I wrote this after action report soon after taking my final class in 2014. The course was Advanced Individual Tactics, which I took at the Combat Shooting and Tactics (CSAT) training facility in Nacogdoches, TX, 11/21-23/14. (http://www.combatshootingandtactics.com) The cost of the course was $700, and included lodging at the CSAT barracks. The lead instructor for the class was Paul Howe, Master Sergeant (ret), U.S. Army. If you have never heard of Paul Howe, then you’ve never read (or need to re-read) “Black Hawk Down”, as he is mentioned throughout the book. He spent 20 years in the Army, at least ten of those in Special Operations. He fought in Panama, Somalia, and who knows where else? In addition to his roles as an assault team member, assault team leader, and sniper, he also worked for a time as an instructor in Special Operations. He started CSAT in the early/mid 2000s, and has been training law enforcement and civilians ever since. In short, his resume is beyond impressive. Paul was assisted for this class by Dave, an ex-British Army infantryman (now an American citizen who holds multiple FFLs, including manufacturing, down in the Houston area. His company is Hunter Rifleworks. See my review of one of his AR-15 uppers that I bought 10 months after I took this course here).
There were a total of 10 students in the class. Four were police officers, and the other 6, including myself, were civilians. Two of the civilians were older gentlemen (60+ I would say), and there was also a 40-ish husband and wife. Eight of the students live in Texas, one was from Tennessee, and then I came the furthest. I was the only student in the class who had not trained with Paul previously; several had trained with Paul five or more times.
I will include some extra information outside the scope of the class for those who may be interested in such logistical matters.
As noted above, the cost of the class was $700. I also had to pay airfare, get a rental car, buy ammo and ship it to Paul ahead of time, take 2 days off from work (four total days away from family), buy food and some gasoline, etc., all to attend the class. In short, I must’ve dropped around $2000 total on the class. Obviously, I would not have done so had I not been confident that I would not be disappointed. I was fortunate in that two of my friends had trained with Paul Howe in recent years and had positive experiences, and I’d never read a negative AAR about any of his classes on any of the “gun” forums and websites. Also, since reading “Black Hawk Down” back in 2000, I had been intrigued by Paul Howe (he was, to me, the most interesting “character” in the book). So there was also the “wow, this is Paul Howe” factor. Indeed, he announced in the summer of 2014 that CSAT was up for sale, and his intimations about his impending retirement in his monthly newsletter had me concerned that I would never get to train with him.
So, despite the fact that I didn’t think I would take any more classes in 2014, my wife was very understanding and said “do it”. The question then became: what class to take? Figuring that the barracks is available for longer classes at CSAT (it isn’t available for the standard 2 day classes), I figured why not take a longer class? Indeed, for this class, I stayed at the barracks for 3 nights, so if you add up $100 per night I would have spent had I stayed at a hotel for those 3 nights, it’s the equivalent of paying for just a two day class. Also, of the 6 classes I took in 2014, none were tactics-based. All were focused on skills/techniques (marksmanship fundamentals, the art of the draw, etc.). Although my marksmanship skills are never where I want them to be, I felt like I’d had enough quality instruction over the years that I can work on that stuff on my own. But, I had no idea how to clear my house, fight in low-light, bail out of a car under fire, etc., all things covered in Advanced Individual Tactics. My choice made, I registered for the class in August of 2014.
I communicated with Paul regularly via email, and he was great about getting back to me with answers to my many logistical concerns (usually within 24 hours). What airport was best? Do I need a 4wd rental car to access everything at the range? Do I need to bring bath towels? Can I buy ammo there/ship ammo there? His answers were always brief but informative.
The class was a Friday-Saturday-Sunday class, so I flew down on Thursday. I shipped all but some self-defense ammo to Paul ahead of time. I chose to bring my Glock 19 and my Glock 26 (both Gen 3). They are pretty much stock except for sights (the 19 has Defoor sights, the 26 has Glock Factory Night Sights), triggers (both have Glock 17 smooth faced triggers), and slide stop/releases (Vickers on both).
