“The magic is there is no magic.”
I had the pleasure of attending this class (with John) this past weekend. The course was the “Street and Vehicle Class” offered by Mike Pannone of CTT Solutions. The course was held on Saturday, October 10, and Sunday, October 11, 2015 at the Blue Trail Rifle Range in Wallingford, Connecticut. Cost of the course was $525. This was the second time I have trained with Mike Pannone (see AAR from “Covert Carry” here). I am not affiliated with CTT Solutions or Alias Training and Security Services, except as a full-price-paying customer.
Including the host, Ben, there were 23 students in the class, 22 of whom were men. Mike was the sole instructor. Of the students, I would estimate that at least half were members of the law enforcement community (current and retired), with Connecticut police as well as NYPD heavily represented, including several members of NYPD ESU, the “SWAT” of NYPD.
The description of the course on the Alias website is as follows:
Mike Pannone 2-Day Street & Vehicle Class – October 10-11, 2015 – Wallingford, CT The 2-day Street and Vehicle Class is an extremely fast paced course combining much of the individual 2-day pistol and 2-day carbine courses combined with hard earned experience I acquired running motorized PSD in the heart of the Sunni Triangle during 2003-’04 as well as motorized combat operations in Al Anbar province in 2005.The pace of training will be dictated by the level of experience but it is Highly recommended that an Alias instructor taught pistol or carbine course has been taken previous to attending. It will deal extensively with encounters during entry and exit from vehicles as well as strategies for getting from your vehicle with all occupants and moving to a safer and more tenable position.
Narrative: The CTT-Solutions programs of instruction are designed to give shooters specific answers based on operational experience of multiple vetted military/ LE sources, testing and historical data. All techniques taught are highly technically and tactically efficient and effective in the use of a pistol and carbine for combative engagements in and around vehicles. The course requires the extensive use of steel targetry to accomplish rapid gains in skills with instant feedback as well as approximately 500 rounds of pistol and 500 rounds of carbine ammunition per student. The high round count and the use of steel give the shooter time and apparatus to refine his/her shooting technique based on the principles taught.
Tactics: – Classical tactical theory – Evaluation of ballistic protection provided by different vehicles – Shooting through glass (out and in) – Entries/exits and points of exposure when operating with vehicles – Storage and safeguarding of weapons in vehicles with premium on accessibility – Individual, element or “family” rehearsals for open air reconsolidation, evasion and defense – Awareness of common attack locations (malls, gas stations, traffic lights) – Strategies if unarmed and abroad (think “family on vacation”)
Instructor: Mike Pannone
John and I arrived at the range about 30 minutes before class was to begin at 0900. We set to work loading mags and debating how to set up our gear for the day. I’d brought along a chest rig, a battle belt, and numerous other “tactical” tidbits, but wasn’t sure that I would be utilizing any/many of them. I decided to go more “low profile” and set up my Wilderness belt with my Slide Modular Holster by F3 Holsters (see my review here), a Blade-Tech double Glock magazine pouch, and a pair of HSGI rifle tacos on a Raven Concealment Moduloader. Though spares were available to me, the only guns I used in the course were my Generation 3 Glock 19 (all stock except for Ameriglo Defoor plain sights, Vickers/Tango Down extended slide stop, and Glock 17 factory trigger), and an AR-15 cobbled together between a Stag Arms lower (with ALG-ACT trigger and Magpul CTR stock and MOE grip) mated with a 16 inch upper by Hunter Rifleworks (see my review of this upper here). The carbine was equipped with a Blue Force Gear Vickers “VCAS” sling, Aimpoint PRO red dot optic, and Surefire X300 Ultra. I used a combination of 30 round GI mags with Magpul followers and Generation 1 Magpul 30 round magazines.
Mike arrived a few minutes later and, just after 0900, walked over to where the class members were gearing up. He gathered everyone around and introduced himself. He didn’t spend much time on his background, saying that, if we were there, we already knew it (for those interested, his background can be found on both the Alias and CTT Solutions websites listed above). He stressed that he is just a regular guy who just happens to have a rather unique knowledge base. And a shout-out to Mike right now for remembering my name from when I took Covert Carry 15 months before! As a fellow Polish-Italian American, I was pleasantly surprised!
