In partnership with the North Miami, FL Police, Strategos International
conducted a tactical rifle course for police firearms instructors. Rifles are used for precise shooting, countering armored felons, extended firepower reach and firepower with less recoil. Rifles have greater penetration than handguns against tactical obstacles like glass and metal, and they have large magazine capacities. Most of the officers in attendance used variations of the AR-15 rifle.
The course was designed so that the operators could return to their agencies with the skills needed to design tactical rifle training courses. They learned how to give briefings and classroom presentations with lesson plans, and each was required to design a 30-minute, live fire range training session. By the end of the course, operators needed to be technically correct and proficient in the tactics and techniques they would be offering through their agencies.
Courses offered by Strategos International use a building block approach in which proficiency increases with repetition. For example, drills first taught during the day were repeated again in low light conditions and at night. As a foundation upon which to build, operators were taught to aggressively seek out strategies, principles, tactics and techniques that prevail in actual combat. Operators were encouraged to think of and try tactics that were outside the norm, to fight intelligently and fast, and to overwhelm opponents. Core Basics
All firearms instructors needed to first be proficient in explaining the basic concepts, such as focusing on the front sight, trigger control and stance. They were also required to demonstrate such concepts as stance, the slung-in position, snapping in and follow through. Marksmanship principles that tactical rifle course instructors particularly worked on strengthening during the course included natural point of aim, master grip and bone support.
The natural point of aim is where a person’s body wants to point a firearm because it feels the most natural. It is where the least number of muscle groups are stressed and the opposing muscle groups are in balance. This point of aim will depend on whether the firearm is held with one or two hands, as well as the shooter’s body position.
For example, when shooting one-handed in front of the body, the pistol is usually canted because three sets of deltoid muscles feel most comfortable that way. In two-handed shooting, the shoulders counterbalance each other, and with the shooter’s hands locked in front, the sights tend to be at 12 o’clock. It is best for the shooter to bring the handgun’s sights up to his face rather than the other way around because shots are less likely to be pulled down.
When holding any firearm in a combat-ready position, one hand is the controlling pilot, seeking a preferred position to maintain a firm, but not tense or locked, grip so that re-gripping is not necessary. By maintaining an ergonomic and in-line position with the bore axis, the shooter is able to: achieve smooth function, comfort and shot placement; move and guide the weapon, making position and direction changes including snapping-in to fire; and index the finger off-trigger for safety and on-trigger to fire.
This master grip should be maintained whenever possible because it controls the firearm and keeps it battle-ready. When shooters were forced to make bilateral changes with body position, to reload, or to clear a malfunction, course instructors encouraged the shooters to learn to do so while minimizing the time during which they were not holding their firearms in a master grip. Not having a master grip is down time, and every fraction of a second in a gunfight is an eternity.
The skeletal system gives the body structure, and muscles put that structure into the shooting platform position desired by the shooter. Locking the body into any position works the muscles and burns energy in the form of glucose and glycogen stores.
Because smooth and fluid movement is a well documented tactical necessity, it is a waste of resources and time to lock the body to shoot, then unlock it to move, and then lock it again to address a threat and shoot once more. All that is necessary is to use just enough muscle tension to keep the body in a firm shooting platform that creates enough inertia for the firearm to function and recover from recoil. High-Low Stack
Fundamental confidence-building was a focus of the course. Techniques were first demonstrated and then operators attempted them, first with dry fire and then with live fire. The high-low stack doubles the number of guns downrange. This position is useful for an officer covering his teammate or partner during a reload or weapon malfunction—the power of the pair.
In the high-low stack, pairs of operators teamed together. When a rifle malfunctioned or ran dry, the immediate action to be taken was to move the rifle out of the way and get a handgun on the threat. The officer with the downed rifle would fight with the pistol until the threats were down or the operator was behind cover. Or if he was with another officer, he could announce “red, red, red,” holster his weapon, go into a kneeling position to address the problem, and get the rifle back into working order. “Red, red, red” is code meaning that the operator is still in the fight and is requesting to be covered by another operator with a rifle.
The covering operator would acknowledge by saying “check” and by making physical contact if close by. The supporting standing/high operator would now do the firing. His lower extremities would be pressed up against the kneeling operator. This close proximity and contact within the stack allows for needed communication. For example, the top man could prevent the kneeling officer from standing up unless he first announced the move.
There are other key words necessary for this training. If the word “black” is yelled out, it means that both the operator’s pistol and rifle are down, so the officer needs immediate cover and fire support to get his weapon systems back on-line. “Green, green, green” means that the kneeling operator has successfully addressed any malfunction or has reloaded, is back in the fight, and is preparing to move or stand. The “up” partner acknowledges by saying “check,” thereby telling the “down” partner that his movement was expected and acceptable.
