Prioritizing Realistic “Engagement” Training

Is this guy a threat?

Is this guy a threat?

Here’s the scene: OIF in Northern Iraq. Vehicle stopped by a “message” from an OH58 (smoke rocket impact in front of the vehicle). because it appeared they were trying to set off a cell phone initiated IED on the American vehicle patrol (Duke system was indicating signal in the area). Six Iraqi’s exit the vehicle (a Toyota sedan), and are being searched. One man searching personnel, One man pulling near security. One man supervising the search. All the Iraqi men have been asked for ID’s (which they produced), all the men had been asked if they had weapons, to which they all said “No.”.

In the midst of the “Search” guy doing his thing, “Security” yells “He’s got a gun!” (directed towards a man who hadn’t been searched yet), at which time “In Charge” guy (approximately 5 feet from the armed person in question) throw his rifle to his shoulder (from low ready) while flipping off the safety, and in the midst of taking up the slack in the trigger, notices two things. One, he can’t see the guy’s right hand (no weapon pointed at anyone…yet), and two, the guy looks scared shitless. In that moment, “In Charge” makes a decision to flip the safety back on, and hit the Iraqi in the sternum with the muzzle of his rifle knocking him to the ground, at which point he then secures the Iraqi “bad guy”, and disarms him of his Glock 19. Was the guy who took action wrong for not shooting someone who gave indications of being a threat? Maybe. What would you have done?

I hear a lot of talk about speed draws, buzzer to shot times with a rifle in fractions of a second. and split times that would make Jerry Mikulek look like an arthritic geriatric. The accuracy crowd is just as bad, claiming the need for sub MOA groups, or you’re not at “Operator” level (should we care about that?). Here’s a question. In the Accuracy, Speed, and Target ID tripod, what is the most important leg? Training to be accurate is great and necessary, simply due to the fact that “minute of angle’ training in good conditions, will translate to “minute of bad guy” performance under bad conditions. Training to be fast, especially with a handgun, is also important (up close and personal requires speed more than accuracy), and being able to run your gun fast, whether a rifle or pistol, will again translate to acceptable “second nature” performance when shit has gone airborne.

So tell me, what are you doing for your “target discrimination” training? Are you like most groups or trainers I’ve seen, who throw a “Don’t shoot” target in at the end of a course of fire, just to see if you’re paying attention, and to say, “Look, we make you think, right?”. What are you training for? Is it for a “Battle Royale with Gov forces? (I know, I know, you’re all “Grunts” right?) Is it to be an extra in the next “Mad Max” sequel gone “reality”? Is it for hard times in CONUS where the majority of the people out there will be innocents just trying to get through another day? Most people I talk to are Survivalists, and are concerned and preparing for situations that are similar to “One Second After”, what happened in Argentina in 2001,  or what Selco talks about here. If this is what your training is geared towards, shouldn’t your weapons training reflect what you will probably run into?

Most would agree that especially in the initial phases of any of these scenarios, 90-95% (hopefully 99%) of the people you will deal with on a daily basis are not bad guys. Obviously, this is not necessarily true in certain urban enclaves, but for the most part, although you should be cautious when approaching anyone except those already known to you, the large majority are not a threat. When training for the reality you feel you’re going to face, why would you only use one “Don’t shoot” target, in a group of ten. When more than likely, you will only have one or two “Shoot” targets (out of 10 or more) in reality. Muscle memory is a bitch, and if you primary training concern is accuracy and speed, and you only give a cursory overview to the importance of IDing the target, you will shoot an innocent before you’ve even thought to actually ID them, just because a certain “threat trigger” (like ” He’s got a GUN”) was initiated.

How fast can you ID a real threat? What are the signs? Because they’re armed? So are you. Because they seem jumpy? So are you, right? What would you do if you were out on a “Presence Patrol” of your area, and another patrol was coming up the trail towards you? Would you automatically throw up your weapon and demand they drop theirs? Have you thought that scenario through? Pointing your weapon at someone is an implied threat, correct? What other courses of action do you have? How’s about getting behind cover and communicating to those you’ve seen, asking who they are. and why they’re there.

