Review: HEAT 2 Combat Patrol October 2020 – Tony

TL;DR: This is what it’s really all about. Applying those individual and team drills into something that’s actually closer to real tactics/situations. Other than possibly the force-on-force classes, this is where the rubber meets the road and you actually learn the stuff that makes the difference between life and death in a kinetic environment. For reasons I, personally, don’t understand there’s not enough demand for this class to run more than once a year usually. Unless you have tons of acreage and your own squad of teammates practicing this on a regular basis, I don’t see how you could have an opportunity to be practicing this on your own. Hopefully once you take this class, you’ll realize how critical it is for your development and there will be more demand and thus it will run more often. (Assuming society doesn’t collapse of course, and then it’ll all be OJT anyway – which will be a harsh way to learn these same lessons, assuming you survive long enough.)

My background: 8+ years US Army Reserve in service support MOS and units in the 90’s. The closest I came to getting actual, functional tactical training for a two-way range was basic training and PLDC. I attended my first HEAT-1 a couple of weeks prior to this class, so fortunately most of what I’d absorbed from the firehose of that class was still fresh.

My goal: If it wasn’t for the fact that this class seems to only be offered once a year, and our world seems to be degenerating towards collapse, I probably wouldn’t have signed up for this because I didn’t think I was ready after attending HEAT-1. So, my main goal was to not be the guy screwing everything up and holding up everyone else’s training, or worse, curtailing their training because I couldn’t hack it. I figured this would be another firehose of information, so I just wanted to try to assimilate as much as my brain could and not be a ‘problem child.’

Classmates: There were eight of us in the class, several had attended/reattended HEAT-1 only 3 weeks prior, and some for whom it had been a couple of years. A couple of young bucks in their mid/late 20’s, while most of us where in the mid/late 40’s with a couple in the early 50’s. Personally, I felt really fortunate to be in the class with a couple of these people, not only because they’d been through it before, but because they were generous (and patient) with their time and knowledge of the course.

Safety: It’s MVT, which means it’s freaking safe. I’ve felt less safe in military controlled training lanes. Honestly, my first couple of classes I wore plates not to get used to wearing them, but because I was concerned that some classmate might accidentally shoot me. I don’t have that fear any more at all. Now I wear plates because I need to suck it up and learn to wear plates when humping up near vertical inclines at VTC. (Now my safety concern is falling down those freaking hills because I’m gassed.)

Course layout and equipment: The curriculum is online with the class description, so no sense in rehashing it in detail, but do be aware that it may not be exactly what you see online. They’re constantly revising and tweaking the training by learning from past iterations. Plan to spend time in the classroom each day (usually in the mornings) learning the various drills and applications of them, bring notetaking material (or piss Max off by taking pictures of his whiteboard.)  You’re going to revisit HEAT-1 drills to start the class, so if it’s been a while since you attended that class, it’s worth your time to review your notes from that class and the tactical manual prior to showing up, just so that you refresh your memory about how fire and movement is conducted at MVT. There’s not really any hand holding here. It may be a refresher, but they expect you to be able to do it without them having to hammer it back into your skull again.

The nighttime recce on Friday will add a new level to things, if you have any kind of night vision or thermal capability you should definitely bring it, even if you’re not ‘high speed’ with it like a lot of your classmates likely will (appear to) be. You’ll have some time to get it set up beforehand and otherwise you’ll be stumbling through the woods at night, hopefully holding onto the back of someone who did bring NV. Don’t forget to get the other stuff listed on the course website that you’ll need like the whistle, glow sticks, and clear eye pro. If you can bring along a compass with illuminated points it can really help you navigate in the dark so you don’t stumble onto your target and not realize it. Make sure to really check the weather forecast too, because you’ll want to make sure you’ve got your bases covered for overnight conditions, in addition to the rest of the course days.

Day One: Bulk of the morning is spent in the classroom learning new things and re-covering some things you learned before in HEAT-1. This is the beginning of learning how all of those isolated drills fit into an actual environment and patrolling. You’ll cover the various types of patrols that you might do, along with background on some “why’s” as well as the practical “how’s.” The afternoon (and possibly late morning depending on your class) you’ll run live fire drills from HEAT-1, they’re not throwing anything new at you yet, this is all the refresher stuff to help you knock the rust off.

