When I showed up to take my Atlas Defense responsible defense course Saturday morning, I had no idea what to expect. I assumed I would be engaging in one-way firing modules with Atlas trainers pointing out areas of opportunity. My lack of enthusiasm was the perfect set-up for what was to come.
The first part of the morning we went over firearm basics such as grip and stance. All of Atlas Defense’s instructors are veteran law enforcement or military. They’re highly specialized and trained veterans that were involved in special teams in their field and now train civilians to defend themselves.
The instructors offered a wealth of information I hadn’t learned before. I’ve worked with instructors who’ve painstakingly helped me overcome shooting issues such as eye dominance and recoil anticipation. These guys were the real deal: men who’ve killed people in the line of duty, instructors who’ve served in the scariest places on earth. Right there, I was sold, but I still had no idea what was coming.
Next, we went out to a staged shooting bay where Atlas had set up a shooting station for basic pistol training.
First thing I noticed was a large box positioned to the right of the bay that looked like one of those makeshift haunted houses you see pop up during Halloween. In the classroom, they’d mentioned something about a box. They told us it would be the crescendo of the day, but it just didn’t register in my brain. First, though . . .
We started out with dry fire drills to determine each shooter’s level of experience. We quickly moved from single shots, to double taps, to the Mozambique drill (two to center mass, one to the head).
I brought my .45 STI International 1911 with a three-inch barrel; it’s my everyday carry gun. This is by far my favorite conceal carry gun, even though the caliber and shorter barrel make me punchy when managing the recoil. The instructor pointed out that I was anticipating the shot causing me to shoot slightly low.
He secretly loaded my first shot with a “dummy round.” So I saw the anticipation in full view. “Relax your right hand and support the right hand with your left.” Sometimes instructors over-complicate a very simple answer just as the shooter over-complicates the solution. The difference between working with this caliber of professional is immediately recognizable.
I’d planned to leave early. It was looking like I would have to skip “The Box.” I wasn’t too worried, though, because I’d already learned some useful shooting tips. I was feeling more confident than before. But before I could smoothly exit, Scott (Atlas’s owner) came over and said all he needed was twenty minutes. Then I could be on my way.
For some reason, I was imagining walking into a life-size version of Pokemon Go. A Marine and assault team member named Tracy Carrol came over to prepare me to enter the box.
“You’re home alone and on the first floor when you hear glass shattering in the other room, you are going to investigate” he said.
First thing I saw when I walked in the room: the reflection of long blonde hair and tight jeans. I was extremely confused to say the least. Atlas used the female decoy to confuse the shooter. Supposedly, most participants would have an issue shooting a female. She wasn’t threatening to me. So, for a few seconds, I just watched her rummage through my supposed things.
“Who are you” I asked and as she turned she quickly reached for her gun tucked into her hip. In an instant my confusion flew out the window.
Even though I shot at her reflection in a controlled environment, the thought of shooting at a human being stunned me. I only shot at her once because she dropped to the floor, but the adrenaline was surging through my veins.
This is as real as it’s going to get, I thought, this is battle.
Although I was shaken by what had just happened, I felt prepared for my next scenario. The female assailant was a surprise, but didn’t rattle me to my core.
“You’re walking in a dark parking garage and you’re by yourself,” Tracy said. “You’re trying to get to your car.”
As I rounded the corner I saw a man’s reflection standing in front of me, staring in my direction. He started calling my name “Liberte. Liberte why don’t you respond to my Facebook posts” he was saying. “Liberte, I love you!” he yelled.
I can’t describe what was happening to me at this point in a way that would do it any justice. I was terrified. The guys at Atlas Defense tailored a “real life scenario” so terrifying to me personally that I was overcome with fear.
In an instant the situation escalated, as the decoy reached for his gun, all I could do was unload my weapon on him.
I was completely captivated by the moment. I felt like it had really just happened. Tracy and Wes could see I was upset. They took my weapon from my hand. I couldn’t hear them speaking to me. I was so overcome with emotion I began to cry.
For the record, I’m not the type of person who cries often. It was as if my worst nightmare had suddenly become “real.” So many years of playing scenarios out in my mind, training with targets, hunting animals could not prepare me for that. The act of taking a human life — even as a simulation — is much more devastating than I could ever imagine.
After taking the course, my respect for firearms went from 100 to 1000. Every gun owner should try this. You can train, you can watch videos, you can read books. Until you’re actually faced with a real life situation and learn how to react, however, all of that means nothing.
The Atlas training is especially beneficial for women; we tend to be more trusting by nature. In a split second someone could end our lives and there is no time to hesitate. Reaction in a survival situation is an instinct and it’s absolutely necessary to perfect. Or as close as possible.
When you find yourself in the middle of a defensive gun use, trust your instincts, allow yourself to get caught up in the moment without over analyzing it. We, armed Americans, must treasure life and be prepared to take a life responsibly — not with hatred or anger.
The Atlas Defense training emphasized some of the repercussions of killing and the lasting effects it will have on one’s life. Instead of the usual kill-now-think-later mentality, these men were encouraging people not to kill if you can possibly avoid it.
As a civilian, it seems so easy to make a split second decision to take a life in self-defense. For these men, however, killing was apart of their jobs and probably the thing that will continue to haunt them.
I walked away from Atlas Defense’s box with a new appreciation for armed self-defense. I don’t believe I could have gained that anywhere else without the benefit of the experience and the lives these men have led. Going forward I feel that I’m much more prepared to handle a real life situation than I was before. I’m truly grateful for the experience.