Trident Concepts conducted two back-to-back Combative Pistol, Level Two (CP2) classes for Northern California Sheriff’s Office. The classes were part of an initiative by the SO’s leadership to increase officer safety and invest in their deputies. It is very rare that the patrol division is granted access to premium training and by the completion of the class the deputies and sergeants were very appreciative. Trident Concepts has worked with the SO’s SWAT team for several years and they are a very professional and motivated group. There had been some push back on their access to premium training, but as true professionals they were instrumental in orchestrating not only this initial block to get a large majority of the deputies through the program, but setting up next year’s block to get the remaining patrol division through the same program. Two of the team members also assisted as range officers for both classes and were extremely helpful in ensuring the success of the program. We were honored to be a part of such a special program and already are looking forward to next year’s program.
The weather was in the high 80°-90° with a nice breeze on occasion. Since most of the deputies had not been through an intense training program the weather could have been a factor, but the members of the SWAT team briefed everyone on how to adequately prepare and we had plenty of shade and water. Some would forget or underestimate the importance of sunscreen and would pay the man towards the end of the class.
The equipment was all standard issue Glock pistols, ranging from Glock 19 all the way up to Glock 21’s. We had one M1911 and two Springfield Armory XD’s in 45 ACP. Most of the patrol deputies had standard duty gear and the detectives wore more traditional open top holsters with some form of retention. A major observation was on the patrol division’s holsters. Many of them were original issue and while I don’t know if there is a requirement for double or triple retention only a few deputies had the more modern SLS and ALS type holsters. While everyone performed well with their original issued equipment I observed more difficulty from the deputies with the double and triple level retention. While I understand the concept, the newer technology is vastly superior.
One safety point worth mentioning was that we experienced a 9mm being fired through a 40cal on accident. While we had segregated the various calibers it appears that one 9mm round had been accidentally thrown into the 40cal box. We were extremely lucky as it only caused the weapon to malfunction. The ruptured casing was recovered and a major teaching point was illustrated as we passed it around to the class. The RO’s did a safety inspection of all ammunition to ensure the problem wouldn’t be repeated. However, at the start of the second class I passed around the ruptured casing to remind folks not to make the same mistake. While we didn’t have another accident, one of the students found almost a full box of 40cal in the 45ACP box. Attention to detail is so important and thankfully the oversight by one student was picked up by the vigilance of another.
We had a few issues with some of the Glock 22’s, which had been in service for approximately 7 years. The department has annual gunsmith inspections to all duty weapons, but only replace parts on an “as needed” basis. While many of these pistols have several years of service left in them, it was suggested that the more abusive 40cal platforms have certain parts mandatorily replaced on a yearly basis. Those parts would include the recoil spring guide, firing pin spring and the extractor. Every 5 years all night sights should be replaced as most had lost significant if not all low light advantage. We experienced some small part breakages in the class and again they were in the 40cal platform. We had one extractor shear off the claw portion and rendered the gun inoperable. We had several Glock armorers in the class along with an extensive armorer’s kit. The pistol was cleared and worked on by one of the armorers and the student was back on the line within a few minutes. The other issue we had was one I hadn’t really seen before. During an apparent malfunction one of the students was attempting to correct it by cycling the slide. While I observed a portion of the issue, what I observed worth noting was that while violently attempting to cycle the slide the slide almost separated from the frame. The student pulled the slide back and it appeared to lock into battery. Luckily one of the RO’s was stationed nearby and also had observed the issue. He wisely had the student clear and safe and upon closer inspection it was revealed that the slide lock lever had been damaged and had falling out of the frame. Had the student attempted to fire it could have a much different outcome. Of course, this was the one part that the armorer’s kit didn’t have; go figure. Luckily the RO’s had a few replacement pistols and the student was able to return to line. The part was eventually replaced and the original pistol put back into service. While I have a small parts kit for my Glocks that is one part I don’t have in my travel kit.
