I attended a firearms training course (Magpul Dynamics Dynamic Carbine 1 & 2) for the first time in 15 years from November 6th through the 8th. As most of you know I am former military and former law enforcement. For much of my twelve years in the U.S. Navy, I was a Combatant Craft Crewman in a Naval Special Warfare Boat Unit and a Military Police Patrolman. Firearms are tools of those trades, and just as I still have and use the tools that I used when I made a living as an electronic alarm technician, I still have and use the tools I used back then. Also, I think it’s fair to say that my current firearms hobby is my version of a mid-life crisis. It reminds of the good ol days when I could run and jump and do things that I just can’t do any more. The difference though is that, unlike a shiny new Corvette, my hobby can help keep my family safe during a whole different kind of crisis. Hurricane Katrina opened my eyes to the reality of just what can, will and obviously has happened when the basic building blocks of society breaks down (even if for only a few days). Another factor that led me to participate in this training is the change in my physical ability since an October 2000 vehicle crash. I have worked long and hard to rehabilitate my broken body to be able to do the physical activity required to participate in a rigorous training program. I also felt that I needed to know what my physical limitations were/are so that in the event I find myself in a situation to need to use these tools for real, I will have a much better chance of survival. I will get into some of the lessons learned concerning physical ability later in this review.
Anyway, now that I have explained my motivation for taking this course, let me get to the review of the course. As one can imagine, finding a location ideally suited to this type of training is difficult to say the least. We were very fortunate to have a couple of guys from BayouShooters.com who did a great job of organizing this event and even more so to have Tommy and Joe Wong who allowed us to use their very fine private range facilities in Robert LA. The amount of preparation and hospitality was over the top. I will be referring to some of this preparation and hospitality later in this review.
I have been through a LOT of firearms training programs in my life and I was bracing myself for the kind of “my way or the highway” format that has been the hallmark of the vast majority of training I have attended. I was pleasantly surprised by the very down to earth, fact based instruction provided by Chris Costa, Travis Haley & Mike Lamb. Their lack of ego was surprising given their backgrounds (I had to google the names as I didn’t know until after I had signed up for the class just how extensive those backgrounds are). These guys truly do live (or at the very least train) by their motto; “Reality. Efficiency. Consistency.” The weapons handling techniques that they teach are aimed at helping their students live by those principles as well. They show the student the technique, then it is up to the student to try it and decide if it works for them or not. If a person is truly honest with their self and gives the technique a fair shake, it is very unlikely that it won’t work better for them. That is not to say that a student might not happen to have a better way. That was one of the things that just simply amazed me about the Magpul Dynamics instructors. During our lowlight/night shoot, there was a suggestion made by one of the students. Travis thought about it for a second and decided that they would see about getting a helicopter and give the suggestion a try, if it proved superior the new way will be implemented not only into the training program, but also into any future operations that the instructors may be a part of. THAT to me was VERY impressive. It showed me (and I’m sure many others present) that when these instructors say that they are only interested in what works the best, they mean it.
I am not going to go into all of the weapons handling techniques that are part of the course. There are several very good reviews of these courses that do a great job of breaking down the mechanics of this course. Brannon LeBouef of NOLATAC did one such review. Efficient motion drives every technique, as well as gear choices and placement. When done well the result is more accurate rounds on target in a shorter time. These techniques take into account our body’s natural response to what they call “body alarm reaction”. As Brannon LeBouef of NOLATAC pointed out in his review, “their techniques work in conjunction with your body’s natural reactions instead of against them.” I couldn’t have said it better myself… so I didn’t.
During this training I experienced a few things concerning my personal mindset, physical ability and gear. Some I had feared I would, and some that I had hoped I would. I will share the realizations that these experiences have brought even though some of them are a bit embarrassing. I do so in the hope that anyone who has never experienced these things, be they the realization of a failure point, or of a better than expected performance, find a training program that fits them and do so. As Travis said so many times during the three days we trained with them, “if you do not fail you aren’t training hard enough”.
My ability to actually finish this course without injuring myself again was my biggest concern going in. I had to find my limitations and I did so. In many ways I was pleasantly surprised that at 325+ lbs I could move pretty well and my back was holding up well. At the same time though, it was obvious that if I were going to able to be truly effective in a firefight, I would need to get into better shape. This was never more apparent than when I was trying to shoot reaction side, modified urban prone (fetal) behind the front wheel while trying to shoot a target from under the front of a Jeep Wrangler. I was flopping around out there like a fish out of water. My belly (while certainly beautiful in it’s Buddha like glory) literally got in my way at times. It made shooting prone quite difficult, and while trying to perform the above-mentioned technique my knees were pushing my belly into my lungs and I could barely breath. That is just simply unsat! I have my work cut out for me in this area to be sure.
The biggest thing that I took from this course was that if that had been a real firefight I might not have survived due to my lack of physical conditioning and my gear issues. My mindset was/is pretty good with the exception that I realize now that it was my mindset that allowed me to kid myself about my physical ability. I do move pretty damned good for a 325lb + guy, but that is exactly what allowed me to kid myself that I would be able to handle myself in a bad situation. My speed on target and accuracy suffered from being arm weary after a few hours of training also. Although, carrying a SIG556 SWAT with a TA11 ACOG optic (several pounds heavier than my Colt 6920) didn’t help either. I will get to the drama that ensued when I switched to my Colt 6920 soon enough.
