AAR: CQB Tactics Training with a Former “Tier 1” Operator, hosted by AirsoftExtreme
Location : TASK Enforcement CQB Training Facility
Event date : 6/24/2012
Instructor : AEX has hosted countless airsoft events over the years but this, to my knowledge, is the first ever training type event they’ve hosted in which an instructor with real world combat experience has been brought in to teach tactics to civilians and airsofters. This course was designed to give airsofters an introduction to how current real world CQB tactics are executed by the military elite. The subject matter expert, Tyler Grey, is a highly reputable Former Tier 1 Operator who’s unit was specifically tasked with Direct Action Missions and has multiple military tours under his belt. Recently retired from the service due to combat injuries, his extreme familiarity with present day tactics and SOPs for CQB engagements make him an exceptional source of information.
Location Info : The course was held at TASK Enforcement, a CQB Training Facility located in Southern California used extensively by various branches of law enforcement. The facility has a wide variety of perks including the ability to adjust the light levels from bright indoor lighting all the way down to no-light. While setup for UTMs and SIMs, airsoft is frequently used as a cost effective alternative for training. Other features of the facility include an extensive catwalk system for instructors to observe the trainees, stairwells, various room and hallway configurations, a pro-shop, locker room, and CCTV throughout the training area for people to watch the action go down live from the lecture room or to be recorded and reviewed at a later time. This isn’t a cheap make shift CQB field made out of rickety plywood walls and gasoline drums. Walls and doors at TASK are solid. For an extra fee, the facility can provide fully functional doors and windows specifically for mechanical breaching training. Access to a location like this is rare for anyone, let alone airsofters.
Students : Awareness of this upcoming event was disseminated through Airsoft Extreme’s Facebook page, company newsletter and in my case: word of mouth. As such, the only people who knew about it were mostly airsofters and acquaintances of the store. An age requirement of 18 and over was imposed, and the class size was capped at 25 students. The student demographic comprised of 10 guys from my own team (aged 25 to 40+, a mix of LE, former military, and civilian live fire shooting enthusiasts). The remainder of the students covered a wide range of ages and backgrounds.
Gear : Since this was an event specifically geared towards airsofters, the assumption was that students would be bringing their own guns, ammo and kit, although all of that would be available for rent in future courses which will be opened up to non-airsoft specific students. The only requirements imposed by the facility and AEX was full seal ANSI rated eye protection (full face protection was strongly recommended since the course would have close engagements and a two way range). Having taken non-airsoft live fire tactics courses from Tyler in the past, I was aware that his preference for student gear to be as military-ish as possible. This CQB class would be a little looser in that regard as airsofters tend to use whatever they want, or as it is in many cases whatever they have. When asked, I simply instructed my guys to wear BDUs or non-BDUs, but to definitely bring their milsim kit. The reason for this being you want to train as you fight (or in some cases: train as you play). Beyond our group, we saw a lot of variety in guns, gear, clothing, etc. Some people brought rifles (generally some type of AR15, both GBB and AEG), while a smaller minority had submachine guns and one or two shotguns. Not everyone had a side arm, but most did.
Cost : The course fees were $125. This covered course fees, facility use and clean up after the course by the AEX staff. Equipment such as guns, ammo, and gear were to be the user’s responsibility to source. I know for many airsofters, the expense of $125 for the class might seem high. For me it felt very reasonable since I regularly take live fire classes from various firearms instructors that cost double to quadruple that amount. Such is the norm in the firearms training world. Training in the airsoft world however is not common, and since airsofters as a whole cover a wide range of ages and financial dispositions, individuals both capable and willing to pay for training is a very small subset within this community. $125 was in my mind a bargain to receive instruction from a true Tier 1 operator in a subject not often covered by most schools.
The first thing that was clear about this class was that it was purely about tactics and technique. Marksmanship fundamentals and weapon’s manipulation was not addressed. There simply wasn’t time for it and it is a course (several in fact) onto itself. No, this class was all about the current military tactics of how to enter and clear a room of potential threats using anywhere from 1 or more shooters in a fire team (military tactics, not LE tactics which has a different set of SOPs). The military tactics that were taught to SF a decade ago has since evolved a great deal and is significantly different than what is taught today. Whatever your stance is on the war in the middle east, it has taught us valuable life lessons (hard earned in many cases) on many subjects, one of which is tactics for both urban and non-urban war fighting. This course is designed to introduce an intermediate to advanced level shooter to the fundamentals of CQB and how to pull it off using team tactics. It’s not about mimicking what the professionals do, but understanding why they do it, how they do it, and executing it precisely to increase your chances of success and survival.
