By Ron Koch 2003
Note: The author has been associated with ATSA for 9 years and has been a practitioner in the NTI. An IDPA and IPSC competitor, he has trained with many of the leading firearms instructor and has been an NTI judge in both live-fire and force-on-force scenarios.
This article will address some of the lessons that I have learned as a RO, judge, and role player over the last couple of years working at the NTI. I will discuss ten specific problem areas that I have observed over the past several years.
The first area is target/threat identification. The main area of concern that I have seen in this area is practitioners not taking the time to properly identify the target before shooting. I have seen this on both live fire stages and in Simunitions role-playing. There have even been several cases of judges being shot during Simunitions by role-players that had not identified their target. At NTI. XIII, there was a police target (no-shoot) that dropped around the corner after engaging a couple of bad guys in a predator drill (up close and personal). The target was shot by two-thirds of all participants and was even attacked by several with empty hands and knives. Of the people that shot the LEO target, many shot him more than once as the officer was yelling, “Police-drop the weapon”, etc. If this had been an actual LEO, he would have had to shoot the participant just to defend himself. Some thought must be given as to what would happen in real life if you are involved in a shooting and a police officer responds to the scene. There seems to be a lot of “see gun – shoot” responses! This is not always a good answer to the problem. As armed civilians, this is troubling since it means what we are training to shoot each other. The person with the gun may just be another armed civilian in the same problem you are. Sometimes more information needs to be gathered verbally, visually, or otherwise before the shot is taken. The most important thing to remember is that you are accountable for the bullet after it leaves the barrel. There are no re-plays.
Another area of concern is people looking but not really seeing. Many people will look directly at targets, doors, windows, etc but fail to see them or recognize them. A quick glance will often not be enough to give you all the information that you need. Sometimes slowing down and making sure you really see what you are looking at is the best thing you can do. Trying to rush through the problem will not help if you go by an exposed threat. At NTI. XIII many people opened a closet door and engaged a shoot target but did not see their bleeding family member lying on the ground in the doorway at their feet. Many did not even respond as the family-member pleaded for help. On several stages smoke was used. This caused a lot of confusion on the participant’s part and a lot of focus had to be used to figure out what was going on. This caused a serious degrading of tactics and marksmanship. The more hardwired the tactics and marksmanship is, the less thought has to be used for them and more thought can be given to really seeing what is going on around you.
Tunnel vision is another area that is often brought up. This usually occurs when a person is locked onto a particular threat, area, or problem. You need to constantly be looking and scanning in all directions. This is called “360 awareness”. This can be seen in both live-fire stages and especially in ATSA Village where the role players are moving. If a person locks onto a particular problem, they often become fixated and are easy to approach. In the Village we had several participants that became fixated on one role-player and were completely oblivious as the other role-player walked within three feet of them. Many did not realize the other person was there until they tried to outdraw a drawn gun and were shot by both role-players. The people that faired the best in Simunitions were the people that kept their eyes moving and looking for other potential threats or problems.
Verbalization is another subject that can be both good and bad. Verbalization is a form of communication. Sometimes just yelling commands will not get the results you are looking for, just like real life. We have heard such commands as, “You with your hands up, put up your hands” and one partner yelling to another partner, “I am coming to you quietly”. These are not examples of effective communication and do nothing to gain information for you. During partners force-on-force we had several practitioners telling their partners such information as where they were located, what they could see, descriptions of the bad guys, etc. This is effective and helpful. This can also be done with people other than your partner. You have to listen and gather information that you can use. If the threat does not comply with your verbalization, it does not necessarily mean that you need to shoot. It must be remembered that what you say before, during, and after the action may be brought up again in a court of law. For example we had one participant that left his cell phone on during the problem. He then proceeded to yell to his friend Bill (after seeing his photo), “Drop the gun, Bill” followed by shooting Bill. This mistaken shooting would have been recorded by the 911 system and used later in court.
You must also remember to breathe. All of the problems presented are stressful and can possibly cause panic. Sometimes the best approach to a problem may to be to just stop and take a couple of deep breaths and think about what you are doing. This can be done easily when taking the time to do tactical reloads or during a lull in the action.
Another area of concern that is often seen is shooting through objects. This is commonly seen with people with military backgrounds. What cannot be forgotten is the fact that if you have not seen into the room and you shoot through the wall, you do not know where the bullet is going to end up. I have seen this even after people were told that they needed to rescue family members that were somewhere in the house and they had not accounted for the family member yet. In many cases the family member was hit and not the intended target. Shooting through walls cannot be considered safe or reliable. In real life there are lots of objects like wall studs, conduits, pipes, etc that may deflect a bullet in an unpredictable direction. You are still responsible for the deflected bullet. You cannot also forget about the backstop behind the target when shooting. Very often people take shots at targets that go directly through the target and into adjacent rooms. Oftentimes an easy solution is to take a step and angle the shot toward an exterior wall.
Target neutralization can be a problem for some people. I have seen people dump entire magazines into targets that were wearing a vest and failed to go for a headshot. At NTI. XIII, one target was wearing a vest and required a headshot to be neutralized. Many people kept shooting the body until they were told to take a head shot. If they had not been told, some may have used their entire ammo supply on the first target that they had seen. If the target does not go down after a few shots you need to change what you are doing. You may want to transition to a headshot. Targets often fail to go down because people tend to forget to shoot three dimensionally. If shooting at an angle and you aim center-mass at the front of the target, you may not get a solid center hit to take the target down. Sometimes the only shot you have is something other than a center-mass shot. That does not mean the shot should not be taken. If the target has been identified and shooting is required, take the shot at what presents itself whether it is an arm, shoulder, leg etc. These alternate centers-of-mass may open up more of the target or make the target go away. This can also be seen in Simunitions. A lot of people tend to stick their guns and hands through openings like doors and windows. There are quite a few people that took Simunition rounds in their hands because that was the target that was presented.
A lot of shooting at the NTI. tends to be one-handed regardless of weather the person has trained for a Weaver or Isosceles stance. This often happens due to the necessity of shooting with an injured arm, carrying a family member, opening a door, using a flashlight, etc. Shooting one-handed is a skill that needs to be practiced to maintain proficiency. At NTI. XIII, some stages required carrying or dragging a family member to safety. This forced a lot of one-handed shooting. Many people elected to leave the family member at spots along the way so as to use both hands to clear an area, then they came back for the family member. This approach seemed to work quite well.
The last issue that comes to mind is indecisiveness. This can be seen in live-fire stages and in role-playing. Indecisiveness can be deadly. Other people can see this as an opportunity to attack. Indecisiveness is a trait that can be exploited by the bad guys. In Simunitions, often role-players comment that they knew they could do things because the participant did not know what he or she was going to do. The hardest thing for the bad guy to do is to react to you. Role-players comment that if the person acts quickly and decisively they are taken by surprise and have to react to their actions. This can put you ahead of the bad guy’s power-curve. You need to be decisive in your actions. Having a bad plan is usually better than having no plan; you can always readjust your plan. When you are indecisive you are way behind the curve and can do nothing but react to the other person’s actions. At this point, trying to draw a gun against a gun already pointed at you is probably a very bad decision. Role-players have commented that merely attempting the draw-stroke upsets them and makes them want to shoot the participant. If you are going to go for your gun against a drawn gun, you need to do something to get a jump on your opponent. This could be such things as faked compliance, a stealthy draw, using cover to mask your draw, etc. Very often the best alternative may not be going for the gun at all and doing something else instead.