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Deeply saddened by the Dallas Police shooting in July of last year, John Johnston of Ballistic Radio went to Daniel Defense with an idea: sponsor a “free” class for firearms training officers (FTOs) from law enforcement agencies around the country, so that that these skills could be brought back and shared with thousands of more officers to save lives.

The vast majority of law enforcement shootings (including the ambushes in Dallas and Baton Rouge) occur either in or around vehicles, making vehicle close quarters combat (VCQB) the logical choice.

Daniel Defense, always a strong supporter of law enforcement and the military, jumped at the chance to host the class, and tapped VCQB expert William Petty of Centrifuge Training to run it, with an assist from Chase Jenkins of Talon Defense. Johnston (happy birthday, brother!) was also there as a coach and assistant instructor.

Officers from 17 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies showed up for the four-day instructor-level class that is restricted to military, law enforcement, and government personnel.

The course summary doesn’t do the class justice.

Vehicle CQB Instructor is an accelerated shooting class focused on positional shooting and critical light manipulations in and around vehicles.  Students will push the boundaries of “traditional” cover and concealment utilizing various cars and trucks in a true 3D environment. Drills will incorporate critical weapon employment while engaging threats in, around, from, over and under vehicles with a heavy emphasis on problem solving. Lighting principles and threat assessment all play a major factor in this course. Live ballistic demos with a variety of ammunition will be conducted as the class explores ballistic deflection, deformation, penetration and terminal effect in direct correlation to various vehicle mediums. Classroom portions will include video diagnostics, statistics, tactics and the science behind why we win and lose around vehicles.  This course will have long days and a night shoot (depending on range logistics).

The sad truth is that many of the tactics taught in law enforcement academies around the nation are taught simply because they’ve always been taught that way, and they tend to work with compliant people willing to follow the commands of police officers.

What we have to learn the hard way from time to time—and often only after officers are seriously injured or killed—is that the “but it’s always been done this way” training often fails when officers run up against highly motivated and noncompliant violent suspects.

Indeed, much of what has been traditionally taught to officers about using vehicles for cover is a recipe for disaster, because it’s never fully been vetted.

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John Johnston of Ballistic Radio (left), Chase Jenkins of Talon Defense (center), and William Petty (Centrifuge Training) provided Firearms Training Officers from 17 agencies knowledge to help officers under attack prevail in gun fights.

Not content with “but that’s the way it’s always been done” approach, Petty has studied thousands of gunfights in and around vehicles, and has focused on data instead of anecdotes, looking for patterns, and rigorously tests his theories before offering them up to other instructors for review.

This has involved breaking down hours of dash and body camera footage, sorting though thousands of pages of reports, and shooting car after car after car in every make and model to develop and prove theories about fighting around vehicles which are very different than what I (and most police officers) have ever heard before.

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Without getting too specific—we don’t want to publish information that the criminal element could use against officers—we quickly discovered that the old-school theory that the engine block and wheels were all that constituted “cover” on a car was absolutely false.

There are in fact more than a dozen points of cover on your average car, truck, SUV, or minivan that will stop everything from handgun rounds, to buckshot, to slugs, to common intermediate-caliber rifle bullets such as 5.56 NATO, 7.62×39, and even .308 Winchester.

We learned how to use these various pieces of cover to move around around vehicles with (relative) safety, discovered which old-school tactics were utter junk and likely to lead to officers getting caught in a bad position, and also watched videos of VCQB done right, such as this shooting after a vehicle approach out of Westerville, Ohio.

We worked both semi-automatic handguns (mostly Glocks, a Kimber 1911, a 3rd generation Smith & Wesson, and my CZ P07) and various AR-15 patrol rifles (including a number generously provided by our hosts, Daniel Defense) around vehicles, starting with relatively basic drills, and working progressively through ever-more complex daylight and then lowlight drills with both weapons systems.

