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or, Lessons Learned the Hard Way.

Guys, the recent thread concerning XS high(er) capacity mags brought this article back into my vision block. It's well-written and speaks for itself; having said that, I kept thinking back to whether a Surefire or XS mag in his rifle would've made that much of a difference.

My personal opinion is that better training would've kept this guy in one piece; however, I can certainly see that 60 rounds in the gun in an engagement > 30 rounds in the gun.

Anyway...here's the article:

Lessons Learned In Combat

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I originally wrote and posted this in the AAR for my recent carbine course on the Alumni Forum. It has since been published in the March 2010 issue of SWAT Magazine. Feel free to cross-post or share it where and how you see fit, as I want it to have as much of an impact as possible and drive several key points home on those who go in harms way, both on foreign soil (military and PMCs) and here at home (LEOs and civilian sheepdogs). Combat vets and PMCs, as well as police officers and civilians who've been in a gunfight, also feel free to post your own lessons learned in combat.

Please note that the purpose of this article is not to "blame" the Marine Corps for my injury, or to whine about my circumstances, but instead to impact in a positive manner all of those who go in harms way both on foreign soil (Military and Private Military Contractors) and here at home (Law Enforcement Officers and civilian sheepdogs).

I am a Wounded Warrior. I served as a Marine Rifleman during the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq some 7 years ago, and was severely wounded while engaging the enemy in a gunfight on April 12, 2003 in the city of Al Tarmiyah, a small suburb just northwest of Baghdad.

I just got back into shooting again a little more than a year ago now, and several months ago I attended a Trident Concepts Combative Carbine 1 course instructed by Jeff Gonzales. Prior to attending Jeff’s class I thought I was already extremely competent and deadly with the carbine, but I was very wrong. After completing that 3-day course I can now say with complete confidence that had I somehow been able to attend a Trident Concepts, EAG Tactical, Gunsite, or MagPul Dynamics carbine course (or similar training offered by a quality instructor) before I deployed to war back in 2003, and had been able to learn and put into practice all of the things taught in the carbine courses they offer, I would NOT have been shot in the manner in which I was on that Sunday afternoon in Iraq.

That's not to say I wouldn't have been wounded or killed later on in my deployment or in a subsequent deployment, but I would not have been shot that day and wouldn't be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of my life, which ultimately means I would’ve been able to continue taking the fight to the enemy for at least a little while longer… possibly even still to this day. For the Military and Law Enforcement Officer readers, and those who are planning on enlisting in either of those fields sometime in the future, please take a minute to let that sink in a bit.

The reason for this belief of mine is fairly simple: When I was engaged in combat the day I was wounded, I made several critical mistakes resulting either from training scars or from simply not being trained how to manipulate and fight with my rifle in the proper manner. I’m well aware that the training, tactics and procedures (TTPs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been greatly improved over the past 7 years since I was wounded, but I guarantee that they are still lacking and could continue to be improved upon. There are some things that can truly only be learned through actual combat, but in my opinion and experience there is a lot of enhanced weapons training widely available in the private sector that is simply going to waste and not being implemented in a unit's training and work-up, and should definitely be included as the "standard" in which all abide by. I believe that it will save lives and prevent a lot of men and women from being needlessly wounded or killed. However, once these skills are attained they absolutely have to be practiced on a routine basis, as gunfighting is most definitely a perishable skill.

Below is a summary of the events that I strongly feel led to my being shot that day and permanently paralyzed from the waist down. This is not an "official" After Action Review (AAR) of the entire firefight that my platoon was involved in, but rather a small look at only a few moments of combat involving just myself.

On April 12, 2003, my platoon was involved in a very well executed ambush (the receiving end, unfortunately) in the Iraqi town of Al Tarmiyah. The firefight that ensued would last an astounding 3 hours, which even today is rather uncommon. The firefight was basically my platoon -around 55 Marines- versus roughly 150+ Fedayeen Saddam Fighters, or so I was told several months afterwards. I was also later informed that we killed around 100 of the bastards that day. Thankfully we suffered no Killed In Actions (KIAs), but had several Wounded In Actions (WIAs), mostly from shrapnel from RPGs and hand grenades, with mine being the most severe injury of the day. It was because of engagements such as these that the enemy adapted and quickly learned not to go head-to-head with American forces... or suffer the consequences. Soon thereafter the insurgency began and they started using guerilla tactics, such as performing hit-and-run ambushes and placing Improvised Explosive Devices on the country's roadways to inflict casualties on our side without the grave consequences of head-to-head engagements against us.

