Student Review: HEAT 2 April 2021 – Tony

Student Review: HEAT-2 April 2021 – Tony

TL;DR: FITNESS and “Brilliance in the Basics” is what it takes to do these types of things well, you HAVE to be squared away with your FITNESS and your fundamentals, whether that’s weapon manipulation, spatial awareness, or simply paying attention to WTF is going on around you. Perfect practice makes perfect. You have to rehearse and practice these things over and over until they become instinctual, e.g., “muscle memory.” The corollary is that you need a TEAM to do this, no matter how good YOU are or how many classes you have taken, if you’re not training with your team, it’s like starting over from scratch every time. So, if you have got teammates at home, get their (and your) ass to MVT and go through HEAT-1 and HEAT-2 together. Learn together, practice together. Don’t be under the illusion that you can just throw this together on the fly.

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.) Since then, I’ve taken a half-dozen MVT classes, including HEAT-1 multiple times and I had previously taken HEAT-2 last fall.

My goal: Having taken HEAT-2 only a few months before, while I wanted to improve across the board, I really wanted to improve performance on the CTR. I had hopes of being able to at least get into our temporary OP without being seen, even if we got burned later on our cloverleafing. Originally, I’d also hoped to be in better shape, and though I had improved some it wasn’t that noticeable, so my fallback goal was not to let my ego get in the way and proactively dump gear as needed in order to be able to run things at a ‘correct’ speed rather than wait to be sucking wind and then realize that I’m fucked.

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. Do this early/now even before you sign up for a class, it will do you good. If you wait to read it until the week before class (or worse yet after class,) you’re not going to have the time to rectify any issues before attending.

Classmates: Due to some last-minute medical drops there were ten of us in this class. With the exception of one young buck running circles around the rest of us, the ages of the rest of the all-male class spanned the mid-40’s to early 60’s. The fun thing (for me at least) was that I knew and had already trained with everyone in the class, so it was like a reunion.

Safety: I have yet to feel unsafe at any MVT class. Max and Scott are truly amazing at their ability to both see everything and somehow BE everywhere at once. I have full faith and confidence that before anyone ever had a chance to muzzle me with their weapon, they would end up pancaked beneath Scott – even if he was on the other side of the ridge, because that’s just how on top of things these two are when it comes to safety. I’ve said it in other reviews: This is THE SAFEST ENVIRONMENT that I have ever trained in, including military training.

Day One:  All morning is going to be spent in the team cabin learning the basics of patrolling, types of patrols, posture, approaches, etc. Bring notetaking materials that you can comfortably use. The heat was working in the cabin, so it was quite pleasant, but be prepared for eventualities because you will be sitting there all morning, so if it’s cold and the heater isn’t working, you’ll want to be able to bundle up. They cover a metric ton of info during this. During my first HEAT-2 it was coming at me so fast that I actually stopped taking notes because I was falling behind on what was being said. This time at least I was able to get more down on paper. However, as Max likes to point out, the basics of everything they are covering is in the MVT Tactical Manual. There is a lot of expansion on that information that takes place though and catching/recording that info is my goal. I’d recommend getting the TM, reading it before class. Then the night before each day of class, find the section of what you’ll be covering that day, reread it. When you get back each day after class, review that section again and compare with your notes and the experience of running things that day. It will really help lock things in for you.

The afternoon of the first day you’ll head out to the tactical ranges to run some drills. These are, for the most part, almost identical to what you did on day 4 of HEAT-1 (assault through and break contact drills) done by team. It’s a good refresher on all of those things that you learned from HEAT-1, and in my opinion regardless of how recently you’ve been to that class, you’ll benefit from doing these drills.

Because of injury/medical issues, our class had 10 students rather than 12, so they decided to run us as two 5-man teams with the fifth man acting as a team leader. I was fortunate enough to be chosen for this role for my team. While it was stressful since it was brand new, it allowed me to learn a lot more since I had to be much more “switched on” and keeping track of everything that’s going on. While this meant that I didn’t engage targets that often, if at all, having to keep track of the fire teams, align their movements, and communicate what was going on was a full job unto itself. I consider this to have been an amazing opportunity and I’m very grateful that they selected me for it since it definitely helped to expand my knowledge (if nothing else, it once again taught me how much I DON’T know) and gave me even more things to think about, prepare for, train on when I got home.