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This included drills where we were forced to clear both natural and instructor-induced malfunctions, and transition to from handgun to carbine and back while under pressure to perform. As it rained hard on the second day of the course, 4″-6″ of Georgia’s red clay mud pushed everyone’s gear to the breaking point for three of the four days of class.

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We were exposed to “injured shooter” drills where hands or arms were considered “down” and we had to operate both handguns and carbines as best we could…

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…and learned how to use various parts of vehicle to help us clear malfunctions while injured.

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One of the most beneficial things I took away from the class was the number of drills that Petty developed and freely shared to the instructors in the class to bring back to their departments, including my personal and (very grueling) favorite, one called “Alphabet Soup.”

In “Alphabet Soup,” targets are scattered across a 180-degree arc in front of the shooter, including several targets in the vehicle, several to the far left, right and behind of the vehicle, targets that can only be engaged from prone positions at the front, back, and under the middle of the car, and targets both near and far that require the shooter to move to various points around the car to get a shot.

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It’s a thinking drill more than a shooting drill, but man, it can put a hurting on you when you’re wearing 20 pounds of armor, toting a 9-pound rifle, and are forced to run back and forth and get up and go down. Two minutes never felt so long.

Here’s a video of Petty running a demo of “Alphabet Soup.”

Done right, it’s a heck of a teaching tool so that students learn to use the available cover a vehicle provides to greatly increase their ability to process information and survive gunfights around vehicles.

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In all that getting up and down, we also discovered that single-point slings that allow rifle muzzles to hang straight down as shooters are force to crouch and kneel to conform to cover when students are forced to transition to handguns can clog with mud, with unpleasant results. This flash hider on a NYPD officer’s carbine was destroyed, but the gun continued to run just fine. Daniel Defense was kind enough to provide him another flash hider, free of charge.

As a final exercise, we participated in force-on-force duels with Daniel Defense Mk 18 SBRs loaded with just 10 rounds of UTM man marker rounds, a kind of plastic and wax bullet used in training to shoot directly at other people. The two duelists had to start with their knees toughing the tire in front of them. One shooter was placed on the driver’s side front tire, while the other was placed on the passenger side rear tire. At the “fight” command, we sought cover and tried to maneuver for a shot on our opponents.

I squared off against a local deputy in the first duel of the day, and managed to pin him down at the front of the car. As he ducked low for cover I rushed around the trunk and down the driver’s side, and “killed” him as he tried to run for cover to the passenger side and shoot at the same time. My elation at winning was short-lived, however, as I faced the next shooter in a “last man standing” format. I was quickly gunned down with a round through my trigger hand that would gone straight through to my chest, trapped in nearly the same spot as the deputy I shot just a minute earlier.

Oh, well…

It probably shouldn’t come as an sort of a surprise, but the instructors who had been through a VCQB class before did very well in the duels, and the top three shooters were presented with very nice carbine Scout Lights provided by Surefire. The Scout Lights were in addition to the Raptor charging handles provided to every attendee by Radian Weapons, and “swag bag” of goodies from Daniel Defense.

All instructors were also provided with a 3 GB package of detailed information to help them teach the VCQB class at their own departments, as well as Petty’s personal contact information to answer questions and help tailor curriculum for each department’s needs. Officer survival is clearly at the top of Petty’s priorities, and despite the never ending barrage of mom jokes that keep his classes light-hearted, he’s very serious around getting officers trained to come home to their families and night, and puts in a phenomenal amount of work to make his training some of the best and most relevant in the country.

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As the only person in the class who wasn’t and has never been a law enforcement officer, it was fascinating for me to see how this information was internalized by firearms training officers who will now be taking this information back to their departments and incorporating these lessons into courses that will save lives, as Petty’s students have already done in real-world VCQB incidents around the country.

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Daniel Defense did a wonderful thing in hosting this event, and I sincerely hope that they consider making this an annual event to help get this vital training spread and standardized to give our law enforcement officers a better chance of surviving this kind of conflict.

VCQB Instructor Class Will Petty