The majority of students were on site by 0800. We had around 35-45 minutes to get our kit squared away and prepped for the day. This includes loading mags, setting up gear, guns, etc. Just before 0900, we gathered in the facility’s lecture theater at which point Tyler introduced himself and started giving some insight into the history of CQB, how it came about, and how it has evolved.
Class room instruction was lengthy, chock full of information and covered the following topics:
– Primary focus of CQB
– Keys to success in CQB: Speed, Surprise, and Violence of Action. Breaking the will of the enemy to fight.
– Weapon positions in CQB: high ready vs low ready vs muzzle level. When to use which position.
– Basic entry techniques explained in depth:
Technique #1 – Strong walling
Technique #2 – Alternating
– For either technique you need to create fire superiority over the opposition.
– Shoot, move and communicate.
– First man in is always correct. Just flow with it
– The fatal funnel
– Points of domination and how deep each shooter penetrates into the room
– Areas of responsibility, Sectors of fire and tunnel vision
– How to deal with “Dead Space” (unknown areas or blind spots not visible during entry)
– Short rooms vs long rooms
– Stacking vs not stacking
– Nuts to butts
– SMGs vs Shotguns vs Rifles
– When to transition to a secondary vs emergency and tactical reloads
– Shooting on your dominant vs non-dominant side
– In real world scenarios, Plate Carriers won’t cut it in CQB. You want to be armored to the gills
– Breaching: door kicking vs explosive breaching, ballistic breaching and mechanical breaching
(note: if you’re door kicking you might as well knock on the door and let the OPFOR know you’re coming in).
– If you don’t have an immediate task or responsibility, you’re pulling security
– What do you do when someone goes down
– Training for only specific roles within the stack vs training for any and all roles in the stack
While strong walling (all operators enter the room and adhere to a singular wall, weapons pointed down range) is still a technique used by some branches of the military, the unit this Tier 1 operator trained with preferred Alternating Entry (whichever direction the 1st guy goes (left or right upon entry), next guy goes in the opposite direction and this alternates for each subsequent entry person). I was relatively familiar with both techniques but there was a lot of nuances and strict rules that needed to be followed. Things like responsibility of each person in the room, their individual focus, sectors of fire, points of dominance, where people needed to be, and the speed at which you moved. Given time and experience, some of those rules can be bent, however, the core principles of the technique must be understood in order to execute a more dynamic approach later (translation: get the basics down perfectly before you try to modify it).
After explaining these techniques and principles in the lecture theater both verbally and using the white board for visual diagrams, it was time to apply what we had learned in a practical setting.
The majority of the instruction was specifically focused on 4 Man Team Entry using the alternating technique into a corner fed room. The class was broken down into pairs, and we were first taught the roles of the 1st man and 2nd man room entry procedure (ignoring the roles of the 3rd and 4th man for now). Tyler would explain and demonstrate the technique, and then he’d observe from above on the catwalk. After each drill we would frequently switch roles within those pairs so that both shooters were familiar with the movements and responsibility of each position. We eventually had each pair combine with a second pair to form a four man team. We then practiced 4 man room entry, alternating the roles within the team after every drill to allow strong understanding and familiarity for each person’s positions in the room, responsibilities, sectors of fire, speed in movement, etc.
The majority of the class was conducted against IDPA/IPSC targets. Granted the paper targets weren’t shooting back at us, and while the placement of the targets might have seemed random to some, it was in fact strategic and there was clear lessons to be learned by each shooter in the room. Some targets were out of the line of sight for some shooters, meanwhile other targets might have been within the peripheral vision of a shooter but weren’t the responsibility of the shooter. It’s tough entering a room and seeing a possible target in the corner of your eye, knowing you’re not supposed to engage it as it was someone else’s responsibility and you need to just focus on what you’re tasked with. It’s one of the few cases in a class in which I’ve actually been told to start the drill with a certain degree of tunnel vision before allowing myself to expand that focus. As we quickly learned, getting sucked into the fire fight that you can see and neglecting your personal areas of responsibility can lead to your entire team getting killed.
Once the group as a whole showed a strong understanding of the fundamentals, we transitioned to shooting against live opposition. The ground rules were simple: since this is training for technique and movement, the entry team were immortal during the drill while the OPFOR could be taken out after one or two shots. These drills weren’t supposed to be mini-games, but a learning experience. While we were “immortal” for the duration of the drills, we still kept track of the number of hits we received and locations on our persons as to where we were hit. Switching from shooting at paper to shooting live OPFOR who were actively trying to shoot back at us, it was surprising how many people forgot the freshly learned techniques we had just gone over minutes before and lost sight of their specific roles and responsibilities. It was a great reminder that, you need to practice practice practice until the technique becomes second nature. As the first and second entry men, you need to be able to circumvent your natural inclination to focus on just the threats that you see and follow through on the hidden threats that may also exist.
