Student Review: HEAT Squad Tactics August 2021 – Tony

TL;DR: This is not only a ‘must do’ class, it’s a ‘must repeat’ class because you will *never* be done learning from it. Push for MVT to add more iterations of this class. Sign up for every one that you can.

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, PLDC, and various FTX’s (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 and HEAT-2 multiple times.

My goal: I wanted to improve as a rifleman so that if it becomes necessary, I wouldn’t be a detriment to any group with which I was working. To put it in even simpler terms, I wanted to learn how a.) not to die; and b.) kill the people trying to kill my team. I wanted to take all of the “scripted” things that we learn in the HEAT-1 and HEAT-2 classes and learn how they work in a 360 environment where you don’t know when or from where a threat will appear. In those immortal words: “Everyone has a plan until they get kicked in the face…” this is the class where you begin to learn what to do after you get kicked in the face.

Classmates: First of all…wow…just WOW! This was an epically stacked class (and OPFOR)! Some of the absolute best students (and just people in general) that I’ve met through MVT were at this class as students or OPFOR. It was fucking STACKED! (I do admit that I would have loved to have Dillon there as originally planned, and George as students – then the class would have been the literal bomb, yo.) We ranged the gamut from 22 to 60’ish in age, one female and ten male students, including a contingent of three Russian badasses. I think everyone had been to at least one MVT class before, but not necessarily HEAT-1. Of course, that’s balanced against the one stud who’s been to 30+ MVT classes over the course of almost a decade. So, this was an absolute BLAST of a class to be a part of. As much as Max and Scott, these people that I meet here are the reason I keep coming back myself, if I can become half as good as the “worst” of them then I’ll be doing good.

Safety: Despite the fact that this is a 100% Air Sim class, I still feel the need to bring up the point that MVT is the safest training environment I’ve ever participated, including US military run. They don’t just focus on live fire safety, they focus on SAFETY – if that means heat, snow, flying rattlesnakes, whatever. These guys will keep you safe. I would, literally, stake my life on it.

I’ve been accused (justly) of writing epically long-winded reviews, and (unjustly IMO) of being a kiss-ass in my reviews. So, I’m going to attempt to address both of those accusations in this one.

General themes: One thing to bring up is that this class is the successor to one in which everyone had to take a turn at the squad leader position. However, in this class you only have to do what you feel capable of, and/or want to do. So, if you just want to focus on the basic rifleman skills and not take on a leadership role, you can do that. If you want to stretch beyond this but not take on the full responsibility of leading one of the patrols, you have opportunities to act as a team leader. Secondly, and one of the reasons that I think the class is so critical to skill development, whether that’s individual skills or leadership skills, is that this course is never going to be the same no matter how many times you retake it – hence one of the reasons that I push to have it on the schedule and for people to sign up for it. Thirdly, if you’ve been to HEAT-1 then you’ve probably had some of these “what if X happens, how do you…” conversations when they’re trying to teach you one of the drills. Well, how about you sign up for, and come out to this class because it’s likely you’ll experience how you have to adapt to circumstances and why they can’t provide you with a “when X happens, you always do Y” type of response. Fourth, something that quickly gets hammered home is the critical importance of rehearsals. Another personal suggestion from me if you’re going to lead a patrol is to plan for as much time for rehearsals as feasible. It’s the rehearsals that are going to really help determine how well you do, even if things turn out to be completely different than originally planned. Fifth, one of the other students brought up how what you learn through MVT isn’t just applicable to small unit tactics, but can be applied to other areas of your life, things like attention to detail, teamwork, leadership, etc. are all things that get worked during these classes and even if we never have to pull a trigger in anger in our lives, you can still benefit from the class. Thanks for making a point of highlighting that Olga, it’s something that I was benefiting from without realizing/acknowledging it. Finally, one of the things that I really appreciated from the class was how all six of the missions/patrols were related to each other, and thus how you learned more about your enemy’s capabilities and had to take that information into account on subsequent patrols. Rather than be disconnected events, the entire four days felt like an on-going mission. It helped give your actions a sense of purpose.

Day One:  You start out in the classroom and will spend the morning there. You’re going to learn about the importance of mission orders. While it may seem dry and you may think it’s unimportant, you’ll quickly realize that what’s covered in the mission orders is what’s going to help keep you alive, and that missing something can get you killed in real life. For those of you intending to volunteer for the squad leader role in the later missions, I encourage you to pay close attention to how Max follows the methodology that he gives you in class – and then just follow down it exactly for your mission. It’s better to cover literally everything on the list with a lot of ‘unknown’ or ‘does not apply’ entries then it is to try to ‘streamline’ it and miss something.

Prior to the afternoon mission, in which Max will be in the role of squad leader and lead the patrol, those who need to rent AirSim rifles or magazines from MVT will get them issued. Then there will be a briefing on how to properly use the equipment to get the best results and then you’ll have administrative time to load/charge magazines, etc. You’ll conduct test fire of the weapons under direction of staff.

