One thing that military and Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) share, as well as civilians who carry for personal defense, is the need for target discrimination. Considering the civilian perception of LEOs recently, it has never been more critical that an officer properly identifies his or her target. In the military, we train hard to ensure that non-threats are not engaged. Our operating environment is very different regarding threat assessment and rules of engagement. What constitutes a threat on deployment may not constitute a threat here in the states for our LEO brothers and sisters. Generally speaking, we are probably better trained in this regard, depending on the military specialty and due to the time we have to devote to it, but your actions are held to a much higher level of scrutiny by the public. Even when it is a good choice, which is 99% of the time. In the military we don’t have to worry about our actions being blasted all over the American media with every possible aspect analyzed by some arm chair expert sitting behind a desk with a microphone in their ear.
I am no expert in how police forces train either. I have seen some of the training on the flat range by a few LEOs and it is only setting up the officer for failure. Hopefully some of the experience and insight I can provide will help explain how military Special Operations Forces (SOF) conduct training and allow us the time to assess a threat while still allowing us the ability to take the life of a bad guy before they can take ours.
Before I moved into a more specialized assault role the majority of target ID was explained by saying, “if they are a threat, shoot them, if not, don’t.” Once I was fortunate enough to attend high level CQB training, it was explained much more in depth and broken down so that the mental process of identification could allow me to be successful.
One of the things that our unit does well is incorporate a sports psychologist into our training section who shows us and our instructors how to do this effectively. A lot of our training cues incorporate three words that get us from threat to decision to action very well. The method that they came up with was the hands, aim, shoot (HAS) phrase. It’s very effective and literally as simple as it sounds.
When you have a potential target one of the common mistakes is looking at “them” by means of the face or center mass. We do this because that’s how we normally train at the flat range. We step up to the line knowing that we are going to take a chest shot or a head shot ahead of time, and effectively cut out any decision making process that we could be using to train for the real world more effectively. There is a place for this in marksmanship training, but we have to remember that it is only training marksmanship and not target ID.
In a job like ours, where this is a critical, no-fail component, it has to be incorporated into training once the marksmanship component has been established. When we conduct training on the flat range it should be to prepare us for the tasks we will be faced with when we leave it. A Team Sergeant of mine, who I look up to very much, told me one time, “the mission drives task org.” He was right, and it made me think. Mission does drive our task organization, but it also drives a lot more. It drives physical training, job training, range training, and anything else we do to prepare for our jobs and mission at hand. Our flat range training should incorporate some aspect that prepares us for what we will face when we are on mission or working our shift.
To accomplish this, we use a lot of different types of cartoon/realistic targets on the range. When we start to remember which target is a threat and not one, we cover up the guns or paste something on them which make them a non-threat, which emphasizes our need to identify threats, not just recognize targets. In addition to using them in shoothouses, we use them in drills that incorporate target presentation. Pie-ing off windows, barriers, movement in width where they present around the corner of a barrier, or turning drills like the el-Prez.