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Operational Familiarity. Op Fam. It’s the military term for training that’s more about “been there done that” than any particular strategy or technique. The video above is an excellent example. On one hand, it’s ridiculous. The first time I watched it, I couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad guy. In part one, the defender (walking towards the camera) is drawing and swearing before the BG (walking away from the camera) gets his hand on his gun. Unless all parties are gang bangers, the odds of an encounter going down this way are lottery ticket tiny. The drill ends WAY too soon; there is no resolution. And yet . . .

When was the last time you drew your gun on a gun? Probably not since you were a kid in the backyard playing cowboys and indians (infantry and infidels?). If you’re unlucky enough to find yourself in a defensive gun use (DGU) situation like the one above—walking down an alley way straight at an armed aggressor—you lack Op Fam. You may know what to do, but you’ve never done it.

No surprise there. The vast majority of gun owners practice armed self-defense at the gun range. A gun range is an excellent place to perfect gun handling skills and marksmanship. And . . . that’s it. It teaches you sweet FA about self-defense tactics, which is the third and you might even say most important element of DGU.

Even though the training scenario above is unrealistic and the training woefully incomplete, it puts all the participants in a situation where they have to draw and fire their weapon at a real live human being, who’s doing the same. The next time these guys walk down an alley, they’ll have a memory of what it was like. The chances of them freaking are smaller.

And it’s all about the freak, or the lack thereof. To paraphrase John Lennon, self-defense is what happens when you’re making other plans. If you keep your head in the game, you just might win. If you don’t, you’re depending entirely on luck. Which is about as sensible as it sounds. Maybe less.

A small percentage of gun owners take self-defense courses. In the main, they learn more gun handling and marksmanship in a sterile environment, with hands-off instruction on strategy and tactics. Students hardly ever have to face the real, no-holds-barred, unvarnished truth about gunfights: they’re nasty, brutish and short.

And when shooters do come face-to-face with force-on-force, it’s a whole new world (and not the one Ariel was singing about). The main man at Modern Combative Systems describes the discrepancy between shooters’ expectations and real world reality perfectly:

• Even though most people will go out of their way to have their back to the wall, under stress they will back pedal until they fall backwards on their ass or run into something. Small things like vehicles and trees. Upon busting their ass or running into something, they get this shocked look on their face for at least a few seconds before they recover…or in some cases quit.

• Even when aggressed by a man with a knife running at full speed, many people will stand still, feet planted, and draw into a perfect two handed firing grip, and dump an entire magazine towards the threat. This is 100% the byproduct of square range training where any movement off the line is prohibited.

• When shooters have both hands on the gun and are experiencing tunnel vision, they will move towards cover and stop thinking they are close to or behind it, only to realize they are several feet or yards away from it.

• Even at distances less than five yards, students who experience a malfunction will call a mental time out, and just stand there working on the problem as if the threat will wait until he is done. Many will just look at their pistol in disbelief.

• Even though I jokingly encourage them to do so, I have yet to have a student fire rounds into COM of a live threat during a spontaneous attack at 7-10 yards from another live human, and then intentionally transition to a head shot.

• While wearing headgear and being punched in the head with boxing gloves, students hands come up to protect their head in response to the shock and pain, not down to their gun. Often it seems as though they forget they are wearing a gun.

• During a spontaneous attack in low light conditions, I have yet to have a student simultaneously draw a light and a pistol. If they have a weapon dedicated light, I have yet to have one be able to turn the light on.

Again, Op Fam force-on-force training is not about perfecting self-defense techniques to deal with real world aggression. It simply lessens the possibility that a shooter will be overcome by shock and awe when push comes to shove. It increases the chances they’ll do something rather than “stand there working on the problem as if the threat will wait until he is done.”

Because real life is not like a Hollywood action movie, where a well-trained good guy busts his moves on a bad guy, overcoming his opponent with lightning-like ferocity and life-saving effectiveness. It’s about implementing a set of basic principles—like Adam’s Speed, Surprise and Violence of Action—in whatever way you can.

So where are the ranges where you can gain Op Fam? Where you can regularly run through self-defense scenarios (e.g., standing in line at the convenience store when a robber begins an attack)? Where you can feel what it’s like to be cornered, or chased, or attacked, or sniped? IDK.

But TTAG is on the case. We’re renting a space inside the old American Tourister factory in Warren, RI to practice some Op Fam force-on-force training. I’ve got a combat vet to run it, Airsoft guns, protective gear, videotape equipment and Gatorade. If you’re interested, ping me ([email protected]). If you can’t travel that far, help me out: what real world scenarios would you like to practice?

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  1. I’m sure you guys are going to do this anyway.

    But set up an “in home” scene with role players. Have an old TV set, and living room furniture, the whole works. Surround it with facsimiles of walls and windows (plywood with strategically located cutouts?)

    Have an attacker or two or three “break in” the living room area, and see how the occupants react.

    Try some with the gun stashed in a hidden area, on somebody’s hip, in a little pop-open safe like a Gun Vault, any other ways you can work it.

  2. I think a great thing would be an alley type set up that was preferrably as modular as possible. A drill that would require both situational awareness before any attack would be great (whether or not it has anything to do with the alley I’m suggesting). But the goal with the alley would be to help people develop OUT of those tunnel vision behaviors described above. Have it so they are put into the alley without a chance to see all around it, and then have them move towards the end. As their moving some possible (variation is big for me) attackers come out and they are likely put into a DGU. This test would be about their ability to draw under pressure and find cover if applicable. Also could work on moving while drawing and adapting to different situations (# of attackers, weapons present, what their physical surroundings are like). I think the alley being modular to an extend would be great, having “cover” of different shapes and sizes that can be put in different areas would be great to teach reacting to your situations rather than muscle memory. Of course, this is just an idea I had after reading the above information, and I’m sure my suggestion has a lot of areas it needs to be fixed up or altered. But that’s really neat what you guys are doing with the warehouse, wish I wasn’t located so far (FL). Good luck.

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