We were initially ambushed by Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and small arms fire from enemy fighters to both our north and south, while dismounted from our Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) and pulling security in a T-shaped intersection. Soon thereafter my platoon split up and punched outward from the kill zone to take the fight to the enemy in both directions. The bad guys weren't expecting us to be so aggressive. But we were Marine Infantrymen, and they had just pissed us off. We were already aggravated as hell that all of the Abrams tanks and Cobra gunships, which were always positioned just in front of us in our column of vehicles during the march to Baghdad (for obvious reasons), had been "stealing" our kills ever since we’d crossed the border several weeks earlier, so we had literally been hoping that some bad guys would poke us with a stick and pick a fight with us.

About an hour and a half into the fight, I found myself in the backyard of a two-story residence. Five to eight enemy fighters had fled the house after our 0351 Assaultmen fired a Shoulder launched Multi-purpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) rocket into it. About five of them were using an adobe style guesthouse/storage building in the backyard as a makeshift bunker, while other fighters were positioned outside of it. When I entered the backyard, my hasty “plan” was to either find something to use as cover while I engaged the bunker, or to make entry inside the house and shoot out of a window or door. I just knew that I needed to find some cover so I could kill some of the bastards from relative safety.

As I rounded the corner of the house and entered the backyard, I immediately spotted an enemy fighter roughly 20 yards away at my 11 o'clock, low-crawling away from the bunker and dragging an AK47 with him. I assumed he was doing exactly what I was doing: trying to get into a better position to kill his enemy.

I stopped moving immediately and began engaging him. I fired at least 15 rounds at him, with most of the bullets impacting his body. Each time I scored a hit, his body let me know it by violently thrashing around. My adrenaline was pumping like crazy, which is why I continued to pummel him with rounds. I had never engaged an enemy that close before, and this was the very first time I could actually see my bullets impacting another human being's flesh. It was just such a shock to my psyche and I didn't know what else to do other than completely annihilate the threat in front of me. The only reason I quit firing is because another fighter stepped halfway out of the doorway to the bunker at my 1 o'clock and began firing wildly at me. I responded by shifting my fire over to him. I fired only 5-7 rounds at him before my bolt locked to the rear on an empty magazine. I scored 1 hit somewhere on his torso, though I have no idea where. He fell backwards into the bunker's doorway and out of my sight.

I assumed that I had taken him out of the fight for good, either by killing him or wounding him badly. However this assumption would prove to be a huge error in judgment on my part.

Since my M16A2 was “dry” and I needed to reload, I moved about 10 feet to my right. I knew that I wasn't behind any cover and was just concealed, but I thought that if anyone else came out of the bunker’s doorway they wouldn't be able to see me. Besides, I was just going to quickly reload my rifle and get back into the fight, right? Wrong.

The Marine Corps had shown me in boot camp how to reload my M16 on the rifle range, but speed reloads and tactical reloads were simply never taught. There was one instance during a training exercise before we deployed where a British Royal Marine, who was part of a team doing a training evaluation on my unit, demonstrated how to reload our rifles quickly and put the empty magazine in our cargo pocket so that we wouldn't waste time trying to put it back into our super-tight standard-issue mag pouches. Not to mention that you never want to re-insert an empty magazine into the same pouch that you are going to instinctively index your fresh magazines from. But we never once went over that or practiced it afterwards, so I didn’t retain it and my body never memorized the motions of that technique. We actually never went over or practiced doing ANY kind of reloads; it was just something you were expected to know how to do: when your weapon runs dry, you stick another magazine in it. That sounds simple, but I've discovered that it's a lot more complicated than that... especially when doing it under stress.

