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Thoughts on Sustainment Training

March 18, 2019

Among the recurring questions I get is, “John, how do we work out a training program to keep improving in our various skills, with limited time?” As a SF buddy pointed out to someone we were talking to the other day, there’s a vast difference between training a Special Forces candidate and training a member of a local prepper group or community defense group. Among these is the simple fact that the member of the local group simply doesn’t need to be expected to perform at the level of a SF soldier, nor should we expect them to.

The SF pipeline is anywhere from 6 months to two years, depending on MOS and previous career progression. That is a long time, especially when all of the support infrastructure is taken care of, and there are few or no challenges to time management in the way of competing demands for attention. The SF candidate, whether in SFAS or in the Q Course, doesn’t need to worry about going grocery shopping. He doesn’t need to worry about preparing his meals. He doesn’t need to worry about going to a day job that competes with available training time, to ensure that his wife and kids are fed, clothed, and housed. He doesn’t need to worry about going to that day job to ensure that he has adequate disposable income to buy weapons, gear, and ammunition to develop the level of ability he will be required to demonstrate in order to make it through the training pipeline, let alone to be accepted by a team as being competent in his profession.

It is often pointed out that there are any number of competitive shooters in IDPA, IPSC, and 3-Gun, that can outshoot most SOF gunfighters. That’s demonstrably true, but it belies the important fact that shooting is just one part of the warrior’s essential tasks skillset. Learning to shoot at an elite level, even with multiple firearms, is a relatively simple task (I said simple, not easy, for a reason…). But, when you add in all of the other tasks, including shooting at that level, while performing as part of a team, it becomes decidedly more noticeable how valuable all that dedicated training time becomes.

Let’s look at just a few of the BASIC non-weapons centric, light-infantry skills that a SOF service member might be expected to know—and be able to perform at with at least journeyman level proficiency (the following list is from the 1985 edition of the SF Common Tasks Manual. I grabbed it because I happen to have a .pdf version on my laptop. My hardcopy is the 1993 edition that I’ve had since my first month on a team):

1. First Aid

  • initiate an intravenous infusion
  • treat foreign bodies in the eye
  • treat lacerations, contusions, and extrusions of the eye
  • treat a casualty for insect stings or bites

2. Land Navigation

  • Construct a point designation grid
  • locate a point on an aerial photograph using a point designation grid
  • determine the elevation of a point on the ground using a map
  • convert azimuths (magnetic or grid)
  • locate an unknown point on a map or the ground by intersection
  • locate an unknown point on a map or the ground by resection
  • determine azimuths using a protractor and compute back azimuths
  • construct an uncontrolled aerial photo mosaic
  • convert grid coordinates to geographic coordinates

… and the list goes on. The SMTG for CMF18 (the manual cited), has a list of 119 individual tasks. Some of these, like the Air Operations tasks, such as “Prepare a UH-1 Helicopter for Rappelling” are irrelevant for the prepper/survivalist. The Air Operations section, for example, includes 18 distinct tasks, most of which are irrelevant to preppers in a post-grid environment.

That is made up for in the “oh shit, this is harder than I thought it would be” matrix by the fact that many of the tasks, such as “lead a raid,” and “lead an ambush” are predicated on the inherent, implied task requirements of being able to participate in a raid or an ambush, and the basic soldiering skills required to do so.

So, once our people have the basic self-defense combative shooting skills introduction—which some would argue are the most important skills to develop currently—how do we, with a limited training time budget, maintain and advance those skills, while also learning as many of the other essential individual and collective skills tasks necessary?

The answer is one we’ve discussed on this blog in the past, numerous times, and that I discussed in quite a bit of detail in my first book, The Reluctant Partisan, Volume One: The Guerrilla. (I also discussed it in Volume Two, but to less depth).

To begin, we need to understand our end-state goal: What is our purpose? Are we trying to create a special operations capable unit, or are we simply trying to develop a static guard force for a community or retreat defense? While many of the tasks will be the same, many others will be different, the execution may be different, and the physical and skill performance standard will certainly be different.

