Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reading is Fundamental

As an avid reader, it amazes me how fewer and fewer people these days seem to enjoy sitting down with a good book. Even with devices out there such as the Amazon Kindle, which can hold up to 1,400 books in a space barely larger than the palm of your hand! As someone who is continuing along the path to being a better sheepdog, I am a student of how the past, the present, and the future may influence my life, my liberty, and my safety. I am a pupil of those who have experienced things which I have not, and that also makes me an observer of those who do not share my beliefs, since I must learn all I can about their way of life. There is so much knowledge to gain from so many sources, and the internet is certainly a great resource for doing so. That being said, it is important to ensure that the advice and/or knowledge you gain which you want to incorporate into your life comes from reliable sources who actually know what they are talking about, or at the very least have some experience on the subject matter.

Over the years I have read a great many books, and while so many of them have been excellent sources of both entertainment and education, there are a few that stand out as exceptional, and certainly applicable to what we teach here at Independence Training. I'd like to give you a short list of just a few of these titles, and if you end up reading them, or have already read them, please leave your own review in the comments section below.

"On Combat" - Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. This book is for civilians as much as it is for law-enforcement officers and military personnel. Part of our concept of Sheep, Sheepdog, and Wolves is derived from this book, and I recommend it to every responsible citizen that I meet. Grossman does an excellent job of detailing, in plain language, the effects of lethal force encounters, from slowed time and altered realities to parasympathetic response and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At one point in the book, Grossman takes a side path to talk about one of his major areas of study - the effects of media violence on kids - and while this section is interesting by itself, I didn't feel it had a place in "On Combat," but that's my only major gripe.

"Lone Survivor" - Marcus Luttrell. The story of a Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan gone awry, Luttrell was the lone survivor of his team after a massive enemy ambush. Wounded, outnumbered, outgunned, alone, and way behind enemy lines, Luttrell evades capture, aids the resistance, and ultimately survives. Now a spokesperson for the NRA as well as a motivational speaker and national icon, Luttrell is the embodiment of the warrior spirit. I recommend this book not only as a glimpse into the harrowing combat situations that our special operations fighting men encounter, but also as a look at how mindset and determination are the ultimate deciding factors any rough situation.

"When All Hell Breaks Loose" - Cody Lundin. Most urban survival books fall into one of two categories: over-the-top survivalist or fictional zombie apocalypse. Cody has his own category: realistic. Whether it's a power outage or an economic collapse, this book will show you how to make the most of what you have, and how to survive despite potentially overwhelming odds. His often comedic approach to the proper preparation and mindset needed to get the job done will keep you engaged throughout the book, and there are lots of illustrations and pictures, as well.

"After You Shoot" - Alan Korwin. What you do after you use lethal force in a self-defense situation is a topic that not many people consider. Most see themselves as getting a pat on the back from the police and then going about their merry way, perhaps a little shaken up but none too worse for wear. The reality, however, is much different than that, and if you carry or keep a firearm for self-defense, you need to read this book. Period.

"How To Win On The Battlefield" - Rob Johnson / Michael Whitby / John France. Battlefield tactics aren't necessarily something that I recommend as reading material to our students, but in this case the book is so well put together and so clearly written that I highly advise it. There's a lot to learn about overwhelming your enemy by studying battles from history, and with sections such as 'Counter-Attack' and 'Deception and Feints', a lot of the information contained in this book falls right in line with what we teach in our courses. While it's geared towards a larger force, the tactics and techniques outlined can still be used against a handful of attackers.

"One Second After" - William R. Forstchen. The only fictional novel on this list is the story of life and survival in American after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) essentially sends us back to the Dark Ages. This book portrays such a realistic look at the effects of EMPs that it has been discussed amongst members of Congress and at the Pentagon as a book that every American needs to read. This book could have gone on for another 500 pages and I would have happily continued to read it.

So there's a few books for you to consider, and I hope that you will take the time to purchase or borrow them and then spend the time necessary to digest them from cover to cover. Remember, being a sheepdog is not a destination - it's a journey, and it's a journey that you need to be well-informed on.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Carry Condition: it makes a difference

Depending on the type of firearm you carry, you may have multiple choices when it comes to carry condition; which is to say that you may be able to carry with safety on, safety off, chamber empty, chamber loaded, hammer back, magazine loaded, etc. Many of my students ask my opinion on this, and except for a few rare circumstances, my response is the same: "Locked, Cocked, and Ready to Rock." Why carry a firearm if it's not ready to be used? If you need your firearm, you need it RIGHT NOW! I have seen and heard the arguments favoring the carry of handguns with an empty chamber; safety is paramount amongst them. Some of the reasons I hear include: "What if my child gets a hold of my gun?" Why does a child have access to your guns? "If the bad guy takes my gun away from me, I will have time to attack him before he can shoot me." Are you capable and physically ready to be involved in hand-to-hand combat? Consider this instead: You draw your handgun in a self-defense scenario but your other hand is carrying your child or shielding a loved one and you need to shoot NOW! Perhaps an attack comes suddenly and without warning, and the bad guys are on top of you and within bad breath distance; you must use your handgun in close quarters, tight to your body, and there's no room or time to rack the slide. Or maybe you accidently hit your magazine release during your draw - the magazine hits the ground, the bad guy knows it, and now you have ZERO rounds in the gun.