So, what did I do when it was time for me to reload my M16 that fateful day? I pressed the magazine release, pulled the empty magazine out of the mag well and inserted the empty magazine back into one of my mag pouches. This took a couple extra seconds to do, especially considering I was inserting it into a pretty tight pouch that already had a magazine in it. The fresh magazine in the pouch was positioned bullets-up as well, because way too many rounds would fall out of it when I tried carrying bullets down in the pouch. I'm guessing that's because the feed lips on the magazine were worn, but I knew nothing about what constituted a bad magazine back then and especially didn't know that magazines were a disposable component. After indexing a fresh magazine, I shoved it into the mag well until it seated and then finally, after at least 8 seconds, pressed the bolt release and sent another round flying into the chamber.

I was also looking down at my weapon and gear the entire time I was reloading. Thus, when I was finally done reloading and looked back in the direction of the enemy bunker only 20 yards away from me, the very same enemy fighter who I'd just shot and assumed that I had permanently put down was now standing at my 11 o’clock, at the corner of the bunker, and aiming directly at me with his AK47 assault rifle.

While I had been performing my slow and nasty reload, the Iraqi had gotten back up to his feet and stepped out of the doorway of the bunker in order to search for the American who just greased his comrade and shot him too. When he didn't immediately see me in my previous location, he moved down the wall of the bunker until he spotted me standing there performing my abortion of a reload, while staring down at my weapon and gear. I had basically allowed... no, invited the to get the drop on me.

It is also worth noting that I was standing in the classic “known distance” rifle range bladed stance as well, exposing the unprotected left side of my chest to the enemy. At that time the Marine Corps never taught us to square up to the target and take full advantage of our ballistic Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates. The only "standing" position that I knew of was the bladed one taught to me by my Primary Marksmanship Instructor back in boot camp, which of course is only worth a damn on the “one way range” when qualifying with the rifle during training, definitely not for use on the “two way range” in combat when wearing body armor to protect your vital organs and spinal cord. It should also be known that I was a "double-award" Expert rifleman, which means jack in combat.

To make matters worse, my rifle was in the Low Ready position as well, instead of keeping it pointed downrange and up in my “workspace” the entire time I was reloading. So once I sent the bolt flying home and chambered another round, I actually had to raise my rifle up in order to engage the enemy, instead of my rifle already being raised and at the Ready, pointing downrange and ready to rock following my reload.

So when I finally looked up and saw him aiming at me with his AK47, I began to raise my rifle in an attempt to put him down for good. But it was already too late. The last thing I saw was a bright muzzle flash from his AK47 as it fired a short burst of 7.62mm projectiles at me. One of those bullets impacted me just under my left armpit, in the exposed area that isn't protected by the ballistic SAPI plates, and tumbled downward through my body. After shredding my spleen (which had to be removed), puncturing and collapsing my left lung, lacerating my stomach and left kidney, and blowing out a large chunk of my vertebrae, the bullet severed my spinal cord at the T12/L1 level, which instantly and completely paralyzed me from the waist down.

There's a lot more to this story obviously, but this small piece is all that's relevant in this particular article.

The point of this story is that muscle memory obtained through repetition can be a great thing when the tactics, techniques and procedures that you're ingraining are good and effective ones. But it works both ways, meaning that, for example, if you handle certain scenarios during training in a relaxed and "administrative" fashion, then you can damn near guarantee that you will handle those scenarios in combat the same way.

For a quick summary, here are the mistakes I made in combat that I believe led to my severe injury and permanent disability:

Assuming I killed the bad guy with one shot to the torso area
Performing such a slow reload
Retaining my empty magazine during the middle of such an intense gunfight
Stowing an empty magazine in the same location as my fresh magazines
Looking down at my weapon while reloading instead of downrange in the direction of the threat(s)
Having my rifle in the Low Ready while reloading
Standing bladed and not taking advantage of the protection that my ballistic plates offered

If you are currently in the military, a law enforcement officer, a Private Military Contractor or even just a civilian sheepdog, I strongly believe it would behoove you to get some advanced weapons training outside of your unit or department. Everything I learned in just the first day of the Trident Concepts Combative Carbine 1 course easily could've helped to prevent the wound that I needlessly sustained... I say that with complete and utter confidence.

