Tactical Skills Q & A -or- Be Good at Everything or Die

In the interest of spreading useful information regarding tactics/training I wanted to relay this conversation I had with some folks from the tactical community a while back. I was asked several pointed questions which I do my best to answer below:

Question 1:

Of all the various training disciplines available, which one should be top of the training list right now in light of world events? Rifle training? Land Navigation? Communications? Patrolling, etc...


Well, there are definitely some sacred cows on that list. It of course kind of depends on where you are as an individual with regard to the various skillsets, but lets assume you are a competent shooter with some basic fieldcraft under your belt....I would put information gathering on top. You could also label it Intel/Comms if you wanted. Why?

1. Intelligence drives the fight. Without it, you are just a bunch of armed guys in the woods.

2. Everyone can do it. Your 75 year old aunt can do it, your kid can do it. Not everyone can be an effective infantryman, but anyone can be eyes/ears/disseminators.

3. Right now nearly everyone sucks at it. I had a good buddy that was with CAG tell me once, "Everyone thinks our shooting is what makes us so effective, and while we are talented shooters there are certainly better out there....that is just a small part of what we do. It's all those other skills that make the difference".  I thought he made a very good point.....

Question 2:

What is the best fighting rifle?


Good lord. The one in your hands at the moment....but seriously, as my generic go-to-war rifle I would prefer a properly built AR15 carbine barring a mission that required a special applications rifle of some kind (see intel above). The caveat here being "properly built". As someone that has taught on a great many ranges over the years I can say that there are far too many cheap/poorly built/poorly maintained AR's out there. The best advice I can give here is seek out some armorer level training.....get to know your rifle inside and out. Learn how to diagnose strange rifle behavior....is your gun over-gassed? maybe under-gassed? Keep a log of how many rounds you have put through the rifle and the individual high-stress parts, such as the barrel, bolt and recoil spring. There are a few items that ALWAYS travel with my carbine:

1. Spare bolt w/firing pin (they do break from time to time folks)

2. GI steel cleaning rod (ever get a barrel full of mud at the worst possible time?)

3. Lube (duh)

4. Small ziplock with spare pins/springs

5. Sharpie pen (saves your finger when clearing nasty malfunctions)

I may carry much more than this, but never less.

But what about stopping power and range? Look, no argument here that a 7.62mm NATO gun has better of both and if the METT-TC dictated it, that's what I would take. But consider this:

1. You can carry a lot more 5.56 than 7.62. Basic load management here folks.

2. With few exceptions, I still believe shot placement (aka, effective fire) has more to do with a positive outcome than the size of your gun or bullet.

3. If desired, you can utilize specialty ammunition that can extend the effective reach of your 5.56 gun. Like the Mk262 (77gr projectile), which we found to be very effective at one shot stops out to 700yds during OIF/OEF. Just make sure that your particular rifle can accommodate the heavier bullet. You generally want to stick with a 1in7 twist as opposed to the sportsman's 1in9 as you may end up with stabilization issues. Personally I favor the 1in8 barrels....good stabilization for a wide spectrum of rounds and good barrel life as well.

And lets not forget that the AR carbine platform is almost like a Lego set in it's ability to be customized for the man and the mission. There are endless manufacturers of high quality parts for the platform out there, many offering far better than "MILSPEC" quality. And while we're at it....MILSPEC is not a statement of high quality, it's a "minimum acceptable standard". Your off the shelf LaRue carbine is going to greatly exceed the standards of the M4 issued to Joe infantryman. Don't be beguiled by gun shops selling expensive MILSPEC labeled rifles.

And for you folks that have chosen to embrace the AK platform (or SIG or HK or whatever), more power to you. Just don't think for one second that the same rules/concerns don't apply to you. All machines will invariably fail at some point....be ready for it.

Question 3:

Optics or irons?


Depends......if I want to be as effective as possible I use optics. Not to be a funny guy but look, the evidence is overwhelming. You take any shooter and give him optics and he will shoot faster and more accurately. I still train with irons of course, but they are a back-up.....not a primary tool. I don't know what else needs to be said on that.

Okay, what kind of optic?

I'll assume we are still talking carbine here and not precision/sniper rifles. The 1-4 and 1-6 variable scopes are really nice as they give you the "best of both worlds" so to speak. You can dial down and have a reflex sight or dial up for distance shots or glassing an area. For out and out speed, it is pretty hard to beat an EOtech "dot-in-a-donut" sight (1 MOA dot with a 65MOA circle). SIG actually has a similar sight out now that has picked up some of the big Federal contracts that EOtech lost recently. It employs a 2 MOA dot w/ 65MOA circle (you can toggle between dot and dot/circle on some models) and comes in a much more compact package. I should point out that the SIG Romeo sights are made by Holosun, so if you want to save some scratch go buy the Holosun version. The SIG and HS sights can also be had with a small integrated solar panel, thus greatly extending the normal scant 7 year battery life of the unit.
One plus I should mention regarding the variable scopes is that they usually have a glass-etched reticle as well as an illumination system, so if your battery does happen to die at an inopportune time you don't lose your ability to aim. But of course good pre-mission checks would prevent such an occurrence, no? A con for the variable scope is that it does have a specific eye-relief which a reflex site does not suffer from.

Question 4:

Is it worth it to have a kevlar helmet? or heavy armor plates for that matter?


