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Gunsite Tactical Medicine Course

Written by Sheppard Kelly

The Gunsite Academy, world famous for firearms training, now offers a Tactical Medicine course, better known as TAC MED. This five-day program is designed for physicians, nurses, paramedics and EMTs who actively support law enforcement or military special operations. The student will be exposed to focused firearms and tactics training fully integrated into field medicine scenarios under live-fire conditions.

The course is specifically oriented for the medical professional who requires the mission-specific skills to function in this challenging arena. Training is conducted in the classroom, on the range, inside Gunsite Simulators, and includes low-light/night events.

I had the opportunity to observe the course, speak with the participants, and watch a graduation practical exercise that was undoubtedly one of the most realistic training experiences I have ever seen, short of a live-fire exercise.

The participants in the class I observed consisted of four Navy doctors, four Navy Corpsmen, a deputy sheriff and a Canadian doctor. The military personnel were all on orders to Iraq, the sheriff’s deputy was an active SWAT team member, and the Canadian doctor took the course to return to discuss the TAC MED concept with Canadian law enforcement agencies, particularly the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The TAC MED course expects all students to arrive with their basic medical training. Gunsite instructors take that training, refine it to the battlefield environment, i.e., actual law enforcement tactical operations, and integrate life-saving firearms skills. A review of the course curriculum gives insight into the program orientation.

Day 1 begins with the introduction to firearms training the Gunsite way. This is essentially a discussion and practical application of the modern technique of handgun training refined by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, Gunsite’s founder. Day 2 reinforces the first day’s firearms training but begins to incorporate field medicine training specifically related to a “combat” environment.

Day 3 continues with more integrated firearms/medical exercises and also introduces one of the Gunsite Simulators to be used later in the program. Day 4 expands the previous firearms/medical training and incorporates low-light/night shooting and the use of handheld light systems.

Day 5, the final day, is a culmination of the training of the previous days plus a “graduation” exercise that requires the students to apply all the skills learned while operating in an environment that is as operationally realistic as can be safely made.

Observations

I followed several of the students while they conducted area-clearing operations with live ammunition, working in pairs against reactive targets. I also observed the force-on-force, Simunitions® training involving requirements to secure a hostile environment, i.e., deal with armed adversaries, and then render medical treatment to casualties. I came to the course on Days 4 and 5 after the initial firearms training had begun. What I saw was why this course has been referred to as the ultimate life-saver—a life-saving skills class available anywhere.

This may well be the only class where medical personnel are taught the absolute necessity of saving their own lives in order to save the lives of their patients. Medical training historically emphasizes patient care first, even at the expense of the caregiver’s safety. The Gunsite TAC MED course makes crystal clear to all students that if the lifesaver is killed, everyone dies. This course gives the training to try to prevent that from happening.

I interviewed several of the class members after the final training exercise. Short of being shot at, the realism of the exercise was chilling and the importance of the training of the preceding days made strikingly apparent. The exercise reinforced the need to keep weapons clean and lubricated, establish an on-scene, in-charge person, and perform quick wound assessment coupled with an active defense.

Without exception, the students said TAC MED was so superior to anything they had received previously that there was no comparison. The SWAT team medic believed that in civilian law enforcement operations, little thought is given to treating casualties—either team members or suspects since many believe that medical services are readily available.

His well-made point was what happens to the casualty when the doctors or EMTs can’t get to the area, either because of a natural disaster or a hostile environment? People may die unless the responders on scene have the capability to provide medical treatment, and if necessary, fight to provide that treatment to the injured.

For the military personnel, it was especially poignant. As doctors and medics, they receive little to no firearms training with their weapons (M9 pistols) before being sent into harm’s way. The military services, for reasons that are as unclear to me today as they were 35 years ago in Vietnam, resist teaching medical personnel how to save their own lives, and subsequently their patients, by providing effective firearms training.

If it had not been for the dedication of several Navy medical officers who decided that saving their personnel on the battlefield was more important than their career promotability and bucked the “system” to find funding to send their people, these lifesavers would have had virtually no firearms training and no training in how to treat casualties when actually involved in battle.

I have long contended that Gunsite Academy is not all about learning how to shoot a gun. Instead, it is about learning how to stay alive through the use of a firearm and the necessary mental preparation of how and when to use a firearm. TAC MED takes that another step by giving lifesavers additional life-saving skills beyond medical treatment.

A young Navy Corpsman summed it up: “Sir, through what I have learned this week at Gunsite, I will keep my Marines alive in combat.” Nothing else needs to be said.

Sheppard Kelly is a former supervisory special agent with a federal law enforcement agency. He was in charge of its firearms training and weapons and ammunition research and development program. He may be reached at 2kellys@insightbb.com.

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2006

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