Student Review: HEAT 1 September 2020 – Tony

Student Review: HEAT-1 September 2020 – Tony

TL;DR: Incredible training opportunity that you can’t find anywhere else without swearing an oath and putting on an uniform. If you’re serious and you’re not attending this training, then you’re doing yourself and those you want to protect a disservice. Read the important threads on the forums in preparation and follow the advice given, don’t think your equipment is immune. Open your ears, close your mouth and do what they tell you to do. You’re learning basic building blocks, not tactics, so get out of your head and learn to do the movements correctly. When the class completes, you are not going to be some bad-ass. If you’re self-aware enough to realize it, you should probably be scared shitless about your abilities and chances in a real firefight – there’s a reason people keep coming back to retake these classes. I will definitely be one of them.

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 (and anyone in a true combat MOS will likely tell you how little value that probably gave me, even if I remembered it all perfectly.)

My goal: To learn how to not be a detriment on a team in an hostile environment.

IMPORTANT (for your own good, and everyone else at your class): Go to the MVT forums (get a login if you don’t have one) and find the thread title ‘Compilation of Observations on Gear / Classes by Scott (First Sergeant)’ in the ‘Essential Information for MVT Classes’ forum. READ IT. Then read it AGAIN! Then, and this is the most important part, DO. WHAT. IT. SAYS. Yes, budget plays a role. Yes, availability of items during crazy times plays a role. But within those limitations, follow the guidance that the First Sergeant lays out on rifles, optics, ammunition, load bearing equipment, etc. and you will save yourself an immense amount of frustration, heartache, and TIME – invaluable training time that you (and your classmates) will lose out on when fixing issues that wouldn’t have occurred if you had availed yourself of the collected wisdom in that thread and not thought to yourself: “this doesn’t apply to MY equipment, MY equipment is squared away and will function flawlessly!” Following this information will not only make your class experience go more smoothly so that you can get more out of it, but it may also save your life one day if you ever are unfortunate enough to have to use this training.

Classmates: There were a total of twelve of us in the class, a few had military backgrounds (much more applicable than mine), a few had been to MVT for this class and its progenitors before, and some had no background beyond shooting/hunting experience. Student ages ranged from mid-20’s to early 60’s. We were fortunate in my view to have some previous class veterans in our class to help us in between instruction blocks, for those willing to listen, with questions and just general help.

Safety: With four semi-trained, or completely non-trained, individuals running around rugged terrain with loaded rifles, safety could be a nightmare, but not at MVT. At no point during the course did I ever feel that I was in an unsafe environment. Watching how Max and Scott covered the exercises, I felt sure that if anyone made an unsafe move that threatened someone, they would get pancaked to the ground by one of the instructors before the movement could be completed.

Course layout: This is a four-day class with the first two days on your standard ‘square’ range and the final two days on two of the MVT training lanes on one of their tactical ranges. But don’t be fooled by that because you’ll start on fire and movement techniques/drills on the square range. The class content is posted online, so check that out.  Day One you zero rifles, learn how to drive your weapon, facing maneuvers, muzzle awareness, and stoppage drills. Day Two picks up with the stoppage drills again with an interesting series of tests, then you move on to barricade shooting, with off-shoulder and weak side shooting taught in conjunction. Day Three moves to the first training lane on the tac range to start applying fire and movement principles in an uneven and unpredictable environment. Unlike the day before, you don’t have nicely set up obvious cover at perfect intervals, but have to learn how to find the best cover available, and more importantly how to ‘work your cover’ in order to engage targets. You progress from two-member team fire and movement to two teams of two conducting team maneuver drills. Day Four picks up where the previous day ended and you spend the day working in your four-person elements (two teams of two) for the drills the entire time. Each new drill builds on things that you learned in previous drills and relies on your understanding and ability to execute those correctly.

What follows is more my impressions and takeaways from those days, and these are subjective and may not be applicable to you:

Every. Damn. Day.: Just listen to what Max and Scott are telling you to do. Just do that. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. Open your ears and close your mouth. You’re there to learn from them, not teach them what you know. Seriously, just do what they tell you to do, the way they tell you to do it, when they tell you to do it. Don’t add anything, don’t change anything. Do it mechanically, speak your actions before you do them if necessary, and go AS SLOW AS YOU NEED TO in order to do it correctly. Maybe you’ll get critiqued/gigged/yelled at for going too slow, but if you’re not doing it right it really doesn’t matter how fast you’re doing it – and I guarantee that they’ll correct/gig/yell at you for doing it wrong. Bring as many pre-loaded magazines as you can to each day to save reloading time. Mark your magazines distinctly, and, if possible, very brightly – you’ll thank me when you’re trying to find them in the forest or two foot deep cut grass.