I have watched as people tried to demonstrate to me their ability to draw and manipulate the slide in one smooth motion. That is until I start yelling at them. Or I "cripple" one arm. Or I attack them from very close distances. Or they are fighting from an improvised position. Or it's dark, rainy, and cold. Suddenly their motor skills start to deteriorate, and with that certainly goes the ability and often the opportunity to rack the slide as part of the draw technique.

Consider the following video, taken from security footage at a jewelry store in Agra, India. The store owner is carrying a firearm with the chamber empty, but when armed robbers burst into the store and he draws his firearm in self-defense, his ability to get a round into the chamber and drive off the attackers suddenly becomes a task that he cannot master, as he tries in vain not just once but twice to manipulate his slide and load his weapon.

**WARNING** This video contains violent images of a man being shot and ultimately killed. But if you carry a firearm for self-defense, you need to see this. (If the video doesn't load, you can see it on our server by clicking here.)

The most important part of owning a firearm for self-defense is actually having access to it, such as carrying it! It still surprises me how many of my students do not carry regularly - I carry my firearm the same as I carry a spare tire in my truck, a medical kit nearby, or chapstick in my pocket. When I need it, I NEED IT! What condition you carry your firearm in is just as important, however. I wouldn't think to carry a flat spare tire so that I could air it up when I needed it. I wouldn't carry a medical kit not stocked with the life-saving tools I need most. I wouldn't carry an empty chapstick tube, and I certainly won't carry an empty firearm. And neither should you.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Limitations of your Training: are you willing to accept them?

It's June 20th, 1994, and Dean Mellberg enters the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital carrying a MAK-90 rifle. He heads straight to the office of Major Thomas Brigham and Captain Alan London, both of whom had recommended that Mellberg be discharged from the Air Force following a psychological evaluation. Mellberg opens fires on the two men, killing them both. He then starts walking around the hospital and shooting at everyone, eventually wounding 22 people and killing an additional 2, including an 8-year-old girl.

A quarter of a mile away, Senior Airman Andrew Brown was patrolling base housing on his bicyle, part of his duties with the 92nd Air Force Security Police Squadron, when he gets an emergency call on his radio about trouble at the hospital. As he pedals into the parking lot, he sees Mellberg in the parking lot shooting randomly at people who are trying to flee. Andy ditches his bike, draws his 9mm Beretta handgun, and drops into a kneeling position. He then orders Mellberg to stop, to which Mellberg replies by turning and opening fire on Andy, who fires 4 rounds at Mellberg. Two rounds hit Mellberg - 1 shot in the shoulder and the other literally right between the eyes, killing Mellberg instantly and ending his reign of terror. The distance between the two men was 70 yards.

Massad Ayoob, famed firearms instructor, has this to say about the event:

There are those who will tell you pistols are short-range weapons, and it is indefensible to fire them at distances as far as 70 yards at armed and violent perpetrators. That's bullshit. Andy Brown's experience is a classic example.

 There are those who will tell you you can't hit an opponent 70 yards away if you're only armed with a pistol. That's bullshit, too. On a June afternoon in 1994, Andy Brown proved it, firing a Beretta 9mm issue pistol. The witnesses confirmed at the moment of truth that Mellberg, age 20, was firing at Brown, then 24, with a rifle as Brown simultaneously returned fire with a pistol. Mellberg missed Brown. Brown hit Mellberg with 50-percent of his gunfire and killed him where he stood. End of story.

 When you are the one who is under fire––and, more important as I read Andy Brown's perceptions, when helpless innocent people are under fire and you have sworn an oath to protect them––"minimum" training and practice is not enough. Andy Brown had taken his oath so seriously he bought the closest gun he could afford to the relatively expensive Government-issue Beretta, simply to practice with on his own time, at his own expense. Anyone who doubts this dedication on the part of this individual member of the United States Air Force to serve those within the mantle of protection went above and beyond the call of duty, is probably too clueless to enter a discussion of the matter.

 Even the staunchest advocates of un-aimed "point shooting" agree at longer distances, the sights must be used if you expect to deliver a fight-stopping hit with a handgun. Andy Brown did so, and proved the validity of "focus on your front sight" as the tactic that will win such a fight.

 Andy's experience highlights a fundamental principle of surviving any life-threatening experience: focus on the task, not the goal. Seeing a deadly, well-armed killer shooting at him 70 yards away, a distance he perceived as half that or even closer, Andy didn't think "Oh, my God, I gotta somehow survive!" No, he thought about focusing on his front sight and carefully pressed his trigger straight back, and he hit his opponent with two out of four shots at a distance many would consider "out of range" . . . . and he killed the killer and stopped the mass murders. Starting with a 75-round magazine in his rifle, Mellberg had already shot 26 people at the time Andy Brown stopped him with a bullet literally between the eyes. Andy remembers now, "There were 19 rounds left in his gun at the time he went down. It made me feel good I stopped him before he took any more victims."