One type of scenario I use in my classes during patrols is the “don’t shoot” guy. An armed guy (one of the MDT OpFor) runs across the trail in front of the patrol. Usually the patrol lights him up (blanks), so at that point we take an admin break, and conduct a “hotwash” AAR (quick on the spot after action review). I ask “Why did you shoot that guy?”. “Well…. he was armed.” is the normal response. To that I say “So are you.” Upon reflection, the students realize “Holy Cow, he’s right.”

I teach students to always be looking for the next available cover while on patrol, and that way, if they have a situation like this (THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS “REACT TO AMBUSH”!) they seek cover, and loudly communicate with those they feel could be a threat. Who knows, you might meet some kindred spirits in that situation. So back to the question “How fast can you ID a real threat?” I guarantee that your ability to ID a threat (unless they are shooting at you) is slower than the speed and accuracy response you can acquire with good training. So when you think about it, what good does that “light” speed, and “laser” accuracy do for you in a real world SHTF scenario? It is great as long as you keep it in perspective, and don’t forget the most important part of training should be target identification. Fast and accurate is still important, but not useful until after you’ve identified that it is a threat.

Things to look for: 1) Train yourself to always look at the hands. Their face can’t hurt you (well, most can’t LOL), but the hands are what holds the weapons that will kill you. 2) If you can’t see the hands, or a hand, look at their facial expression. It’s not hard to tell if someone is scared shitless (not that that means they aren’t a threat) by their facial expression, but usually, it is an indicator that if you appear less threatening (not pointing your weapon at them), it might deescalate the situation (regardless, on a patrol, you should take cover). 3) If they are holding a long gun, what position is it in? “Low ready”, “High Port Arms”, pointed at you? If it’s Low Ready, or High Port Arms, and stays that way, they haven’t become a threat yet (that’s how you should be carrying your weapon, right?), but if it’s pointed at you, it could be a threat, or it might not, and as said earlier, take cover.

What’s the point of this post? The point is that you should realistically evaluate your training scenarios, and make them reflect as closely as possible the situations you are preparing for and think are most likely. Making 8 out of 10 targets, “Don’t shoot” targets, might not be as fun as “getting your gun off” to ten to one “shoot” targets, but it’s not supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be important. Training is about being prepared for “When” you have to use it, not “If” you’ll have to use it (that’s the proper mindset). “Train Hard, Train Right, Train realistically.” Anything else is just playing “Modern Warfare 3” in a fantasy camp.

By the way, the earlier story about the Soldiers and the Iraqi with the Glock. He was an undercover Iraqi cop, and was trying to catch guys who were setting off IED’s on American troops, and had gotten into their ring and was preparing to stop them when the .mil stop happened. He didn’t want to be ID’ed as a cop, and that’s why he didn’t tell the patrol Leader (Me) when asked. Think about that one after you already had said to yourself “I’d have shot that guy!”
American by BIRTH, Infidel by CHOICE

42 thoughts on “Prioritizing Realistic “Engagement” Training

  1. JC and I have had this discussion ongoing for awhile; the moral requirement that you have to accurately ID and evaluate the (possible)threat prior to engaging. This mindset has resulted in refitting all our rifles with a minimum 3x optic, most with ~3-10x, no more red dot only. You can not ID and evaluate what you can not clearly see.

    On a couple of JC’s courses he had the non-threatening, though armed, “don’t shoot” guy cross the trail that we were on, the one that we were expecting to be ambushed on! So the imperative to find something to shoot was very high. And that is a problem. No matter how the upcoming unpleasantness unfolds, our world, if we are lucky, won’t be a free fire zone.