Day Two: Again, morning will be heavy on classroom material in preparation for what you’ll be doing that night. They’ll cover the recon patrol in as much detail as they can squeeze into the limited time. They’ll also cover and answer questions about gear selection for the recon, and likely this may take a few tangents here and there as gear talk invariably does. After lunch it’s “now time for something completely different!” Usually you do classroom and then go do what was covered, but in this case your morning is covering what you’ll do that night. In the afternoon you’re going to do some live fire drills that aren’t part of your preparation for your recon patrol, but just teaching you another set of skills that you need to know – and this when they could slot in this section of training. After that you’ll get a couple of hours break, before the CTR in the evening.

One of your team will be chosen to be the recon patrol leader, this will likely (and hopefully) be someone who’s been to either HEAT-2 or HEAT Recon before and has a better understanding of the layout of the VTC and the various objectives. They do try to put you on objectives that you (any of you but primarily the patrol leader) haven’t been on before, because they want it to be as ‘new’ as possible to you. The patrol leader is then responsible for planning out the patrol, and will have to brief Max in the evening prior to the patrol setting out. Important: REHEARSE! Don’t just talk though it (but definitely do that too) the patrol route and how you’ll do things, but practice some of the drills that you’ll have recently been taught. Also try to practice a couple of times using your actual patrol intervals. For example, my team did actually practice how we would cross a linear danger area, but we didn’t practice it with our actual intervals so when it came time to do it during the patrol, we (okay I) messed it up by starting the drill before everyone had closed up. That’s the type of thing I mean, you can practice how to ‘bump’ across a LDA in the parking lot, but then you’re not practicing it in ‘real’ conditions because you’re already all clustered together. Just pay attention to those type of things and spend some of that down time practicing them.

After briefing your patrol and getting approval that your team is not being (too) freaking stupid about its approach and plan, you’ll head out to execute it. The patrol will start in the day time. In our case (and in your case it might be different because the course is constantly evolving) we were told to be on our objective before daylight ended so that we could observe it in the daylight before proceeding with the rest of the patrol’s objectives during the night. On my team we had two teammates that had NV, one of whom also had thermal, while myself and the remaining member relied solely on the Mk 1 eyeball. The other team had three folks with NV. This meant that movement, once it got dark (and we had a waning quarter-to-half moon and some cloud cover) required the non-NV teammate to walk behind the NV teammate with hand on shoulder or pack in order to be able to stumble around safely’ish.

The night recon patrol is not a live fire event, and so while you’re moving around with your rifle and some of your equipment, you’re not going to be too weighted down. In addition to any NV or thermal capability you might have, it’s worth it to bring binoculars or spotting scope if you have one since you’ll (likely) have some daylight observation of your objective where those will help. A bonus item would be any kind of sound amplification device so that you could hear some of what’s going on in your objective area without having to get danger close to hear it. If you haven’t done it (or haven’t done it in a very long time,) it’s really revealing how difficult it is to move around stealthily at night, get close enough to find out something useful, and not get detected. Just moving in the dark, whether with NV or not, requires a lot of practice and something to work on on your own when you have the opportunity. This exercise, like so many at MVT, will reveal how much your ‘plan’ falls apart when rudely introduced to that stone-cold bitch known as Reality.

We finished our patrol just after 10:00 PM and arrived at the team cabin shortly thereafter for debrief, just after the other team got there. First, you’ll go over everything as a team to make sure that everything that was seen has been accounted for in your notes. Important point: you should be doing this during the patrol as well each time an element might go off to observe and come back, you should have a running updated brief so that everyone knows what everyone else has observed – after all you never know if someone could become a casualty on your way back and then what they observed is lost forever. After that there will be the official debrief by Max. Each member on the team will individually tell how the patrol went beginning with the patrol leader. After that you’ll get to hear from the OpFor who were present on your objective to learn when they observed you, how often, how, etc. Which can be pretty deflating, especially when you thought that your oh-so-awesome approach or observation location was seen so easily. Or that you could be heard coming from so far away that you likely would have been ambushed before you got into sight of the objective. Remember though, you’re there to learn and to push things, so don’t let it get to you too much.

