The March 20 edition of Warrior Connection was a discussion based on the Army Times front page story for March 21 edition “TOO MANY SOLDIERS CAN’T SHOOT” ( Army Times pages 18- 21, Michelle Tan) and how to improve personal marksmanship with either a rifle or handgun. Obviously, we think that everybody should qualify as an expert but that will take time and increase costs. Supporting commentaries we have written include:
Practical Ballistics for Self-Defense – Doug Rokke
The decision to use any rifle, handgun, or shotgun for self-defense entails legal justification according to state law and the selection of ammunition that will ensure that you win the gunfight. Just as old saying goes “you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight” you should select ammunition that will immediately end any gunfight that you are in. That means knocking the person or vicious animal down and out with the first or second shot. This is commonly referred to as “stopping power”.
The two primary physics concepts associated with ballistics are kinetic energy “K.E.” and momentum “p”. The laws of physics require that energy and momentum conserved. That means that for protection we should select ammunition that deposits all of it’s energy/momentum into the target but that still has enough kinetic energy or momentum for penetration and to ensure the knock down-kill. Both kinetic energy and momentum are a function of bullet mass (grains) and velocity where:
K.E. = “1/ 2” x “mass” x “velocity squared”
“p” = “mass” x “velocity”
Another important factor is “expansion” or how much the bullet deforms upon penetration to create a mortal wound channel as it transfers all or part of it’s kinetic energy and momentum into the target. Ideally any bullet would enter the target (penetration), fully expand, and transfer all of its energy into the target and thus stop before exiting out the other side. That is why a 12 gauge shotgun with slug, double “0” buck, or even #4 shot is so effective at close range and the obvious first choice for self –defense. The wound channel is huge and usually mortal because virtually all of the shotgun shot’s or slug’s energy is transferred into the target over a large entrance diameter thus immediately ending the gunfight because the slug or pellets rarely penetrate all the way through the target.
However, for many reasons the handgun will be the weapon that is used in most self-defense situations- gunfights. Today, self-defense handgun ammo includes: .25 auto, .32 auto, 9 mm, .38 special, .357 magnum, .40 S & W, .44 magnum, .45 auto, and .45 colt. Gunfights with a handgun will occur within 25’ so we need to look at muzzle energy and even more effectively muzzle momentum and bullet expansion. Ideally we want to select a large caliber “heavy mass” bullet, with excellent expansion, and enough muzzle velocity to ensure penetration through clothing. High velocity, small diameter, and low mass bullets tend to zip right through targets at close range with minimal stopping power and create too much risk to bystanders. Thus the stopping power of a .45 auto/colt or .44 magnum is far better than for a .38 or 9 mm with a .357 magnum in between. As we select ammo please remember that any bullet less than 100 grains when combined with possible powder loads just does not provide the necessary energy required for a probable one or two shot kill. However, no matter what handgun and bullet caliber you select you must practice, practice, and practice after going through a certified qualification course to teach you the fundamentals. GSL instructors conduct numerous courses throughout the year (www.gsldefensetraining.com). Spraying rounds from large capacity magazines is simply too dangerous, inadvisable, rarely stops a gunfight, and is probably on shaky legal grounds too. Simply, if we face a situation where escape is impossible and the “perp” is ready, willing, able, and intent on killing us or our loved one then we want to end the gunfight immediately- hopefully with the first or second shot.
The selection of rifle ammo follows the same rational except ranges may be greater. Therefore, we need to look at muzzle velocity, kinetic energy, bullet mass, and expansion at ranges from up close to 100 yards or 200 yards. However, please realize that the legal justification for self-defense gunfights at long at ranges is questionable at best but may me required for vicious animals. Popular rifle ammo such as the .223 or 5.56 mm with low mass bullets less than 100 grains that while having a flat trajectory loose energy rapidly and usually pass right through the target with minimal energy transfer. That is why the readily available and dependable .30 caliber rifle ammo such as the .30-06, .308, and .30-30 are the practical choice and are found in reliable rifles. For more ballistics information and calculations please refer to the “ballistics calculator” at (www.winchester.com), ammo manufacturers publications, and of course the annual “GUN DIGEST”. In conclusion as you select a weapon(s) and matching ammo for self-defense it is important to remember the sole purpose when legally justified is to immediately end the gunfight with minimal number of rounds expended, minimal risk to bystanders, and mortal wounds to the target.