Day One: Show up with your rifle zeroed, it just saves everyone’s time. Plus, if you haven’t used it recently, make sure that everything, including your eyeballs, work like they’re supposed to do. In my case, I hadn’t been to a range looking at a paper target through my RDS in quite a while and hadn’t realized how much the eyesight in my one eye had deteriorated in the last year (thanks to COVID I’d missed out on my usual annual follow up appointment.) This messed things up for me quite a bit, I hadn’t realized how much my dominant eye was compensating for this (and I use my non-dominant right eye, since I shoot right-handed.) Don’t forget to follow the instructions that you need empty magazines (and a penny) on the first day, have at least the four recommended, a couple of more won’t hurt. Load all the others up so that you’re not having to load up in between. For God’s sake, just follow the instructions you’re given, don’t do anything else. If all they said was “pick up your rifles”, then just pick the damn things up and don’t do anything else until told to do so.

Realize that you’re being taught a specific way to do things, the MVT way. This may mean changing long-standing habits, and procedures. In my case, what the Army taught me back in the 90’s had been to use my strong hand for almost all weapon manipulations, including reloads. About the only thing my support hand did, besides help hold the weapon up, was to manipulate the bolt release/bolt hold button. Learning how to do almost all manipulations, especially for me reloading, with the support hand feels completely alien. Learn the MVT way, practice it, fumble and fail doing it – you’re paying these guys for their expertise, if you’re not going to follow it, I’m not sure why you’re there. Even if there is no other reason than safety (that you know of anyway) to do things their way, it makes zero sense to ignore it. This goes for other things in the class as well such as command verbiage. Everything that you’re being taught from Day One on are building blocks for later things you’ll do, so learning to do them the same way by everyone means that there aren’t any surprises or problems later when things get more complex.

After zeroing, you’ll be taught how to deal with a variety of common weapon stoppages by learning the drills on how to identify and rectify the problem. You’ll work on proper carry of the weapon, maintaining muzzle discipline, positioning, driving the gun, and start on facing maneuvers – how you engage the target correctly. You’ll conduct these movements and engage targets as a group. Then you’ll progress to moving with the weapon and engage targets individually upon command.

Make sure you bring a camp chair, food, and plenty of liquids for the day. We had some very nice conditions and I still plowed through my water, a class with summer like heat and humidity would probably have required 2-3x as much in my case. You’re going to walk your stuff up a small hill from the range parking lot to the range, if you can consolidate your stuff so that you make fewer trips up and down it’s worth it. Even if you don’t wear one during shooting, it’s good to have a hat to keep the sun off you when sitting in your chair.

Day Two: You’re allowed to leave most of your equipment overnight, so you have less to schlep up the hill in the morning which is nice. You start the day with the stoppage drills, but they throw something new at you so that you don’t know what stoppage you’re going to get – and this has a good way of showing if you’re actually following procedures or anticipating the issue at hand or not. After finishing with the stoppage drills, you move on to off-shoulder and weak side shooting, which are taught in conjunction with barricade shooting. If you’re not used to doing it, this will definitely feel alien and if your equipment isn’t set up correctly for it, you can have some throat choking moments. Make sure when doing barricade shooting that you’re aware of your muzzle’s position in relation to the barricade and don’t shoot their barricades, they really don’t like that. Later you’ll work on fire and movement drills using preset cover positions.

Even if you don’t shoot with them, bring some gloves to help move barricades around, or risk some splinters/cuts. You’re also going to police the range at the end of the day, so be prepared for that. This is your last day on the square range, so you’ll be moving all of your stuff back to your vehicle.

Day Three: First day on the tac range and the parking area is smaller and the road to it rougher, so hopefully you’ve made a friend or two in the first couple of days because you’ll need to consolidate into a couple of vehicles. The road is pretty rough with at least one pretty gnarly hairpin turn, so make friends with the people who have the nice off-roading vehicles! Even so, one of our class actually had a sidewall blow out on a tire on our first day – so it would help to have the tools and a spare tire ready to go, as he did, in case this happens to you. You’re not going to be heading back until the end of the day, so if you’re cross loading into someone else’s vehicle, make sure you bring everything you need for the day like your lunch and spare ammo to load magazines when you head over in the morning.