Day Two: Once again, the morning is going to be spent in the classroom, today’s topic will be going into depth on the CTR (close target reconnaissance) since that’s what you’ll be doing tonight. Again, lots of applicable theory and accumulated wisdom from the two instructors that help to translate theory into reality. It all looks so easy on the white board – spoiler alert: it’s not. I can’t remember whether it happens in the morning or afternoon activities, but at some point, they’ll pick a CTR target for each team, nominate a “team leader” (who is NOT a dictator that gets to determine everything, it’s a group effort to plan things, the TL is just the face of the team and has to brief/debrief the mission to Max), and give you a basic terrain overview of the AO and the target location.

The afternoon is “something completely different” in that you spend the morning learning about CTR and you’re going to be the evening/night doing a CTR, but the afternoon has absolutely nothing to do with it. Instead, you’re going to be refining/expanding your experiences with attack formations, building from what you’ve done (team assaults) to larger units (squad assaults) as well as learning how to deal with in depth defensive positions, and different ways to advance through an objective (e.g., you’ll learn alternates to the ‘assault through’ drill that you utilize in HEAT-1 and that you repeated on day 1 of this class.) You’ll do three drills; due to range limitations the third drill is ‘cold’.

You get back from the tac ranges early in the afternoon and now your team needs to finalize planning for its patrol, establish what the team SOP’s will be, practice important elements of the patrol (crossing LDA’s for example), get together equipment for the patrol, and my personal suggestion is that if you have equipment/tools (thermal images, spotting scopes, rangefinders, etc.) that you anticipate someone other than you using on the patrol that everyone on the team gets at least a familiarization with the controls during this period rather than trying to teach it in the middle of the patrol. Depending on how long all of that takes your team, you’ll have some amount of ‘down’ time prior to briefing Max about your patrol plan, and then setting off. In our case we had our patrol brief at 1745 and set off at 1800’ish, and so after all of our planning and rehearsals we only had about 75 minutes before the patrol brief. So, if you’re like our team, you probably have just enough time to eat and get off your feet for a bit. We, at least, didn’t really have time to get a tactical nap done before leaving.

We briefed Max on our plan and although he didn’t override it, he did think it was overly aggressive in terms of having us move too far, too much. We had planned it in such a way that we were trying to stay as far away from the target as possible during approach. I should put an aside in here, one of the parameters of the CTR is that you’re supposed to get to the target during daylight and observe for a period during daylight. Because of terrain, we were trying to move on the target from farther out because of the daylight consideration, and we wanted to put the sun to use for us. Based on Max’s suggestions, we made some slight modifications to the plan that affected the approach and the exfil route choices.

Our 5-man team had 3 individuals with basic night-vision (PVS-14) equipment, 2 individuals with basic thermal (FLIR scout and breach) capability, we also had a spotting scope, small bino’s, a laser rangefinder, a periscope, and a thermal tarp. Two of the NV individuals had never used their equipment “in the wild” before, so they were using the CTR as an opportunity to get some training time on their equipment. It was 3 days before full moon and with clear skies, so in reality we didn’t need NV, you could see pretty well with the moonlight once the sun set. Our plan was to contour around a ridge line, move towards the target, find a spot for a temporary OP, setup daylight observation unobserved, swap out teams at the OP about 20-30 minutes before sunset so both teams had opportunity for daylight viewing, then the first OP team gets its NV gear on and moves out in one direction to move on target to gather more info, that team comes back and the second team goes out in the opposite direction to do the same thing.

We had what we thought was a good approach on the target, but it turns out that we turned sooner than we should have and so we got burned when we turned to move on the target. From that point on, everything was classic clusterfuck. We were noisy as hell moving into/out of the OP. We were way too close. Our first CTR movement team was apparently visible moving up the whole time. We lost control of our equipment and had a bag roll down a hill a long way, noisily. Due to intel from the first OP team, I (acting as TL) changed our plan and sent that team on its CTR south and when they returned, I made the plan to move all of use to the south, set up a new temporary OP and send the second team further east rather than staying in place and sending the second team north per the original plan (sort of.) However, by the time the first team returned, plus the time taken to extract the second team from the first OP, and then recovering our lost equipment, and we moved to the second location it was already very late, although still within the exercise’s parameters. – Max: redacted due to proprietary content / stupidity – As said earlier, classic clusterfuck. OH! And to top it all off, despite several opportunities when it was lit up by headlights or flashlight all of us completely missed spotting HALF of the bunkers on the position – so, yeah, we just got our assault team killed by flank fire when they decide to assault this position, sorry about that.