In either case, you also need to define specifically how you are defining each. A “special operations capable unit” could—theoretically—range from “I want a team that can insert on foot, by vehicle, by small boat, on horseback, or by hang glider, and then conduct hostage rescue operations,” to “I want to develop a Reconnaissance and Surveillance element that can push out small patrols to identify potential encroaching threats and interdict their movement, before I have to rely on the static defense force.” While, in the conventional military sense, the R&S answer is really a core light-infantry skill—or should be—in the preparedness context, it’s really not, because the organic MTOE of the organization is going to lack key assets that even a conventional force light infantry squad is going to take for granted: In a conventional US Army light infantry s quad, you currently have two grenadiers with grenade launchers, two automatic riflemen with squad automatic weapons (SAW), the possibility of adding a machine gun crew from the weapons squad, armed with an M240 GPMG, and you have mortars, artillery, and close air support. That means, even if they do inadvertently get in a fistfight with a superior element, they’ve got a whole lot of really big punchers behind them to come pull them out of the shit.

The prepper group R&S element on the other hand, is—in the vast, vast majority of circumstances—going to be limited to semi-automatic rifles and carbines, with the possible ability to get on the radio and call for help from a similarly armed QRF (Quick Reaction Force…I am defining it, because I had someone the other day—with a military background—ask me what QRF stood for…). Now, that’s not as big a detriment as most people initially assume, because chances are, you’re not going to be conducting R&S to stop encroachment by organized, conventional, combined arms forces equipped with automatic weapons, indirect fire, and close air support. Instead, you’re mostly going to be dealing with similarly armed, paramilitary elements, perhaps with an automatic weapon or two that they may or may not know how to employ properly (Yes, I know, criminal gangs are sending members with no criminal record to enlist and serve an enlistment in order to learn basic soldiering skills, to come back and teach the rest of the gang. Yawn…a four-year enlistment is, in the vast majority of cases, even assuming a combat arms MOS, barely enough time to develop a working level of proficiency in basic soldiering skills, and in the current operational environment, most of those are irrelevant, once you leave the Big Green Machine…That doesn’t mean there aren’t dudes that know what they’re doing, after a decade or two in leadership positions that then leave and join these organizations, but, again, the numbers just don’t add up to it being a major concern.)

So, we need people—whether in an urban, suburban, or rural environment—to master their basic combat shooting skills, and to possess basic light infantry soldier skills, appropriate to the environment (I live in a very rural area, with a couple of small villages and towns close enough to be a “concern.” Neither of the two towns has a single three-story building, let alone taller. I don’t need to waste a lot of time teaching my local people high-level, multi-story structure CQB. I need to focus on rural patrolling techniques, mounted and dismounted, and basic structure clearing methods for residential type buildings. If I lived in an urban area, or a suburban area on the edge of an urban area, I would reverse those priorities, obviously.)

So, how can we introduce and practice these skills, while also getting people to continue advancing their combat shooting skills?

My core group trains one day a week, for about 4-5 hours. Some people won’t be there one weekend, and some might miss another weekend, but generally, we’ve got around 10-12 people that will be there regularly (including several wives).

So, here is a proposed training schedule that I am trying to implement with my people, in order to continue developing their abilities beyond simply gunfighting skills.


General Training Plan

General Description: this group possesses basic to intermediate gunhandling and shooting skills. We have two or three advanced level shooters with military special operations gunfight experience. We have several shooters who have completed one or more rifle/carbine courses, and/or have conventional force military combat experience, and shoot at a high intermediate level. We have a few shooters who are beginner/novice level shooters with all weapons.

The first level of achievement we demand is the ability to pass both the state LE model handgun qualification course and the current FBI handgun qualification (both of which even our “beginner” shooters have passed with flying colors, only to look at me and ask, “Seriously? It’s that easy?” Apparently, making them shoot quarter second splits and transitions, with a 3×5 index card or smaller aiming zone makes having the entire A-Zone a walk in the park on a fine spring day…Cray-cray how that works…)

We also have a couple of different rifle qualifications we use, but nothing that has been defined as “the standard” yet, because of the differences in operational terrains that none of the quals seem to fit perfectly.

We do a medical/TC3 course once a quarter. That doesn’t fit into this specific scheduling, but would replace our normal weekly training for that week.

So, our training day of five hours is broken down in this manner:

1 hour: Combatives for Conditioning

Like most groups out there, one of the biggest weaknesses within our core is a lack of sustained, dedicated, relevant physical training. We have a few guys who do regular, hardcore PT, and a few who do “some” PT at varying—and increasing, to their credit—levels, but we also have some that their only PT is what I come up with during drills to smoke their asses.

Since having them do group calisthenics is probably a non-starter, what I decided on instead is to start doing some form of “fun” conditioning. I recommend this for any group. Ideas include anything from an hour-long “forced march” to basic combatives training.

