reMission Continues www.missioncontinues.org. deploy veterans so that their shared legacy will be one of action and service.” Life at home, new missions, action and service. The message around finding purpose and transition” around “community service” resonated deep within. I applied for a fellowship and began exploring Non-profits in Thurston County to host me as a Fellow. After an exhaustive Photo by Mark Oravsky search to find a compatible organization, one whose
By Mark Oravsky
mission and vision aligned with my passions, I almost gave up. My partner Kendra suggested I try GRuB. The first sentence of the mission statement caught my eye, “We inspire positive personal and community change by bringing people together around food and agriculture.” It was clear to me at this point I needed some positive personal change and, a sense of community was something I longed
...it had been a long time since I felt heard. She was listening and genuinely interested in this new opportunity. In reflection, I can say it was the first time in three years of stormy transition I felt connection, valued, and as though this may be the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
for after 14 years of service. I called GRuB, asked to speak with Katie and was pleasantly surprised when she said “speaking”. We spent some time discussing my situation, The Mission Continues and the opportunity to host me as a Fellow. The conversation seemed to last a long time and it had been a long time since I felt heard. She was listening and genuinely interested in this new opportunity. In reflection, I can say it was the first time in three years of stormy transition I felt connection, valued, and as though this may be the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I was awarded a Fellowship through The Mission Continues and our journey began 19 May 2014.. Looking back, I remember the first event Katie invited me to; a gathering of local Veteran Service Organizations meeting to discuss the military draw- down. I was so nervous and closed off, I did not want to stand and introduce myself, Katie had to. For those of you who were unable to attend Soiree on September 27, 2014, I got up on stage to
Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International
Vol. 20, No.4
By Mark Oravsky
share this story in front of a large crowd of GRuB supporters. Over the past few months, I have personally witnessed the transformative power GRuB brings to the lives of those it serves through growing healthy food, people, and communities. The multi-cultural motto of “everyone welcome at the table” are not simple words on paper for this program of excellence. GRuB not only seeks to serve low income families and at risk youth, it empowers each individual to contribute their distinct skills and attributes to effect positive change in the lives of others. Over the course of this Fellowship, I have had the opportunity to connect with other members of our community who have experienced a great deal of heartache, depression, anxiety and life challenges. On a build in Rainier cattle country, we met a woman who is a survivor of domestic violence, the single mother of an educationally disabled child and who had lost her mother last year. As we stood admiring her new gardens, we exchanged warm hugs, tears and she expressed her appreciation for the start of a new chapter in her life. Another gardener we built with shared her story… last year she and her housemates were homeless and living in a shelter. Through the Sidewalk program, she was able to secure a home with three other women. The GRuB gardens we built together serve as the foundation for her feeling of wellbeing and stability in her new home. In lieu of the therapeutic and healing
experience I was having through my Fellowship with GRuB, we decided to host an Active Duty and Veteran open house. In addition to the awesome turnout, we gained enough volunteer support to build 12 additional gardens throughout Thurston and Mason counties. Over the course of these builds, I got to know several of these folks. Many of them have experienced the same type of challenges in transition I have. One in particular was rather shy and reserved. On one particular build, this vet shared with me his heartfelt feelings of gratitude and appreciation for providing him the opportunity to get off the couch, the opportunity to get plugged in and the chance to push the margins of his reality and see they moved. This build was the third he had been on and the third time in over two years he was able to leave his home without his wife or service animal. You see folks, each of you are a part of this amazing organization and the priceless gifts it brings to the lives of those it serves. Thank each of you for being a part of continuing this incredible legacy of Positive Personal and Community change… by bringing people together around food and agriculture!
can make a difference.
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70 By Wes Doss
REALITIES IN TRAINING
REALITIES IN TRAINING
AND THE REAL WORLD.