We had another issue in the second class where a student was experiencing a failure of the slide to return to battery in his G22. The student was one of the better shooters from both classes so after observing it occur several times we elected to replace the recoil spring. With the new recoil spring in place the problem didn’t go away. So, I tested fired the pistol and was not able to get the problem to replicate. Once the pistol was returned to the student the problem persisted. After a few evolutions I tested fired the pistol again, but as I processing through the magazine I would lighten my grip. As I lightened the grip the problem surfaced. I believe this is exasperated in the 40cal Glock platforms, but a weak grip gives little to no structural support during the recoil and a failure to return to battery is the result. The student had a difficult time developing proper grip integrity, but with a more focused attention he was able to grip the gun correctly and the problem was for the most part resolved. When the focus waned the problem would surface and the student was able to self-correct on his own. It was pretty predictable when it would happen. Any drills that would have a high repetition count you could see the fatigue setting in and the grip integrity failing towards the end.
As part of an administrative procedure students were shown how to maintain their pistols by applying quality lubricant. After demonstrating the proper lube points students were instructed to lube their pistols twice a day. A simple procedure such as our field lube helps to keep these weapons operational much longer than normal, which means for quality training time and less time dealing with known issues.
Both classes had similar lessons learned and having the opportunity to observe a large class sampling of a patrol division one new lesson I learned is the 40cal is not an ideal round for shooters who do not get consistent professional development. We normally do not have this large of a sampling and this sampling was a little jaded since they have undergone marksmanship training from the firearms instructors who are SWAT members having been through several of our classes. We saw first hand the detriments to the caliber when trying to learn and master the basics. The snappier recoil impulse along with louder report work against many students who are trying to master the basics. I cannot help but comment that 9mm is a vastly superior round from a basic marksmanship point of view. There will be plenty that object to my opinion, but in teaching students of all skill level I have found that the most important component to firearm selection is the individuals ability to be accurate with it. Most modern day service weapons in use are more than reliable and inherently accurate, but if the shooter cannot apply fundamentals because they haven’t had the opportunity to learn them then it pretty much is a mute point the superiority if any one caliber has over another. At the end of the day, accuracy reigns supreme on the battlefield. We had several students who were having a difficult time at developing correct trigger management. Some would have terrible trigger jerks and anticipation. While it is easy to diagnose what the problem is, the hard part is helping the student to overcome the problem, which is largely attributed to effect the recoil and report have on the psyche. For a few students in each class their 40cal were traded in for 9mm and we saw huge improvements in their ability to grasp and apply the fundamentals. Something they struggled with in the beginning. As the students gained more confidence, there ability to consistently apply the fundamentals increased. Once the student has mastered the fundamentals I don’t much care what caliber they use because by that point they have developed the skill to be a true marksman and then it is all about shot placement and first round lethal strikes.
We started our programs off with a heavy emphasis on fundamentals as per SOP. I was really surprised to find so many of the students who thought they new how to properly align their sights. We spent a good portion of diagnostic drills working through this problem. While they would honestly respond they were looking at the top of the front sight, they inadvertently were looking at the top of their dot. While seemingly insignificant at close ranges we are realizing how many people actually do not know how to properly align their sights. Once we had the sight alignment issue corrected we had to deal with the sight picture issue, which was folks who would purposely aim off their intended strike point to “drop” or “lob” the round into the target zone. We see this a lot and truthfully I was guilty of it myself as a young Frogman. Instead of dealing with the real issue, which for me was horrible trigger management, I improvised and just aimed a little high. We need to address the issue head on and once many of the students were developing correct trigger management practices you could see their old sight picture error come to surface. It was easily correctable, but it creates compounding errors with regards to diagnostics.
As mentioned earlier we had some grip integrity issues that were dealt with, but the other major problem we saw with grip was a grip that didn’t support proper trigger finger placement. If the trigger finger is not on the front face of the trigger the movement exerted on the firearm can and often times pushes or pulls the sights off target. Adjusting your grip so the finger as optimal placement should be the first priority. Then achieving the best grip possible. Here again, it pays to have a higher level of physical fitness especially with regards to hand and forearm strength. As soon as you engage both pinkies the grip seems to apply the right amount of pressure. The biggest problem we see when grip integrity falters is the strong hand relaxing. Simple enough to determine through strong hand only diagnostics or it confirms it is a trigger management issue.
