A Trainers Journey: Training the Armed Civilian

I’m just back from a 6 (7) day combined Combat Team Tactics & Combat Patrol Class. I’m back in my office exhausted: these classes take a toll on the cadre due to the amount of ourselves that we put into them.  It is always very interesting to sit in the AAR at the end and hear the student’s thoughts on the training. One of the key take-away’s from this last class was that students were amazed at how far they had come during the 7 day class. One of the comments was that on day 2 of CTT, they were being shown fire and movement in buddy pairs by moving magnets on a whiteboard, and by the final day they were conducting a live squad raid. How?

One Vietnam veteran attendee with a subsequent long career flying fast movers commented that he could understand how people who had no experience of this sort of training could be nervous about showing up. It stands to reason, right – how can a place such as MVT have a bunch of untrained strangers running about in the woods firing live ammunition?! It’s gotta either be unsafe, or just some sort of fantasy band camp, right? But he was impressed by the progression of the training and how the training layers as it progresses with the crawl-walk run methodology.

How do we do this? Because we have extensive experience in the military on deployments and as trainers. And because we care. If we didn’t care, we couldn’t embark on such a training methodology, which requires so much investment on our part to get everyone to meet training standards, progress, and be where we want them by the end of a training course. As part of the safety brief at class, we warn students that they will experience a level of intensity from cadre at times, whether that be a deliberate attempt to increase stress as part of the battle inoculation process, for safety reasons in the noise of a live fire scenario, or again, just ‘cuz we care. That is why it is not an ego endeavor, on the part of either the students or the cadre. It is information passage, practical application, and getting it done.

So why are we doing this? The intent of MVT was always to “keep the good folks alive” by training civilians in real combat proven tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that they will likely need in the uncertain times we are facing. This is an amalgamation of things learned by cadre both in training and on deployment in the British and US Armies, and as contractors. The vital thing here is that we are not simply trying to replicate TTPs from  any one place/unit in particular, but take our experience and what we think is best and train civilians in what we think they need, utilizing the tools they actually have, which on the whole is semi-automatic battle rifles. We don’t care what specific military units may or may not be doing, except in as much as we may or may not cherry pick what is useful to teach to our students. We are not trying to replicate, for example, Tier 1 Direct Action units – and again that goes to tactical focus because our focus is not on Direct Action (DA) skills (i.e CQB), but rather CQB is included in as much as it may be needed in certain situations. This is all about nuance, experience, and practical applicability.

We know that many well known trainers will not train civilians in ‘tactical’ skills such as fire and movement. Or they will, but with a specific focus on either LEO or DA procedures, because that ‘cool guy’ stuff sells. There really are not many of us that really train civilians in applicable, adapted, light infantry TTPs. The purpose here is to allow the armed civilian access to those skills that will prove most applicable to protecting their family / group in an emergency situation.

So how do we do this on a class? This past week, for example, we ran a 6 day combined Combat Team Tactics (3 day) and Combat patrol (3 day) class. It was seven days with the optional Rifle Skills class tacked on the front. Day 1 of the combined CTT class started on the square range with check zero, weapon manipulation and stoppage drills, moving onto ready ups, facing movements, engagements, scanning and buddy position awareness, followed by individual react to contact drills. The remainder of the 3 day class moves onto the tactical ranges, making extensive use of electronic pop-up ‘Ivan’ targets. We teach fire and movement and break contact drills up to the team level, and finish with an orchestrated squad attack to put it all together. This all really gives the students an understanding of operating safely as a team in a realistic live fire environment.

Combat Patrol builds directly on CTT and focuses at the team and squad level. We teach patrolling, patrol bases and living in the field, squad level movement/patrol/break contact drills and use of overwatch, reconnaissance patrol, ambush and raid. So this part of the class is full-on light infantry / unconventional warfare training, with some flavor added that is specific to civilians, or what may be relevant during a collapse situation, rather than a military operational deployment.

Safety, the crawl-walk-run methodology, and layering of training are a vital factor in all of this. We drill down on removing/squashing the ‘random factor ‘ from what students do, and how they behave. Random is the MVT word for the Ranger School term ‘Sua Sponte’ i.e doing your own thing! Random, if not checked, is what will lead to safety issues in training such as this, and thus students need to check the ego and be part of the team for the duration of training.

(I’ll just interject at this point, that if anyone ever tries to intimate to you that you don’t know what you are doing with your light infantry-style training, and hints at super-secret-squirrel techniques, then they are leading you on, because in reality there are only good solid basics. Other than specific TTPs that units may use (often a matter of opinion), for example with specialist DA CQB, there is only good solid basics. Other than specialist weapons or equipment, a tier 1 unit does things just as a trained civilian will, the only difference being repetition and the competence of the professional (as well as funding and weapon/equipment available!). At a basic level  fire and movement is fire and movement. A break contact drill is just that – there are many ways to do it, but at the end of the day it is breaking contact using fire and maneuver.)

When I started Combat Patrol class, I built it pretty much on adapted British Army light infantry training. Good solid basics. As I grew the cadre, and had more students through, I was able to discuss the curriculum with Ranger qualified, Ranger school instructors, and SF qualified personnel. So what was the verdict on the essentially British tactics that I was teaching? It is all the same stuff, save the nuances and adaptations that we as cadre have made to MVT-specific training, based either on our own experiences, or to adapt to training civilians equipped as civilians are. For example, I was teaching collapsing an ambush in a slightly modified way to what is taught at Ranger School or the SF Q course. And the best bit: all the nuanced TTPs work, and they are all valid methods. Good solid basics.

