For quite some time, I have been thinking about the way training is approached in, for lack of a better phrase, the "tactical firearm community." In my opinion, there is an over emphasis on weapons training in the community.
You might say "Well, duh. The firearms community is going to have a heavy emphasis on firearms training over other subjects." This is certainly true. And I'm not suggesting that people who want to own and use semi automatic rifles or pistols for various purposes should not be intimately familiar with their operation. In fact, if you haven't received training from an objective and experienced third party, I highly recommend that you seek out at least one course.
However, pistol and carbine training courses – and shotgun courses, and precision rifle courses etc. – are all essentially based on, or grew from the concept of, providing law enforcement and military personnel with a greater ability to use their issued weapons. What we see now in the firearms community are essentially the same courses marketed to civilian shooters, perhaps with some limitations or restrictions. This is all well and good, but there is a major disconnect between the skills of a civilian shooter who has attended many carbine and pistol training courses and the skills of a Marine infantryman who has never attended training outside that which is provided by the military.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that the civilian shooter would be more proficient with the rifle/carbine and the pistol, at least within 50 to 100 yards. However, the Marine possesses skills that would make him much more valuable to an infantry unit, and, I daresay, more valuable in a firefight. Unfortunately, the skills that make him so valuable are not cool enough to draw dozens of paying clients.
Some – certainly not all – civilian training centers draw students by telling them how after only a few days of training, they will become as good a shooter as "a SWAT cop or a Navy SEAL." Yes, Front Sight, I'm looking at you. Even when this is not stated outright, it is implied – most often not by the instructors, but by the students. For some people who have never been in the military, and are seeking a little excitement, putting on all the gear and getting on line to practice shooting drills is a really fun way to spend a weekend. I certainly don't wish to put down what they have chosen to do too much, for as I said above, anyone who wants to own an AR-15 should know how to use it. However, while there is a massive jump in skills and proficiency after the first few training courses, the 5th, 10th, or 15th course is of relatively little value.
As I hinted previously, there are many other critical skills normally associated with people who carry guns for a living that are not taught at carbine or pistol training courses. From patrolling and room clearing for infantrymen to felony traffic stops and subduing a violent criminal resisting arrest for police officers, the number of skills required to perform these jobs simply cannot be covered in a weekend. Of course, some of these skills would be of little or no use to people who aren't performing these jobs on a daily basis. This brings me to my next point - actually, the overarching point of the article.
Why are you (this is a metaphorical "you") seeking out this training? Home defense? To score higher in competition shooting? Preparation for an end of the world scenario? While this type of training will prepare you for some of the possible things that might happen immediately before or during a gunfight, there are many other important things to learn. Being able to avoid the confrontation in the first place might be a better option.
For example, in the aforementioned end of world scenario, a complete lack of situational awareness, or an inability to move across terrain quietly, might funnel you into a fight you'll have a hard time winning. Beyond that – although this is a slightly different subject – being physically prepared for the rigors of carrying a rifle, ammunition, food and water, and other essential gear for days and miles at a time in a harsh environment is a far cry from being physically prepared for a carbine course that breaks for lunch.
In my opinion, a lot of people would be much better off if they attended a few quality courses from reputable instructors, then practiced regularly to maintain the skills they acquired during the course(s). This is as opposed to continually attending similar courses over the years, especially if regular practice in between courses is neglected.
Continually attending firearms training courses is an expensive proposition. How much more prepared are you - for whatever you are preparing for - by spending this much money and time on one thing? Would you be better off branching out in the training world and learning the basics of emergency medicine, or attending a high performance driving school? What about a wilderness survival course? Of course, all of these things cost money, too. Only you know exactly why you look to take carbine courses, and only you know if that money could be more productively spent elsewhere - or if it would be better to not spend it at all.
Robert Silvers, who is head of R&D at AAC and inventor of the AAC Blackout flash suppressor, explains how flash suppressors work, and how his thorough understanding of the science involved shaped the AAC Blackout. Reprinted with his permission.
When designing (the AAC Blackout), I read a bunch of patents and did not find many instances of inventors knowing why flash formed or why their design works. Because of this, they often added in features which did more harm than good. I kept the Blackout efficient by not making those mistakes.
There are three main types of muzzle flash: Primary, intermediate, and secondary. Additionally, there may be an "afterburner" effect. Mechanical flash suppressors, such as the AAC Blackout, have little opportunity to control the part called primary flash (the sparks you sometimes see) because that is powder burning within the barrel. But we can prevent the external flare up which we most associate with muzzle flash - that is the secondary and afterburner effect flash.
In order for flash to occur, fuel, oxidizer, and a source of ignition must be present. The fuel is contained in the smokeless propellant. Ignition comes from heat – but only if an oxidizer is available from either the propellant itself or the surrounding atmosphere.