We progressed through most of the drills pretty easily; I really enjoy working with groups or units, as there tends to be a cohesiveness and camaraderie that has the class move smoothly. We were ahead of the schedule in most cases and didn’t skip over topics to cover core skills. It allowed for plenty of breaks and side bar conversations.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if a few students would be able to overcome some of their training scars. There were some terrible trigger management issues and as we discussed this at times one of the students commented how in an earlier training block put on by a different training group they were instructed to forgo their sights at close ranges. Citing statistics that indicate most gunfights occur at close ranges. I’m not going to dispute that claim, but I do take a stand with this type of mentality. You cannot afford to put someone on the streets who doesn’t grasp basic marksmanship. There is a serious dereliction of duty in this case as well as deliberate indifference. It is not easy to properly train someone in the use of firearms; it takes quality and regimented instruction and a commitment to improving. Once the students saw the difference I was thoroughly impressed to see the improvements. Literally, a few students went from not being able to hit the broadside of a barn, to hitting the narrow side to eventually hitting the target. It was very gratifying and we saw a few targets after the final test make their way into the proud owner’s vehicles.
The second class fell on September 11th and before we began the day we had a short impromptu memorial. We discussed the realities of our current situation and how domestic law enforcement must start to think and plan for possible terrorist attacks. Some are quick to dismiss this thought, none in our classes though, as that will never happen. Like any of us actually thought that people would fly loaded planes into buildings. I think it is safe to say we cannot have that naïve mindset anymore. The talk put a lot of things into perspective and by the end of the day we would suffer yet another terrorist attack. It is frustrating to put it mildly to sit and watch our own citizens, not even combats, but diplomats murdered with little done other than saber rattling and text book rhetoric. When are people going to wake up and realize the very real threat we face?
That evening, one of the deputies while on patrol had a rather tenuous situation unfold. The next morning one of the Lieutenants wanted to speak to the class regarding the details. The emphasis was placed on how that could have been any one of them and how prepared are they to deal with the situation. In this case, the deputy keep his wits about him, used good cover and was able to communicate with the subject and avoid a lethal outcome all the while mentally prepared to employ lethal force if the situation deteriorate. A job well done!
The final day of both classes was where many of the students had the “light-bulb” moment. For most, it was trigger management and first, best sight picture. We put a heavy emphasis on the first, best sight picture and how much of a paradigm shift it is for many people. You have to accept that the sight picture will not be perfect, nor does it most likely need to be, it just needs to be good enough for the time and distance. Then, the shooter has to apply proper trigger management to achieve that first round lethal strike.
The first, best sight picture really makes sense when we start some movement drills. The aspect of moving will significantly reduce the window you have to break the shot. It really forces you to trust in that first best sight picture and then let’er rip. Most of the students understood the concept, but had a hard time trusting it. As soon as they could let go of the ever elusive “perfect sight picture” and go with their first, best one huge gains were made. I reference it as that perfect golf swing that drives the ball straight down the fairway. It has that distinct sounds and feel and the golfer is in awe more so at how they did it than that the act itself. Once you feel that over and over, it just comes more naturally. There will be times for surgical precision, but mostly you are dealing with combat marksmanship and that means accepting a degree of imperfection in exchange for the consistent hits under pressure.
We finished off each of the classes with an El Presidente evolution and we saw very little disqualifications, in fact for the number of students we put through both classes we had far fewer than we had seen before. The drills stress the combination of speed and accuracy. Many students opted for accuracy as their tactical imperative and put up some great scores. It cost them in the time department, but as they continue to train, their speed will increase. Speed is nothing more than a by-product of solid and efficient technique, something that we strive for as the hallmark for all of our programs.
We definitely made plenty of improvement across the board; lots of learning had taken place. A few folks realized the 9mm was better suited for them. A few realized the liked one platform over another and all got a greater appreciation for their leadership and the investment they made. I’m sure it will pay off big time down the road. This kind of training has a huge ripple effect as individuals either continue in their law enforcement career or wherever they go. Their experience will affect everyone they come into contact. The bar has been set.
Overall the class was a huge success and we look forward to future programs. Please do not hesitate to contact us for clarification on any points or comments.