I arrived in Houston, got my rental car, and headed off to Nacogdoches, which is pretty much NNE of Houston. Not sure of the mileage, but it was about a 2 hour drive up Route 59. Paul had given me his cell # ahead of time and told me to call him when I was on my way so he’d be ready to meet me at the barracks and get me settled in.
I got to the barracks around 5 PM, and Paul was there to greet me. Paul, as my friends had described him, presented as laid-back, happy, kind of country-nice. He gave me my keys, showed me around the barracks, and told me a few other guys would be coming in later that night, including Dave, his assistant for the class. Paul went off on his way, and I took the time to unpack, make my bed, and look at all the fun stuff hanging on the walls around the barracks (patches from seemingly every police department in existence, T-shirts from same, artists’ renditions of various battles that Paul was involved in, goofy sayings, etc.). Dave arrived a little while later, as did a fellow student, Craig. Craig went off on his own for dinner, and Dave suggested that he and I go out for a bite. Off we went to a Tex-Mex place, where I was treated to the sights of downtown Nacogdoches. Nacogdoches is a smallish (30,000?) university town. Dave and I talked about training, his background, classes I’d previously taken, etc. It was a fun night. We went back to the barracks and met two police officers from South Houston who would be taking the class and staying at the barracks as well. With only a few people in the barracks, I got a room all to myself.
Day One began at 8 AM in the classroom, which is in the barracks building. We started with introductions, what gear we’d be using, etc. My holster was a Blade-Tech IWB I wear appendix style, which works with both of my Glocks (http://blade-tech.com). I used a modified Raven Concealment single magazine pouch (http://rcsgear.com). Both of these were mounted on a 5.11 belt. Paul then handed out a syllabus for the class, but explained that we might have to jump around a bit schedule-wise due to the weather (lots of rain and thunderstorms in the forecast…I will just say right now that it rained pretty much the entire weekend). He fired up the PowerPoint and off we went (Paul provided a CD of all the PowerPoints for students to take home, which meant that we could focus on what he was saying more-so than the slides themselves, which we could always review later). He also gave us his business cards, which I only mention because they are awesome, as they include a miniature dry-fire CSAT target on the back! So you can hang it on your wall at home and dry-fire away!
The classroom instruction included some Combat Mindset stuff, and who better to get that from than Paul Howe? We talked about some low-light techniques, as the basic pattern for the class was to run everything dry in daylight, then hot in daylight, and then repeat it all in darkness. We watched some different videos–some taken from his own videos produced by Panteao Productions (http://panteao.com), all of which I’d seen before–outlining how to pie a room, work doors, T-Intersections of hallways, etc. We went through it all fairly quickly, but he paused often for questions and addressed them all quite happily. We also spent some time checking out different flashlights. Paul could have told potential students–in the course description available online–to bring flashlights of a certain luminosity, but preferred to say “bring what you have and if you need to borrow something you can”. The idea was that a lot of people have lights that they THINK are good enough, but they may not be. His recommendations were for the Fenix PD-35 960 Lumen model (http://www.fenixlight.com), a NiteCore high lumen model (http://www.nitecorelights.com), and of course, Surefire is always good (http://www.surefire.com). Paul admitted he is cheap and that Surefire, while high-quality, has in some ways been surpassed by some of these other models, and at less cost. Indeed, he said he’s never managed to break a Fenix, and he runs his gear hard. Nevertheless, we took whatever lights we’d brought, which, in my case, was a tiny Streamlight ProTac 1L (http://www.streamlight.com/en-us) and made lanyards out of paracord. Paul is a big fan of long lanyards for lights, which I already knew from his videos. The lanyards we made are worn like a necklace and hang the light down to just below the belt. The idea is that, if you are searching your house with a gun in one hand and light in the other, what do you do when you have to open a door? With the lanyard, you drop the light, open the door, then the light is quick to re-access. Paul, like many instructors, likes weapon-mounted lights, but also realizes their shortcomings (using them to search, sweeping family members, etc.) as well as the fact that most conceal-carry holders don’t use a weapon mounted light on their carry guns anyway.
