AAR: Commonwealth Criminal Justice Academy (Tom Perroni), “Handgun I”, Fredericksburg, VA, 7/5/14

This course, Handgun I at Commonwealth Criminal Justice Academy in Fredericksburg, VA, was the fourth class I took in 2014. The website for CCJA is: http://ccjatraining.com/ . Unlike most classes I take, I signed up for this one only 5 days before the class was to take place. Though I am not in any way affiliated with CCJA, in the interest of full disclosure I must reveal that I was invited to take the class by Tom Perroni–the owner/chief instructor of CCJA–himself, and he comped my registration fee, which is normally $200. Due to family obligations, I was unable to attend Handgun 2 the following day, though I would have loved to do so. Tom offered me the class for free because he had seen other AARs I had written about other classes I’d taken (posted on a website), and felt like he wasn’t getting enough civilians in his classes. In short, he was looking for some publicity, but he expressly told me to write an AAR to include “the good, the bad, and the ugly”, not necessarily a purely glowing report.

CCJA headquarters is located in an industrial park/complex off Rte 17 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I walked into the building around 7:30, and was buzzed in the second door by an attractive receptionist who had me wait a minute. Tom Perroni met me in the lobby, introduced himself, and led me through a series of doors to the classroom we would be using for the first half of the class. He noted the locations of the break room with available coffee, water, soft drinks and snacks, and then had me sit in the classroom to await the rest of the students (I tend to be one of those annoyingly early people, in case you didn’t quite get that). He set up a video on the computer to run on the big screen during this time. The video was the Blackwater introduction to Handgun video (let me pause here and mention that Tom told me his company is merging with Academi, formerly Blackwater. I don’t know any details of this merge…I suppose you can contact Tom with any questions about this). The video covered the 7 fundamentals of shooting, safety, etc, with live “actors” doing all the demonstrations. It was a decent, basic video, and a good way to get kinda psyched up for the class, I thought.

CCJA Headquarters
CCJA Headquarters

Slowly, everyone else filtered in. There were 6 civilian students, and 4 law enforcement types joined us at 9 AM (more on them later). Three of the LE were women, and then, of the 6 civvies, there was a husband and wife couple, myself, and 3 other guys. We got started in the classroom around 8:15.

Once we had all filled out some information pages and the usual waivers from liability, we started by introducing ourselves, where we were from, shooting backgrounds, and personal goals for the class. I think, in terms of formal classes, I was the most experienced, though there may have been students who had actually been shooting longer than me. One student had already taken Carbine 1 and 2 with CCJA. Tom then introduced himself. He went through his resume, which seemed pretty substantial by any real measure. He holds an assortment of certifications and instructor credentials, and has also been “downrange” at the pointy end of the spear (as a contractor with Blackwater, I believe. He claimed to be on the same roof with Travis Haley in Najaf when that now-famous video was shot, but I have no way to confirm this). He also had his primary co-teacher, Sean, introduce himself and go through his own resume (also some downrange contracting work). In neither case did either instructor seem to be bragging; they were merely establishing their bona fides for the rest of us, because the first thing Tom said after this was, “We will teach you ONE way, not THE way.” In other words, while there may be many ways to skin a cat, what they would be teaching us was good enough to keep them alive in the hot zone.

The classroom portion of the class consisted of two main segments. The first was a PowerPoint presentation (presented on the big screen, and paper copies of the slides were given to each of us, which was handy for people who, unlike me, didn’t bring a notebook to class). The PowerPoint first outlined the learning objectives for the class (great teaching tool! I say this as a teacher.), and then covered topics including, but not limited to: the 4 safety rules, the 3 types of cartridge malfunctions, combat mindset, the color-codes of awareness, and Boyd’s OODA Loop. The second portion of the classroom segment included going over range commands, positions (low-ready, etc.), malfunction clearing, identifying your dominant eye, etc.

During this second segment, after checking and re-checking that our firearms were all clear, we started working on grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breathing, and follow-through. We put on our holsters and practiced a four step draw-stroke and also practiced tactical and combat/speed reloads. We also practiced the general steps of fixing the 3 most common malfunctions. We did this all dry in the classroom.

I want to pause here and say how much I like this format. Those who have read my AAR on the Center Mass Carbine I course may recall how much I emphasized liking this classroom portion. Why? Well, especially for a beginner level class, I would much rather be in a climate-controlled environment where we can work out some kinks without standing under the hot sun, rain, etc., getting tired out and miserable while waiting for the inevitable pauses that come with having new shooters in a class.

Besides the format, one positive from this portion of the class was that, once we had covered grip and stance, virtually every time that we would assume a firing stance, Tom or, more often, Sean, would come by and give a palm thrust right against the muzzle of our guns. If we rocked back, our weight was deemed poorly set up, and adjustments had to be made. No instructor in any class before or since has ever given me this “test”.   I feel like I benefited from it though, as I shot from a lower, more forward balanced position once we went “live”.