    One of the CQB courses we took, using room flooding and corner domination technique, had either no one or bad guy(s) except for the last. That poor hostage took more center mass hits because we were all wound up to shoot the bad guy. The bad guy “gun” indicator was there but the bad guy was behind the hostage with his outstretched arm alongside the hostage’s torso and only half of his head was exposed. It was a learning moment. Yeah, I shot the hostage. I had evaluated the threat, but I had not ID’ed the threat.

    As training progresses, through the mistakes and the successes, the mechanics of shoot, move and (limited) communication, become more reflexive and faster. But will our slower conscious brain, ID’ing and evaluating threats, be able to keep up in an environment where although our trust horizon is significantly reduced, most humans still don’t need to be engaged? Probably not without a hell of a lot more realistic training. And no doubt some mistakes will be made.

    Likely going to be some sad times coming our way.


    • Well said Joe. The impression I get from a number of people, especially if the’vey claimed to be “militia”, is that it will be a MAC-V-SOG designated CCN (Command Control North) free fire zone, and everyone in that area is an enemy combatant, and can be engaged. This is as much of a fantasy as the “I’ll bugout with my ruck and a smile” crowd, and will be dashed against the rocky shores of reality.

        • Although I agree to a point, If you are approaching someone else’s property or perimeter, I think it is implied you will be observed in that way. Anyone in an LP/OP security position has every reason and right to observe with their rifle scope, especially if it is of a higher magnification than the binos. It’s situationally dependent, and not being over the top overt about it (unless a “show of force” is what you’re going for), is generally the smart way to go.

          • One thing I learned in Iraq was to carry a 10X monocular in addition to the ACOG on my rifle, and a hand held surefire in addition to the one on my rifle. I think that would be even more relevant to this discussion. I can also attest to what MDT is saying about ID’ing the hands, then the face. I was about 2 oz.’s of trigger finger pressure away from killing an innocent person who was running through our patrol when I saw through my ACOG at about 50 feet that he was scared shitless. This all happened seconds after a suicide bomber lit himself off about a block away on some IP’s bull shitting on a street corner in a busy market place. Point to my story: if your not training with realistic rules of engagement and aren’t at least considering your escalation of force guidelines your wrong.

          • Thanks for the valuable input ST, I also always carried a 10x monocular in my pistol 3 mag pouch w/ 2 mags to augment my ACOG, and carried a surefire on my rig for BU to the weapon mounted light. Great minds think alike, or in this case experience and proper ‘wargaming” in training are valuable teachers.

          • In the days we had to make those decisions without ACOGs or other optics. The team member closest made the decision.

            This subject is but one reason why children should not play adult games.


          • It definitely separates the serious adults from the children who just want to play adult games with cool gear and high speed titles. We were fortunate in that I was given 3 ACOG’s for my squad. Being able to ID without optics (as you mentioned) is something that must be considered also, because there is no guarantee you’ll have any. Having an SOP like you mentioned is part of the process they need to flesh out to be as ready as they can be for what’s coming.

  2. In regards to caption in pic”Is this guy a threat”,would say no but potential threat,at moment finger not on trigger but can change quickly.I would also wonder who has this persons back perhaps in cover with sites on me,tough micro second thinking that could get me killed.I would like to know,say it all goes wrong,two groups or even individuals come across each other,how does one de-escalate the situation without risking ones own/others life?I would start with hello and my name,after that would be a bit lost especially if everything a huge mess in country at moment.I also feel would react differently if just me and not say some orphans following me,would then be in protective mode for others and thus would rather not violence but not want to risk others that may be counting on me as I am all they have found.I am prepared to go out with my pack to a degree if I feel best option,but would hadrly be smiling as that means things have really hit the fan

    • There is no clear, cut and dried answer for dealing with people in that environment. If in doubt, stay out of sight. As I said, upon a chance encounter, take cover, assess the situation and the people, try to communicate, and go from there. There is nothing saying they won’t have ill intentions, but you can’t just fire on someone because you’re scared they “might” be bad guys. Anyone espousing that reaction for your “Rules of engagement”, is an ignorant, inexperienced, blowhard, that believes his own worthless advice, and needs to be kept at a distance. Training (reacting to contact) helps, but nothing trumps experience when dealing with certain types of people.

