Are you training to lose? If not, why not?
By Yelena Pawela
Yelena Pawela is a former K9 SWAT officer in Moscow, Russia, and is a member of the POSA Board of Advisors. She presently operates Y-Training in Floridia — www.ytraining.com.
Having just finished reading a book titled Train to Win written by tactical law enforcement trainer Wes Doss, at first I was rather perplexed that such a book would even have to be written for law enforcement trainers because the presumption that one could make is, until this book was published all law enforcement training prior must have been geared toward losing.
Of course this is simply not true; for training someone to lose would be the abrogation of responsibility of every trainer in law enforcement whose duty it is to ensure their people are best prepared for the hazards of the job and to keep those officers aware of those hazards so that officer can return home safely at the end of their tour of duty.
And ironically in the book (Train to Win), the discussion of the topic of losing was not even addressed, or not enough to make a rational discussion on the subject, which got me to thinking: why not?
Why as trainers don't we ever discuses the possibility of losing the fight and why is that very topic not in our training doctrines? Because whether we want to admit it or not, law enforcement has in fact suffered huge loses and defeats.
The big loses that immediately come to mind for law enforcement are the F.B.I. shoot out in Miami, the Newhall massacre and the botched A.T.F. raid on the Branch Davidians in WACO to name a few.
Let's face it, cops don't like to talk about losing; many cops would rather the subject be completely ignored altogether. The question that must be asked is: why?
What is more demoralizing to the emotional stamina of an individual, a unit or a department than that of a loss or tragic defeat? Losing causes a constant second guessing of ones actions, which in turns leads to loss of confidence, which in turn leads to hopelessness and despair.
And what is the reason for all these emotions that run rampant when faced with a loss? Simple, no one ever trained and prepared for the possibility of losing, and that fellow trainers, violates the first rule of tactical training which is: never assume anything!
To put it in better terms, the founder of SEAL team six, Richard Marcinko had this advice to say on the subject. "Never Assume Anything - plan your tactics as if everything would go wrong. Why? Because things always go wrong. Mr. Murphy is always coming along for the ride. Rule two: never give your opponent a break, which translates to keeping your opponents off guard, never allowing them to get ahead of you, either physically, mentally or tactically."
One of the problems I see with law enforcement training is too much time is spent training officers who are likely to face a lethal threat with the tireless combat shooting triad: marksmanship (the shooters ability to hit the target quickly), tactics (the use of position, movement, cover and concealment), and weapon presentation (draw and handle the weapon, including reloading), when very little of this has anything to do with actual armed encounters police are likely to face.
Rather, police officers face armed encounters when suspects are resisting arrest, when transporting prisoners, when conducting field interviews, when investigating suspicious persons and interrupting crimes in progress.
Since the nature of law enforcement gun fights of the twenty first century has changed very little from recorded gunfights of the nineteenth century what they all have in common are the following. Most certainly occur at close proximity, usually under poor lighting, often there is a foot chase involved, and usually the officer has to deal with inadequate facts of the situation as well as the problem of having innocent bystanders to be concerned with.
Given this, is there a part of the training equation that we're missing? The answer is: yes, and that is covering the topic of losing. Why is this so important? Because regardless of how prepared you are to win, sometimes you lose anyway — that's just a fact of life.
If police officers are not exposed to defeat in their training then this can lead them to believe they are undefeatable which could give the officer a false sense of confidence and an extreme case of tombstone courage which could not only lead to deadly consequences to themselves but very likely be a safety hazard to others as well.
Every human being can learn from defeat; in fact, it often makes us stronger. This is not a new or radical concept but one that has been time tested by every great warrior who ever lived. One of the greatest warriors of all time was Attila the Hun, who commented on both defeat and change. On defeat: "Sooner or later it will happen, if you recognize you're losing in the fight or negotiations don't deny it. Face it and take immediate action to minimize your opponents gain and get back to your cause. Learn to pass through your misery. Think about what happened and why but don't dwell on it. Consider all the potentialities of battle and negotiations before entering into them. Rehearse them in your mind. Think of the consequences that may result from your actions. This will allow you to be better prepared for the worst to come." On change: "No radical change is easy. Radical change is only necessary when we fail to learn from our past."
Contrary to popular belief police are human and do make mistakes. So why can't we train with that in mind? It is better to train for the possible sting of defeat, then not to and meet it for the first time on the street.