A high-low stack could be made up of more than one standing/high operator. An operator behind cover would not leave it to go into a high-low stack, but would provide “covering” fire from a protected position. Tactical Reload
Tactical rifle instructors stressed the need to keep a partially full magazine after a planned reload. In a firefight, a partial magazine is more useful when it can be recovered, as opposed to lying in the dirt and no longer accessible. Used magazines were placed on the operator in locations never used for loaded ones.
Uniquely labeling magazines with an etching pencil allows operators to recover their own gear if dropped and also provides the means to isolate repeated weapon malfunctions. For example, initials or a departmental serial number with a hyphen and then the number of the magazine can be used: 1214-1, 1214-2 or TPB-1, TPB-2 will provide the necessary identification.
During the exercises, the majority of operators preferred using the slower and more controlled reloading from an open bolt because it produced a more reliably functioning rifle after reload. While reloading from a closed bolt is faster, many using this technique had malfunctions due to failure to seat the loaded magazine into the proper position. To correct this, a fresh magazine should be given a hard tug to verify seating after insertion.
Several points were stressed for the high-low stack technique. Communication may not be something officers are used to, yet it is both a tactical and a safety issue. It helps operators anticipate what another officer will do. As the course progressed, if a gun went dry or there was a malfunction, the operators began reloading more smoothly. As their confidence built, communication became a reflex, and the more reflexive communication became, the more they could focus upon the threat.
Instructors also stressed that operators could change to another weapon when they wanted to and not just when a rifle malfunctioned. It might be faster to change to the handgun than to execute a pivot or turn. Practice in changing weapons ensured that changes were made smoothly and without unnecessary movements. Positions and Movement
The kneeling position taught in the course was similar to the standard kneeling position except the operator dropped to either knee, then collapsed the lower ankle inward by pointing the toe in and letting the outside of the foot contact the ground.
The modified prone position was achieved from a kneeling position. The operator pivoted on one knee and swept the lower foot in an arc under the buttocks. The rifle was kept indexed toward the threat, and the opposite leg was projected straight forward like an outrigger, allowing the torso to settle on top of the down leg. The operator should not lean out as he lowers himself, but rather relax down so that his center of balance is in his hips, not his shoulders. An operator’s triceps should be against or near the thigh.
The instructors preferred the use of shorter steps in shooting drill movements rather than regular steps or larger steps because shorter steps are more relaxed. Small steps are accomplished by keeping the operator’s weight balanced and centered, the shoulders slightly ahead of the hips, and the knees flexible and not locked. This allows the gun to always be kept on the threat. Physical Conflict Resolution
Whatever defensive tactics system an agency uses, combining defensive tactics with firearms drills is a move in the right direction. When a trainer combines DT maneuvers with weapons techniques, he needs to keep them simple and controlled, preventing operators from over-extending or getting out of control.
The Head Tip was taught with operators advancing while gripping either a handgun or a rifle. By using a wave of energy, the operator places his hand on the person’s forehead, blanketing the eyes, and tilts the head back toward the rear triangulation point while continuing the forward motion. When this is done, the person’s body follows and he falls to the ground.
This movement is performed as a smooth wave of energy that circumnavigates the opponent’s skeletal alignment. The opponent is tipped over because wherever the head goes, the body tends to follow. Balance is lost, and the person sits down or crashes down. A head tip can be worked into weapon retention when a grappler closes in for a takedown.
Weapon retention (countering a grab for the pistol or rifle) was accomplished by directing an opponent to the ground using his front triangulation point and moving off-line from his force direction. It is important to avoid a tug-of-war. Rather, an operator uses his attacker’s energy to triangulate him to a takedown.
Most people are afraid of falling until they learn how. In practicing controlled falls, operators learned that the ground offers advantages. They can “fight their way up” to a standing or more mobile platform while keeping their gun muzzle in the fight at all times. Dozens of Drills
An array of drills was accomplished during the five-day course, including the tactics of controlling distance and using the rifle in extremely close or “surprise quarters” to develop the mechanics of weapon retention and control necessary for urban and interior environments. Drills took place under varied light conditions, using flashlight techniques, and adapting to iron sights when optics failed. Other drills during the course included Officer Rescue, Room Entries, Serpentine, Rolling Thunder, Moving Target and Gas Mask.
Tactical rifle instructors were taught to focus on thinking and making the right decisions, depending on the situation, as opposed to employing an “if this happens, then do this” approach. At the end of the course, operators said that while they did not know their partners at the beginning of the course, by the end they would deploy on an actual operation with them. This is the “Power of the Pair.” Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, OH, Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER.
Mickey Davis is a Florida-based journalist.