It’s billed as Gunsite’s most intensive course. The Urban Combat Course covers not just small arms skills and tactics, but includes a wealth of lessons-learned training so that soldiers, Marines and other operators about to be deployed to support the Global War On Terror will have the techniques to survive and prevail in the urban setting that has become the GWOT arena.

urban21.gifSince there is no longer a FEBA (Forward Edge of Battle Area) as when wars were conventional, the battle can be anywhere. Bill Dreeland, a Gunsite rangemaster and chief instructor, wrote the course to prepare students for deployment anywhere in the world. It’s an advanced-level course with a focus on individual small arms tactics and techniques, designed to refresh pistol and carbine skills at distances where most small-arms engagements occur—out to 100 yards.

It was a small class of eight students, and with two additional instructors, Ed Stock and LaMonte Kintsel, everyone got the individual attention they needed to learn then hone skills. Students included two active S.W.A.T. team members from a Colorado department, three U.S. Army soldiers, a civilian trainer and a private contractor.

The course is not for beginners and prerequisites are Gunsite’s 250 basic defensive pistol and .223 basic carbine courses. Most students brought either a 1911-style pistol or an M9 Beretta, but I used a Springfield XD in .40 S&W equipped with Truglo tritium fiber optic sights. The gun served well with little maintenance and worked every time I pulled the trigger. I stoked it with Black Hills and Winchester ammo and carried it in a Blackhawk Serpa holster that afforded a quick draw and positive retention. Every student also carried an AR15-style carbine in .223. The AR I used was from Stag Arms and it performed flawlessly with remanufactured Black Hills and PMC ammunition. The Stag was accessorized with a SureFire scout light, Wilderness single point sling, Tango Down vertical fore- and pistol grips, a Vltor Modstock and an Aimpoint Comp M4 red-dot sight.

Load, Make Ready
The course began with a safety orientation and course overview. Dreeland pointed out that in a crisis, an individual will not rise to the occasion but will instead sink to his level of training, so the better the training, the better the chances of survival—and winning. Training results in the development of reflexive actions by repeating them many times and that’s what we were about to do.

We started on the square range by going over handgun basics to refresh skills that had deteriorated. Everyone needed to be re-schooled in at least something because shooting is a perishable skill and needs constant practice. We worked on presentations, reloads, double taps, non-standard responses and other techniques at ranges of 3 to 25 yards.

On day two, we picked up carbines and drilled the basics again. Practice included mounting the carbine while keeping the strong-side elbow down, making the shooter a smaller target and less likely to bump into things when working CQB or clearing a structure. Emphasis was placed on rapid sight picture and placing rounds on target at any distance to 100 yards. We also practiced double-taps, failures to stop, non-standard responses, reloads, as well as precision headshot drills.

Instructors introduced advanced techniques and tips such as how to check for a chambered round by touch—very useful in the dark. One method is to tuck the butt of the gun under the right arm while the other hand partially retracts the bolt; With the fingers of the strong-side hand wrapped around the front of the magazine well, the thumb feels for the presence of a round in the chamber. Dreeland also recommended adding a witness mark to sight screws to make it obvious if they become loose. Model paint works well as long as the surface is clean.

In the event of a carbine malfunction in a structure or within 25 yards of an adversary, Dreeland suggested drawing the back-up pistol to continue the fight instead of attempting to clear the carbine. As it is faster, much time was spent practicing this skill. To instill pistol confidence, students were coached in hitting a pepper-popper at 50 yards, to show that long-range pistol shots are possible and a pistol can be effective at longer ranges when necessary.

Simulated Combat
After refreshing our pistol and carbine techniques, we applied them in simulated combat. Simulators allow students to use the weapons and tactical skills that had been taught on the square range, in an environment closer to the real world, where there are obstacles and distractions, and one never knows from where a threat will appear. There is something about simulators that gets the heart rate up and induces stress, so instructors carefully watched students not only to coach, but to ensure safe gun-handling.

In one outdoor simulation, students practiced moving from point A to point B in a methodical, slow, careful manner and then again under time constraints, something that might be necessary in order to get to a rendezvous at a specified time. Another outdoor simulator was run on a moonless night under clear skies loaded with stars. There are no city lights in the desert to provide light for navigation, so it was very dark. In that environment, movement itself is dangerous because it is impossible to see where one is about to place his foot. We were taught never to cross our feet and always maintain balance.

Lighting equipment was severely tested and seemingly small things, like where the tactical light is mounted on the gun, proved to be significant. For example, I learned first-hand from LaMonte Kintsel that if the light is mounted beside the barrel, the barrel casts a huge shadow to one side that creates a blind spot. This problem is not evident indoors where light bounces off walls and illuminates shadows, but outside the shadows are pitch black and make a great place for danger to hide.