Gizmos and Accuracy – Dr. Doug Rokke
Every rifleman and riflewoman seeks to excel. Consequently they may consider installation of all types of gizmos to improve their shooting ability or the capability of their rifle or handgun to place a bullet in the exact place they aim for. Today, adjustable butt stocks, forearms, handles, grips, fixed and adjustable open iron sights, glow in the dark fixed sights, battery operated optics, conventional glass optics (scopes), lasers, tactical lights, sticks, tripods, bipods, fixed rests, recoil pads, and slings can be purchased and installed on your rifle or shotgun. Some of these gizmos are also available for handguns. Besides physical modification of any gun, different types of bullets and gunpowder “propellant” combinations may be chosen and used to improve ballistic properties. The costs for each of these gizmos or various bullets /gunpowder/cartridges varies but they can significantly increase the basic purchase price, gizmo price, and operational cost of any gun that a rifleman/riflewoman shoots.
Some add-ons such as various fixed sights or optics such as a scope can help you improve your aim by helping you see the aiming point or target better through magnification or simple optics such as a peep sight. However, just because you can see the target better does not mean that your accuracy will improve. “Red dot or green dot” optics allow you to put a optical image on your target but the minutes of angle (moa) or area that the dot covers may not improve pinpoint accuracy, especially as the range or distance to the target increases. Laser sights can provide you a visible spot, but the moa or width of the laser dot highlighting your exact point of aim on the target increases as the distance to the target increases. Lasers also have a limited operational range and are affected by bright light conditions. This means that the visible laser dot will be wider or maybe not even visible as the distance to the target increases or the sun shines thus affecting actual bullet placement. Please note that for self defense purposes when you paint a target with a laser dot your psychological advantage is incredible. Although visibility of a laser dot on the target may help you designate an exact aiming point, basic principles of marksmanship must still be followed.
Adjustable or modified stocks may help the rifle or shotgun fit better to your physique. This improves your ability to hold the gun the same way each and every time that you pull the trigger therefore maintaining consistent sight alignment. Grips that are designed or fitted for your hand size will also allow you to hold the handgun better and thus improve stability and sighting in on the target. Although grips and specialized stocks improve the fit of the rifle, shotgun, or handgun to your specific physique, your accuracy will only improve if basic principles are implemented. Recoil pads fall under the fit and comfort concept with their primary goal of reducing felt recoil or shoulder impact. According to Sir Issac Newton “for every forward force these is an equal and opposite backward force”. Therefore the purpose for installing a recoil pad is to reduce the effects of this backward force. Your shoulder will feel better after numerous shots if you use a recoil pad. Therefore, you can improve your ability to hold your gun tightly against your shoulder improving accuracy. A properly fitted and used sling improves stability. Consequently you can decrease the diameter of any shot group and improve overall accuracy but only if you adhere to basic marksmanship principles.
Bipods, tripods, sticks, and rests are all valuable tools that can improve your overall stability. Heavy rifles and even some heavy handguns can affect you ability to hold them in precisely the same way each and every time without them wavering around like flag in a breeze unless you have adequate hand, arm, and shoulder strength. Sadly, some of us do not have the required strength and if we did it has decreased with increasing age and the onset of health problems.
The relatively new addition or use of tactical lights poses several challenges. First, the additional weight of a light just like a laser will affect overall balance and thus stability. Although the target may be more visible – illuminated under low light conditions, the now extremely visible light source at your body makes you a perfect target. The bright light may also interfere with your own night vision. Obviously target visibility can help you place your sights on the target but at what cost? Lights actually decrease overall balance or stability and thus may decrease accuracy. The added weight when a tactical light or laser is attached to the barrel or grip of a handgun can have a dramatic effect on your ability to shoot that handgun with consistent accuracy because they increase the need for increased hand, arm, and shoulder strength.
The selection of specific bullets, cases, and gunpowder, especially if you do your own reloading, can improve the consistency of a round performance through optimization of bullet aerodynamics by selecting a desired ballistic coefficient as a function of bullet shape, bullet mass (weight), and muzzle velocity. However, individual marksmanship ability still is the deciding factor for improving overall personal accuracy as a rifleman / riflewoman. Please remember that a bullet only goes exactly where it is aimed for at the precise moment it exits the muzzle but with the influence of muzzle velocity, drift, and drop. The Winchester ballistics calculator on the web site (http://ballisticscalculator.winchester.com) can help you understand how any bullet performs under varying conditions but accuracy still depends primarily on individual marksmanship ability.