Typical smokeless propellants contain more fuel than needed to balance with the oxidizer. The mixture is run 'rich' to keep flame temperatures lower so as to reduce barrel throat erosion. This imbalance, while reducing the temperature of the mixture, has a side effect of expelling excess unburned fuel from the barrel. This particulate is what makes secondary flash possible. And as said, if you reduce it - the barrel will burn out sooner.
What is the source of heat for the ignition? Surprisingly, not the burning of the powder - but rather it has to do with the nature of supersonic gas flow. When the bullet exits the muzzle, the discharge of expanding gas is moving at supersonic speeds. The speed of the gas is faster than the bullet itself so it will be supersonic even if the bullet is moving slower than the speed of sound. Because the gas is under such high pressure, it is 'under expanded' when it is released to the environment. This pocket of particles and gas is contained within the shell of the external blast wave and as it expands, it cools. The external environment is pushing back, and the shock wave that forms will reflect this discharge back onto itself into a reverse shock wave known as a Mach disk.
These formations occur any time a flow exists a nozzle at supersonic speeds and at a pressure that is higher than that of the external atmosphere and are sometimes visible behind certain high performance aircraft. It is at this location that the supersonic flow changes to subsonic. When the shock wave passes through the Mach disk, the sudden deceleration and resulting compression greatly raises temperatures and can ignite the remaining fuel, provided there is oxidizer available.
If the oxidizer used during ignition is provided by the propellant, the result is a combustion known as secondary muzzle flash. If the oxidizer is provided by the surrounding atmosphere, it is more precisely described as an afterburning effect. In either case, the result is what we think of as muzzle flash.
The two main ways to suppress flash are by chemical or mechanical means. Flash retardants may be mixed into smokeless propellant to reduce the potential for flash. Generally alkali salts, 0.5 to 5.0 % by weight are used. Flash suppressants are usually not in propellants because they degrade the performance and increase smoke. Military customers often request the chemical additives, but the amount used, in consideration for the negative effects, is likely chosen to be effective only for typical barrel lengths and only most of the time. This means that shorter than normal barrels may find that typical mechanical flash suppressors (such as the A2) – even when combined with chemical flash retardants – are not sufficient to eliminate visible flash.
The AAC Blackout works to reduce pressures and temperatures in the gun muzzle flow field and hence there is also a reduction of strength of the resulting Mach disk. It does this by dividing the expanding flow into several weaker streams. Because of the weaker Mach disk, there is less sudden compression in a concentrated area of the gases as they go from supersonic to subsonic, and so the gas and particulate temperature will stay below the level required to initiate secondary combustion or afterburning.
Since starting this blog, I've listed a few different email addresses for contact purposes. Also, there's the YouTube channel, where posters can send me messages and comment on the channel or on individual videos. Finally, there's the Facebook page. I'm sorry to say that I quite often fall behind in terms of responding to all of the various methods by which people can ask questions. I'm especially sorry that I haven't responded as soon as possible to some technical or purchasing questions. This occurs most often with comments on the YouTube channel or videos, but I think it has happened with emails through the blog, as well, and even comments on individual posts here on the blog.
In the future, I'll try to be more on top of this. The correct email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and that is the best way to receive a quick response if you have a specific question. Thanks.
This will be a slight departure from my normal posts.
As some of my readers might know, I was in the military (Technically, I still am). I progressed from a naïve Seaman Recruit to a tired-of-all-the-BS Hospital Corpsman Second Class in a relatively short period of time. I did not always know the right thing to do, and I often made mistakes – especially in the beginning stages of my enlistment. I do not believe that I was ever hazed as a result of those mistakes, or for any other reason. I went through several rites of passage and I was sometimes corrected by my seniors in creative fashion. Outsiders might consider these things hazing. I don't, and here's why.
Rites of Passage
When I was frocked to (given the rank, but not the pay of) HM3, I became a noncommissioned officer. At the time, I was in the headquarters company of the Fifth Marine Regiment. Those Marine and Navy noncommissioned officers - those of equal or higher rank - in my unit who wished to do so walked past me and pounded their fists against my new rank insignia, which did not yet have the frogs, or pin backers, attached. In other words, two small metal pins were repeatedly pounded into my chest approximately 3/8 of an inch. When this was done, blood flowed through my undershirt and my uniform blouse.
I did not feel that I had been hazed – I felt that I had been welcomed. I saw this as a rite of passage, of being accepted by my new equals and my superiors. When a staff NCO (E-6 and above) saw my blouse, he was nothing short of horrified, for he had taken part. I have no doubt that if I had complained, heads would've rolled – and I would have no longer been welcomed as an equal. Since I was happier and felt more accomplished on that day than the day I graduated from a university, I was not about to complain.