With all of that stuff done, we broke for lunch and then met at the range (about a mile away). The CSAT “range” is actually an assortment of ranges set up over many acres. The facility includes 3 shoot-houses, a sniper range that goes out to at least 800 yards, numerous shorter distance ranges (100 yards and less), and at least two “used car lots”, as I call them, with shot up cars arranged in different formations. More on that later. We started on a basic 25 yard flat pistol range. CSAT targets went up (they are similar to an IPSC target, but the A zone is narrower, 13 inches high by 6 inches wide), and then there is a dot in the center of “head” as well as a dot on either side of the “head”. Paul is a stickler for accuracy and believes the best way to stop a fight is to get to the spine; thus the narrower central box, which mimics this “spinal box” on a human body
We started at the 7 yard line shooting the 5 and 1 drills. Paul is a big believer in dry-fire, so we started off by dry-firing 5 times at one of the off-center dots, then firing one round, and doing this routine 5 times. This was the time for Paul and Dave to check everyone’s fundamentals. Paul’s mantra is “lock, lock, front sight, press”, and we got to try that out. That done, we started working the central box on our targets with single rounds and then two shots. This was all done with two-hands at 7 yards. We then switched to one-handed, with a flashlight in the off-hand, getting some practice with different holds that had already been demonstrated in the classroom (Harries, neck index, FBI, modified FBI, etc.).
Next, things really got interesting. Out came different targets of Paul’s design. These featured 5 boxes (each probably around 7×7) with a photo inside. The photos feature Paul wearing a ski mask holding his daughter hostage. Each photo is slightly different with different amounts of his head exposed behind hers. These are well thought out, as most people shoot right-handed and pull shots left, so he deliberately set them up with his head to the right, so if you miss left (as most people do) you are more likely to hit his daughter! So we started shooting at his head from 7 yards (I promptly drilled his daughter through both eyes! Dammit!), and this was tough. The hard part for me was that, when shooting at a face—as opposed to a dot, X, etc.—I tended to peak over my sights and not focus on the front sight. Bad bad bad
After that exercise in my poor skills, we moved over to the “old” shoot-house to practice room-clearing and T-intersections (we had talked about this and diagrammed it in the classroom already). The class was divided in half at this point (5 with Paul, 5 with Dave, and then we flip-flopped….I started with Dave on room-clearing). I don’t want to go too in depth here, but suffice is to say that there are specific ways to open a door depending on which way the door opens (in or out) and on what side the door knob and hinges are on. Naturally, his shoot-house is set up with doors that open in a variety of directions. We then pied the room from the outside, clearing the last, invisible 10% of each room (in the near corners) when we entered. We ran everything dry first, then did it live with a single bad guy in the room. We also ran one version of the room-clearing drill with one of Paul’s homemade “dummies” lying in the hallway, as an injured “good guy”, who, once we cleared the room, we had to confirm the hallway was still clear, drag the “good guy” in, close the door, and provide first aid while vectoring good guys to our location.
We then switched and went to the T-intersection with Paul, where we reviewed everything, then ran it dry, then ran it hot. In both cases (rooms and T), when we ran it hot, it was with one hand, with the other hand holding a flashlight (“if it doesn’t work in the daytime, it won’t work at night”, Paul repeatedly told us). The toughest part of this, aside from maintaining accuracy with one hand, was target discrimination. As we ran the drill a few times, we had to deal with some “is it a good guy or bad guy?” scenarios, which only got worse when we did it again at night.
When we finished up at the T, we met as a whole group, reviewed everything, then agreed to break for an early dinner to return around 5:30 to run it all again at night.