BY WES DOSS
“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
― Abraham Lincoln
n our modern 21st century world, reality has quickly become the optimum buzz word. Reality has grown from something that we face in our lives to something that entertains us. In fact, it seems as though we are faced with some sort of “Reality Based” amusement at nearly every turn. Engaging us with exciting programs about backwoods child beauty queens, decrepit rock stars fumbling through life or captivating us with the suspense of seeing who will be voted off the island next. The popular mass media of the 21st century has preyed upon our natural curiosity and has allowed us to live vicariously through others and focus our lives on the questionable ethical issues of various professional sports figures, celebrity indiscretions and the relationships of some our nations most prominent elected leaders. The concept of reality has never meant so much to our lives and been as misunderstood as it is today. In fact, the general understanding of reality as it relates to the martial application of firearms and tactics has also been subject to a widespread alteration. In many instances it has taken an E ticket ride right through Tomorrowland, past the spinning teacups and the hall of Presidents, straight to Fantasyland. For all intense purposes reality is the sum total of an individuals knowledge of themselves, others, the environment and their understanding of the interaction between these elements. The individual perception of reality is acquired and developed over the course of an individual’s life. In other words: Our perception of the world is taught to us. Our knowledge of reality is very limiting because it has been passed to us through things we have experienced and started out initially as a set of beliefs and norms through our family tree. Mothers are our first teachers and depending on your take on psychology and any lingering Oedipus complex, remain the most dominate influence on our perception, but many times this gives way to popular and charismatic figures who are happy to assist us in altering our
By Wes Doss
REALITIES IN TRAINING
sense of reality. This is very common even in the macho tough guy world of self defense firearms training. Volumes have been written about gun fighting, tactics and strategy, often times with limited regard to the effects on the individual involved and to the realties these situations produce. The inclusion of words like “fight”, “combat” and “tactical” are often added to articles and course descriptions to provide an air of reality, but much like black nylon, Velcro and the latest camouflage pattern, they are only loosely based on reality and real needs. The developed modern world of self defense training, in its attempt to homogenize responses to situations, has tried to mimic the real world by establishing a countless number of hard fast absolutes. However, it’s critical to understand that in the real world and in particular the real world of conflict, there are no absolutes. The real world has no cut and dry, black and white conditions; rather, it is an environment of infinite shades of grey, abound by endless options and opportunities, a truly fluid environment. If we find ourselves in a fight, armed or otherwise, how long will it last? 10 seconds? 25 seconds? A minute? Honestly…. who cares? A fight will last as long as it will last and isn’t over until submission or compliance is achieved. Since the inception of statistics about gun fights we have been swamped with theories that tell us that since most gun fights only last a matter of seconds, only involve the firing of X number of rounds, or generally occur at close distance, that these are the only conditions that we should train under. So if I am advocating greater reality in training why would
The fact is the environment and the limitations of many popular training programs reflects little of what really exists in the real world, thus giving an altered impression of reality and what to expect in the event of a real fight.
I want to contest these training concepts? Because in a fight you just never know! If we prepare for the worst then perhaps anything less will pale in comparison. A better question and training concern should be, will the individual last as long as the fight? Has our training conditioned us to understand and mitigate the effects of emotional and psychological stress? Do we posses the physical and mental stamina to go the full duration of a conflict? Are we truly training to understand the realities of an armed conflict? The training world, even in light of countless lawsuits and court rulings, is still heavily inundated with training concepts involving unrealistic principles like; square ranges, set distances, time limits, and the obligatory “down range” area, as well as an array of artificial drills that are more aesthetically pleasing and emotionally exciting to the student than they are practical. The fact is the environment and the limitations of many popular training programs reflects little of what really exists in the real world, thus giving an altered impression of reality and what to expect in the event of a real fight. While these concerns may seem trivial to many, especially the more experienced or highly trained, they do represent a significant problem in training and the potential application of skills in a real world situation. To make this clear, let’s explore both the real world and the training world.
The Training World vs. The Real World In our post 9/11 world it would seem that nearly everyone, of varying backgrounds, skill levels and occupations, has climbed aboard the commercial training bandwagon and staked their claim on a level of expertise in the combative arena. Though the halls of this industry are lined with real, honest to goodness guys with high levels of genuine expertise, it is hard to separate the real folks from the others. Spend time surfing the various “tactical” websites and it’s
impossible to find one that doesn’t contend to be staffed by experts; or better yet, take some time and just monitor the heated discussions and all out character assassinations that take place on discussion forums by folks who are “in the know”. With this disparity in experience and skill often comes a lack of understanding of the realities of the world and how to apply those realities in the training environment. What I’ve come to realize is that there are a tremendous number of people taking part in some portion of the training world who actually believe in something quite different from reality, something more like anti-reality. These often charismatic exponents of this altered version of the world would be nothing more than amusement if it were not for the fact that some serious students of self defense frequently gravitate to them, in search of the secret technique that will cause you to dominate over any foe. Well as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, there is no short cut! No secret training system! No one singular technique that will stop a bad guy in his tracks. Life, especially in the hectic realm of conflict, would be much simpler if the evil doers would stand directly in front of us and demanded satisfaction, instead of attacking us from our blindsides, but since most who would do us harm lack any appreciable amount of testicular fortitude, this just is