Thus with all of different types gizmos that are available that can help you improve stability of your rifle or handgun, sighting in, and visibility of your target; cost factors and how well you want or need to shoot should be factored in as you select any of the gizmos for purchase and installation your rifle, shotgun, or handgun. But it all comes down to the basics. Do you know how to use your rifle or handgun as designed? Can you consistently apply the basics principles of marksmanship?
While some individuals can master these skills on their own it is preferable to complete a rifle/shotgun/handgun safety and marksmanship training course with qualified instructors. Guns Save Lives instructors conduct numerous courses throughout the year (www.gsldefensetraining.com). In conclusion, each rifleman / riflewoman needs practice, practice, and more practice in a safe controlled environment to improve and maintain accuracy no matter what rifle, shotgun, or handgun they shoot and what gizmos they have installed. But in the end shooting is simply always about having fun and the wonderful friendships each of us can develop and maintain with others who enjoy shooting. This weekend go buy a box of ammunition then shoot up a bunch of tin cans, punch holes in paper targets, or pulverize some clay birds with your friends or family members at a range or other safe area using any gun you have available. THAT IS ENJOYMENT!
Snipers, Designated Marksman, GI Joe, GI Jane, & PTSD by Ray Clark, USMC Vietnam veteran and Dr. Doug Rokke, Major US Army retired
The exceptional new movie American Sniper about Navy Seal Chris Kale has triggered awareness and interest of how and why the military uses designated individuals to protect our military personnel who are engaged in tactical operations. There is a substantial difference between tactical operations in an open field, jungle, desert, or forest in contrast to combat in an urban terrain- city or town. Each area requires different tactical procedures and precautions as visibility, cover, or concealment are different as night and day. The enemy is all around. Firefights prevail. That means that weapons proficiency is critical to survival. Contrary to public misconception weapons training within the military is not as intensive as most think. Therefore individual ability to engage and thus wound or kill the enemy in a firefight varies substantially because basic and therefore advanced shooting skills are usually deficient.
Today very few 18- 22 year old men and women- the primary age group for military enlistment- grew up in a culture or area where rifle- pistol- shotgun training and safe use was taught. Consequently any military weapons training- qualification must start from nothing. The primary rifle is a variant of the M16 using a 5.56 x 45 mm round while the primary pistol is a semi-automatic Beretta M9 (92FS) using a 9 x 18 mm Luger. Although the weapons manuals for the M16 (FM 23-9) and M9 (TM 9-1005-317-23&P) are excellent; individual ability to read, comprehend, and translate written knowledge into excellent rifle or pistol shooting and maintenance skills are limited to non-existent because most trainee’s have never shot either a rifle or pistol before entering basic training and too many lack academic skills. Warrior’s today play a lot of government created “combat video games” that substitute for shooting real bullets at real targets. The thought is that if you hit the target enough times “spontaneously” on video, you will hit the target in reality. The shooters at Columbine High school proved that theory. They had over 90% accurate kill rate and it came from constantly playing combat video games in the days prior to the attack. However, there is no reset in combat While a computer game offers reset as if no casualties exist and the warrior gets a second chance to win reality is quite different.
Those of us who take pride in our shooting skills realize that continued education (knowledge acquisition) and training (skills mastery) under direct supervision of qualified instructors and lots of practice (rounds downrange on target) are essential would find it difficult to understand that those entering the infantry fire only 730 rounds during their basic training phase of weapons qualification while all others fire just 500 rounds. The actual qualification course of fire is 40 rounds after 18 rounds for zeroing. Once the warrior gets to their unit they are lucky if they qualify each year. This becomes critical during a fire-fight because the annual re-qualification course only includes 18 rounds to zero their rifle then 40 rounds for actual qualification. The idea that anyone can zero their rifle and then get adequate practice using only 18 rounds before shooting a qualification course is wrong. Fifty-eight rounds per year will do nothing to ensure weapons proficiency. Qualified weapons instructors and/or range officers are rare. It is usually a secondary duty for some young lieutenant with zero qualifications and no experience. You might get some seasoned NCO’s but that does not mean they are qualified NRA weapons instructors just that they have been in the military a few years. It is hoped they picked up weapons skills and training abilities through osmosis. We do not believe that firing only 58 rounds per year without excellent instruction is adequate for anything. What this means is that individual ability to hit a target is very low. All GI Joes and GI Janes go through the same initial weapons training and then fire the same number of rounds during annual re-qualification. The number of personnel who complete pistol training and qualification on the M9 – 9 mm is extremely low. Only a very few enlisted and a portion of the officers are issued and must qualify on the M9. A handful of officers usually field medical or command staff are issued and must qualify on both a rifle and a pistol.