Ayoob is absolutely correct (as usual) in that "minimum" training and practice are just not enough. There are plenty of scenarios where just having a weapon won't give you the opportunity to engage with it, just as there are plenty of scenarios where one armed citizen can make all the difference.

In my experience, many people who get their concealed weapons permit, or who attend one training course, or who shoot just a few times a year, have their firearm as a sort of 'talisman' against the bad things in the world. They can put it by their bed, strap it on a belt, put it in their pocket or in their purse, or otherwise have it near them as a sense of comfort or security. Proficiency and practical application are concepts that they don't consider; they don't ask themselves, "What are the limitations of my skills and what are the limitations of my equipment?" While there are many "armed" citizens in this great nation of ours, a relatively low number of them could probably effectively draw and engage an attacker, much less multiple attackers, assuming they are even carrying their firearm.

So the question you must ask yourself is this: If the time comes to use your firearm to save a life, will you actually be ready to do it? Only you truly know what your mindset is and what your firearms skills are. But don't lie yourself - because when the time comes, I'd sure rather be like Andy than Mellberg.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Sheepdog: it's a lifestyle, a mindset, and a system of steadfast beliefs

If you've been through one of my courses, then you've heard me refer to the "sheepdog lifestyle." That idea gets explained throughout the training course, but it has not been explained here in my 'Journal of a Sheepdog,' leaving some people wondering and others emailing me asking for an explanation.

I came upon this idea a number of years ago while reading Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's book entitled "On Combat." It is a fantastic book and I recommend it to everyone - whether you are an armed citizen, a law-enforcement officer, or a member of the military. There is a section of Grossman's book that I would like to share with you here, as it will explain in full detail why I chose the sheepdog to help explain the lifestyle and mentality that I cultivate in my students and in my own life.

(This portion of "On Combat" has been re-printed with permission from the Warrior Science Group, Inc)

On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs - Dave Grossman

Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always,even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?" - William J. Bennett, in a lecture to the United States Naval Academy November 24, 1997.

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me:

"Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident." This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another. Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.

Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin's egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell. Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful? For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.

"Then there are the wolves," the old war veteran said, "and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy." Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.

"Then there are sheepdogs," he went on, "and I'm a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf."

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.

Let me expand on this old soldier's excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids' schools.

But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid's school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep's only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa."

Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

The students, the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough high school students, and under ordinary circumstances they would not have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had nothing to say to a cop. When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel those clinging, sobbing kids off of them. This is how the little lambs feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.

Look at what happened after September 11, 2001 when the wolf pounded hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word hero?

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank God I wasn't on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.

There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but he does have one real advantage. Only one. And that is that he is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population. There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious, predatory crimes of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.

Some people may be destined to be sheep and others might be genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe that most people can choose which one they want to be, and I'm proud to say that more and more Americans are choosing to become sheepdogs.

Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, "Let's roll," which authorities believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers - athletes, business people and parents - from sheep to sheepdogs, and together they fought the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.

"There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men." - Edmund Burke

Here is the point I like to emphasize, especially to the thousands of police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn't have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.

If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior's path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.

For example, many officers carry their weapons in church. They are well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters or inside-the-belt holsters tucked into the small of their backs. Anytime you go to some form of religious service, there is a very good chance that a police officer in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such an individual in your place of worship, until the wolf appears to massacre you and your loved ones.

I was training a group of police officers in Texas, and during the break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon in church. The other cop replied, "I will never be caught without my gun in church." I asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about a cop he knew who was at a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1999. In that incident, a mentally deranged individual came into the church and opened fire, gunning down fourteen people. He said that officer believed he could have saved every life that day if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was shot, and all he could do was throw himself on the boy's body and wait to die. That cop looked me in the eye and said, "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?"

Some individuals would be horrified if they knew this police officer was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him paranoid and would probably scorn him. Yet these same individuals would be enraged and would call for "heads to roll" if they found out that the airbags in their cars were defective, or that the fire extinguisher and fire sprinklers in their kids' school did not work. They can accept the fact that fires and traffic accidents can happen and that there must be safeguards against them.

Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog quietly asks himself, "Do you have and idea how hard it would be to live with yourself if your loved ones attacked and killed, and you had to stand there helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?"

It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.

Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn't bring your gun, you didn't train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.

Gavin de Becker puts it like this in 'Fear Less', his superb post-9/11 book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with our current world situation: "...denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn't so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling."

Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level.

And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes. If you are warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be "on" 24/7, for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself...


This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other. Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.

(Find out more about Lt. Col. Grossman and 'On Combat' here, and order it from Amazon here.)