When we returned, we met as a whole group near the old shoot house, then my half got to convoy with Paul up to one of the newer shoot-houses to have some fun. A burn barrel had been set up under an open-sided pavilion-type thing in the woods, and one at a time we got to go through 2 or 3 scenarios with Paul. It was very dark, coyotes were howling in the distance, and we would enter the house and get to clear a room or two faced with some “shoot/don’t shoot” targets. Here was where we learned the value of a good light. My light actually performed better than I thought it would (better than some guys’ more expensive Surefires), but was still not up to the full challenge. I could light stuff up well, but a wider flood and more lumens would have been better, as then I would not have had to move the light to check hands. Paul also gave us the chance to be on the receiving end of some flashlights at the end of a hallway, and so I think I know what I’ll be asking for for Christmas! With Paul’s permission, I ran one of our two “runs” at the new shoot house with my Streamlight TLR-1 weapon light attached to my Glock 19, since my standard home defense gun has one fitted, and I wanted the practice/experience, and to be able to compare my performance with the handheld light.
We wrapped up there, then went back to the old shoot house to do the T-intersection in darkness with Dave. Here, many of us failed to notice a badge on the belt of an “armed” target, so poor Mr. Policeman caught some bad shots. This was tough, and I must admit, with the lights out, it was a bit stressful. My biggest issues were being kind of stiff in my movement and with my gun arm (think: Clarice Starling near the end of “Silence of the Lambs”). Tactically I was mostly sound, but I wasn’t always getting my hits, which is bad. Again, I ran the drill an extra time with the TLR-1 attached.
With the T cleared somewhat successfully by each of us, we ended for the night, probably around 7:45 PM (one reason Paul runs this class in winter is the early nighttime…no staying up until midnight running these scenarios).
Day two began again in the classroom at 9 AM. We first reviewed Day One. Paul then talked a bit about calibers (rifle and pistol), as it would relate to the day’s activities that would be heavily based around cars. Paul talked about why he likes .357Sig (mostly because he got a ton of that ammo for cheap, and he admitted several times that he is cheap!), though he shoots 9mm more than .357Sig these days. And he sticks with Glock as his go-to guns. Paul is a big believer in keeping everything consistent. So he uses Glocks (19, 26, 32, and 33), all with the same triggers, grips, etc. In rifles, he shoots ARs a lot (again, all set up with same trigger, sights, etc.), but surprised me with his affinity for the 7.62x39mm cartridge as well. We talked a bit about tactical trauma medicine and his basic philosophies regarding tourniquet use vs. wound packing, etc. Paul handed out SOF-T Tourniquets to each of us and had us practice a bit with these, and gave us each a loaner for the remainder of the weekend to practice with during breaks. We watched a couple of videos of police shooting that illustrated certain points Paul wanted to cover, and then talked about what we’d be doing at the range that day. To help illustrate these points, we watched some clips from Paul’s “vehicle defense” and “active shooter” videos.
Off we went to the flat pistol range again, where we started off at the 25 yard line to see where our rounds hit in relation to our sights (Point Of Aim vs. Point Of Impact). Some people’s shots (including a few of my own…ahem!) were a little wild, so we also did some ball and dummy drills with a partner to try to iron out flinches, trigger-jerking, etc.
With that stuff out of the way, we again divided in two to work barricades. This is where things got really fun. I went with Dave and four classmates to a “doorway” barricade set up 80 yards from 13 x 6 inch steel plates that match the center of Paul’s CSAT targets. We had to hit the plates 2 times from each of four positions (standing from either side of cover and kneeling from either side of cover). Had I gone first, I’d have probably been quite discouraged. Those targets were thin and very far away. Fortunately, guy #1 went with his Glock 19 and went through 3+ mags getting his 8 hits. I went fourth or fifth and it took me exactly 30 shots to get my hits, which I thought was pretty much pleased with (note: I don’t think I’d ever shot my pistols beyond 25 yards before)!