The topic of single man room clears was touched on. The basic gist was that that was a worst case scenario, and in those cases if you absolutely must enter the room on your own you need to use various pie-ing techniques, and eliminate the OPFOR in the manner in which it’d maximize your survivability. This class however was specifically focused on team tactics and single man clears wasn’t discussed in depth.
Other topics covered briefly, was a brief explanation of more advanced techniques such as stairwells, hallways, t-junctions, snapping corners, etc. Many of those were bigger subjects than the time we had allowed but would be covered in future classes.
My Personal Input:
• More emphasis needed on safe weapon handling. My guys and I observed a lot of unsafe weapon handling in some of the students. Everything from flagging other people during down time between drills to flagging each other during drills. The opinion of my group was that more emphasis needs to be placed first thing in the morning (and consistently throughout the day when the same offenses were made) for firearm safety. Even during a simple airsoft game, it’s a little unsettling to see a group of guys stacking up on the door and half of them have their guns in each others backs. Some flagging may be unavoidable (and it does happen occasionally with real world operators), but the instances which can be avoided, should be. Constant awareness of your gun should always take precedence. Suggestions to this would be going over the firearm safety rules via a quick brief in the AM, repeated again after lunch, and reminders each time someone makes a mistake. In live fire training, everyone on the line (including students) is an RSO (range safety officer). When anyone observes unsafe behavior, it needs to be called out for the safety of the group. In airsoft people tend to be a bit more pissy about being told something by another (unfamiliar) player, so it would be best if the instructors and the AEX employees who notice unsafe behavior to be on top of it more. During all my live fire classes, including ones taught by Tyler in the past, we’ve gone over the 4 firearm safety rules first thing in the morning.
– Response to this feedback by AEX and Tyler has been positive. The lack of a safety brief in the AM was an oversight, which will be addressed in future classes.
• Taking the initiative. Between drills, a few of my guys would go off with me to another area in the facility to practice what we just went through. No one else beyond my group took the initiative to do this.
• Smaller classes. It’s understood that a smaller class would require a higher class fee. A poll for my group showed that people would be willing to pay significantly more for a class of 16 people (4 four man teams) if it meant more content, more practice/repetitions.
– AEX response to this has been concern over getting enough students to fill a class at a higher per student price point. Which is understandable since many airsofters don’t have much coin to spare, especially on training. That said, I’m still of the opinion that those who are willing to spend money on quality content and instruction would be willing to pay a little more for more practice drills and more content within the same amount of time.
• Longer class. Have everyone arrive no later than 7:30am, ready for instruction by 8:15am, 45 minute lunch at most, and have class go till 6pm. Also, a two day class conducted on a Saturday and Sunday would be great.
– AEX response to this is that, if it’s clear that there’s adequate interest for a two day course, that will certainly be looked into down the road.
• Stuff we’d like to see in the next class:
– Quick review and practice of the previous class content.
– Detailed instruction of some of the more advanced techniques he was talking about at the end of the day.
– Show people how to start making the entire process more organic and dynamic once the basics are mastered.
From my Teammate John:
Class room instruction: What I got the most out of this part of the class was the mental attitude that you have to have in order to execute room entry/clearing. Why it’s important to have dominance, speed, violence of action, etc. and how those elements contribute towards imposing your will against those on the other side of the door. I liked how Tyler clarified certain aspects of CQB (like how previously the thought that if you’re good/fast enough you can clear a room w/o anyone getting hurt is in reality not likely). These are all those mental elements I found useful.
Drills and exercises: I liked how Tyler moved in steps. A clear example of this is how he had us do 2 man drills to get that basic movement and coverage into a room. Then once that was established he moved us into 4 man drills with the 3 and 4 man movements completing the overall coverage into a room. I think that’s how all of the instruction should be. Layered on top of basic movements. It seems like there are an infinite amount of scenarios or situations that a team faces entering a room or moving from room to room or hallways, etc. but covering overall concepts and making us understand them is key so that we may problem solve on our own in the future. I think Tyler did a good job covering overall concepts of all the movements we did and hope in the future we get to drill them more.
Safety: Bottom line is if we are learning live fire tactics/concepts and drilling them, then we should also follow live fire rules of safety. I saw a lot of flagging by a surprising number of people. Learning safety seems equally important to the movements we were being taught and we need that added pressure of muzzle safety if we’re going to get anything out of this. Plus out of the entire class I was the only one shot by a friendly, so I’d like that not to happen as much in the future. (Airsoft is a bonus here as airsoft live fire drilling has minimal consequence, but mentally it should be a big deal).
Future instruction: I’d like to see more in depth coverage into what we already learned, sticking with 4 man room clearing but adding drills that include clearing dead space, how to deal with other open doors in a room while clearing, etc. Then linking room to room clearing, and drills for hallways.