In my discussions with students, fellow instructors, and random citizens, I have heard a few different interpretations of the sheepdog idea. Some have told me that a sheepdog was the wrong animal to choose, since it is an example of control to the sheep. Others have said that the whole idea is ridiculous, since it is not their way of life to help anyone but themselves. And still others have told me that they do not believe in a "greater evil" and therefore they don't see the point in preparing for something that may never happen. To all of them I respond with this:

The sheepdog is not a literal example, it is an idea that there is something beyond letting life come to you on its terms. Being a sheepdog is not carrying a gun, stocking up on food, or going into battle - while those may be elements of a sheepdog's life, they are not what make the sheepdog. It's a lifestyle of hardwork and preparation, whether for a life and death situation or a promotion at work. It's a mindset that says I will not give up, give in, or go down without a fight; I will stick to my beliefs, take care of my family, and pursue liberty at all costs. I will help others when I can, and I will live a life of honor and integrity. Is this an idea that is being lost? Yes, I believe it is. And that is why it is so important that those of us who are willing and able continue to live the sheepdog lifestyle, and to teach our children and others who will listen about it.

As part of my sheepdog lifestyle, I do carry a firearm, but I also have a fire extinguisher in my home and vehicles, I keep medical kits as close as possible, and I have a quality spare tire in my truck. I keep extra food, extra water, spare batteries, and every other conceivable supply that I use on a daily basis, and I practice and train in every way I can. Why? Because I am ready. For what? Everything I can be. Because I am a sheepdog - let the wolves come if they dare.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gardening with a Gun: are you ready to defend your castle if needed?

I was having a conversation with one of my students a few weeks ago concerning mindset, and she mentioned that since she had begun training with me she had a new confidence about being able to defend herself. She had tried to relate this boost in confidence to a friend of hers, only to be surprised when she was meant with a very passive attitude from her friend. During a conversation about emergency preparedness, the friend had told her “Well if someone wants what I have, I’ll just give it to them.” My student left her friend a little stunned when she asked “Well what if they want to rape your daughter or kill your husband? What if they want more than you are willing to give?”

This passive outlook on self-defense is something we may all encounter from people at our jobs, our recreational outlets, even in our churches and sadly enough, even amongst out friends. Since I have become an instructor I have found that not all gun owners are ready to defend themselves – for some it is just a hobby. And as any of you who have trained with me know, simply owning or carrying a gun DOES NOT make you a sheepdog. In emergency situations it is your mindset that will save or doom you, but you can prepare before an emergency to help your mind and body react the way you need them to, and sometimes that may mean you need to be prepared to take a life in order to defend yours and your family’s. I once had a conversation with a fellow shopper in a gun store who told me "I won't need to bake bread, I'll just take bread."

To give you a better example of what I'm driving at here, I’d like to share an article with you from a woman who is a really squared away citizen. Her name is Marjory Wildcraft, and her DVD is a great investment for learning more about self-sustainment on your own land.

(The following article is reprinted with permission from author Marjory Wildcraft of Backyard Food Production.)

Well guns aren’t really that useful for digging or anything like that. But do you need a gun if you are becoming self-reliant? Let me tell you a true story that happened to me which had me re-think the whole concept of security.

Back when we were first starting to sell the DVD Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm I had a very shocking experience. When I say shocking, I mean I was really dumbfounded, and almost couldn’t speak for a long time.

I was at a local shop talking with the owner about carrying the DVD in his store. He was congenial enough, but looked me right in the eye and told me “I will never need to grow food”. I told him that you never knew what was coming and being able to grow food could be a crucial skill. He flatly told me he would never have to grow food. I asked him why, and he said “because I have this”, and from under the counter he pulled out a big black semi-automatic gun.

I stared at the gun not understanding, and I asked him ‘What do you mean?”

“Well, if anything happens” he said, “it is like this; with this gun I can get all the food I need from people like you who grow it”.

Several customers who had been listening in on the conversation agreed with the shop owner. They were ordinary looking people and I would have never guessed they would have this kind of thinking.

Now I live in Texas, which has a proud tradition of gun ownership. Buying, selling, and swapping guns is easy and legal – in fact, it is a major pastime for many Texans. And while Texas may be on the more extreme end of the spectrum, that kind of mentality exists in some form everywhere.

So I began a project of researching guns and self-defense. Within the history of recent periods it is well documented that crime and violence go up as economic conditions go down. And there certainly are scenarios where law and order break down. Having some level of defense is an important skill.

Here is a short summary of the major points and useful resources I have discovered about self-defense. One of the first things I found is gun owners are strongly opinion-ed and they rarely agree. Most of them were very friendly and offered lots of help in my process of trying to find what weapons I might need and how to use them. But be aware there is a lot of conflicting information out there.

Getting some basic training is essential. Of all the videos I’ve seen, I found the series produced by The Outdoor Channel titled “The Best Defense” to have the most useful and specific information for a novice gun owner.

Of the many trainings that are available there are some that are free or low cost. We attended an excellent training done over a weekend where they teach rifle marksmanship and an entertaining dose of revolutionary war history. The training is sponsored by a group called Appleseed. As of 2010, the course was free to women and children, and only $75 for men. They welcomed beginners and a majority of the rifles were inexpensive .22 caliber. To find an Appleseed event near you click here.

