Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Are You Good Enough?

I’ve always believed in a little external motivation, so now and then I take to YouTube and look at motivational speeches.  One person in particular I enjoy listening to is Eric Thomas.  He has some speeches where he talks about being “allergic to average” and hating “good”. Click here to see one video where ET talks about this.  I love this because I’ve always believed you should strive for better than just average, but he takes it a step further by basically saying good isn’t good enough.  So what I’m talking about could apply in all aspects of life, but I’m going to focus on shooting.  

I’ve never been one to just rest on my laurels with most things when I felt like I was good.  I always wanted to be better.  This goes back to when I was a young Infantry squad leader wanting to learn how other squad leaders ran certain drills.  Even though I was confident in my techniques, I wanted to know how others did it.  I went out of my way to build a relationship with the range control guys who ran the shoot house on Fort Bragg just so I could weasel my way up on the catwalk to see other squads run the shoot house.  For those of you unfamiliar, you’re typically only allowed a certain amount of people on the catwalk during live fire as per safety regulations.  Even years later when I was deployed with some higher tier units, I was so excited just to get the opportunity to work with them in a close quarters environment just to see how they did it.  Just as I suspected, it wasn’t very different from what I had done all those years ago as an Infantry squad leader in 2 Panther.  

Now here I am with a little over two years left in the Army until I can retire.  I’ve served my whole career in Infantry and Special Operations.  I’ve been a student of marksmanship and tactics both on and off duty.  One might think I know most of what there is to know.  Wrong.  Especially with the explosion of “instructors” out there and the competition world getting stronger, there are more and more folks learning and teaching different things.  I want to know it.  Fortunately I do have enough experience  to filter what works and what doesn’t, or what works for me specifically.  

Most of what I’m going to speak about here comes from DVDs and books, and I realize they aren’t the optimal way to learn tactics or to shoot.  Sometimes they may be your best or only option.  I am a believer that if you have a solid base you can absolutely get better from them.  As it relates to shooting though, just don’t expect to only read or watch material and get that much better without taking some action.  

I’ve been forcing Mike Seeklander to be my mentor for some time now.  Mike has several books and DVDs on his website Shooting Performance.  I recently had the opportunity to review his “Your Defensive Rifle Training Program” book.  Again, this is a topic I should know all about.  The issue is, I want to know more.  If I can read his book and 95% of it is stuff I know, but I can pull 5% of it out as useful knowledge that will make me better then I’m winning.  Don’t get me wrong, Mike Seeklander has an impressive background that I should be able to learn from (except for that Marine thing).  So choosing him as a source to learn from is easy with his depth of tactical and competition experience.  

JJ Racaza is a competitive shooter that has also recently released a DVD titled “Speed Shooting” from Paladin Press.  I downloaded it as well.  This DVD is an awesome start at mastering the basics and I would recommend it to anyone.  Another example of something that I knew probably 90% of the material, but with that extra 10% I gained……..”winning!” 

I liken this to competition shooters that will shave every ounce off their guns they can just to make them lighter.  They know the smallest details will give them the edge in competition.  I want to know those small details that will give me the edge either in a tactical environment or a competitive environment.  So my recommendation to you is to get off your high-horse if you’re on one and try to learn more.  Don’t always take for granted knowledge you might gain by saying to yourself, “ehh….I already know that stuff”.  Get out there and don't let good be good enough.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Alive Day

Alive Day......where do I start with this one. I think the best way to start with this one is by sharing a post from my good friend Dan Metzdorf, because Alive Day is his. Now we are going to share "Alive Day" with everyone.

"My meaning (not websters) of the term "Alive Day" - the day (Jan 27th 2004) I was wounded in combat and the only reason I am Alive today is because of the calm heroism of Tony Southard and his Ace Ventura driving abilities, fast action of George Barbee and his medics stripping me naked and making sure my "package" was still intact, the incredible surgeon Big Rich Ellison and his forward surgical team watching me whine over the IV needle, Dr Ledford and her team in Germany that managed the close calls, and the awesome staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

But for those of you that know me, thats not the only reason I am alive today. These 11 years have been tough to say the least, after the experts put me back together physically other wounds emerged. These wounds people dont see and dont want to see either. These wounds arent in movies or shown on Facebook. These wounds arent sexy and cool. You wont get a hand shake or a free beer at a bar with these wounds. These wounds crushed me, drove me to a darkness unfathomable. These wounds were healed by love! I love living life and for that I thank you all and love you."