We then swapped and went over to a similar position with Paul, only this time at 25 yards. Here, I did better, as I’m sure we all did. Targets were the same, and we ran this drill 2 handed and then again 1 handed with a flashlight in the other hand. Here, Paul really amazed me. He would watch me shoot, and after 3 shots just left of the steel he’d say, “Give me 10% less with your right hand, 10% more with your left. Lock, lock, front-sight, press”. Bang-PLING! Bang-PLING! This guy knows his stuff big time!
I think it was at this point that we broke for lunch. We returned an hour later and started working around the cars. I started on one of the lots with about 10 cars on it, all shot up by various classes over the years. A target was set up for us about 60 yards away (bad guy with a gun). We had to engage from behind a car at 60, then bounce forward to positions behind each of 4 more cars, two shots from each position at center of mass, the final two shots to be head-shots. Then, we had to run to the entrance to the old shoot-house and make 2 hits on steel down a long corridor (45 yards). We did it dry, then with two hands, then with one hand and a light in the other. We signed our targets after each run so we could see how much our accuracy suffered from two hands to one, then would use the same target again at night to see how much worse we would be in darkness.
After running this exercise with Paul, we flipped with the other group and did some fire and maneuver around 4 cars over in the other “used car lot”, shooting at those same narrow steel plates. Again, we did it dry, then with 2 hands, then one hand, and then later we would do it in darkness. Four cars were set up in a line, with a 13 x 6 steel plate probably 15 yards in front of each (I say “in front of”, but the cars were parked in each of their four possible orientations: front toward target, right side toward target, left side toward target, rear toward target). We were to kneel down if possible, slide out, and engage as soon as we could.
This exercise done, we broke for dinner to return again ready to roll at 5:30 PM. We then ran the drill around the cars that we had done with Paul in the daylight. Here, my flashlight inadequacies were all too easy to spot, as I could barely see the target 65 yards away. So I shot 2 rounds from each of the five positions, then missed all 5 of my shots on steel. Looking at the paper target, I had only 2 hits out of ten rounds. I asked Paul if I could run it again with my TLR-1 mounted on my Glock 19, and he graciously gave me this indulgence. Scoring the target wouldn’t be difficult since I had only made the 2 hits on it. So, I shot the drill again, only this time I scored 7 hits on the paper target (I don’t think I hit the steel with five shots, though). Are we learning? Weapon mounted lights do make things easier!
We then went over to the other lot and ran our bounding movement drills, shooting at steel again at about 15-20 yards in front of the cars, as outlined earlier. I did better here. A thunderstorm was getting under way, so it was time to wrap it up. We finished early, before 7 PM.
Day three began at the range at 8 AM, with 3 exercises to run. We split into the same two groups we’d been using, and my group started at the old shoot-house. This time, we had to clear the main hallway by hitting steel at its end 45 yards away. Then we would have the 3 central rooms to clear. I went first this time. I had switched to my Glock 26 and surprised myself with a first shot hit on the steel! I then cleared the 3 rooms that had shoot/don’t shoot targets, and had some pretty solid hits and didn’t shoot any good guys. I made one slight tactical error but overall did well. Many others shot “the cop” because of how he was positioned. I was proud of my scanning ability and not shooting him.
We then flip-flopped with the other group and got to do two-person vehicle bailouts. Here, we got to use Paul’s “bubba truck”. He had parked it in a plate pit, with plate racks set up about 15 yards in front of the vehicle. We then practiced dry from the passenger and driver’s seats getting out of the seatbelt, opening the door, and engaging the plates. We had to knock down at least two of the plates (there were 5 or 6 plates in a line, each about pie-plate sized) before we could move. Whoever knocked them down first would shout “move”, receive the “moving” call, then dash back, using the vehicle as cover, to a spot further back to cover his “buddy”. We then got to do it live from each of the two positions. I did very well here getting my hits on the plates, not wasting much ammo. In every iteration, I was moving to the rear before my battle buddy.