If you do decide to attend a weapons training course, be sure to take lots of notes and pictures at your class so that you can go back to your unit or department and spread the knowledge to your fellow brothers-in-arms. If you are a squad leader, you have an obligation to ensure that your young Marines or Soldiers can perform speed reloads quickly, know when and where not to retain, how and when to perform a tactical reload, etc. Practice these things until they become second nature and fluid movements; part of that good ol' muscle memory.

When you attend good courses given by quality companies like those mentioned earlier, these things are taught to you, and they are taught for a reason. These tactics, techniques and procedures are taught this way in order to prevent deaths and injuries like mine. So pay attention and learn in class so that you don't get schooled in the middle of a gunfight instead, like I did.

Oh and just so you know, the oxygen thief who shot me, along with all of his Fedayeen buddies inside the bunker, was obliterated shortly thereafter with lots of 5.56, a few 40mm High Explosive grenades and fragmentation grenades, and last but not least, one of their very own RPGs that they kindly left behind for us to use against them.

Semper Fidelis!!

-Paul

Link to original article:

http://www.m4carbine.net/showthread.php?t=38540
 

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Great Read. Glad to hear he learned some important lessons. Too bad his leadership hadnt taught him that before starting the invasion. In many Army Units and Im sure many MArine units The improved methods he learned at the course have been in practice for almost two decades. Many of those lessons were learned during the Black hawk down incident.

Thanks for sharing.


the Sure Fire 60rdrs would help in the initial engagements but the shooter still needs to be able to swap mags with a quickness lettting that empty fall to the ground as he inserts a fresh one.. Finish killing the bad guy then police up your gear and move on.
 

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GREAT Quote!!!

Outstanding article on lessioned learned.

"Just because you have a gun doesent mean youre armed, any more than carrying a guitar makes you a musician" -Someone Smart
OH SO TRUE!!!! what a great statement...
 

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I learned the same stuff as he has in his bullet points as a private in the 75th Ranger rgt back in 97-00. I dont recall it being a new concept for us either at that time. Those lessons were learned from the Black Hawk down mogadishu event... I tried my best to pass those same lessons on to my Guard Unit prior to deployment to Afghanistan in 04-05 so it troubles me that techniques that were Regiment wide 15 years ago are still considered new today. They should be SOP by now.

Whatsinaname... I agree... much of what a particular grunt learns he learns from his squad leader and team leader.... If his SL and TL dont teach him he wont know. Basic training is too full of everthing else to rely on it to turn an XBOX warrior into real world warrior. As a leader you have to ask yourself "If my guys got into a bad fight today did I do everthing in my power to be sure they would be ready?" I think if we are really honest with ourselves we would say no... Then as unpopular as it might be you get up tell your guys to get their gear on and you start practicing the stuff that matters. In the army it was called the 7-8 Infantrymans bible... react to contact, react to ambush, squad assault, conduct a breach, conduct an ambush as well as things like rapid mag changes, packaging wounded for exfil, etc etc etc etc If you get a chance to shoot live ammo you take it, if you have the choice of running the drill again with blanks or taking a nap you run the drill again because this might be the last chance you get to practice before you do it for real unrehearsed.

I have a feeling this guys leaders were taking naps and he paid a hard price for it.
 

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Sad but true.

In '05, my nephew ETS'd from the army where he served with the 3rd ID since basic including OIF. Like many of the troops that were in the invasion and since, he is not the same kid that left. PTSD, a screwed-up back and TBI are just a couple of his problems.

About a year after returning home he came over to my house and asked when I was going shooting and if he could come with me. That Saturday we loaded up and headed to the one range that allowed free style shooting. I set up the course of fire and geared up for a short run. When I finished, he looked at me and asked where I had learned to shoot like that. When I asked him what he meant, he said that if they had been taught to shoot and move like that some of his friends would still be alive. The tactical reload, shooting on the move, transitioning to a secondary weapon and other things were NOT taught before they went to the sandbox! Their training was still from the Cold War...massed armor, dismounted open field infantry tactics: no MOUT, quick reaction drills or anything that would give them an edge over the bad guys! Needless to say his knowledge increased dramatically over the next few weeks.