The night of January 27th, 2004 would become a rough night for most of us. We were in Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Probably the greatest group of men I've served with in my over 17 years of service across the tiers. That night would be the first loss of life in combat for us. We had been dropped into Iraq off-loading CH-47s onto Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalsu just 10 days prior. We had just returned from Afghanistan a few months prior to getting the call to Iraq. FOB Kalsu at that time was pretty new and only contained what amounted to an Infantry company and a MP platoon. We were given humvees to operate with. These were unarmored "soft-skin" humvees. Keep in mind that Improvised Explosive Devices (I.E.D.) had not been the threat they would become at that time. We hadn't really trained much for mounted operations, so we learned as we went and relied on the experience of our Delta Company folks that were used to being mounted. The night of the 24th 1st platoon would go out and conduct some drivers training on the Main Supply Route (MSR). I was back at the FOB, can't remember what I was up to. I don't remember the time, but we heard the explosion. Immediately we were concerned because it was close. Soon the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) came alive.

Word of the worst kind started coming in. I'm not going to go into great detail about the events of that night in this forum for my own reasons. What we would come to find out was that six of our people were around an IED when it went off. We lost three of them immediately. 2nd LT Luke James (1st Platoon Platoon Leader), SGT Cory Mracek (1st Platoon Forward Observer), and SSG Lester Kinney (Delta company) were all lost that night. Injured were Dan, SSG Robert Jepsen, and SPC Jamie O'Connell.

Aid Station at FOB Kalsu
What you need to know is that thanks to the efforts of Tony Southard and the 1st Platoon Paratroopers, no more lives were lost that night. Dan was injured the worst of the three and Tony took quick action to rally the troops and get them all back. Dan and Jamie were put in the back of an open top cargo humvee and Jepsen rode back secured to the hood while others stayed to secure the site. I was there when the vehicles arrived to the aid station and things didn't look good. Just one of the several memories seared into my mind from that night and the coming days. The efforts of everyone involved and our medical folks were amazing. It seemed like forever, but in reality it probably didn't take that long for the MEDEVAC bird to get there. The rest of us were just helping out any way we could. I was on one end of the stretcher carrying Jepsen to the MEDEVAC.

I'll just tell you, putting your comrades on a helicopter knowing the state they're in and watching it fly away isn't a good feeling. On one hand you have faith in God and the medical personnel that will take care of them, but on the other you're worried you'll never see them again. Dan was the worst of the three and his condition was part of what left the knot in my stomach that night. The other was that, here it was 10 days into our deployment and we lost three brothers. More so than ever, it was game on.
Dan in recovery
Dan being Dan
If you know Dan, you know he has personality for days. I had known Dan for awhile before this happened. Knowing his big personality and constant humor, my thoughts that night were "I never wish this on anyone, but if it's going to happen to anyone...at least I know Dan can handle it." I guess that was my way of coping with the worry for my friend.

Dan and Robert were taken back to Germany where they could get the medical attention they needed. Through conversations with Dan's surgeon, the phrase "alive day" was born. Since that time Dan has had some struggles as he stated above in his post. Every year, on the anniversary of the events that took place that night is Dan's "alive day". Those of us who know him have come to know that. It's a phrase that's stuck.

Robert Jepsen on the left looking to his left, and Dan on the right with the cane.
This was at Pope AF Base on our return from Iraq.   We wanted them to come out
to the plane and lead the formation walking back in.  It was important and meant a lot
to everyone involved.  There's no feeling like arriving back home and being able to
see our friends alive and well made it that much more special.
Talking to Dan after our return from Iraq

Fast forward to this year's "alive day". I had just recently ordered some patches for my company, so patch ideas where in my head. I hit up Dan in a message and brought up the idea of making a patch. From there our ideas began to spread like a wild fire. "Alive Day" was not born, but officially branded. We brainstormed the logo quite a bit and based off our ideas came up with what now is the logo.

So our idea is to bring "Alive Day" to everyone. To make it mean something to everyone. As we brainstormed it we came up with many more examples of what "Alive Day" could mean for others. Of course most military guys can get the concept. Their "Alive Day" could be a day that they survived an IED blast as well, lost a friend, survived a gunshot, on and on. But "Alive Day" could also be applied to cancer survivors. It could be the day the doctor told them they were cancer free. It could apply to someone that survived a car wreck, overcame a life threatening illness or injury, or any other "close call". It could also be they day of someone's divorce decree from an abusive relationship, the day someone got out of jail and declared they would start a new life, the day someone kicked an addiction, the day someone retires. It could be every day for those that are just thankful to be alive every day.

