A terrific AAR, sent by a reader:
That is the one word answer I uttered to my wife’s one-word question as she eyed my weary face and body covered in smelly sweat soaked clothing, and asked me, “Well?” She was inquiring as to the outcome of my weekend session as an untrained spotter for an ex-combat veteran sniper during a competitive team event that we were using for training and evaluation. She tried to suppress her laugh.
For the past 8 years I have been training in various aspects of both long-range shooting and SUT. Some of my skills are self-taught and for others I have been receiving various forms of “professional” training, some good and some not so good. (Here I come Max and Mosby for the real deal.) I have noted over the years, that everyone seems to do things differently to achieve the same end. But I have become leery of these different standards (means) amongst FreeFor, preppers, and ex-mil types to produce similar outcomes (ends.) Nearly every ex-mil type that I encounter still believes that come CWII, they will be able to call for support, med-evac, or endless supplies of ammunition, and that meals and MREs will miraculously appear when they get hungry. Most preppers are not any better since they somehow believe that tactical skills, endurance, and SUT principles will just flow into their minds and bodies on that fateful day when SHTF. So, for the past two years I have wanted to do some real world testing and evaluation of what it could be like to mix various sorts of training and experience together under less than optimal conditions to see what the outcome would be and to glean some wisdom for future more likely real events.
My experiment parter for this exercise, Bob, and I have known each other for several years, and we are good (I will bring a shovel type of) friends, but we have never engaged in an activity where outside influences, stress, time limits, and the dynamics that come with a competition can impart on a relationship. Bob and myself have both been out of the military for nearly two decades, and we generally practiced our skills separately, and therefor each had our own methods. So when a few months back a two-man sniper team competition was announced, we decided to enter and see how well we could do. Even though we generally did our own thing separately, we did have good ideas on the other’s individual skills based on previous experiences we each had witnessed in the other. We figured our chances were good for the competition. Bob would be the “Sniper,” and I would be the “spotter.” Bob would bring his own equipment and I would bring my own equipment plus some extra items for supporting Bob in his roll. We had some long discussions on exactly what to bring and how we would configure ourselves.
On that fateful day a couple of months back, we arrived separately at the venue, attended the match briefing together, and pulled on our kit for the two day event. From this point on, nothing else went smoothly for us. Our biggest issue was lack of effective communication, both with each other, and with the event staff on the parameters of each stage. We were unable to complete a single stage without Murphy getting involved. From serious weapon malfunctions, to which targets to shoot, or what part of a target to shoot, to poor wind calls, and various forms of misunderstandings at every stage, we did not do very well. We suffered from procedural deductions, failure to engaged target deductions, and wrong target deductions. We probably even received deductions for constant bickering during the match.
Not to be completely negative, we actually did shoot quite well (when the guns were running.) But when you lose 60 points in procedurals for putting all of your rounds in your neighbor’s target, plus the loss of 50 points because you did not put them in your own target, it simply doesn’t matter that they were all inside the X-ring at 500 yards. The same goes for when you put two in the X-ring of a series of moving targets, but you were supposed to put one in the head of each. We even succeeded in stalking the closest unseen (just under 200 yards) of any of the other teams to the observers (recently retired ex-ranger snipers) with Bob, a 20-year out of practice ex-sniper, and myself who has never stalked anything more than an errant sock behind the dryer, and this even after we had wasted more that two-thirds of our allotted field time moving to a faulty location (do to a lack of effective communication and understanding of the stage course.) Of course, we missed our one an only shot at the target do to a brain malfunction on both of our parts, resulting in an equipment malfunction.
This particular competition for Bob and I resulted in some things I expected as well as some things I did not. I did expect that two individuals who were not trained under the same conditions (one military and one mostly private) or to the same standards would not be able to work very well together. I did expect that we would have poor performance for the competition. I did expect that we would hit the targets at which we aimed (even if we aimed at the wrong targets.)
What I did not expect was the significant firearm malfunctions, mostly to Bob’s primary bolt-action. Then eventually the back-up he used started to malfunction as well by the end of the match. I also did not expect the significant communication gap between us. This accounted for at least half of all of our issues on target selection, wind calls, holds, leads, or simply how to progress on the stage, etc. The biggest issue I did not expect was our lack of understanding on individual stages. The staff did their best to introduce Murphy to all of us. Even the best teams suffered from the shenanigans of the staff, but we seemed to have more struggles than most. It eventually became obvious to me that Bob was accustomed to having hours, or even days, to read over and absorb an Ops Plan before embarking on pre-training before deployment. On the other hand, I would quickly absorb the individual stage Ops Plan, read aloud by the staff, with only minutes before starting a stage. I assumed that Bob was doing the same thing, only to find out most of the way through day two that he was not grasping what he, or I for that matter, were supposed to be doing on any given stage. Without my knowledge, he had been relying upon me to instruct him through the stages. (While debriefing after the event, he told me that he had had the same spotter his entire military career, and that his spotter had always briefed him and kept any operation on task. This would have been great information to know ahead of time, even if that manner of thinking is less than optimal.)