Students were put through several indoor scenarios run with and without time constraints to hone room-clearing skills. Going through a structure too fast can cause carelessness, but in a hostage situation, one might need to move rapidly to save a prisoner. Judgment plays a big part in determining speed, and when deciding how fast to move, you must consider the trade-offs. Sound judgment comes from experience; experience can come from good training.

One at a time, we participated in a simulated motor-convoy ambush where the rider had to dismount to engage the enemy. That scenario required a good deal of running and gunning in order to move fast, properly utilize cover and make quick and accurate hits to neutralize attackers. Getting in and out of a vehicle, especially in a hurry with a pistol, carbine and other gear sounds easy until one tries it, so instructors spent additional time explaining how to disengage a seat belt and get out of a vehicle without snagging gear—which can slow an exit and get someone killed.

Recognizing The Enemy
A portion of the course dealt with suicide bombers, individuals carrying explosives or driving a vehicle loaded with explosives. Often, they attempt to look like they belong in the setting so as to go undetected until detonation. A berserk attack is similar but involves a person armed with a gun or knife who attacks people in a crowded area and intends to fight to the death. One particular example is the individual who, several years ago at Los Angeles International Airport, attacked the Israeli Air Counter and had to be killed by a guard. All are difficult to defend against, so it is important to stay alert and look for anything or anyone that just doesn’t seem right for the place and time.

Like other Gunsite courses, this one included a lecture on mental conditioning for combat survival. Jeff Cooper’s color code of white, yellow, orange and red was discussed in the context of a GWOT hotspot. Walking around in the white, oblivious to your surroundings, can be deadly since there is no longer a FEBA and the battle may erupt outside your front door. Dreeland emphasized the re-emergence of small-unit tactics, including thinking, shooting, moving and communicating, things that had been set aside during the Cold War but is now are more important than ever. He also recommended that everyone learn gunshot wound first-aid skills, always carry enough ammunition—and have a back-up gun.

Fighting With Enemy Weapons 

It is estimated that there are more than 100 million AK variants in use around the world. They are everywhere and may be the only available weapon with which to defend oneself in a foreign environment. A half-day was spent on the range learning proper techniques so to do.

Although AKs run with little maintenance, they have poor ergonomics. Consider the safety and magazine release. The sights are dismal, so Dreeland and company showed students how to get the most out of the weapon. AK ammunition and magazines are heavy, so I carried them in an Eagle Industries chest rig that evenly spread the weight and allowed quick access for reloads. We also fired a Romanian PSL, a version of the SVD Dragunov sniper rifle that fires the Russian 7.62x54R service round. With a PSO-1 sniper scope it is an effective rifle, although not as user-friendly as a typical American sniper rifle.

Students also had the chance to familiarize themselves with a variety of foreign weapons like the Makarov pistol, a 9×18 mm semi-auto handgun widely used by the Com-bloc nations. We also fired the HK MP5 9 mm submachine gun, which is quite controllable and offers good firepower for close  encounters. Orientation was provided on the infamous RPG-7. The RPG-7 rocket launcher is used worldwide by terrorists both for assassinations and in war as a hard-target and anti-personnel weapon—at times even against aerial targets. Its maximum range is 900 meters, practical range extends to 200 meters.

Life-Saving Tips for AR Shooters

Cory Trapp, the Gunsite Gunsmithy and instructor, provided priceless guidance on maintaining the AR15/M16 family of rifles. He states that the extractor is a weak point and should be changed every 10,000 rounds. Replace it if it no longer feels sharp to the touch or if it is bent (checked by holding it against a straight edge). The extractor spring should be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 rounds or if the extractor can be moved away from the bolt face with finger pressure. He cautioned that rapidly firing just two or three magazines through an M16 at full auto could ruin the temper of an extractor spring. Trapp also recommended replacing the extractor pin every 5,000 rounds and to check it for cracks with a magnifying glass whenever cleaning the gun.

Gas rings often break and should be also replaced every 3,000 to 5,000 rounds. To check gas rings, Trapp recommended inserting the bolt in the carrier without the bolt cam pin, then lifting the assembly by the bolt and shaking it. If the carrier falls off, the rings are worn out and should be replaced. He also spoke against the theory that gaps between each gas ring must be staggered for the gun to work. They don’t, he says.

Buffer springs also wear out. If the spring is more than two coils shorter than a new spring, replace them. Generally, buffer springs should be changed every 8,000 to 10,000 rounds and the polymer end cap on the buffer should be checked for deformation. If it has mushroomed, put in a new one.

Trapp also cautioned that the bolt carrier gas key must be properly staked so that it will not come loose. Acceptable staking methods are stamping across the top of the screws or squeezing in the sides of the key so that the screws will not back out.

The Gunsite Urban Combat Course is not for beginners and the better your skills are before arriving, the more you will get out of it. It could be called a refresher or tune-up course for pre-deployment, but it can be more because the Gunsite staff makes a special effort to ensure each student leaves with new, life-saving skills, having packed much into this five-day course.

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