Here are some random, stream of consciousness lessons learned from my perspective:

  • Go SLOW when moving on this exercise. The area you’re dealing with isn’t that big, so you can actually take your time in movement. We had ~2.25 hours from step off to sunset, and had to move less than 800m (with our longer, out of the way route; point-to-point was probably 400-500m) and set up our OP. If you assume 90 minutes to move and ~45 minutes to observe, that means we only had to move 9m/minute or basically one step (0.5m/step) every 3 seconds. Stop reading and go try that speed, I’ll wait…..yeah, even with the soul sucking elevation inclines at the VTC that’s pretty fucking slow, isn’t it?
  • Don’t let tiredness dictate your actions. Although it wasn’t apparent at the time to us, part of the reason that we likely turned early (other than poor terrain association on my part) was that we moved too quickly and so got a bit tired going up those damn WV ridges and were happy to move on easier terrain.
  • Yes, learn how to terrain associate correctly. If you’re moron like me though, maybe invest in a small GPS (especially if you’re supposed to be a patrol “leader”) so that you can verify for sure that you’re in the right spot. I also think this would have helped once we got to our OP, because we could then have locked down our exact position, taken bearings and ranges on structures in our notes and thus be able to more accurately recreate positions during our debrief.
  • If you haven’t moved slow in your approach, for God’s sake move freaking slow when you’re near the target.
  • Technology/Tools/Toys will never replace good fieldcraft, or at least will never fix your mistakes with poor fieldcraft.
  • Get some camo paint for your face, or plan on wearing (and sweating in) a full coverage face covering. If you’re not going to wear gloves, do those too, but there are additional advantages to wearing gloves though, so just do that.
  • If you’re going to hide behind a tree, make sure that all of the equipment that you’re wearing/carrying also fits behind it.
  • Get a small voice recorder for recording observations, timings, notes, etc.
  • Realize that you’ll get hot while moving (most likely) but that when you’re not moving at night, such as in OP, you’ll cool off quickly and might develop a chill.
  • Probably the most important thing is that you want to establish your OP as far out as possible while still allowing you to view the target area.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a windy’ish day, make sure to account for that when moving and make changes if possible, to leverage it, or limit the damage it could do.
  • Get fucking fitter.
  • Ditch anything and everything that can give off a signal, audio, visual, IR that’s not necessary.
  • Don’t ever, Ever, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER move onto your target site! NEVER EVER! That is NOT your job! No matter what you see happen, stay the fuck away.

During our exercise, we were told to return to the cabin between 2200-2300. Each team gave a debrief of their patrol, e.g., the route they took, their observations, target information, etc. Initially the patrol leader gives the brief, but then each member of the patrol gives their input on what they did/saw. After that the OPFOR will give their report on when, where, how often, and how you were spotted (oh yeah, you got spotted, count on it). After both teams debriefed, we were allowed to head out, or you had the option of staying on site if you wanted. We finished up pretty early, so I think I was back at the Koolwink just before midnight.

Day Three: You’re going to be tired this morning, unless you’re that 20-year-old buck of course. Once again, you’re starting with classroom, so make sure you have caffeine, or meth, or whatever you need in order to be alert/attentive in the morning. Today is ambush day. They’ll cover ambushes in detail, both theory and practical concerns as well as slight differences in terminology based on sources that you might encounter (e.g., US mil doctrine vs UK mil doctrine.) After covering the theory, you’ll head out to rehearse what you’ll be doing in the afternoon. You’ll break for lunch and will head out in the afternoon to do it for real.

Basically, you’re going to run through the ambush sequence several times, at the very least you’re going to do it twice simply so that everyone gets an opportunity to either be in a stop group or assault group at least once each. If, collectively, your heads are not up your asses, and you’re not sucking wind (fitness, fitness, fitness) then they might opt to run the sequence more times and throw wrinkles into it that you have to deal with so it’s not quite such a ‘set piece’ drill. No spoilers, but just think about what they constantly tell you are the two most difficult things to do in combat.