Some specific ideas beyond that might include:

  • We’re going to put in an 800 meter obstacle course, with a running trail through the woods connecting obstacles. Running this “Hollywood,” then with “fighting load,” then with “existence load” would make a solid first hour workout…and pretty clearly illustrate how important regular PT on your own is…and I’ve never—literally, never—found anyone who didn’t get a kick out of running a decent O-Course. Even if it’s a smoker like the Nasty Nick or the Darby Queen, guys love it (To be fair, “loving it” does not necessarily mean “I’m not going to bitch about it.”)
  • Learn and practice some basic combatives techniques. Rather than spend 15 minutes doing a warm-up, then 15 minutes learning A technique, before spending the last half hour “rolling,” and allowing the more advanced guys to randomly beat the shit out of the less experienced, in our context this means more along the lines of spending the time learning two or three basic techniques for grappling or takedowns, and then drilling them repetitively, to ingrain the requisite motor pathways.
  • Combatives Round Robin: This is actually one of my favorite “combatives conditioning” workouts. It’s simply figuring out how many buddy teams you have, and then setting up a station for each buddy team, with one of the teams being “at rest”. One station might be “jab/cross/hook/cross on the focus mitts.” Another might be “Thai kicks to the heavy bag.” Another might be “sprawl against a double leg attempt.” Then, work the stations in a circuit, for one or two or three minute intervals, switching out after each round, and going for the whole hour. This isn’t going to make experienced, finished fighters, but it will begin to inculcate the “spirit of the bayonet,” and confidence in their ability to continue the fight. If you have guys with at least some experience, you can even include a station for “rolling” or “sparring,” and you’ll end up with an even better result.
  • Fighting Sprint Intervals: This one is pretty simple. Set a distance, 200, 400, or 800 yards, and have all the participants line up, wearing their fighting load. Have the first guy run the interval, then job back. When he gets back, he falls in at the back of the line. Once he starts jogging back, the next runner can start the sprint. Etc… Once the entire group has run the interval, rest for 2 minutes, then repeat, for the entire hour, or whatever portion thereof you’ve designated for this exercise.

As trainers/leaders, we KNOW the critical importance of a high level of physical fitness both for performance and for injury/illness prevention in tactical operations—and life in general. We owe it to our people, if we actually give a shit about them, to make sure they are getting SOME level of fitness introduced to them, even if it is this limited. Additionally, even these simple challenges can often be enough to motivate people to pick up the pace of their individual daily PT.

I cannot count the number of people I’ve received emails and phone calls from who, after taking a class with me, recognized, due to the physical demands I introduce into the training, the importance of PT, and began a dedicated program of strength and condition and/or combatives. That doesn’t even count the readers who have never been in a class with me, but have taken the message from my writing and run with it.

1 hour—combat shooting fundamentals

This alternates weekly, between rifle and pistol. On the other hand, if your people have a solid baseline of skill with one weapon—like mine do with pistol—and you live in an area that demands solid skill with the other—rifle in my case—you might do two weeks on one and one week on the other.

This work block should include “basic” square range skills development: group shooting from various positions, two- and one-handed shooting with pistol, transitions between targets, multiple shot strings, reloads and malfunction clearances, and decision-making drills. Even with our group of 10-12, we can run through a lot of this in one hour, including dry-fire iterations.

Examples might include:

