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Liberte Austin at Atlas Defense training (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

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.

Liberte Austin facing down a bad guy (courtey The Truth About Guns)

“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.

Liberte Austin after-action briefing (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

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.

Liberte Austin is a 2nd amendment advocate, hunter, fisherman and writer. Click here to visit her Facebook page. Click here for her Instagram page.

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  1. Good write-up. But where was this done? Atlas doesn’t even list the state they are in on their website!

  2. The use of mirrors is pretty darn cool. If I’m ever in Austin I’ll look these guys up.

  3. This is some of the first “shoot house” training that looks really new in the last couple of decades.

    For those of us who haven’t been in Texas in the summer, how is the weather in June/July/August, when it seems as tho many of their classes are held?

  4. That can’t be a normal glass mirror. I wonder what reflective surface they’re using. What great training to use your own correctly loaded gun on what appears to be a real person. Without having to threaten a real person. Always had a hard time with “simulations” like simunitions or airsoft. Or worse, blanks. Having your real loaded gun in tailored scenarios with the appearance of real people not in paintball masks sounds great.

    • It is the patent pending reflective targeting system created by our partner Troysgate. It is layered, heat treated mylar and is 8% more reflective than a mirror. The bullets pass thru into a berm. The ultimate in realism.

  5. Looks like a must try when I move to Austin in August. The ability to really train in the highest of stress situations sounds extremely appealing. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. In spite of the flip keyboard commando types that frequent this site shooting at another person is not easy. I never want to have to do it again.

    But i don’t want myself or my loved ones to be victims so I keep the tools handy.

    I don’t recall crying the first time but would not be surprised if a buddy said I did. I know I got the shakes so bad I had to sit for a while. One of my buddies said it looked like I was a dog trying to shit a peach pit.

  7. Pretty interesting.

    Thanks for your blunt account of your actions and emotions.

    Anyone who’s who has been through a life/death orderal (car wreck, gunfight, knife) know what 110 octane adrenaline feels like.

    They also know what it feels like as the adrenaline dumps eases up.

    Good article.

  8. I’ve taken this class. They use a patent-pending Mylar-type material that is like 8 or 10 percent more reflective than a regular mirror. The bullets go right through it into the dirt berm behind the box. The targets end up with lots of holes in them, but when your in there you don’t even notice the holes… Only the bad guy. Or girl. Very intense.

  9. I fear that it might be difficult for me to even shoot at a reflection when I think about it. If I know it’s not really a bad guy I mean. Don’t know ’till I try though. Maybe Austin is a place for a vacation after all.

  10. I did a course with them earlier this year. Very good; the illusion that you are facing a bad guy is uncanny. On one hand, it’s not like usual shoot house FoF classes, in that you are never at risk of actually getting shot (i.e., no “pain penalty” for screwing up), but on the other hand you use your carry rig, your regular ammo, and no padding/face shields/etc. beyond traditional range eye/ear pro.

    The thing I really took away from it was from theñ after action debriefings. They had dropped me into one “hot” situation where I had to react very quickly and deal with an active shooter. Immediately after the situation was ended, the trainers asked me why I had decided to take the shot, how many shots I had fired, etc. I was still so adrenalized that I truthfully had to say “I don’t know.” The video review showed that It was clearly a “good” shoot (heck, I even managed to keep moving as I engaged and put four rounds into the perp’s center mass), but it really brought home to me the reality of something I’d been taught — after a shoot, do NOT talk to the po-po any more than absolutely necessary, as the adrenaline dump *will* screw with your ability to recall (as well as give you short term tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, etc.). Make sure you are safe, make sure the cops know where the evidence is and who the parties are/were, but otherwise ask for your lawyer and STFU until you have a chance to calm down and process what just happened.

    • Officer. I think I’m having a medical event due to the stress. Will you kindly get an ambulance in here for me?”

    • For those interested in scenarios and advice for dealing with the aftermath of a DGU, checkout the book “Lessons from Armed America”

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