You’re going to start out with what amounts to a classroom portion to cover the first exercise, it was a chilly start for us on this day so make sure you’re prepared for the climate conditions of your class and for sitting still for a while at the beginning. Each time there’s a new exercise/drill, they’re going to sit you down and go over it on the white board. Pay attention to how they’re showing it, because they’ll run the drill the exact same way – you shouldn’t be surprised by where/when a target is going to appear. While they’ll give you context of when/why a particular drill might be used in relation to actual tactics, remember that you are *not* learning tactics, you’re learning a drill. Don’t get wrapped up in ‘what if this happens, what if that happens’ since the overview context they’re giving you is just so you can see one (of many) possible scenarios where the particular drill would be used. The axiom that “there are no stupid questions” may be true, but it’s also true that there are irrelevant and inconsequential questions. Not to mention asking basic questions about something that was just spelled out for you in detail so that it appears that you weren’t listening. So, again, open your ears and pay attention to detail. At one point Max got a look on his face like he was questioning all of the life decisions he made that led him to the point where he was instructing a bunch of ignorant apes like us, it’s an haunting sight, I hope you never see it.

You’re going to realize very quickly, even more so than you might have done on the square range days, what elements of your equipment and how you carry stuff really works (and doesn’t work) and just how heavy things are. I’d be surprised if there’s more than 100 square meters of flat ground on the tactical range lanes. You’re going to be going up or down some kind of incline, moderate to steep, with rocky ground, trees, roots, underbrush, etc. – it’s not going to be easy physically. There’s a reason that there’s a physical assessment test for this class, and being able to pass it means only that you have the bare minimum to be out there, more fitness is always better. Again, we had really nice, cool weather for our class so I can only imagine how brutal the training lanes are during summer conditions. Learning how to move and scan the area around you competently, not looking at where you’re walking, in this environment is a challenge alone for some us (*cough* me *cough*) so be prepared.

On a related tangent, don’t take positions that you can’t physically get into or out of without time/issue. What I mean is, if you’re not able to quickly get into and out of the prone position, don’t bother trying it – you’ll be told this in class too, so don’t let your ego/pride goose you into doing it. The important thing is learning how to run the drill correctly. I took advantage of their instructions in this regard and only used the kneeling position during the drills – it was still exhausting wearing all my kit and having to get up and run/shuffle in that terrain. As your fitness improves, you can always try proning out the next time you take the class – and you’ll likely realize that you need to take the class again because there’s so much coming at you that you’re not able to process and practice all of it at once.

MVT has invested a lot of time and money into their training lanes’ setup. You have remotely controlled pop-up targets all over the place, many placed behind pieces of cover so they’re not obvious. Going through the drills, first in two-man teams and later with two teams, you’ll realize how important communication is and, despite how much you think about it in advance, how quickly you can get sucked into your weapon or target and stop paying attention to what’s going on around you. You need to be practicing those core competencies, like muzzle awareness/discipline, finger positioning, safety engaged except when engaging targets the whole time and it becomes so much more important when there’s a gaggle of you out there stumbling around the forest, tripping on logs and stuff. Learn how, and be prepared, to use your ‘outside’ voice. You have to be heard over multiple rifles firing, and communication is vital – you cannot be too loud.

Day Four: This is continuation and culmination of what you’ve learned over the last three days and the final drill is basically a continuous withdrawal with multiple targets appearing at intervals along the route. All of the tips from above apply here, and there’s nothing that you do this day that you haven’t already done, although perhaps you’ve only done it as a standalone drill and now it’s incorporated into a larger one. So, I can’t think of anything particularly special about this day’s activities that warrants additional consideration. Hopefully you’ve improved on your weakest areas and you’re smoother on the final drill. You will still have things to work on and improve regardless. After the final drill, you’ll conduct the AAR with the MVT cadre and provide your feedback on the course and how it could be improved/changed in your opinion. My understanding is that they constantly change things between class iterations, so the class is never exactly the same in response to student input.

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=258, Day 2=318, Day 3=232, Day 4=207. I probably should have fired more rounds on Days 3 & 4, but often couldn’t identify targets in time to put rounds on them, my suggestion would be to add 25-50% to my round counts on those days to get a more accurate estimate for planning purposes.

Tony estimates that he used 1025 rounds for the whole class. Once you get beyond the prescribed shooting of the first two days, its up to you how often you pull the trigger. That is a lesser amount than the 400 per day (1600) that we estimate to student’s.

We have a rather short notice HEAT 1 class coming up on October 15-18. There is space.

After that, the December class is, at this time, full.


Training Calendar