  • “Dot Torture” or simple “group shooting” with the pistol to stress fundamental marksmanship.
  • Position shooting groups with rifle/carbine, against to stress fundamental marksmanship.
  • If guys seem to be having problems getting tight groups during these deliberate, aimed fire exercises, I’ll incorporate a ball-and-dummy drill INTO the group shooting exercise, so they SEE where they are fucking up.
  • “Tempo Drills” like “The Bill Drill” to develop the ability to shoot accurately, at high speed (the idea, so prevalent among “preppers” that shooting fast=missing a lot says a lot about the piss-poor state of shooting ability among the demographic. I bet I can get a couple of former students to attest to having watched me put five rounds into the same hole, at 7-10 yards, with a pistol, in less than one second, with both hands, and one-handed, with either hand… Putting hits on a head box size steel at 100 yards in a half-second cadence is not even particularly difficult with a rifle. If you think shooting fast=missing a lot, you need to do a LOT of work on these drills.) Tempo drills work with rifle or pistol (Hell, I’ve done them with an 870, although, obviously the tempo slows down considerably, to account for the requirement to actuate the slide…). The point of tempo drills is not to shoot fast. It’s to shoot as fast as you can, while seeing WHAT YOU NEED TO SEE in order to make the hits you need to make. Seriously, these are one of the best combat shooting drills you can do, in my opinion.
  • “Tempo Transition Drills” I run the VTAC 1-5 Drill basically just like I run a Bill Drill. I count my cadence out loud, and I speed the cadence up each time, forcing myself to drive the gun more aggressively, and to see my sights faster. I also like to use the Failure-to-Stop/Mozambique drill for the same purpose. At common pistol ranges, out to around 10 yards, my splits between the two body shots are the same as the split to the head shot. Of course, this is because my body shot aiming zone is a 3×5 index card, but since I’m running them at about 3/10th of a second splits, that’s okay…I’m not really running a “Mozambique” as much as I’m running a transition drill. It’s working the same skills though. Again, this is not a “tactical drill,” it’s a “technical drill” designed to help you master a) driving the gun aggressively, rather than letting the gun dictate, and b) seeing what you need to see in order to make the hits you need to make.
  • “A Drills.” While 95% of our reload practice is dry-fire, I like to incorporate this drill that I stole from Andy Stanford’s Combat Rifle Marksmanship Exercises book, a long time ago. Basically, it requires loading the weapon with two rounds, total. You fire two, speed/emergency reload, and fire two more. When done properly, this stresses the reload, but it also forces you to recover properly AFTER the reload. One of the biggest occurrences of misses I’ve seen in my career has been guys rushing that first shot after an “Oh shit!” reload….

There is no such thing as “advanced shooting techniques.” There is simply the refined mastery of the fundamentals. In view of this, if you’re not spending a significant portion of your available training time focusing on developing and improving these fundamentals, you’re being a tactical douche canoe. It doesn’t do you a bit of good to run something like the Rifle 10, if you haven’t already mastered deliberate aimed-fire from positions. It doesn’t do you any good to do something like an IDPA stage, if you haven’t already figured out how to shoot multiple shot strings efficiently, or to transition between targets.

1 hour: “Applied” Marksmanship Practice

This block is where we start putting the fundamentals into practice at an applied level. I was initially going to term this “Dynamic Marksmanship Drills,” but I fucking hate the abuse of that word in the training industry, so I refuse to be a “Dynamic Dick” by using it. Besides, “Applied” really is more accurate. These are “Stress Fire Course” type drills. The goal is to combine the fundamentals of combat marksmanship (speed and accuracy) with combat relevant movement and decision-making.

These may include individual drills or buddy-team drills. Examples might include:

  • The Rifle 10, from Gunsite (Google it.), although I’m far more likely to make my people run the Retrograde Rifle 10, where you’re breaking contact from the target, simply because it’s actually more relevant to our TACSOP TTPs.
  • The Boer Drill. This is one I came up with recently that was a subscription drill. It’s a 90 second smokefest that requires shooting 6 targets at ranges from 50 yards to 200 yards, in multiple combinations, while moving between positions of cover. It stresses marksmanship, obviously (we shoot it on 6” head zone steel at 50, and reduced steel silhouettes at 100 and 200), but it also stresses cognitive function, because you have to know your shoot/no shoot parameters, to make the right shots at any given time…
  • The PRA 1-5. Although the baseline version of this drill doesn’t require movement at all, the “advanced” version of it requires movement between each target engagement, and the rifle/carbine version of it does the same thing, but places the targets at 50 or 100 meters or more. You want to understand how critical magnified optics have become on a fighting rifle in the modern world, try this drill, by posting the identifying numbers on the target at face level or hand level, the size of facial features or the size of a handgun or a rifle reciever, and try running it without magnification, then try it with magnification…
  • We can also do all of these drills as buddy team drills. The Rifle 10 can be modified by having the shooters continue to shoot the target at a steady cadence, while their partner bounds, and vice versa, and require contextually correct communication throughout. The Boer Drill can be run by having each shooter move while his partner is engaging his target string of the moment, and vice versa, and communicating throughout. The PRA 1-5 drill can be run as a buddy drill by providing each shooter with a different number sequence, and requiring them to communicate and move correctly, while their partner is engaging, and vice versa (it works really, really well for this at 100-200 meters…and it sucks, in a really positive way…)

Fundamentals or marksmanship are…well…fundamental. At the same time however, we need to be mastering the application of those fundamentals with relevant drills. As a general thing, if you have more than 4-5 people, running these drills 2-3 times each is going to practicably limit you to one drill per week, but that’s ideal, because it allows shooters to focus on the execution of that drill, and improving on it, instead of “Wow! That was fun! It was really hard, but fun! What are we doing now?”