As a woman, I found that I felt comfortable with the .22LR caliber as a first handgun and rifle. Lower startup cost, relative quiet, and low recoil helped my skittish nerves and fear of these powerful new tools. As I gained more experience and got comfortable with gun safety and operation, I moved up to a 9mm handgun. Over half of all hand guns sold in the US are 9mm and with that much popularity the caliber is likely to be available as long as ammunition is available.

Another very common and versatile gun is the shotgun. By far, 12 gauge is the most widely available size. If you are only going to have one gun, I have to agree with the experts’ recommendation of the 12 gauge shotgun with a shorter barrel as an all around weapon. The first time I shot a 12 gauge it was loaded with heavy buckshot and I almost fell over from the noise and recoil and I was afraid of them for a long time. Later, a friend introduced me to low recoil rounds, and after some testing, I realized that even simple bird shot loads (which are fairly light) would be highly effective in home – or garden – defense scenarios. My 11 year old son can also handle the 12 gauge with lighter loads.

Hopefully, you and I (or my son!) will never get to the point of needing a weapon to defend our gardens and livestock. But it sure is something to think about – and prepare for. Actually, I have been finding it a lot of fun to go shooting.

(Visit Marjory’s website and sign up for her newsletter at Backyard Food Production.)

As Marjory pointed out, firearms training is essential for everyone (both novice and experienced) and the Appleseed events are a great place to start. There is sure to be one near you, so visit their website and check it out. You do need to be aware that they are more of an organized shooting event than a training course, so it’s best to seek elsewhere for personalized instruction and formal training events - such as Independence Training.

Will we ever get to the point where society will break down and we’ll need to defend our homes, our supplies, and even our lives from marauders and thugs? I don’t know – I certainly hope not. But do not fool yourself into thinking that there are not genuinely bad people out there who will take what you have and have no qualms about harming you or you family in the process. And with crime on the rise and the economy continuing in a downward spiral, knowing how to take care of yourself is becoming more important than ever. Growing your own food is certainly a way to take care of yourself, but if you decide to do it, you may consider gardening with a gun.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Self-defense is for everybody: there is no age requirement or age limit for a ready mindset

For those of us who lead the lifestyle of preparedness, the 'sheepdogs', we know how important training is to building real-world skills. But too often we forget that our family and friends need the same training as us, and we need to bring them into our way of life. Luckily for this young girl, someone in her life did just that.

Girl loads rifle to spook burglar
11-year-old ready to defend herself

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - When three teenage burglars pried open the door of a northwest Albuquerque home they had no idea they would be met by a brave little girl, police said Wednesday.

Alyssa Gutierrez, 11, took matters into her own hands Tuesday when police said when Miguel Marquez, Eduardo Zubiate and Jesus Quintana broke into her home.

Gutierrez armed herself with a loaded rifle.

"I was planning, if they came right next to me, I would shoot them," Gutierrez said.

But Gutierrez, who will start sixth grade next week, never got the chance because she'd spooked the burglars.
Gutierrez said her cousins went to run an errand around the corner from their home and were gone for a few minutes when she heard the backdoor rattle.

"I thought it was (my cousin) Zachary playing a joke on me so I just turned the TV louder and ignored it," Gutierrez said.

But on the other side of the door were the burglars who pried open the door with a crowbar. Gutierrez believes that they'd seen her cousins leave and chose to break into the home when they thought no one was there.

She said when the Marquez, Zubiate and Quintana got inside, she heard them talk about stealing guns in the home. Gutierrez and her family told KRQE News 13 that they knew one of the suspects and believed the group targeted the home to steal their guns.

"My heart kept on pounding and pounding," Gutierrez said.

She said she slid to the floor from the couch when she saw the trio, but quickly decided that hiding wouldn't do her any good because the masked intruders had seen her.

"They had a rifle so I was thinking, 'What should I do? 'What if they shoot me?'" Gutierrez said.

That's when she made a beeline for her mother's room.

"I ran back into my mom's room and grabbed her little pink rifle, and there was two bullets in there," she said.

With the loaded rifle, Gutierrez said she checked the bathroom and then the living room ready to defend herself.

She said she ran to her mother's closet and called 911.

But while Gutierrez protected her home, she had no idea the suspects had jumped the fence and that an off-duty APD officer driving passed her home had spotted them.

Police arrested the three teens and their alleged getaway driver, Abraham Bustillos, minutes after the break-in.

Gutierrez said she feels lucky because just a few days ago she had learned how to shoot a rifle.

"I felt proud of myself," Gutierrez said.


And she should be proud! More and more people these days, especially young people, have taken a frighteningly passive approach to their own preparedness - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I often hear "someone else will protect me", "that's what the cops are for", and of course my favorite "that won't ever happen to me." But it happened to this young girl, and instead of becoming another statistic, she had the mindset and the determination to come out of the fight on top. She kept her wits, analyzed her situation, and most importantly, she had a plan of action. Was she trained heavily in firearms and tactics? No - but she clearly has already chosen a ready mindset for her life.