By Wes Doss
REALITIES IN TRAINING
not the case. A serious fundamental ignorance of the actual mechanics, legalities and logistics of conflict exist among the wouldbe experts in this distorted form of reality and often becomes the core of their mindset and their curriculum. This ignorance often leads to the “creation” and proliferation of techniques and tactics that are founded on questionable or obvious false assumptions and theories. Fantasy techniques consist of a host of strange and often irrational maneuvers, psychological ploys, overly complex procedures and often with tragic results manifesting themselves as a general attitude of false confidence leaving the student somewhat less than prepared for the combative skills they so eagerly seek. Now, don’t get me wrong, a significant portion of students remain incredulous to the obvious problems with anomalous techniques, but an equally large group persists in the pursuit of the ultimate technique only fueled faster by the claims of a select few in this industry. Those who understand the realities of conflict, by either experience or through training, know that there are a lot of variables that reduce each and every situation to a full blown crap shoot. Why? You may ask, because unlike the anti-reality world a real world event provides for a vastly different perspective on reality and will vary greatly from situation to situation and will change significantly every second that it’s allowed to evolve, as true conflict is an ever-changing, fluid environment with no set solutions. Knowing this before getting knee deep in a contest of might is crucial. In the training environment, you are generally the only part of the equation that has a weapon, at least a real weapon. The
one dimensional “opponent” found on most ranges won’t pull a knife, won’t bum rush you and won’t pull a gun and shoot you. Additionally, you generally don’t face more than one target at a time, and your “opponent” won’t have any friends that will attack while you’re focused on the single situation. Further, most real world situations don’t start with the sound of whistle or buzz of a timerl. A real life encounter is likely to start with some form of physical posturing or with some form of initial dialog, either aggressive or deceptive. This is seldom replicated in training. The training environment represents a controlled environment, absent of loose gravel, broken glass and knee gouging concrete. You seldom face slippery, wet or icy surfaces on a training range. Blizzards, rain, winds and visibility are all real world realities that are not typically part of the training world. Along with natural environmental conditions, the training world seldom places the student in the linear confines of a bus or subway car or exposes the student to the hazards of city traffic or the dangers of hot metro line tracks. The average student arrives at the range like he walked out of the pages of an equipment catalog, dressed and equipped with all the right gear and in loose, comfortable and practical clothes, thus eliminating clothing as a variable that would restrict ability. We don’t typ-
By Wes Doss
REALITIES IN TRAINING
ically train in a suit or a skirt and heels. Most classes won’t require the use of winter gloves or heavy winter coats. Additionally, I have yet to see a tactical “reality based” course where the students train like they are carrying their 10 month old child or walking with your wife or mother. These are real world concerns and real world events that happen daily in the lives of all of us, and will significantly alter our perception of a conflict and limit the options that are available to us. Our own personal well being is seldom a training issue. If you’re sick, hung over or desperately trying to run on limited sleep you simply cancel training. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cancel the real world, once you’ve started your stuck there until the fat lady takes a bow. The training world is always preemptive and predictable, in that I mean that no matter how realistic a training session, the student always knows it’s a training session. We are made aware when and at what time training will start and finish. Students know that targets are lifeless one dimensional objects, they are told how many rounds to load and how many extra rounds to carry, and they know they are scheduled for train-
ourselves in control. There are people in this world who will try their damnedest to hurt you and for the most part you won’t know who they are or when they will launch their attack. It is imperative to understand all the facets of conflict and to be prepared with the most realistic practice that we can muster. In training realistically we will develop knowledge of our own limitations and the limitations of the tools we have chosen to use or have on hand, as well as the mechanics and logistics of their use. Those who are ignorant of these things will mock and write off the value that such training and preparation provides, thus remaining much less prepared to do what needs to be done, when its time to do it in a real conflict. Training for conflict and practicing for fun or competition are distinctly separate issues and therefore need separate training methods; this can not be emphasized enough. The notion that all we have to do is acquire a basic set of skills is one that truly suits those who would do us harm. Armed with this type of over confidence, the unprepared student of self defense is potential silage for the perpetrators of violent aggression and can easily be manipulated in an environment dominated by these individuals. How do we fix this? The answer lies in getting off the square range and taking our training to our imagination. Look at the world around us, listening to the experiences of others and embracing the concept of reality. My message to all, as always……..Train to Win! Expect to Win!
“Nothing ever becomes real ‘til it is experienced.” ― John Keats
ing thus giving them the opportunity to prepare days, weeks or even months in advance. To top it all, in the training world when the stress and pressure get too high, you can just tap out, stop or call for a time out with no worries of injury or death. This can foster a serious degree of complacency in the student’s mindset. The reality, the real reality, of self defense and martial situations is that we are not always in control. Though we should work to gain and exploit control, we may not always initially find
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It is the VIEWPOINT of this publication to provide articles that educate, engage, maybe even shock the reader. VPTAC contributors are experi...
Published on Feb 10, 2015
It is the VIEWPOINT of this publication to provide articles that educate, engage, maybe even shock the reader. VPTAC contributors are experi...