Guys, I'm not a SpecOps guy. I was an aircraft armament and small arms repairer and a signal intercept analyst in the army from '80 -'92. and a line LEO for 5 years. No special training from a "high-speed, low drag" SWAT, SEAL, SF wannabe school...I just read, watch and practice. If I see something that might give a now 60 y/o fart like me an edge over the "wolves" that live on the streets nowadays I talk to some friends and try it out. I've been given some good information and suggestions over the years from some guys that have seen the elephant in more places than I can name. If I can learn stuff like this on the street and by talking, watching and reading, why couldn't the military have done the same thing before they sent our kids over there? Why does it always cost us in blood before they get off their a$$es and change the training, tactics, gear and weapons?
 

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I learned the same stuff as he has in his bullet points as a private in the 75th Ranger rgt back in 97-00. I dont recall it being a new concept for us either at that time. Those lessons were learned from the Black Hawk down mogadishu event... I tried my best to pass those same lessons on to my Guard Unit prior to deployment to Afghanistan in 04-05 so it troubles me that techniques that were Regiment wide 15 years ago are still considered new today. They should be SOP by now.
I was an active duty Infantryman from 00-04 and during that time, we learned and practiced the stuff in those bullet points. I can't speak for other areas of the Army but I did notice when I mobilized in 05 that all but two of the 1st Army trainers at the mobilization site were slick sleeves and POG's to boot. I can't even remember all of the bad ideas they tried to teach us but luckily soldiers in my platoon trusted my experience over the ass clowns. When my company would go through training lanes, they would do it in a sensible way and then when it was AAR time, the slick sleeved POG's would tell us how we did it "wrong" and gave us a go anyway.

I don't think it's a matter of these techniques just catching up to the rest of the force. I think it's a matter of we were doing it right ten years ago, were told that was wrong once the GWOT started, and through experience and loss of life we are discovering that we had things right the first time. That and the fact that some of the people put in critical training positions don't know diddley about what they're talking about. A huge number of trainers aren't there because they had something worth sharing, they're there because they volunteered for that sweet TDY pay.
 

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Thanks Garrard... During my train up before deployment with the Guard that is exactly what I saw as well. Fortunatly our trainers werent complete flunkys but the training we recieved was sub par.... Internally in our platoon I was tasked with much of our Mout and other tactics training because of my background. We had a couple other guys in our unit that had some big army experience but for the most part it was a bunch of farm kids with nothing more than basic training and limited NG training. Fortunatley my deployment went through during a relatively calm period in Country so my guys didnt have to be tested like the guy in the article. Just a few ieds and rocket attacks.
 

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great points, thanks for taking the time to post.

Thank you for your service and sacrifice as well, in all seriousness.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I was an active duty Infantryman from 00-04 and during that time, we learned and practiced the stuff in those bullet points. I can't speak for other areas of the Army but I did notice when I mobilized in 05 that all but two of the 1st Army trainers at the mobilization site were slick sleeves and POG's to boot. I can't even remember all of the bad ideas they tried to teach us but luckily soldiers in my platoon trusted my experience over the ass clowns. When my company would go through training lanes, they would do it in a sensible way and then when it was AAR time, the slick sleeved POG's would tell us how we did it "wrong" and gave us a go anyway.

I don't think it's a matter of these techniques just catching up to the rest of the force. I think it's a matter of we were doing it right ten years ago, were told that was wrong once the GWOT started, and through experience and loss of life we are discovering that we had things right the first time. That and the fact that some of the people put in critical training positions don't know diddley about what they're talking about. A huge number of trainers aren't there because they had something worth sharing, they're there because they volunteered for that sweet TDY pay.
I saw those guys as well during pre-deployment training. We listened politely to their POI, smiled, said thanks, and then did our own thing, too.
 
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