After the two live drills of this (one from each spot), we got to do our final “car” drill. We started it the same, having to engage the plate racks, but then had to fire and maneuver into the “used car lot” from the day before, engaging the skinny steel from each of the four car positions, hop-scotching with our partner until we’d each hit these steel plates twice each. Again, I performed well, and made a lot of first round hits on steel. At the end, Paul was there and he had us do an ammo check, confirm we’d not been hit, and then holster and “blend into the chaos”.
We finished up day three using provided Glock Simunition guns to engage a target inside a large shed-type structure. The purpose of this drill was to see if our lights could punch out of the light of day into a darkened structure to reveal what’s inside. My light was not up the challenge, so Dave lent me one of is his powerful little lights. Here, I got good shots on the bad guy once I spotted him from the outside, but then made a tactical error by going inside (what if he’d had a buddy with a Tec 9 and lit me up when I walked in?). It gave me a lot to ponder. Better to blow the bad guy away (he had a gun) and then call it in. Paul stressed many times during the class that there was never a need to “push”, unless we were trying to save our lives or others’ lives. If you get home and your front door is open and you know no family members are home, don’t go in. Just call the police. We ended on the range earlier than I’d thought we would, by around 10:30 AM.
We wrapped up with some Q and A on the range, then returned to the barracks/classroom for a final review, more Q and A, awarding of certificates, etc. I got a picture with Paul and had him sign my copy of his book (“Leadership and Training for the Fight”), which he was only too happy to do for me. We cleaned the barracks, bought a few things at the pro shop, packed up, and went on our journeys. My return trip home was uneventful, and I was home by 12:30 AM Sunday night/Monday AM, tired but happy. I even went to work on Monday!
If you’ve made it this far, you can read a little further. Trying to separate myself from the personal “wow” factor of training with Paul Howe, I must say that this was probably the best course I’d taken to that point in my “training career”. We worked on just enough fundamentals to help us get our hits, but got to work on lots of tactical, realistic scenarios (room clearing, vehicle bailouts, using vehicles for cover, T-intersections, clearing a darkened outbuilding from the outside in daylight), and then doing all but the final exercise in darkness. We got to test equipment and ideas, discover shortcomings in our tactics and gear (especially lights….others may disagree, but I am convinced that what Paul showed us, that “more lumens is more better”, is the way to go.).
In case anyone is wondering, we didn’t shoot anything on a timer, no malfunction drills, and there was no super-speed reloads or anything like that. If you needed to clear a malfunction or reload (tactical or speed), you just did it
Round count surprised me. The online description said 700 rounds, and I brought 850. After only shooting 88 rounds on Day One, I knew we’d not get close to 700. Day Two involved more shooting, 225 rounds, and then on Day Three I shot 55 out of my G26, for a total of 368. It doesn’t bother me that we didn’t shoot a ton; I feel I learned from every round I fired. But, for someone who had to ship ammo down to the tune of about $39, having a more realistic idea of how much we would shoot might have been nice
As noted earlier, this was really the only class I’d taken to that point that was actually tactics-based. I know I’m not the best shot but am usually good enough to figure out what I’m doing wrong and work on it. But the chance to learn tactics from one of the best in the business was a rare opportunity and I tried to just soak it all up like a sponge. Indeed, I only took a handful of pics all weekend (the constant rain didn’t help), as I didn’t want to lose focus.
Paul was awesome. Very laid back, nice as can be, and HUMBLE! No war stories, no “I killed more Somalis than anyone” stuff. Some other trainers’ internet personas suggest that they might have big heads; not so with Paul. For an anecdote of how he is, he told us as we left that if anyone had any issues leaving, car break downs or whatever, to give him a call and he’d come out and help us! I cannot imagine another trainer offering such a thing!
On my return flight, I started rethinking my training plans for 2015. Paul was discussing with us a brand new class he would soon be offering, so I was already trying to figure out how I could get down there again!
I would definitely recommend this class to anyone who has their marksmanship and safety basics down solidly and has the time and $ to get down to “Nacanowhere, Texas”, as Paul calls it.