We want to spread the concept of "Alive Day" and give everyone something they can identify with. And through products they'll have a gentle reminder to "Remember the fight, and honor the memories".

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Range Time: Are you being effective or wasting ammo?

I can and probably will write more than one post on things I see at the range that make me wonder what people are thinking at times.  Let me start by saying though, I applaud people for just getting out and going to the range and shooting in a safe manner enjoying themselves.  I don't want to be the person standing in the corner of the gym talking about the overweight person you see in there, at least they are there is usually my thought.  Same with the range.  

Many times I see people go shoot and just throw a target up and see how many holes they can put in it.  Zombie targets are popular for that.  Not everyone needs to be a bullseye shooter, but if you're going to shoot make sure you are accountable for where your rounds hit.  I like Larry Vickers slogan of "Speed is fine, Accuracy is final".  You don't have to take the fun out of it, just ensure you have some training value included.  

If you're someone trying to improve your skills either for defensive or competition shooting, make sure you have some goals and a way to judge how effective your training is.  I have to give Mike Seeklander of Shooting Performance credit for showing me the way to be more effective at the range through his books on competition and defensive shooting.  He introduced me to keeping a log book.  I now always record times and different data to judge if I'm getting better.

So here I'll give you some of what I use at the range and my recommendations:

First, have a plan prior to going to the range.  Know what skills and/or drills you want to work before you go.  The night before is a good time to figure that out.  If you're going with a friend/friends, work that out with them so everyone is on the same page.  Also, do some dry fire in preparation.  When it comes to keeping good records and judging progress, you can't do different drills every time at the range.  There are hundreds of great drills out there, but I recommend narrowing it down to as few drills as possible while still working all the skills you need.  Use drills that work different skills within if possible.  If you continually use different drills it will be hard to go back and look at times or accuracy measures to see if you're improving.  

Always have a log book.  To start out, just use a notebook and write down things as you go.  Keep detailed records.  Write down at a minimum, the drill, misses/hits, times and the date.  It's best if you can record more data like split times, weather, equipment used, and a more detailed analysis as well as things you found you need to work on.  This can help drive your dry fire sessions between range time.  Later as you narrow your drills down you can create your own logbook using excel if you like.  You can record in your notebook at the range and then just enter the data later.

As for equipment, I always take my GoPro so I can film myself for critiques later.  I have a tripod I use to get it up to the level I need it.  The wide view of the GoPro is great for not having to worry too much about setting up a shot properly.  You can also put the footage in slow motion later to really see things like trigger squeeze and recoil control.  If you want to improve, a shot timer is crucial.  I use a CED 7000 and have been pretty happy with it.  Of course you want to have plenty ammo to conduct your drills.  I shouldn't have to mention bring your mag pouches and whatnot.  Just ensure the equipment you're using fits your goals.  If you're working defensive drills with your carry gun, then wear your concealable holster and a cover garment.  It does bother me when I see civilians always shooting with plate carriers and battle belts.  Train as you would fight applies even to when you may get caught in a mall shooting.  

Of course have some cleaning and lubrication items and tools.  I always have a Multitasker tool on hand at the range if needed.  Other little things like a speed loader and items for targetry.  I often just use cheap paper plates for targets and use a black marker to put an aiming point in the center.  Some pasters to paste target holes as I go.  The reactive targets are great for shooting at distance and being able to see where you hit.  I now have a handy red folding "wagon" that's great for just throwing everything in and pulling into the range.

One thing you won't see in these pics is that I'm wearing a type of heart monitor that will evidently give me some good feedback on stress levels and whatnot.  I have the fortune of working with some great sports psychologists and they've taken an interest in letting me use some of their gear while I shoot and giving me some feedback.  I have to keep a detailed timeline of what I'm doing so when they download the data they'll be able to give me quality feedback.  I'm also being their guinea pig for a new system they have, but I don't mind.  I welcome the opportunity to get better.  

It's a little more work to prepare this much for the range, but in the end it's worth it.  If you want to be successful and you have a "why" for going to the range, ensure you're being effective in your training.  Ammo isn't cheap anymore, make sure you're not wasting it or your time.  Any questions, reach out to me.  I'm more than happy to chat about it.