There is no age requirement for you to begin teaching your kids about the ready mindset. How they should react to emergencies, how to stay calm, and to deal with certain situations are just a few of the topics that you can cover. Make a family night out of it - once a month, or more often, come up with scenarios to run your family through. Maybe it's a house fire or a gas leak, maybe it's a home invader or a natural disaster, or maybe it's even a medical emergency. Make it a fun activity but serious enough that it's effective training. Now repeat that training often enough to keep everyone fresh on the information or any changes in procedure. They may not find themselves in those exact situations, but teaching them ready mindset will help your family to react to any emergency, no matter where they are or what is happening.

Another angle to look at this story from is that in certain states, this brave young girl having access to firearms would be illegal. Is it legal in your state? You need to find out - and if it's not, you need to vote differently. What if this rifle had been locked up? Could she have run for it? Maybe. Would the intruders not have harmed her? Maybe. But what if she was your daughter - do you want to take that risk? I want my children, and my wife, and my friends, and my family to all be ready and able to respond to an incident like this, and I do everything I can do to transfer my training and my skills over to them. Because you may not always be there to save the day, and remember: when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Training Mindset: how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

Everyone has a different idea about training for emergencies and self-defense. Some don't think it's necessary - they'll be able to do what they need to do when they need to do it. Some train or practice every now and then, hoping that they will be able to perform under stress if and when the time comes. And others train religiously; training for them is a way of life. And no, these aren't just your SWAT team members and Navy SEALS. Real training is about more than just doing something every now and then, and it's about more than just going out and having fun. Real training is tough - it makes you sweat, it makes you bleed, and it makes you get dirty. But the skills you acquire when you're training for life, whether that's a fire drill, living off of your food reserves, or putting some serious time in with your firearms, are the skills that may one day save your life or the life of your loved ones.

I'd like to share a story with you. This story says what I am trying to say in a way that I cannot say it. It is told by Paul Gardner, USMC, and the entire story is worth reading, from start to finish, multiple times.


Please note that the purpose of this article is not to "blame" the Marine Corps for my injury, or to whine about my circumstances, but instead to impact in a positive manner all of those who go in harms way both on foreign soil (Military and Private Military Contractors) and here at home (Law Enforcement Officers and civilian sheepdogs).

I am a Wounded Warrior. I served as a Marine Rifleman during the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq some 7 years ago, and was severely wounded while engaging the enemy in a gunfight on April 12, 2003 in the city of Al Tarmiyah, a small suburb just northwest of Baghdad.

I just got back into shooting again a little more than a year ago now, and several months ago I attended a Trident Concepts Combative Carbine 1 course instructed by Jeff Gonzales. Prior to attending Jeff’s class I thought I was already extremely competent and deadly with the carbine, but I was very wrong. After completing that 3-day course I can now say with complete confidence that had I somehow been able to attend a Trident Concepts, EAG Tactical, Gunsite, or MagPul Dynamics carbine course (or similar training offered by a quality instructor) before I deployed to war back in 2003, and had been able to learn and put into practice all of the things taught in the carbine courses they offer, I would NOT have been shot in the manner in which I was on that Sunday afternoon in Iraq.

That's not to say I wouldn't have been wounded or killed later on in my deployment or in a subsequent deployment, but I would not have been shot that day and wouldn't be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of my life, which ultimately means I would’ve been able to continue taking the fight to the enemy for at least a little while longer… possibly even still to this day. For the Military and Law Enforcement Officer readers, and those who are planning on enlisting in either of those fields sometime in the future, please take a minute to let that sink in a bit.

The reason for this belief of mine is fairly simple: When I was engaged in combat the day I was wounded, I made several critical mistakes resulting either from training scars or from simply not being trained how to manipulate and fight with my rifle in the proper manner. I’m well aware that the training, tactics and procedures (TTPs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been greatly improved over the past 7 years since I was wounded, but I guarantee that they are still lacking and could continue to be improved upon. There are some things that can truly only be learned through actual combat, but in my opinion and experience there is a lot of enhanced weapons training widely available in the private sector that is simply going to waste and not being implemented in a unit's training and work-up, and should definitely be included as the "standard" in which all abide by. I believe that it will save lives and prevent a lot of men and women from being needlessly wounded or killed. However, once these skills are attained they absolutely have to be practiced on a routine basis, as gunfighting is most definitely a perishable skill.

Below is a summary of the events that I strongly feel led to my being shot that day and permanently paralyzed from the waist down. This is not an "official" After Action Review (AAR) of the entire firefight that my platoon was involved in, but rather a small look at only a few moments of combat involving just myself.