Overall I learned alot and enjoyed the experience. I didn’t mind it being a relatively low round count day as long as I learned something new. Besides, I can always try to apply it later … but I need the knowledge first!
From my Teammate Arya:
I started the day without any clue as to what was going to happen. I thought this was going to be a basic, indoor movement and basic weapons manipulation course. I was wrong.
The day started in the classroom, starting with one key lesson; CQB is incredibly complex. We were then given some background, some conceptual theories and after maybe an hour in a classroom we were moving in rooms and eventually put against paper and live targets. Even though this was a elementary lesson in CQB, even the very basic concepts taught were humbling and complex. The only movements we did in detail were 2 man and 4 man room clears and even then only in simple rooms. The responsibilities and what is demanded while in these situations is incredible, you are required to stick to your role even in the face of enemy combatants, trusting that your team will take care of their end as well. The only targets we went up against were paper IPSC targets and at the end, 2 live targets; even the paper targets were formidable enemies. A lot of times, we would enter a room and it was all just a blur, I did what I did … and I think it was right, and I think it was fast (even though I know we were moving way too slow). But every once in a while, we’d hit the room and it all clicked; we stacked up tight, moved quickly, everyone stuck to their roles and we cleared that room in what seemed like less than 2 seconds. I could have done 2 and 4 man clears like that all day and night, and I would have been happy. Just one class and I’m already looking at rooms differently, I’m thinking of how this room would be cleared; when I walked home that night, I stepped into my living room with open, connected kitchen and realized I had no idea how I would clear that room. I just had a full day of instruction, great, detailed, hands-on instruction and all I knew was that I wouldn’t be able to clear my living room. I didn’t leave the class feeling like I knew what I was doing, quite the opposite; I left the class knowing that I knew nothing.
What do I know about room clearing? Last week, I knew what I had seen on TV and video games. A bunch of really badass guys hit a room really fast, stuff happens and because they’re so badass, the good guys generally all come out alive (unless one of the guys was talking about going home to the family, etc… in the previous scene). Well, I learned that all that stuff is BS. Here’s what I learned, CQB is incredibly complex at its most basic stage, the simple room being cleared with 2 or 4 people, and it only gets more complex when the room is less simple and when there is more than just 1 room to clear. I spent the day learning basic 2 and 4 man concepts of room clearing; how to move, where to move, where your sectors are, etc… This stuff is basically elementary CQB material, and I learned that getting this material down is complex and requires way more practice and discipline than I originally thought.
Even though I showed up and trained with people I have been playing airsoft with for years, and even though we mostly only “fought” against paper IPSC targets in this class, I learned that even in the most basic situations CQB is complex and confusing. How complex is it? When you enter a room, are you thinking about which foot goes through the door and how you will transfer that weight to make your turn quickly but in enough control to maneuver around/over/through any potential obstacles? When you reach your point of domination, are you scanning left to right or right to left? Are you supposed to? These thoughts didn’t come into my mind while I was stacked up for my first entry, and quickly came to my mind the instant my body went through the doorway. This is what makes the course material complex, and this is what made this class so captivating.
I spent the majority of the day doing 2 man and 4 man clears of simple rooms against paper targets. I can spend weeks doing the same thing and learn more and more each time. Everyone I talked to came out of this class wanting to do more, wanting to get better at what we did.
The premise of this event wasn’t to gather a bunch of players and simply duke it out in a CQB arena. It was obvious a few guys had shown up assuming that they’d be there for some Tier 1 gaming (or as they put it “BB gun wars” … *sigh*) and that they’d walk out of the class being as competent as any Tier 1 operator. And they clearly missed the mark. The class was fun, not for the few instances in which we got to shoot at each other, but because of the content that was taught, the way it was taught and the general experience of learning in a subject that we all enjoy.
Let’s be clear, you’re not going to walk out of this class a Tier 1 CQB operator. It takes thousands of hours in training, on the job experience, and pure unadulterated grit which few people on this planet have. This class was simply a taster for how the military conducts CQB operations today. It was very much a Military CQB 101 course. CQB tactics are vast, multi faceted and dynamic. The content covered in this class alone barely even constitutes the tip of the CQB iceberg, but it’s a great start. It’s essential to learn the strict and core rules and techniques to executing effective CQB. Mastery of those methods is required before attempting to bend those rules and becoming more dynamic as would eventually be needed in the thousands of potential scenarios the conventional warfighter is confronted with.
All in all, it was a great class. Some valuable lessons were learned and I know I speak for everyone in my group when I say that we’re eager to learn more and excited about testing out these techniques in our own games.
The guys at Airsoft Extreme. For setting up and hosting such a unique event.
Tyler Grey. For sharing just a sampling of the diverse knowledge and experience he’s gained over the years in a topic not often covered nor shared.