Observations and things I learned:
• Training together is IMPERATIVE. Buddy pair and up. If you are not training with your buddy, your team, your platoon, and/or your company, and to a set standard, you are going to have some serious problems when the operation starts. Common training will eliminate most communications issues and mission oversights.
• Make absolutely certain that you understand the Operations Plan from front to back, back to front, and while upside down with a bag over your head. Make certain your team also understands it as well as you do. Just asking them if they understand is not adequate; make them repeat it back to you.
• Everyone (with the exception of specialists) should be running the SAME equipment, ammo, mags, etc. We were required to have an IFAK for the event and during inspection I noticed that Bob’s was significantly different than mine. Nothing was labeled, and the items were in different locations than mine. Had I need to use his IFAK, precious seconds could have been lost trying to find or figure out what was what and where it was. I did not know his blood type and I didn’t see it labeled anywhere.
• Know your equipment and your buddy’s equipment. Know how your firearms preform in your hands. If your buddy is running a different platform, get to know it as well as he/she does, and ensure that he/she knows how to run yours. This simple overlooked fundamental lost us time, points, and caused an eventual match DQ for a safety not being properly engaged before moving. You should also have a broad background in all types of battle type firearms. The winning team was completely befuddled by a field stripped AK-74 that had to be reassembled. It turns out that quite a few teams had a problem here. Bob didn’t even have any idea how to do it. Fortunately I had it reassembled in about 35 seconds, which was the only stage in which we had any success.
• Check your equipment often. Near the end of the first day, we found the windage turret on Bob’s rifle was rotated out of adjustment by .3 MRAD with the wind. At close range, this would not be a big issue, but at longer ranges, this can be significant, especially when you only get one shot and the winds are high. We do not know when the knob became out of adjustment, because neither of us ever took the time to check it. We found the problem by accident.
• Your equipment should work. It turns out that Bob’s rifle, which was professionally built and had less than 100 rounds through it had not been completed properly. The loose chassis created magazine loading issues, accuracy issues, and bolt issues, all of which contributed to a loss of many points during the competition as well as aggravation and frustration for both of us. In real life, this would have put our lives in great danger.
• Accuracy is important. We were both hitting our targets. I was hitting 12″ movers at 500 in windy conditions with a .223, and Bob was hitting 12″ movers and fixed targets out to 800 and KD’s further out, when his rifles were running. At distances beyond 800, Bob ran out of reticle holdover but understood how to dial in mils to keep his holdovers. For long range shooters, this could be very important when under time constraints.
• Murphy is always lurking. Know this and prepare as best as possible for it. When Murphy arrives, stay calm and make the adjustments as best as possible. Learn how to improvise, adapt, and overcome. (Trainers should work to intentionally introduce Murphy to their students.)
• Know your limitations. I eventually admitted to Bob that I simply could not call the wind for him. I was too inexperienced to judge the value on short notice. We agreed that he would call the value and I would do the math and relay the holdover. This compromise put him on target for the remainder of the match once we switched to the back-up rifle.
• Just because Bob and I could communicate in order to complete normal everyday jobs together, that did not translate when our differing shooting backgrounds, styles, and training were mixed together. It could have been worse: Bob and I were born and raised in the same community and so we spoke the same local dialect of English, with all of its local figures of speech, slang, and accent. It turns out that one of the event staff was from another region of the US, and we never realized until late on the second day that he was asking questions of us for much of the match, since every question he asked started with the word “You.” Had Bob and I been from different areas of the US, the communication could have been even worse had we not been accustomed to the way the other spoke.
• Don’t ever assume your buddy or team is on the same page as you. On multiple occasions, Bob and I had differing ideas on how to accomplish a particular stage. We each assumed that the other shared our idea. Our lack of communication and detailed planning (even if only for a couple of minutes before the start of the stage) led to multiple complications.
• You will fall back to any previous experience or training. I was shooting at the wrong target on one of the stages simply because that target number was the same one I had shot at two previous events in previous months at the same range. Instead of thinking about what I was supposed to be doing, I reverted back to past experiences. How bad was this effect? Even though I was told that I had shot at the wrong target, I did it again because I actually believed in my mind that that target number was my legitimate target to shoot. I finally had to remind myself over and over which target was mine to prevent myself from continuing to engage the wrong target.
• Communication will improve with time. Once we started to realize what the other wanted and needed, we started having less problems. Two days is not enough time to work everything out, but we were improving. In a real life situation, it could be deadly to mix differing backgrounds without pre-training since you might only get one chance to get it right.
All of these things have led me to a foundational conclusion:
When SHTF or there is some type of collapse or military/police action and you, your friends, and/or your community have to go into self-defense mode, don’t expect things to work out the way you expect, at least not initially. If you have not been doing realistic stress induced training with them, when the real stress of life and death comes calling you should expect a lot of poor communication, low unity on most issues, mismatched and outdated training and equipment standards, injury, and death. The problems and issues that Bob and I experienced during the two day match would have likely resulted in one or both of our deaths had any of the stage presentations been real.
In the end, we spent one weekend and a not so insignificant amount of money on ammunition and match fees in order to learn some valuable information, which may one day save our lives, and yours.