On April 12, 2003, my platoon was involved in a very well executed ambush (the receiving end, unfortunately) in the Iraqi town of Al Tarmiyah. The firefight that ensued would last an astounding 3 hours, which even today is rather uncommon. The firefight was basically my platoon -around 55 Marines- versus roughly 150+ Fedayeen Saddam Fighters, or so I was told several months afterwards. I was also later informed that we killed around 100 of the bastards that day. Thankfully we suffered no Killed In Actions (KIAs), but had several Wounded In Actions (WIAs), mostly from shrapnel from RPGs and hand grenades, with mine being the most severe injury of the day. It was because of engagements such as these that the enemy adapted and quickly learned not to go head-to-head with American forces... or suffer the consequences. Soon thereafter the insurgency began and they started using guerilla tactics, such as performing hit-and-run ambushes and placing Improvised Explosive Devices on the country's roadways to inflict casualties on our side without the grave consequences of head-to-head engagements against us.

We were initially ambushed by Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and small arms fire from enemy fighters to both our north and south, while dismounted from our Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) and pulling security in a T-shaped intersection. Soon thereafter my platoon split up and punched outward from the kill zone to take the fight to the enemy in both directions. The bad guys weren't expecting us to be so aggressive. But we were Marine Infantrymen, and they had just pissed us off. We were already aggravated as hell that all of the Abrams tanks and Cobra gunships, which were always positioned just in front of us in our column of vehicles during the march to Baghdad (for obvious reasons), had been "stealing" our kills ever since we’d crossed the border several weeks earlier, so we had literally been hoping that some bad guys would poke us with a stick and pick a fight with us.

About an hour and a half into the fight, I found myself in the backyard of a two-story residence. Five to eight enemy fighters had fled the house after our 0351 Assaultmen fired a Shoulder launched Multi-purpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) rocket into it. About five of them were using an adobe style guesthouse/storage building in the backyard as a makeshift bunker, while other fighters were positioned outside of it. When I entered the backyard, my hasty “plan” was to either find something to use as cover while I engaged the bunker, or to make entry inside the house and shoot out of a window or door. I just knew that I needed to find some cover so I could kill some of the bastards from relative safety.

As I rounded the corner of the house and entered the backyard, I immediately spotted an enemy fighter roughly 20 yards away at my 11 o'clock, low-crawling away from the bunker and dragging an AK47 with him. I assumed he was doing exactly what I was doing: trying to get into a better position to kill his enemy.

I stopped moving immediately and began engaging him. I fired at least 15 rounds at him, with most of the bullets impacting his body. Each time I scored a hit, his body let me know it by violently thrashing around. My adrenaline was pumping like crazy, which is why I continued to pummel him with rounds. I had never engaged an enemy that close before, and this was the very first time I could actually see my bullets impacting another human being's flesh. It was just such a shock to my psyche and I didn't know what else to do other than completely annihilate the threat in front of me. The only reason I quit firing is because another fighter stepped halfway out of the doorway to the bunker at my 1 o'clock and began firing wildly at me. I responded by shifting my fire over to him. I fired only 5-7 rounds at him before my bolt locked to the rear on an empty magazine. I scored 1 hit somewhere on his torso, though I have no idea where. He fell backwards into the bunker's doorway and out of my sight.

I assumed that I had taken him out of the fight for good, either by killing him or wounding him badly. However this assumption would prove to be a huge error in judgment on my part.

Since my M16A2 was “dry” and I needed to reload, I moved about 10 feet to my right. I knew that I wasn't behind any cover and was just concealed, but I thought that if anyone else came out of the bunker’s doorway they wouldn't be able to see me. Besides, I was just going to quickly reload my rifle and get back into the fight, right? Wrong.

The Marine Corps had shown me in boot camp how to reload my M16 on the rifle range, but speed reloads and tactical reloads were simply never taught. There was one instance during a training exercise before we deployed where a British Royal Marine, who was part of a team doing a training evaluation on my unit, demonstrated how to reload our rifles quickly and put the empty magazine in our cargo pocket so that we wouldn't waste time trying to put it back into our super-tight standard-issue mag pouches. Not to mention that you never want to re-insert an empty magazine into the same pouch that you are going to instinctively index your fresh magazines from. But we never once went over that or practiced it afterwards, so I didn’t retain it and my body never memorized the motions of that technique. We actually never went over or practiced doing ANY kind of reloads; it was just something you were expected to know how to do: when your weapon runs dry, you stick another magazine in it. That sounds simple, but I've discovered that it's a lot more complicated than that... especially when doing it under stress.

So, what did I do when it was time for me to reload my M16 that fateful day? I pressed the magazine release, pulled the empty magazine out of the mag well and inserted the empty magazine back into one of my mag pouches. This took a couple extra seconds to do, especially considering I was inserting it into a pretty tight pouch that already had a magazine in it. The fresh magazine in the pouch was positioned bullets-up as well, because way too many rounds would fall out of it when I tried carrying bullets down in the pouch. I'm guessing that's because the feed lips on the magazine were worn, but I knew nothing about what constituted a bad magazine back then and especially didn't know that magazines were a disposable component. After indexing a fresh magazine, I shoved it into the mag well until it seated and then finally, after at least 8 seconds, pressed the bolt release and sent another round flying into the chamber.

