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Shooting skills: Training to counter an ambush

During a dynamic daylong firearms course presented by LMS Defense, police officers from a handful of agencies proved the credo, "I will get top-notch tactical training whether or not my agency pays for it"

Eighteen hands went into the air when the instructor asked, “How many of you remember what happened in Lakewood, Washington back in November of 2009?” We nodded solemnly as we remembered the assassination of four police officers — Sgt. Mark Renninger, Officer Ronald Owens, Officer Tina Griswold, and Officer Greg Richards — at the Forza coffee shop. We were at the midway point of our training as the instructor spoke briefly about the ambush attack by Maurice Clemmons and the need to practice firing from a seated position. We cast our eyes downrange and saw chairs set up on the five-yard line with bad-guy targets stapled to the target stands. We all knew what was next.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon at an outdoor range southwest of San Jose (Calif.), a group of police officers from three local law enforcement agencies — along with a small handful of civilians like yours truly — participated in an outstanding daylong firearms training session presented by LMS Defense simply called “Counter Ambush.”

The instructor this day was Ken Hardesty — some readers may recognize Hardesty’s name from a recent PoliceOne First Person Essay he wrote on issues related to the “open carry” movement. Hardesty — who served in the United States Marine Corps and has been a full-time police officer in large metropolitan California police departments for a dozen-plus years since — had us moving quickly from one exercise to the next, using what little ‘down time’ we had to top off our magazines and take down some cold water to remain hydrated.

PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie during a drill to simulate responding to a sudden ambush attack in a restaurant or some other place where you'd be seated. After drilling the two body shots, Wyllie  had to drop the magazine (you can see the mag mid-flight to the gravel), reload, and then do the head shot, nailing it directly between the eyes.
PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie during a drill to simulate responding to a sudden ambush attack in a restaurant or some other place where you'd be seated. After drilling the two body shots, Wyllie had to drop the magazine (you can see the mag mid-flight to the gravel), reload, and then do the head shot, nailing it directly between the eyes.

Ten Pounds in a Five-Pound Box
The LMS website describes the course thusly: “Today’s law enforcement professional operates in a reactive environment. Assault on officer statistics continue to rise annually. The focus of this course is to enable officers, as well as legally-armed citizens, to prevail under attack. Breaking contact, fighting from the ground up, and maintaining the will to win are the focus of this course.”

I’d venture to say this description fails to adequately characterize how much ground is covered and how dynamic the day truly is. Hardesty packed ten pounds into the proverbial five-pound box (in a good way!), and was simultaneously hard-charging and funny as hell. He routinely asked his students, “How are you doing — you having a good time?” This was not just to get feedback on whether or not they were getting something out of the training, but to verify they weren’t getting dehydrated or tired. He was fastidious about range safety and the welfare of every participant.

We began our day with a simple dot drill to get us warmed up. I had done dot drills on numerous occasions before, but not in a long, long time so it was a great refresher. The second exercise was also familiar from training I’d done in years past, but also long since dropped from my range routine. Shooting four-color discretionary targets (you can get these at a variety of places, but we got ours from Law Enforcement Targets) does require a partner on your lane, or an instructor calling to the group as we did on the 200-yard range at Field Sports Park. Hardesty called out shapes, colors, or numbers, and we hit the corresponding icons on the targets as we communicated verbally where we were aiming.

Hardesty then asked, “Is there anybody here who can’t add two numbers together?” A chuckle went up and down the line, then Hardesty said, “Good, I’m going to say two numbers and you will have to add them together and hit that number. Once again, on the up command, firing a minim of one and a maximum of three. Ready. Two, four, up!”

“Six!” we all shouted as we put holes into that target.

Practicing from Awkward Firing Positions
We then got into wide variety of other drills — from shooting while turning to shooting from kneeling, prone, supine, and the abovementioned seated positions. We incorporated concealment and talked about the differences between cover and concealment. We simulated responding to a threat immediately at your six. We simulated responding to a threat at the six of a person you’d be talking with in close conversation.

It was a long day, and most every one of us had expended our cache of 500 shells (I had brought plenty extra and expended those too).

After clearing the range of our brass, breaking down the targets, and stowing the various pieces of equipment we’d used throughout the day, we assembled in the shade to talk a while. Hardesty again asked for a show of hands. “How many of you tested your limit here today or shot from a position you’d never shot from before?”

Once again, all our hands went up.

Just as the group was about to call it quits for the day and head home, I asked the police officers in attendance whether they’d paid their own way to the session or were there “on the company.”

Unfortunately, I was unsurprised to find out that not a single cop there was sent by their agency. It’s a sad, sickening fact that police training budgets are being decimated at departments around the country, and clearly my local agencies are not immune. On the upside, the presence of these wonderful warriors reminded me of one of the 25 Foundational Principles about which I’d written for my final column of 2010.

19.) I will get top-notch tactical training whether or not my agency pays for it

Hardesty then said something as important as he’d said all day long. “Unfortunately, every officer you see here, taking this training on their own time and their own dime, they’re not the ones at their departments who need this training. These guys are squared away and they’re among the best in their departments. Unfortunately, the officers who really need this training are the very ones who would never give up a day off and they’d never pay their own way to firearms training.”

Down, Not Out
Soon after the class was done, I posted the above image to a popular social networking site. I then got the following ‘comment’ from Ray Jagger, a law enforcement friend of mine from Kirksville (Mo.) Police Department who I’d met via mutual friends some time ago.

“I really believe that too much training is still ‘aimed’ at learning to shoot for a target shooting contest, instead of surviving a gun fight,” said Jagger. “The preferred ‘stance’ in my mind should be crouching behind cover, or moving at a high rate of speed sidewise. One of the ‘games’ I have been playing lately is trying to draw while seat belted in. With all the center consoles, retention holsters, and gear that many of us carry both on our belts and in our cars, this is not an easy chore when ...you’re as big as I am. I am not so sure that using the chest backup might be quicker and easier to get into play. However these are things you want to discover... before some guy is in the middle of killing you!”

At the end of this month, I will attend another class from LMS Defense called “Down, Not Out” in which we’ll focus on one-handed live fire. For example, we’ll work on engaging an adversary while holding a loved one, and clearing a malfunction with only the non-dominant hand. I’m certain I’ll take other LMS courses down the line, but I’ll also be taking courses from any number of other trainers — I’ve been doing this since well before even taking the job of PoliceOne Editor almost three years ago. In fact, I originally met Hardesty during a four-hour in-service active-shooter response training at San Jose Police Department (he’s in his agency’s cadre of instructors).

It can be expensive to keep working on your firearms and other skills. But life itself is priceless, so I’ll take “expensive” any day of the week.

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