During combat this inadequate level of training translates into “spray and pray”. Historical research also shows that only a small fraction of all GI Joes and GI Janes who engaged in active combat even fired their rifle or pistol. After Civil War battles it was not unusual to find rifles loaded with 3 or 4 charges on top of each other that had never been fired. As squads or platoons conduct tactical operations they move along a designated route or clear a designated structure. Obviously the enemy can lie in hiding at any point and kill or wound warriors without any warning or without even being seen. The enemy can also sneak in and put an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in the unit’s path that can then be detonated by remote control by a spotter. Today most combat operations are in a hostile urban terrain think a town- city- village with structures that provide a place to hide and to look down on any approaching patrol. Then we see tactical operations where our soldiers move together towards an objective while bunched up in a cluster in a totally hostile environment. They might try to enter, clear, secure a unknown hostile structures using stacking as if they are in a parade. Two of Chris Kales team got shot that way in both the movie and for real. That makes our soldiers sitting ducks ready for slaughter. Therefore a need for designated unit marksman and snipers to protect other unit members while on patrol or while moving to engage the enemy became essential. Thus we have a squad designated rifleman or possibly a sniper who take a perch up high or in an oversight position to watch all activities, issue warnings, and eliminate any threat before an attack occurs. But remember they must keep moving to secure and establish a new perch to keep the unit members within their protective field of fire.
Today each combat unit- squad may have – hopefully does have a squad designated rifleman “SDR”. The squad designated rifleman will have gone through additional weapons training and will have fired currently at least 1500 rounds. That is still not many rounds considering the need for excellence. Each designated rifleman usually is issued a modified M16 in 5.56 x 45 mm that is suppose to enhance accuracy and firepower. Given that an M16 – 5.56 x 45 mm combination has specific limitations beyond 250 yards, more and more squad designated rifleman have requested and have been issued the old M14 in 7.62 x 51 NATO or .308 Winchester. Sadly some combat operations require even one more level of protection and therefore we have the sniper.
Sniper’s are specialists. They are the professionals. They are fully qualified experts on numerous weapons. Snipers are allocated or deployed as tactically needed by senior commanders. They protect unit personnel engaged in tactical operations by killing high valued targets within range and who could pose a threat to any unit member involved in tactical operations. As portrayed in the movie many snipers felt guilty because they were unable to protect everyone within their zone of fire. Chris Kyle had 160 confirmed kill’s during 4 tours in Iraq while the legendary Vietnam War sniper Carlos Hathcock who was the founder of the USMC sniper school had 93 confirmed kills. Snipers:
- are highly trained experts on different weapons and ballistics.
- practice marksmanship constantly.
- train in concealment. If they are found they die a hard death.
- may have bounties on their head.
- have competent and professional spotters who ensure their round hits the intended target. Spotters may also be qualified snipers. The spotter will be watching the area with a telescope of some type. The spotter can provide the sniper with almost instaneous ballistics corrections to ensure each target is killed.
- use computers with GPS.
- use distance or range finders to optimize their shot.
- use instruments to measure exact ambient temperature, wind direction, wind speed, and humidity.
- practice observation, target selection, and shot placement.