An MVT student (hopefully cadre one day) friend of mine, ‘B,’ an 18 series SF guy currently on deployment, wrote to me with this after seeing an online tussle over MVT training. I am reproducing it with his permission:


I really like reading various doctrine and historical references because quite often I see that as much as things change, they still remain the same.  TC 7-9 is a pretty good “old school” step by step reference of training from individual to platoon level.  Buddy team tactics are a critical gate in the train up process.  While we have evolved over the last two wars I don’t think the fundamentals have changed much.

We can talk about flexibility but as always a definition of terms is useful, specifically when we are talking about drills which is largely the focus of MVT CTT.  MVT CTT gives solid training in the basics and provides that strong foundation that all tactics must be based on.  Why is it that some people feel that battle drills or hard and fast principles are outdated?  We can argue TTPs all day but really it comes back to a definition of terms and a “watering down” of focus on Light Infantry fire and maneuver.  The latest iteration of FM 7-8 (3-21.8) doesn’t even have the old school battle drills in it.  I haven’t read it extensively but it does include a lot of other broader content reflective of the COIN mission and larger mission set we have saddled our Military with lately.
I can’t explain all the changes in doctrine and I can’t say whether it’s for better or worse…………….It’s not that that stuff isn’t important I think it has just been marginalized by advances in technology and expanded mission requirements.  Fire and maneuver is no less valid now than ever and has been extensively combat proven.
But with all this “muddying” of the water I think our focus on the fundamentals still bears fruit.  In CTT you teach RTR and buddy team, followed by fire team fire and maneuver which is the critical basis of tactics and must be a strong suit of any Infantryman.  I think a lot of hair gets raised when we breeze over our terms and mistake techniques and procedures for tactics themselves.  Tactics begin with our appreciation of the situation, the basis for any decision.  In order to get us to that point we have planning but even more basic than that, we have our drills that we train on and hopefully give us breathing room long enough to make that appreciation and get on with accomplishing the mission.
You make no claims otherwise at MVT, furthermore, including the squad attack as a culmination exercise gives a good idea of where everything that you learn in CTT falls into place.  They are the building blocks and however we skin the cat they need to be sharp and instinctual to set the conditions.
So there has and always will be arguments about what is and isn’t still valid, what is useful, what has been effective in the last war etc.  But one of the reasons we haven’t done a lot of step by step battle drill 1 in the last 10 years isn’t because it is invalid, its just because every theater, and every situation is MISSION DEPENDENT like the book says it is even if our Infantry TTPs weren’t born in our current desert battlefields.  The very heart of Infantry Squad and Platoon doctrine, as set forth by 7-8 etc., is the platoon attack, and at the heart of that, is the squad attack.  Looking at the handy flow chart it says “step 1: the squad reacts to contact, the lead fire team cannot fight through.”  MVT CTT isn’t teaching all of 7-8, or even all of battle drill 1/1a, it is teaching RTR, IMT, buddy team/fire team fire and maneuver as the fire team indeed finds that it can fight through.  CTT then uses those building blocks in a “Max led” squad attack as an example of how all that fits in the big picture.
While seemingly limited in focus, CTT is the building block for everything as the battlefield is always METT-TC.  We pay lip service to this but its evident that on the whole it is seldom understood.  Just because everything is mission dependent doesn’t change the importance of the fundamentals, and in fact we can’t do anything meaningful without them because tactics and decision making are just different situations to apply those building blocks to a bigger whole based on METT-TC.
Army doctrine is VERY clear on the matter and we should be too:
In the latest publication on tactics it says this in the preface…

This is the capstone manual for offensive and defensive operations at the tactical level. This is a manual for professionals and requires dedication and study to master. It is authoritative and provides guidance in the form of combat-tested concepts and ideas modified to take advantage of emerging Army and joint capabilities, focusing on the tactics used to employ available means to win in combat. Those tactics are not prescriptive in nature but require judgment in application.

While the battlefield is fluid and every situation is different, we have to have some foundation to train on and from which to depart from our baseline.  I think this is where a lot of the arguments stem from, we are talking about and around the same things but if we are going to use doctrine then we must be accurate in our terms and I believe that you are.  We talk about mission command and initiative and all that, and it’s important, but MVT teaches something more basic than that and that is light infantry tactics up to the fire team.  Arguing about what unit does what at what point in history can be misleading if we don’t understand the heart of the matter, that there isn’t too much flexibility when you talk about RTR and fire team TTPs.  The techniques that MVT teaches are technically sound and are taught in a relatively rigid manner because it gives us a firm standard to bring to the tactics game.  And as everyone sees out in the woods, the basics are hard to master and can’t be trained enough!  

So anyway, I’m rambling on here but I think that sometimes people have difficulty conceptualizing exactly what MVT provides, what it is, and what it isn’t.  This is especially true if they haven’t been to your class, or haven’t done a lot of infantry training (even if they have tactical training of some sort).  Often times people with military experience may take that sort of training for granted either because they had their share of it on active duty, or they weren’t Grunts.  But either way, either from lack of experience, or from too much experience, it can be hard to see why it is so important to get your gun and go shoot and move in the woods!  

Oh well, I know I’m preaching to the choir here Max, and I don’t have the outstanding Infantry education you got in the UK but I still feel like we meet in the middle as we realize how important the basics are and that you can’t breeze over them to work as a group in a fight.  While I cant say I’ve done a lot of things by the book, I still highly value my library.  And doctrine is the clearest of us all in saying that it is an ART, and can’t give us a step by step way to win a gun fight.  But that doesn’t mean we throw it out…

It’s just like the old saying about plans being useless, but planning being indispensable.  After all my experience if I couldnt give the Military a go but still had to defend the Country we love, I would learn to shoot, pick up FM 7-8, RHB, TC 7-9, and go train at MVT.  Then I would keep training, take my foundation, and find some experienced mentors to help me fit it all together in the big picture, or the “real world” I guess you would call it.