The only negatives from this portion were some typos in the Powerpoints (things spell-check would miss, like “to” instead of “too”, “breath” instead of “breathe”, etc….you may find some of my own in this AAR!).

I also had one philosophical difference with Tom at this point, though it was a minor thing. When the shooting is over, he favors maintaining visual on the bad guy/situation while holstering without looking at the holster. I do not (and I don’t think any other instructor I’ve trained with before or since has advocated this technique). As a civilian, I feel like I will have my gun out and, if necessary, fire to stop the threat. If the threat is stopped such that I feel holstering my firearm is warranted, I would rather steal a glance at my holster to make sure it is free of obstructions (shirt tails, toggle thingies from jackets, etc.) before holstering. The thought of winning a gunfight only to shoot myself in the leg is just not worth it to me. As someone once said, “no one ever won a gunfight by being first to holster his gun”. I chose not to voice my opinion in the class on this topic. I felt like Tom would have been receptive (“ONE way, not THE way”), but I must admit that I just made an assumption that he has been downrange and must have his reasons. I talked with Tom afterwards and he said he learned this lesson the hard way, seeing someone get shot by a guy who they believed was down and out of the fight. Again, my feeling is that I am not holstering until I am beyond sure that the bad guy is down. I guess he’s “been there” and all, but I have trained with other instructors who have also “been there”, and they would not agree.

Back to class: At around noon-ish we were given paper copies of directions to the range. The range was a solid 30 minutes away, south down I-95 near King’s Dominion amusement park. We first met at a nearby Burger King for lunch (I brought my own lunch so ate-and-drove on the way down), then played follow-the-leader to the range.

At the range, CCJA provided camp chairs in the shade, Gatorade and cold water for all, there was a port-a-potty, and at least one table to put all of our crap on. I had brought plenty of water and Gatorade for myself, but also partook of theirs.

We were joined by a third instructor (who happened to be Tom’s son), loaded magazines, and then started with a “dot drill”, shooting at 2 inch circles from 3 and maybe 5 yards. Here the staff/student ratio really helped, as we were able to do this individually. We literally walked up to the targets and placed our muzzle right on the center of the dot so then we could see where our sights were in relationship to the muzzle, which then gave us our point of aim. We worked a few different dot drills (1 round, 2 rounds, etc.), and it became apparent that some people were struggling a bit. Even the LE targets looked a little rough. I was proud of the fact that I was keeping all of mine in the dots, but some people looked like they were firing birdshot from 20 yards. Yikes. To the credit of the instructors, they started immediately diagnosing issues people were having, and soon everyone had improved to varying degrees. A fix for one woman in the class was to switch guns. She was shooting an M&P, and I’m not sure if it was the grip, the trigger, or maybe it was a .40 with too much recoil for her, but she was having some issues. She borrowed a Glock from the staff and seemed to improve quite a bit.

Sean helping a student with his grip during dot drills.
Sean helping a student with his grip during dot drills.

After the dot drill, Tom had to move the LE people out of there. It was revealed that they were only there to qualify/requalify for whatever agency(ies) they were from. So Tom decided we would ALL shoot the qualification course, which was, I believe, a total of 60 rounds. I am mad at myself that I didn’t write it all down. But we were shooting at the X of a B27 target, and shot from I think 3, 7, and 15 yards. At least one drill was shot weak-hand only, one strong-hand only, and one was weak-hand supported. There were time constraints on all of them, but none were TOO bad. All were done from the holster.

EVERYONE passed. Looking at the targets, all that this revealed to me was that the criteria for pistol marksmanship in police departments in VA, if not elsewhere, are pretty pathetic. If anyone is interested, I scored a 100%. We were told we’d all get certificates mailed/emailed to us (people who stayed for Handgun 2 the next day got them then), as the fact that we were all able to qualify as the police do could potentially help us (liability-wise) if we are ever forced to fire in a defensive engagement.

THIS was a 100%!
THIS was a 100%!

We were then able to cut loose of the LE people, who went on their merry way, and then it was 3 instructors for 6 students, and that was great. We fired a variety of drills including some weak-and strong-hand-only drills, some shooting while walking forwards and walking backwards, malfunction drills of all 3 types, tactical and speed reloads, reloading with only one hand available (the other tucked into the back of your belt….we did this with first one hand, then the other), some taking on of multiple targets, shooting around cover (strong and weak-sides, standing and kneeling), a “fight to your feet” drill, and finally a shooting from close-contact/retention position.

Tom demonstrating how fast he can turn and shoot.
Tom demonstrating how fast he can turn and shoot.