Anything that keeps a high speed piece of metal from entering my person is a good thing. That being said it is always a matter of balance and METT-TC (I know, we blame everything on METT-TC). We have had amazing advances in armor technology over the last twenty-so years and it would be foolish to ignore them if we are going to be going into harm's way. Helmets have become lighter, stronger and a force multiplier of sorts. They not only protect our heads, but are a platform for mounting our NODs, IR identifiers and lights (ask any 18D that has had both hands buried in a dude's guts if that helmet light was handy). So yes, get a good helmet. If you are conducting low-pro operations, stick it in your go-bag.
As far as body armor and plates go, a lot of lives have been saved by SAPI plates. I just recommend not going too overboard with your armor (like our incredibly risk-averse military does now) or you risk it becoming a hindrance rather than a help. My general rule on this is that I try to achieve a degree of balance between my defensive and offensive capabilities with the offensive side favored. I would prefer to wear a simple plate hanger as opposed to  a full wraparound, shoulder protector-groin protector neck-protector monstrosity that had as good a chance as the enemy at putting me into the medic's gentle caress. You just have to get out there and train with this stuff on and figure out the sweet spot. And train in crappy weather too.....train when it's crazy hot and crazy cold. Better to know now than later.

Question 5:

Do you train more with pistol or rifle?


Pistol.  It's harder to be good with a pistol than a rifle. Pistols suck compared to rifles at putting down a threat so shot placement and follow ups are crucial. I spend most of my day with a pistol. It would cause a scene if I slung up my carbine and went grocery shopping with the kids.
I think it's even more important with a pistol to choose quality ammunition. Something with a solid, real world stopping record like Speer Gold-Dot or Winchester Ranger. Something bonded, so it doesn't shed all it's mass when you shoot through a barrier like glass. And if you are going to roll with +P or hot loads, make sure that you train with them as the recoil management differences can be significant.
And while we are on the subject of pistols.....if you spend most of your time carrying concealed then you need to train in that configuration. Too many guys show up for a class and are decked out ready for war with overt carry holsters. That's fine and all, but you need to spend the most time training how you spend the most time carrying.

Question 6:

What is the most important piece of gear I could have right now that I probably don't own?


Easy. Night vision devices. I tell folks, if you have seven rifles but no night vision, it's time to sell a few rifles and get some NODs. No other item can have as significant an effect on your survival on a battlefield in my opinion. All state level actors (good or bad) have them. The cartels have them. The terrorists for the most part have them. And if the world goes sideways - you can bet that battlefield recovery ops will have them in the hands of a great many potential adversaries. Don't mess around on this one folks.....go get yourself a set of PVS-14's from a reputable source. You want the single battery model (the dual battery model would break if you looked at it wrong) with a Gen 3 Pinnacle auto-gated tube.

After that it would probably be a digital trunking scanner. Priceless tool right there. If you are behind on your radio comms seek out the AmRRON folks and jump into one of Sparks33's classes.

Question 7:

You preach soft skills like what you teach in the Groundrod courses and Sam Culper teaches in his intel courses as being critical right now, but what other hard skills should we be looking at besides the big ones mentioned earlier?


Well, driving for one. We spend a sizable amount of time in our non-armored vehicles driving around and if things ever go sideways it will only be a matter of time before you have to deal with the following scenarios:

1. Hostile government checkpoints

2. Local hoodlum roadblock

3. Vehicle breakdown in middle of nowhere, or hostile area

4. Vehicle hijacking attempts (static)

5. Vehicle hijacking attempts (kinetic)

6. Vehicle hacking

7. Driving into ambush

Your intel/comms/route planning skills are going to become paramount when you don't have an armored rig to drive around in......and who of us normal folks have that option?

There are a few different aspects to this subject, one being how to setup and equip the vehicle itself:

- Mechanical emergency counter measures
- Medical
- Comms
- IR lights and kill switches (you have NODs right?)
- Basic survival gear (think Maslov)
- Weapons/ammo

and then there is the actual driver skill set. Really the only good way to get this is to spend the time and money to attend a tactical driving course and EVOC doesn't cut it for you first responders out there. You combat vets that have spent time driving up and down J-bad road or route Irish are going to be ahead of the game, but you are still going to want to seek out those skills. Driving an armored Hummer is not the same as driving your family sedan under extreme conditions. I speak from experience......

Besides driving.....I would look into medical training. Wilderness EMS training is about as close as you will get to austere medicine here in the land of civility. If you are lucky enough to find it, there is no replacement for live tissue training (aka, Goat Lab). There are sources out there....ask me if you need help.

Sanitation skills. Herbal medicine skills. Basic engineering/building skills. Old-school Land Nav (there is a reason USASOC and JSOC have such a strong initial focus on this) Languages (I know, more of a soft skill) You know....everything.


Regarding the first part of the vehicle issue, I have a course I am fielding shortly that covers this. Setting up your rig, equipping your team in a low-pro fashion, vehicular overwatch, surveillance detection routes, cleaning runs, fighting out of and into a vehicle and more. I will post it to the site when the dates are established.


  1. One add as a subset of vehicle training is to create and TEST your load out plan. By this I mean plan out what you intend to bring in your vehicle and then actually put it in your vehicle. First you will realize it takes you an hour to find all the crap you listed (its not always practical or wise to store it in the vehicle at all times). Some of it is in the basement, some is in the garage, some is in the guest bedroom closet. Consolidate it when possible, clearly mark it (I use a piece of red duct tape), and note where you left it. Also consider the order it goes in, the stuff on the bottom of the pile better not be the tools you need to change a flat quickly and you don't want to bury your bailout gear just because it created more efficient space sense.
    Next you will typically find you greatly over estimated the cargo capacity of your vehicle. Once loaded go practice that driving, realize much how your daily driver doesn't perform like that armored Hummer it won't even perform the same fully loaded as empty. Braking, cornering, and even gas mileage can be greatly impacted.
    Lastly how are you going to secure your gear? Those ammo cans seem fine sitting on the floorboard until you think about what they will do in a rollover.

  2. Outstanding information, dude.


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