As for gear issues, there were several. Right away I had an issue with the vest that I had bought on a whim. I had bought the vest with the notion that I could load it up and hang it in the closet. Then, if I ever did need to use these tools, I could just grab the pistol and carbine out of the safe, put on the vest and go. When I got out to the range and began to don all of this stuff it occurred to me that the vest was overkill for my situation. I will likely still load it up and hang it in the closet, sort of like a bail out kit of sorts. However, the Blade Tech AR-15/M16 Kydex Magazine Holders that were loaned to me were the best way I seen to handle the extra magazines. I will be buying some as soon as I remember that I need to when I have the time to order online.
Some of my gear issues were simple fixes such as switching to the Magpul ASAP sling mount from the Midwest Industries MCTAR-13. The MCTAR-13 is solid and easy to install, but binds/fouls up when switching from weapon hand to reaction hand shooting. The ASAP is a bit more involved to install, but it minimizes the binding/fouling problem. I also switched to a Magpul MS2 sling from a Blackhawk Storm single point sling. I bought the MS2 for it’s ability to convert to a two-point sling very quickly and because during the training the Blackhawk sling was hanging much too low and I couldn’t get it to adjust any tighter. The Blackhawk Storm might just need some adjustment that I didn’t have the time to look into while training, because it is otherwise a damned fine sling.
I had optics issues damned near the entire time but it had little to do with the optic itself (ACOG TA11) and much to do with my having set it up while employing a stance that was significantly different than the stance that I adopted. The instructors helped me prove to myself that the Magpul Dynamics stance is far superior. However, in changing my stance so substantially, I had a difficult time getting my sight picture. I had to move the mount position of the optic in order to get my sight picture. I not only moved it, I switched it from the SIG556 to the Colt 6920 and back. I bought the ACOG TA11 due to it’s generous eye relief, yet even the 2.4 inches of eye relief was not enough to overcome having it mounted in the wrong place. I never did have the time to get it dialed in after that and had to aim a foot to the right of my target to hit the combat effective zone at 50 yards.
That leads us to the most dramatic Gear failure of all. Once I had determined that I would need to move the ACOG on my SIG (and therefore would need to re-zero it) I decided that I would mount it on my much lighter Colt 6920. The SIG556 was heavier by nearly four pounds than the 6920, so I decide to give the Colt a go. I switched the ACOG to the Colt and got on the firing line. The drill was firing from the urban prone, weapon side position. We loaded and made ready and I waited for the threat command. When the threat command came I went into the urban prone position and fired. On the second round the upper receiver blew apart. It took a few seconds for me to get oriented and realize what had just happened. I checked to see that there wasn’t another round in the chamber and raised my hand to let Travis know there was a problem. Travis was already on the way as he said that he thought that I was on fire from all of the smoke that was rising from me. There was a medic who checked me out real good to ensure that some shrapnel hadn’t penetrated my skin anywhere without my being aware of it. I sustained only minor injuries (a bruise on the left forearm and some flash burn to the face). After the medic gave me the green light I went to my Pathfinder and got my SIG556 back out. I put the ACOG back on it and got back on the firing line.
As I told my wife and my mother, who were both incredulous at my nonchalant attitude towards this incident, it couldn’t have happened at a better time and place. The safety brief each morning consisted of details such as showing a cell phone on a table with a written script that included physical address of the range, directions and descriptions to and of the site from the road and from the air. Latitude and longitude coordinates that were taken the last time a Police helicopter used the facility for a training exercise. There were first responders with their Sheriff’s Department and State Trooper units with comms and even a medic on site. This was one of the things I was referring to earlier when I said that the organization of the two guys who set up this event was first rate.
Lessons learned from that event? Well, safety gear is a must. This could happen at any time. My eyes were definitely saved by quality eye protection and long sleeves that at least kept my forarm from being burnt as well protected my arm. Also, had this happened during a firefight, I would likely have been shot. A few seconds is an eternity under fire, and I was disoriented for at least a couple of seconds.
The 6920 is on its way to Colt Manufacturing for analysis as of this posting. I will certainly post the results of the analysis as well as the resolution when that information is available. I would appreciate it if the wild guesses as to the cause of this failure were withheld until Colt Manufacturing has had a chance to check it out. I will give a few facts that will help to keep the conjecture to a minimum. The barrel was clear before and after the event and the ammo used was factory XM193. I don't know if the brass was ejected, it appeared to be, however, there could have been part of the brass case left in the chamber, I was too busy trying to get back to training to check, then the gun went via FEDEX to Colt before I had the chance to check because I was trying to catch up on all of the work I had neglected while out running and gunning.
I had a great time at this training course. I learned a lot about my gear and myself. We had lunches brought to the site (another over the top aspect of the hospitality of the Wong brothers), which allowed us more time shooting and learning. We all went to dinner together at the Wong’s restaurants (4 stars for a reason) Friday and Saturday night and we all got along well. Chris, Travis and Mike were a just awesome. They answered questions and gave advise during breaks, at lunch and even at dinner. Chris Costa became ill Friday night and spent much of the rest of the weekend at the hotel. I hope he is feeling better as he looked pretty sick still on Sunday. I WILL attend an advanced Dynamic carbine course in the future. I would very much have liked to sign up for the one they are doing at the same site in March, but I have too many failure points to work on to be able to get the most from the class that soon after this one. For anyone who is looking for a carbine training course that WILL make you a better (or at least a more efficient) shooter, look no further.
Here are a few pictures of the training and of my Colt 6920 post failure. The fat dude with the beard is me.