Creative Corrective Actions
Although I do not have any spectacular examples of corrective actions that were taken because of mistakes made on my part, I sometimes witnessed other junior enlisted being forced to perform repetitive or seemingly mindless tasks due to mistakes they had made. I certainly made many mistakes, but my seniors apparently felt that verbal counseling - with level or raised voices - was enough to correct my behavior. In most cases, I was quietly pulled aside by a Sergeant or Corporal and explained the facts of life. In a few cases, Gunny verbally tore me to little pieces.
In the case of some of my fellow juniors, this was apparently not enough. Being forced to do the same thing over and over, being forced to recite phrases over and over, being forced to exercise to the point of extreme exhaustion – I was aware of these things from time to time. When I felt that these actions were being taken improperly – which was rare – I spoke my mind. This occurred most often when a junior enlisted member was being unfairly blamed for a medical issue that was not their fault (My voice never made a difference, for what it's worth).
Other than that, these corrective actions were not taken lightly. They were not the result of honest mistakes or miscalculations, of misunderstandings or minor behavioral quirks. They were the result of serious and repeated failures that endangered the lives of other service members. Often, they were welcomed by other junior enlisted members, for their lives were the ones hanging in the balance. I do not make these statements lightly – nearly every single day, we were walking or driving the streets of what was at the time the most violent and dangerous city in Iraq, the publicly stated focal point of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The violence did not reach the levels seen in November of 2004, but we were still losing a Marine every day for too long a period of time in and around Fallujah. As heavily as this fact weighed on me – as a Navy Corpsman - I saw its effect on the senior officers and enlisted members in the Regiment, and I cannot overstate how heavy that burden is. In this light, actions take on different meanings.
Both rites of passage and corrective actions can quickly become hazing. Surely, some readers are wondering how I make this statement after spending quite a bit of time justifying the existence of both in the modern military. When the intent of a rite of passage is not to welcome, but to harm or demean, it becomes hazing. When corrective actions are carried past the time when their point has been made perfectly clear to the recipient, they become hazing. I realize that these are terribly imprecise definitions. The world is an imprecise place - great trust is placed in the judgment of young noncommissioned officers to make the right decisions about countless other things, and they can also make the right decisions here.
Unfortunately, errors in judgment are too often made. Marines are forced to perform physical exercise until they collapse and die of exhaustion, for example. In other cases, Marines commit suicide after extreme "corrective actions" were taken following their failure to stay awake on watch. While the first example showed extremely poor judgment on the part of the seniors involved, the Marines involved in the second case have been all but convicted in the court of public opinion, while their actions may have been entirely reasonable.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, "watch" or "post" is incredibly important in the military. Every service has a variation of the 11 General Orders of a Sentry, and every service member has to memorize every single general order in basic training. Falling asleep on watch is an egregious violation that places the lives of other men and women in jeopardy - even in peacetime - but in a combat zone, this is an absolutely unforgivable offense.
I do not wish for any Marine to die, but the tragedy of a suicide does not even begin to match the tragedy of Marines dying because the man they trusted to keep them safe while they slept thought his own rest was more important than their lives. Falling asleep on watch four times in ten days is simply astounding. For the actions taken by his seniors to have reached the level that they did, they most certainly had attempted other, less serious actions previously. While it probably should have moved to Captain's Mast, also known as NJP or an article 15, for the Marine who fell asleep on watch, I do not fault the other Marines involved in the least.
I feel sad that Lance Cpl. Harry Lew's family will never see him again. I am sorry that his mother will never see him marry, and I'm sorry that his father will never bond with him again. I am, however, not sorry that his fellow Marines did what they could to preserve their own lives, as well as Harry's – and it is not their fault that Harry felt the only way out was to take his own life. The only responsible party in his death is no longer among us. The actions of his senior Marines did not constitute hazing. That their actions are being twisted as racist or discriminatory is the real crime here.
Work ran late recently, so I was able to photograph a fairly consistent comparison of the muzzle flash resulting from the use of Federal .223 Rem 55gr FMJBT - also known as AE223 - and a 16" AR-15. Actually, there were two AR-15s used for this photo. The PWS TTO requires a thin wrench for removal and installation, and all I had at the range was a standard AR-15 armorer's wrench. All of the other devices were used on a Spike's Tactical 16" carbine length AR-15. Other than the bare muzzle and the PWS TTO, I also used a Spike's Tactical Dynacomp, Vltor VC-1, standard A2, YHM Phantom 5C2, Smith Vortex, and AAC Blackout.
I do own a Rainier Arms XTC, but it was on a 5.45 rifle that I wasn't shooting that day. Some might notice the absence of a BattleComp - I don't own one (no, this is not a plea for a BattleComp, I just don't own one).
I would like to reiterate that, in my opinion, any device which allows more flash than the A2 is not suitable for combat use. This does not mean that it is not suitable - or even ideal - for use outside of armed confrontation.