As mentioned, Max leads you on the first mission on the afternoon of Day 1. I think a lot of the OPFOR enjoy this opportunity to be able to ‘legally’ shoot at him consequence-free…LOL! Whether or not Scott goes after Max as hard as he goes after student led patrols is difficult to say, I will say that the advantage of having Max as patrol leader is probably offset by it being the first patrol working together as a group, so there’s a greater likelihood of mental mistakes on the part of the students. In my opinion these diminished greatly as the mission progressed and everyone gelled as a team. After the patrol ends, you get an AAR that includes the OPFOR which helps to break down what went well, and where things could use more work. Usually after this they’ll ask for two volunteers to be patrol leaders for the Day 2 missions. Those individuals will receive a warning order that contains the basic details for the patrol that they will have to plan, brief, and conduct the next day – this gives them overnight to get things nailed down.

Days Two and Three: While the patrol missions differ, the basic layout is the same. There will be two student led patrols each day. One in the morning, initial brief time of 0800 and one in the afternoon, initial brief time 1300 was what happened in our class. The goal with the morning missions is usually for them to complete by 1200, and the afternoon missions by 1700. During our class, we didn’t go over and usually finished a bit earlier. So, a student patrol leader will brief his/her mission following (hopefully) the orders format example covered on Day 1. Then there will be a critique by cadre on how well that was done and what might be improved. They will also potentially address the actual mission plan in case they have suggestions about that (for example for one of our missions they suggested that the route in be changed for safety reasons due to the high heat and humidity.) After that there will be time for rehearsals and administrative things prior to setting out on the mission. The mission happens, things go right, things go wrong, surprises happen, and the patrol leader and the whole squad must improvise, adapt, and overcome. Immediately afterwards, literally on the ‘field of battle,’ there will be an after-action review that once again gives the staff a chance to explain what went right, what went wrong, highlight the importance of any particular elements, and show where improvements could be made. At the end of the day, they will ask for student volunteers for the next day’s mission(s). There are (or were for our class) no evening/night missions, so everything is during the 0800-1700 timeframe on Days 1-3.

Day Four: This day is basically like Days 2 and 3 except there is only one student led mission, in the morning. Obviously, the mission differs, but the format is the same as outlined above. In the case of our class, the previous five missions had all been in the open/forest while our final mission included a large portion of CQB, so this was the mission that we really had to rehearse a lot prior. About half the class had some kind of CQB training, so we were fortunate in that regard. I think they intentionally save the most difficult, or complicated, mission of the cycle for this final day. But, while you may be tired, you’re also in probably the best mindset, and most well drilled that you’ve been throughout the course, so it makes a great challenge to take on the most difficult at the end. After lunch in the cabin, you have the class AAR where you get a chance to provide feedback on the class itself, make suggestions, etc. Then it’s just time to clean up the cabin, get on the road, and start planning your next class at MVT. (I’m pretty sure we were done and leaving by 1500, for your planning purposes.)

Fitness: This is mentioned a lot at the other classes, but it’s so magnified here. While going up the training lanes on those f***ing WV hills during HEAT-1 can suck at times, it’s very isolated. You get more realism with the weekend portions of HEAT-2, but even during that class things are still pretty heavily scripted, and honestly after going through this class I have to say you usually take the easiest route to an objective during HEAT-2 compared to our student-led patrols where we almost always, out of collective paranoia, took the absolute most brutal route possible to an objective. These routes out/in weren’t necessarily over in a couple of minutes either. Combined with never knowing if something was going to kick off long before you expected, meant that you never knew for sure where you might be running and fighting. So, doing all of that while wearing full kit really highlights one’s physical (and mental, and emotional) weaknesses. Of course, it’s not even a ‘real’ patrol in terms of time involved because you’re still only moving for a relatively short period of time, but it’s still way more than you do in any other course (except for the Recon class I imagine) and that terrain will quickly rip away any false pretensions of fitness you may have. It’s a really great way to learn what you need to work on. Due to the weather conditions many of us shed our plates, and personally by the final day I was down to the absolute bare essentials for an engagement – weapon, mags (6), IFAK/TQ, kit to carry same, and emergency stretcher. That was it, everything else got removed so I could make it – even then I felt like everyone in the region could hear my gasping for air by the time we reached the top of the steep incline on our approach to the ORP.

Ammo: OMG! I didn’t have to track ammo! My OCD didn’t know what to do with itself. All hail AirSim!

Final thoughts: First, as mentioned in my other reviews, 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. If you’re on the fence, I encourage you not to wait and to sign up!

Second, this class was everything that I’d been expecting/hoping for and more. I keep saying, and writing, it but I simply do NOT understand why this class doesn’t sell out the instant it’s posted, and why there is not a veritable avalanche of requests for it to be put on multiple times per year. There are ZERO class prerequisites for it. There are ZERO ammo requirements for it. While you do have to pass the MVT Fitness Assessment, the minimum requirement is not that onerous with just a modicum of dedication to training for it, and you do it on your own prior to class, so there’s no issues of ‘stage fright’ doing it in front of a group. Yes, you will have better skills and be less overwhelmed if you’ve been to HEAT-1/HEAT-2, but you do NOT have to attend those prior. We had a couple of people who did very well in class who hadn’t taken an HEAT-1 class yet, including one person who even volunteered to be a patrol leader, and really rose to the challenge of it. I keep hoping 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. Personally, I will sign up for every iteration of this class that hits the calendar, constrained only by money and the most critically important life events.

Third, I want to thank all of my fellow students, as well as the volunteer OPFOR, 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 a bunch of paranoid, autistic monkeys like 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. I’ll keep attending classes until they’re so sick of me that I get banned. Please let me keep attending classes!