I was also looking down at my weapon and gear the entire time I was reloading. Thus, when I was finally done reloading and looked back in the direction of the enemy bunker only 20 yards away from me, the very same enemy fighter who I'd just shot and assumed that I had permanently put down was now standing at my 11 o’clock, at the corner of the bunker, and aiming directly at me with his AK47 assault rifle.

While I had been performing my slow and nasty reload, the Iraqi had gotten back up to his feet and stepped out of the doorway of the bunker in order to search for the American asshole who just greased his comrade and shot him too. When he didn't immediately see me in my previous location, he moved down the wall of the bunker until he spotted me standing there performing my abortion of a reload, while staring down at my weapon and gear. I had basically allowed... no, invited the bastard to get the drop on me.

It is also worth noting that I was standing in the classic “known distance” rifle range bladed stance as well, exposing the unprotected left side of my chest to the enemy. At that time the Marine Corps never taught us to square up to the target and take full advantage of our ballistic Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates. The only "standing" position that I knew of was the bladed one taught to me by my Primary Marksmanship Instructor back in boot camp, which of course is only worth a damn on the “one way range” when qualifying with the rifle during training, definitely not for use on the “two way range” in combat when wearing body armor to protect your vital organs and spinal cord. It should also be known that I was a "double-award" Expert rifleman, which means jack shit in combat.

To make matters worse, my rifle was in the Low Ready position as well, instead of keeping it pointed downrange and up in my “workspace” the entire time I was reloading. So once I sent the bolt flying home and chambered another round, I actually had to raise my rifle up in order to engage the enemy, instead of my rifle already being raised and at the Ready, pointing downrange and ready to rock following my reload.

So when I finally looked up and saw him aiming at me with his AK47, I began to raise my rifle in an attempt to put him down for good. But it was already too late. The last thing I saw was a bright muzzle flash from his AK47 as it fired a short burst of 7.62mm projectiles at me. One of those bullets impacted me just under my left armpit, in the exposed area that isn't protected by the ballistic SAPI plates, and tumbled downward through my body. After shredding my spleen (which had to be removed), puncturing and collapsing my left lung, lacerating my stomach and left kidney, and blowing out a large chunk of my vertebrae, the bullet severed my spinal cord at the T12/L1 level, which instantly and completely paralyzed me from the waist down.

There's a lot more to this story obviously, but this small piece is all that's relevant in this particular article.

The point of this story is that muscle memory obtained through repetition can be a great thing when the tactics, techniques and procedures that you're ingraining are good and effective ones. But it works both ways, meaning that, for example, if you handle certain scenarios during training in a relaxed and "administrative" fashion, then you can damn near guarantee that you will handle those scenarios in combat the same way.

For a quick summary, here are the mistakes I made in combat that I believe led to my severe injury and permanent disability:
•  Assuming I killed the bad guy with one shot to the torso area
•  Performing such a slow reload
•  Retaining my empty magazine during the middle of such an intense gunfight
•  Stowing an empty magazine in the same location as my fresh magazines
•  Looking down at my weapon while reloading instead of downrange in the direction of the threat(s)
•  Having my rifle in the Low Ready while reloading
•  Standing bladed and not taking advantage of the protection that my ballistic plates offered

If you are currently in the military, a law enforcement officer, a Private Military Contractor or even just a civilian sheepdog, I strongly believe it would behoove you to get some advanced weapons training outside of your unit or department. Everything I learned in just the first day of the Trident Concepts Combative Carbine 1 course easily could've helped to prevent the wound that I needlessly sustained... I say that with complete and utter confidence.

If you do decide to attend a weapons training course, be sure to take lots of notes and pictures at your class so that you can go back to your unit or department and spread the knowledge to your fellow brothers-in-arms. If you are a squad leader, you have an obligation to ensure that your young Marines or Soldiers can perform speed reloads quickly, know when and where not to retain, how and when to perform a tactical reload, etc. Practice these things until they become second nature and fluid movements; part of that good ol' muscle memory.

When you attend good courses given by quality companies like those mentioned earlier, these things are taught to you, and they are taught for a reason. These tactics, techniques and procedures are taught this way in order to prevent deaths and injuries like mine. So pay attention and learn in class so that you don't get schooled in the middle of a gunfight instead, like I did.

Oh and just so you know, the oxygen thief who shot me, along with all of his Fedayeen buddies inside the bunker, was obliterated shortly thereafter with lots of 5.56, a few 40mm High Explosive grenades and fragmentation grenades, and last but not least, one of their very own RPGs that they kindly left behind for us to use against them.

Semper Fidelis!!


Train, Train, Train!! And never give up!

I'm grateful to Paul for allowing me to post his story here, and we should all thank our Veterans every chance we get for their service and sacrifice. And while you may never be a Marine in Iraq, or a police officer in downtown L.A., you do want to be a sheepdog, and as such you need to be ready for anything. How you train is how you'll fight.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.