There were a few highlights for me. In all of the handgun classes I had taken to that point, this was the first that expressly taught me how to shoot from around cover. Other classes had incorporated some use of cover, but this was the first that showed me how to do it, and WHY this is a good way to do it. I thought, for a level one class, this was great. Also, my personal favorite was the “fight to your feet” drill. I had done this in the Center Mass Carbine I class, but never with a handgun. Basically, lie on your back in the gravel (oh what fun!), feet oriented toward the target, and on command, shift your leg so you can draw your gun, shoot 2 from prone, sit up and shoot 2, plant your hand and spring up to a knee and shoot 2, then stand and shoot 2. Again, no handgun class I had yet taken had me do this drill, and I feel like it could be a useful one. Imagine getting in a hand to hand exchange and getting knocked down. Now bad guy pulls knife or gun and moves in to finish you off while you are flat on your back.

A couple of overall impressions of the class:

  1. Staff to student ratio was awesome, and allowed for people to, if necessary, get pulled aside to work on specific issues that might otherwise hold up the class.
  1. The ratio also allowed strict adherence to safety. When the guy next to me, who overall had his sh*t together, had a piece of hot brass go down the back of his shirt, he started doing “the dance” (we’ve all been there, right?). Tom swooped in fast and made sure his gun didn’t sweep anyone on the line, which I appreciated.
  1. Though a basic class, the instructors were always quick to point out how certain things we were doing were building blocks for other things that they cover in Handgun 2 and 3, and ALL are based on FIGHTING with a handgun, not hitting a bullseye from 50 yards. As they explained to us in the classroom portion, if your groups are super-tight then you aren’t shooting fast enough.
  1. Lots of feedback was provided to the students. No one was ridiculed, earned nicknames, etc. If you performed a drill well, you were praised. If you struggled, it was all about finding solutions. Very professional, and as a teacher by trade, I appreciated that.
  1. The only negative I can think of is this: though the instructors constantly reminded us of the water and Gatorade they had brought and that if anyone needed any to help themselves, given the strong sun (not a cloud in the sky) and temp (around 90 degrees, though we were lucky with low humidity), I would have liked to see the “if you’re not pissing you’re not drinking enough” mantra get bandied about. Also, the importance of sunscreen was never really brought up. I mentioned these things to Tom after class, and he agreed that while they didn’t belabor the fluids thing, they did monitor how often we were using the port-a-potty.
  1. I didn’t hear any of the CCJA guys bad-mouth any other instructors or schools. Though I’m sure they love to get as much business as they can, they encouraged us, repeatedly, to seek out training with a variety of instructors, as different things can be learned from different instructors.
  1. The biggest surprise to me was seeing Tom wearing a Serpa holster. These have largely fallen out of favor from what I’ve seen in classes, and some instructors won’t allow students to use them. However, I have seen many photos of SF and contractor types in Iraq and Afghanistan using them, so I assumed Tom got his experience in while there and knows WTF he’s doing. I asked him after class, and he assured me that he’s used them for years with no issues, but that many people have not been properly trained in their use.
Tom giving another student some 1:1 assistance.
Tom giving another student some 1:1 assistance.

Speaking of equipment: I shot my usual Glock 19 Gen 3 that I’ve had about 4 years. Only the week before I had gotten a sight pusher and installed Defoor sights, replacing my Meprolight night sights. These are plain black front and rear, with the front blade serrated and pretty narrow (I can’t remember the width). I tried it at a local indoor range the week prior, and found that, in the relatively dark indoor environment, the front sight didn’t quite “pop”. So I used some Model Master enamel day-glo orange paint on the top 2 serrations of the front sight. Outdoors in the sun, with the paint and that nice narrow blade, wow. That was the best I’d shot in a while. I used my usual Blade Tech IWB holster mounted strong side (I usually use it Appendix style, but in this entry-level class, they had us position them strongside, and I wasn’t going to argue). I used a Blade Tech double mag pouch with the TekLok attachment. My belt was a basic 5.11. I shot 201 rounds of Fiocchi 115 grain FMJ. Clearly, this was not a high round count class. I probably shot less than most, because when you missed something (during the dot drill, for example), the instructors would say, “you owe me one”, and you’d have to fire again until you got your hits. Since I was getting my hits, I didn’t have to shoot as much.

Others in the class used an assortment of Glocks, with one Ruger P95, one HK P30, and 2 M&Ps.

Final thoughts:

I liked the class. For a one-day Handgun I class, there was plenty of information provided, and the mix of drills was good enough to keep even the more experienced shooters interested.

The mix of classes offered by CCJA, which includes AR Carbine I, II, and III, AK, Shotgun, room-clearing, low-light, etc., is pretty substantial. Cost is reasonable, and the training, for the most part, seemed pretty solid to me.

I have heard some negative things said by others (in person and on the web) about Tom Perroni. Some have said he embellishes his resume, while others seem to be put off by his somewhat gruff internet persona. I can only report about what I’ve seen, and overall I was pleased with the class and will strongly consider taking more with CCJA in the future. However, there are other instructors I have not yet taken courses with that I would like to try out before I start repeating, unless an instructor completely “WOWS” me (as has happened already and you will see in upcoming AARs….stay tuned!).

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