We’re now 3 hours into our 5 hour weekly training block, and you’ve done a LOT of work already…good time management helps.

1 Hour: Individual Common Tasks

These can range from basic first aid skills to land navigation to fieldcraft and survival skills to planning development, etc. What I recommend doing is deciding on an area of study for the week, and picking some of the individual common tasks skills listed in the various relevant SMTGs (Soldier’s Manual and Training Guide), and have a brief training program for each. In one hour, most people are probably practicably limited to 1-2, since you’ll need to explain, and demonstrate the skill before having the individuals practice it. On the other hand, some skills tasks, such as land navigation, can be lumped together and taught in the same block (convert an azimuth for example, can be taught at the same time as determine a location by intersection or resection).

1 Hour: Collective Common Tasks

These will probably initially be based on the basic team and squad battle drills in FM7-8, but…and this is a giant, Puerto Rican, J.Lo BUTT…they are going to have to be modified to fit your TOE. It doesn’t do you a goddamned bit of good to practice “assault a bunker” pretending to have a SAW or M240, when you don’t have one, and probably aren’t going to have one…It doesn’t do you any good, whatsoever, to practice “react to near ambush” by including the part about hurling hand grenades at the enemy, when you don’t have and probably aren’t going to have, hand grenades…and no, Molotov cocktails are not a replacement for a fucking fragmentation grenade, especially in a rural environment…Molotov cocktails worked really well in the context in which they were developed…dropping them out of third story windows in a concrete jungle urban environment. Beyond that, the only fucking thing they are good for is scaring the living fuck out of riot control cops…and burning down local businesses.

Beyond the basic light infantry battle drills, you might look at the Field Manuals and ARTEPs for combat engineer units and field medical units to come up with other relevant collective tasks, although those too will probably need to be heavily modified.

This five hour weekly training plan fills out a pretty solid training plan in a hurry. Theoretically, you could replace the combatives conditioning portion by tacking on an extra hour of common tasks training at the individual or collective level, but a) I’m a Ranger, and all the way back to the formation of the modern battalions during World War Two, combatives have been part of the Ranger Mantra (Hell, I’m walking around with a shiner this week, after walking into a left jab at boxing last week…), and b) I don’t know that I’ve met very many groups that had all of their people doing anywhere near “enough” PT, so I generally think any opportunity to introduce more PT into the training plan is a good idea.

What I would generally do is, in the beginning, follow this program for at least a full-quarter, or maybe even a half-year. Then, I would dedicate one weekend a month to a “field exercise.” I’m not talking about going and living out of your rucks for a weekend “drill” or anything like that. Instead, I’m talking about, using the entire five hour block for something like “Hey, I’ve gone out and set up an land nav course in the National Forest, we’re going to do that this weekend!” or, “Hey, I signed us all up to run an orienteering race next weekend!” It might be, “Hey, we’re going to reschedule next weekend’s training hours to start at 10PM, so we can do some low-light work, and then work the same training schedule, but do it in the dark…


We’re not Special Forces soldiers (even those of us that once were), and we don’t have the luxury of training like SF soldiers. We need to mold our training programs to fit our realities, not our fantasies (seriously….the ability to run my own Assessment and Selection and Training Course? Fuck yeah! That’s what MY wet dreams are made of! In my context, I’d build it around the 1960s Ranger Training Programs, and be happy as a pig in a pile of composted shit!)

Good time management, combined with an understanding of what the core common skills we need to have, is the critical element in building a solid community or retreat security force. Knowing what assets are actually available to us, instead of fantasizing about having crew-served weapons and close-air support, is critical. Understanding that current TTPs for conventional force military are predicated on having those assets, and that we’re going to have to heavily modify those if we are able to use them, at all, is equally critical.

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  1. Diz permalink

    Very timely and relevant. I know you have explained all this before in your books but getting another good example of an actual training plan it is still golden.

    1) PT is still there. You’ve whipped the dogshit out of it, but…

    2) Vol 1: Mission, METL, Skill Sets, Training Plan, Training. That right there is worth the cost of the book.

    3) What are your thoughts on using a heavy-bbl’d AR as a combination squad (Semi)Auto rifleman/ Designated Marksman? Having a couple of dudes that can lay down semi-auto covering fire, either very rapidly and/or very accurately?

  2. tropicthunder81 permalink

    Great training details. Will incorporate some into our ours.

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