Today is a lot of fun (and tiring) and it’ll end up being a toss-up between today and tomorrow as to which day that you’ll expend the most ammo during the class. If you repeat in the assault portion of the ambush multiple times, today might be the day you send a lot of rounds out. We finished up relatively early, they know that you’re smoked even if you’re trying to push through it. We were able to get a team dinner done that evening, which was a lot of fun since you’re able to talk more and in more depth than you often can during the breaks. Personally, I also think it helps to build community with each other, which IMO is something we need to be doing these days more than ever. So, I recommend trying to do something like that if you can.

Day Four: Attack day. Starting off in the classroom, you’ll cover the hasty attack in theory and go into some of the various things that need to be considered based on forces available, and when you’d utilize it as well as when you’d pull the plug on it and why. Because it requires movement of forces between positions, you’ll rehearse this several times and with each team practicing in each role. Today has the least amount of morning classroom/lecture portion, you’ll roll out to the tac range in the morning and will run the hasty sequence at least twice (each team getting a chance to be the fixed or maneuver element of the drill.) Afterwards, you’ll return to the cabin for lunch.

After lunch you’ll get lecture on the course’s afternoon capstone exercise, which is the raid. You’ll cover the theory of the raid, and how it is basically an ambush, what needs to be considered and planned for, what the goal of the raid is and how that affects what happens. You cover the “assault cycle” and how every element goes through each phase as the battle develops. After covering all of the theory, and diagramming how it’s supposed to look on the white board, you’ll head out to rehearse it. PAY ATTENTION to the details of what you’re being told about the exercise.

You’ll gear up, and then you’ll patrol up the ridge following Max to the putative ORP (thankfully for us, Max slowed down enough so that we weren’t smoked from the get go.) After you get into the ORP, the teams will be led into their respective positions. Fun fact about your fitness: have you crawled with all of your gear on? Across logs? In the mud? Carrying your rifle? No? I suggest you go out and try it a few times before class, then you can make an honest call about your fitness level and if you should carry all your gear or not. Bonus discovery, you’ll find out what catches, snags, drags, scoops up mud when you crawl. Isn’t that one of the great things about MVT classes, discovering what does and doesn’t work in the real world in realistic situations? (Look cool on the flat range vs. be effective when it matters.) Once everyone is in place, you’ll run the drill. The details will get covered in class when you attend, and aren’t important here, but here are some really important points that came out of it:

  • “Brilliance in the basics” – you have GOT to be squared away with all of the little things that they’ve been teaching you since the beginning of HEAT-1. Just because you’ve never done this exercise and you’re focused on the new things, doesn’t mean that you stop doing everything else. For example, in my team’s case, we had a problem maintaining our positions while we assaulted our targets. Everyone kept sliding to their left because the hill went down in the that direction. That’s elemental, right? Yet we fell down on it.  What was the effect? Well 1.) we ended up occluding our support by fire element; 2.) we ended up off line from our assault targets; 3.) we were out of position to suppress/assault one of the positions. It’s basic, but you have GOT to look around and see what’s going on and you MUST maintain situational awareness, which is not only visual but auditory (even with all the gunfire) so that you can hear when someone is yelling at you to push in a certain direction.
  • Listen to the mission/safety brief, don’t just go on “autopilot” and do what you’ve done before. It’s difficult, it’s almost like a training scar, since we spend almost all of HEAT-1 & 2 engaging targets as soon as we detect them, but that might not always be the case – so pay attention to the details.
  • If you’re in a team leader position, you MUST move around and FIX things if you see them getting off the rails. If someone can’t hear you, or is sucked into their rifle and not paying attention, then YOU have to go to them and unfuck the situation.
  • Not necessarily about the raid mission specifically, but just general patrolling guidance that applies to everyone but very much to the team leader, you need to be constantly scanning the terrain as you move. It is YOUR responsibility to know what you’re going to do with your team if you come under fire, at any point. This means that you constantly have to be making an assessment of where you’ll move your team if you get a contact – from any direction. That’s on top of the other coordinating activities, navigating, etc. that you’re doing. It can be mentally overwhelming, if you’re tired on top of it because you’re not fit then it’s just that much more difficult.

So, as you might have guessed, we royally fucked up our capstone exercise. Max said that he was trying to get us to finish on a high note, but ended up trying to execute several of us with bow and arrows. Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes you fuck up so bad that the bear ass rapes you – the lesson is not to fuck up in the first place. So, “brilliance in the basics”, get your fundamentals (not just weapon manipulation) down so they’re solid. Get out of your weapon. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Attention to detail on every level. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.