Simply snipers eliminate the effects of all variables to ensure their shot hits and kills the intended target. Although each type of rifle round primarily used by snipers (5.56 NATO, 7.62 NATO, .308 Winchester, .300 Winchester magnum, or .338 Lupa) or pistol round (9 mm, .45 auto, .22) has specific ballistic characteristics or limitations and each rifle or pistol has specific inherent mechanical attributes the sniper is trained to select and use the appropriate rifle or pistol and is capable of optimizing each shot fired to hit / kill the intended target within their line of sight, field of vision, or field of fire. Warriors consider snipers such as Chris and their own squad designated rifleman as “guardian angels”. That is portrayed in the movie when one guy Chris saved came up to Chris and Chris’ son to thank Chris for saving his life. HE HAD LOST ONE LEG BUT WAS ALIVE.
As I discussed in my book (The Never Ending War, Ray & LM Clark, ISBN 978-1-62510-921-7, Tate Publishing, 2013) during infantry combat while in Vietnam as marines we practiced firing our weapons at 30 & 40 yards. We had to just HIT the target to get it sighted in for semi-automatic and automatic weapons firing. Firing full automatic or “rock and roll” is fun but it is extremely difficult to control the weapon and therefore a 3 round burst or semi-automatic mode – one round per pull of the trigger is preferred. Most firefights are close engagements. We fought for ourselves and our friends. Our motto was “No man left behind”. We fought our enemy face to face during the daytime and nighttime and we were mostly outnumbered. We had to make instantaneous decisions because HESITATING would get us killed. Our villains were trained soldiers, civilian soldiers, booby traps, IED’s – Improvised Explosive Device’s and suicide bombers.
Every person who is involved in combat or other military operations will be affected. These effects going back to antiquity are known collectively as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, battle fatigue, combat fatigue, shell shock, or soldier’s heart. They are all adrenalin disorders brought on by physiological or psychological trauma. Combat is exciting. You can go from complete tranquility and boredom to sheer terror and chaos within a few seconds and bounce back and forth between those to states numerous times in an hour, a day, a week, a month, or a year without any actual relaxation and recovery depending on the duration of your deployment. You have to develop a mental hardness that goes against everything you’ve ever been taught at home and in church. You must become as complacent as the corner butcher working on a fresh piece of meat. Today just as during Nam soldiers usually rotate out (redeploy) as an individual or maybe as a unit but because of rapid transportation capabilities you could be in combat and back home in a “safe, secure, location” within the same day. Most returning warriors just get dumped out on the community once they were home. In the movie American Sniper we see Chris leave Iraq right after a fire fight, come back home, go to a bar all alone, then finally call his wife to go home. Although each returning warrior is suppose to go through and complete a post deployment physical exam DD 2796 after every deployment too often that is incomplete, or short-circuited because the warrior is told they will be put in holding status if any problems are identified. The GAO has found that least 23% of completed physical exams are now missing. The purpose of this physical exam is to identify medical problems and potential PTSD and then set up medical care.
Coming home or back to “Disney World” you try to forget everything that has happened. You put all of your bad memories away and then try to act as normal as possible while you are dying on the inside. It is not unusual for a returning warrior to shutdown, hibernate, go into seclusion. After involvement in any combat operations at any level for any duration and after especially intense duty as a marksman or sniper you come back home to live a life in comparison with a total a lack of excitement. You thrived on the adrenalin rush and now that rush is absent.
Extreme loneliness sets in because you miss your friends (dead and alive) who you depended on and who depended on you to survive. Warriors have two families, their military family or battle buddies and their civilian family including their spouse, kids, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and civilian friends. These are two distinct families and they are always separated. You can only be with one at a time. This creates a major conflict because neither understands the other’s role or how each separate family affects the warrior. As a result of combat some died, some became disabled and others came basically unaffected. For those who lost battle buddies while they came home survivors guilt is a major cause of depression in many returning veterans. Returning veterans can avoid many problems with readjustment simply by making good choices in friends and entertainment. Choose your friends wisely because you will probably end up just like them. As a consequence of frustration, loneliness, physiological medical problems and psychological many veterans try to self medicate with prescription drugs and alcohol which only causes more problems. American Sniper illuminates these problems as described in the book and shown in the movie. Chris Kyle and is buddy were murdered by another OIF veteran. Clearly without designated marksman and snipers who killed threat targets our own numbers of American military KIA and WIA would have been much higher. However the hidden toll on all involved requires prompt an optimal medical care. Sadly, that medical care remains elusive. It also shows the need for better weapons training. In response to that need mobile marksmanship training teams are now being created and deployed but proper training is still only a pipe dream because of budgetary restrictions.