If there was literally only one takeaway from this recce patrol though, at least for me it would be: Invest in thermal!!!!! Whether for defending your own patrol base (home) or having to do a night patrol for real, it’s insane how easily you get detected when the enemy has it. So, the corollary then would be, figure out how you can try to defeat thermal if you absolutely have to do this and you’re putting your life on the line.

Day Three: They’re pretty nice to you and give you a later start time this morning, but you’ll likely still be dragging from the night before. Do what you need to do to get your brain functioning though because they’re going to be covering ambush stuff on this day, which is at the same time both simple and complex. So, you need to have your head in the game and be able to drink from the firehose even though you might be more tired than usual in the morning.

The live fire portion of this was incredibly enlightening and fun. We actually ran multiple iterations of the drill, and as we progressed, we moved from instructor-led to student-led and then they would throw new wrinkles at you if your group was performing to standard (and weren’t too blown, we almost missed out on doing the final iteration because we apparently looked so raggedy assed.) I won’t give anything away here, if you have previous HEAT-2 alumni in your class, you’ll likely get a heads-up about what might be coming your way. But remember what one of the hardest things to do in combat is. *hint* *hint* *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*

Day Four: Today is your attack day, you’ll be practicing both deliberate and hasty attacks. They’ll have you running all over hell’s half acre for this, which since it’s day 4 means that you’re likely going to be tired. But this day is where it “all comes together”. In the previous days you’ll have found yourself beginning to instinctively do those things that were drills in HEAT-1 as you learned the new things that HEAT-2 brings with it. Now on this day you’re taking everything you’ve learned from HEAT-2, with the exception of the recon patrol, and putting it all into one exercise. You can easily see though that if you’re falling down in one of those foundational areas though, it can completely screw you over. Again here’s an example from our class: in our case we had a really tough time “staying on line”, we had this issue throughout the class in all the drills where it applied. When you’re doing that drill in a kind of standalone environment it may not ‘click’ with you why it’s so important, but when it’s something that has to be instinctively done because it’s a small part of an overall movement, and you’re doing it wrong – it will totally mess everything up, and conceivably get you or a teammate killed if it was real life.

In a way the final exercise is your capstone where you can see how it all works, or doesn’t, with all the things you’ve been taught. You’re told over and over again in HEAT-1 that you’re not being taught “tactics”, but rather drills on which tactics depend. In the final mission of HEAT-2 it’s tactics, it may be super basic, but it’s there and it makes you realize why everything needs to be practiced from the ground up repeatedly. My only regret here is that there isn’t enough time to do it a second time to fix some of the things that went wrong. But there just isn’t time for it, we talked in the AAR about that option and you just can’t move anything around to make room for it without cutting something and there’s no fat to cut out of this class, it’s all lean meat. I suppose I should just keep an eye peeled for the next HEAT Squad Tactics/CLC class and sign up for that if we’re lucky enough for one to get offered again given the state of the world right now.

If you’re looking at HEAT-2, then you’ve likely already been to HEAT-1 and realize that you need the next step, or you’re researching MVT and trying to figure out if it’s worth it to take the training and what you should take. Those of you in the former category I think know in your gut how important HEAT-2 is. For those of you lurking and reading the reviews (which was me about 10 months ago) let me say that you should jump on the first HEAT-1 class you can, and you should be prepared to do the same for HEAT-2 and if possible show your willingness to do the class earlier so that maybe we’ll get more of them on the schedule. The third category of course is people who’ve taken HEAT-2 before, and these people I think realize more than the others how critical the class is if you’re ever expecting to need this knowledge in the real world. If you’re just looking to ‘play soldier’ and whatnot, then the value of the training is likely going to be lost on you. But if you look around the world and there’s a knot of fear in your stomach that something truly horrible might actually happen to our society, then you need to get trained now while there’s still time.

Ammo: Since this is an issue at the time I write this, I figured I would record how much ammo I used during the course of the class. My round counts for the class were as follows: Day 1=171, Day 2=87, Day 3=97, Day 4=288. You might shoot a tad bit more on day 1 if you’re heavy on the trigger, but not much. The bulk of day 2 is your night time recce, so no ammo is used up during that. I’m surprised I didn’t shoot more on day 3 since it was ambush day, but I might have been lagging a bit due to the recce the night before. Day 4 is where you’ll primarily go through stuff as your team takes on the support by fire role during drills.

“Shut Up, George.” = 15 😉