After finishing the raid exercise and finding out how well (or not) you did, you’ll head back to the cabin for the course AAR. Clean the team cabin (it gets way dirtier/dustier than you think just with all of you coming in and out) and then hit the road. For the most part we were basically done and able to leave by 1530-1545 (planning purposes for those of you who have longer travel times.)

Fitness: I alluded to it in the goal section, but this class really brings home, more than even days 3 & 4 on HEAT-1, of just how FIT you have to be in order to do this type of stuff. Personally, I’m at least 30 if not 40 pounds overweight – and it’s not like it’s productive weight, it’s just freaking fat, sitting there doing nothing but making every step harder. Think about that! That 30-40# is basically the weight of my kit (plates, belt kit, weapon, ammo, sustainment) so in effect I’m carrying around two kits, one that’s useful and will help me in a firefight and one that’s useless and is likely to get me killed. And for the record I’m not exactly some kind of couch potato normally, but the kind of fitness that’s needed for these types of activities is different! So, you (and I) need to get out there, strap heavy shit to ourselves, and move. That’s going to be my main focus between now and October when the next HEAT-2 happens.

However, if I don’t get where I want to be at, then the next thing one HAS to do when taking this class is realize that you’re there to learn. You’ll learn really quickly that you’re out of shape if that’s the case, so why keep slowing down just so you carry all your expensive cool stuff? I realized on Saturday after we ran the first ambush that I wasn’t near where I wanted be. So, I dumped my plates and went to a minimal ammo load (6 mags) compared to what I normally tried to carry (10 mags) and I left all my water behind as well, which from a safety angle I did because I knew that we were coming back to the spot between iterations so I could still hydrate. You want to be able to run everything at speed, and in my view it’s more important to do that than it is to run it in all your kit if you can’t do it at speed. You’ve got every other day out of the year to run around loaded down like a prospector’s mule and tire yourself out – and hey, that’s a good idea to get prepared for class – but you’re losing out on the training if you do that during the class.

Ammo: I’m a little OCD about keeping track of things at times and ammo is one of those things. However, since I functioned as a team leader on days 1, 2, and 4 I didn’t engage targets that often (if at all,) I don’t think my expenditures are relevant to anyone else with the exception of day 3. Comparing this day-3 to day-3 in Oct though, they’re comparable to the different situations and so I think if you look at the numbers in my review of HEAT-2 from the Oct 2020 class you’ll get valid numbers to plan for this class.

Final thoughts: First, I feel exceptionally grateful that I found out about MVT and was willing to put myself out there and look like/be an idiot because I’ve learned so much more, and realized just how little I really know. I deeply regret that I didn’t know about MVT earlier. Second, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have acted as a team leader during this class since it really broadened my mindset and revealed all sorts of new things that I need to improve upon. I am highly anticipating the HEAT Squad Tactics class in August (and hope that more people will realize what an amazing opportunity it presents by moving things from “set piece” drills to a more realistic, free flowing environment where decisions have to be made on the fly. I simply don’t understand why that course doesn’t sell out the instant it’s announced.) Third, I will definitely be back for HEAT-2 in October again this year because I’m still learning so much with every evolution and even if I were to get it perfect once (pretty unlikely), it doesn’t mean that I don’t still need to keep working on things. If you want to be perfect every time, then you have to practice/rehearse perfectly constantly. I’ll keep attending classes until they’re so sick of me that I get banned. Fourth, I want to thank all of my fellow students for showing up, for helping me to improve, for the camaraderie, for the information/intelligence on so many topics that our breaks were like another classroom session at times, and for just being good people. Finally, I want to thank Max and Scott for continuing to provide the training and deal with all of the headaches and stress that comes from dealing with not only us, but all of the bullshit that surrounds the industry in general. I know neither is getting rich off of doing this, and given the travel demands on both of them and the associated costs, I doubt they’re doing much more than breaking even. Please let me keep attending classes.

Finally, finally: for those of you who’ve never taken a class with MVT, you have NO idea what you’re missing with this training. Please, put your ego aside and come learn what you don’t know that you don’t know. And if you’re an MVT alumni, please come back and train more, it’s a set of perishable skills, you know that, so you can always use more time out there. For everyone (including me): GET FITTER!!

Oh, and will you wankers please realize what an awesome opportunity Squad Tactics is and sign up for it? Pretty please with sugar on top!