  3. Pingback: MDT: Prioritizing Realistic “Engagement” Training | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  4. That’s an easy one. I’d shoot this dude in the face. He has no gear on him, he’s obviously out looking to score some. Plus he looks shady as f. Then I’d go eat some ice cream. .

    • Blu-rok,I owe you a apology,I had written you off as a trigger happy nut job in regards to shooting the “shady looking character”,that said,looked more carefully at photo and see your point!The thing trying to pass as a man is a “Lefty”,not only that but one that has been actually captured on film.I have heard legends/rumours of Lefties being caught on film but till now had never seen actual proof.What is really disturbing I find is this Lefty is going about in the daylight with it seems impunity,i.e. no harmful reactions to being in the sun,i.e.,a day walker!This is why you see no gear excepting rifle and that is just camouflage to blend in with humans.Blu,good observations and again sir,I apologise.

    • Well Blu-rok, this is a time when you’re baking the cake, and should have just licked the icing. You’re putting too much detail into a pic that was supposed to make you question what’s up and say, “He might be a threat, he might not. He’s not pointing his weapon at me, but he’s ready to, and might be a distraction. He isn’t dressed like he’s paramilitary, but he might be faking it.”

  5. Yup. Those are split second decisions. And they’d better be the right decisions.

    The rule on my ODA was “Never Panic.”


    • Well, Col., is that what you call your militia group? Cause some jackas wrote a piece about how militias shouldn’t be calling themselves Special, or Ranger, or such. It was so over the top I just figured he was some sort of .gov psyop. Whichever one, he appeared to be a real douche.

      • You never answered the question. “What do you know about any of this?”

        The “militia” girls have been shaking their muskets at the Feds for almost three decades now. So go for it. I’ll watch.


  6. Curious was I.E.D group working around MSR Tampa area just outside of Taji (formerly camp Cook)? If so probably should have shot I.P. , quite a few I.E.Ds went off near that I.P checkpoint. Our unit was there 05-06, I enjoyed the sun so much that I contracted (DUKE OEM FSR OIF & OEF) 07-10. Not so funny how some lessons have to keap being re: discovered/learned.

  7. Great stuff! The cues described in “Left of Bang”, reportedly based on the USMC Combat Hunter program, gives lots of good info to support this training. Its not the same as getting training in person, but its better than no training.

  8. Pingback: Prioritizing Realistic “Engagement” Training | The Defensive Training Group

  9. I agree with the SFC!

    Deluded jelly donut civies need to shut their filthy pie holes and acept the fact they will never make a pimple on on a good mans ass.

    It would really be best for all involved if non tier ones just stayed out of the discussion and let the adults talk!

    We’ll call you when we need mine clearing cannon fodder or a cheesecake recipe.

    Carry on men.

    • The “Deluded jelly donut civies” as you put it just need to be realistic, and quit falling for the BS some are shoveling. You’re not Infantry Grunts, but for what’s coming, you don’t need to be to protect your loved ones. In reality, you need to be much, much more (A Survivalist) The people he’s talking about have been running their mouths for years, and haven’t done squat except talk. They need to shut the fuck up and train. bold talk with no action is what cowards do. The ones you need to watch out for are the ones who don’t say anything, they just act when needed. By the way, I loved reading about you as a kid. I was kind of surprised you didn’t get an HK91 till after you woke back up and got the population thing going again. LOL

  10. Great Post! Thanks! One of my biggest concerns while concealed carrying is getting into an altercation of some type where deadly force would not be authorized and making the appropriate decision. Your thoughtful insights are very helpful.

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