Mike went over a rough outline of the course so we would know where we were going and how we were progressing. The plan was to do some basic pistol work in the morning of Day One to give Mike a chance to evaluate our shooting and manipulation skills. We would then be instructed in and given the chance to practice how to move safely with a handgun. Mike stressed the importance of this in moving around vehicles. We would then break for lunch, and spend the afternoon doing similar modules with carbines. Then, on Day Two, we would start actually working around the vehicles.
Mike was fine with those of us who had taken his Covert Carry class–or could otherwise demonstrate proficiency and safety—using appendix carry for our handguns. John and I wasted little time in doffing our outside the waistband holsters and switching to our standard carry configurations, and several other students utilized appendix carry as well. John and I agreed that the chances of either of us being “all kitted up” in chest rigs and drop-leg holsters was even more remote than needing to use a handgun defensively, so why not practice how we usually carry? In this case, that meant that I switched from my F3 holster to a Dale Fricke Archangel appendix holster, which I recently acquired and may soon review.
Before we even began shooting, Mike took the time to tell us his opinion of different practices currently “in vogue” in vehicle classes. For example, Mike explained a number of reasons why he believes Temple Index is a poor choice for moving around a vehicle with a handgun. His argument centered around the poor retention qualities of this position, the longer time it takes to assume a firing position from this position, and the high risk of the muzzle catching on parts of the vehicle–particularly inside the car–such as the roof, pillars, door frames, etc. Having taken Covert Carry and knowing Mike’s background, I already knew that handgun retention is something that he strongly emphasizes. Mike prefers a sort of high port or high ready position, pointed upward, which positions the pistol in hand in front of the body rather than alongside the head. This protects the gun, keeps it in the field of vision, and makes it quicker to aim. You can read his own words on the subject here.
The subject of the Sul position was also brought up. Mike termed it “buffoonery”, again due to its poor retention qualities. He prefers a modified Sul, wherein the weak hand actually holds the barrel/slide of the pistol, greatly aiding retention. Mike also mentioned several times that this class is a true vehicle-tactics course, not a “shooting course with vehicles as props.” The opening line of this AAR was a mantra that Mike has come up with: “The magic is there is no magic.” He said this many times throughout the weekend, stressing that there is no magic, just blue-collar problem solving, hard work, and practice.
We started at the 7 yard line and began with the same drills we had done in Covert Carry. This consisted of drawing and firing 10 rounds at a B-8 target taped to a standard IPSC target. Mike emphasized to take our time so that we could get good hits and give him the chance to walk the line to check us out. My first 10 rounds looked like this:
My first shot was in the X, and Mike tapped me and said something encouraging on the way by that I didn’t quite catch. No matter; I could tell it would be a good day! We then did the same drill strong-hand only, then weak-hand only. By then, everyone had at least one empty magazine, so we worked on some slide-lock reloads, and then some tactical reloads (magazine exchanges). As different elements were introduced, Mike had us drawing for each iteration of the reload drills, and asked us to start speeding everything up. The idea was to keep adding new “layers” for us to work through, and he also introduced us to “conscious contradictions”. Though we were supposed to be speeding up, Mike talked about how we still had to slow down for the shot. In short, the only things we could speed up were the draw and presentation, but the shot needs to be a separate entity and we need to slow down in order to make the hit. Naturally, I screwed this up a few times as, despite everything he had said, I tried to speed up the draw AND the shot. Want to guess how that turned out?
I should mention here that Mike is a strong proponent of utilizing the slide stop/release when doing slide-lock reloads. A few people had issues with their pistols not locking back after the last round had been fired, so Mike made sure that they altered their grip by placing their strong-hand thumb on the back of their weak-hand thumb rather than against the side of the pistol frame.
When performing reloads, Mike noticed that some students were doing the “side-step reload” wherein, when the pistol ran dry, they were stepping to the side to reload, then stepping back to where they had been. Mike took the time to talk to us about movement, emphasizing that, while movement is generally good, all movement comes with a time penalty. You have to start to move, move, and stop the movement, and all of that takes time. It might not be much time, but at close ranges the little sidesteps that some students practice only slow the person moving with their draw and ability to aim, while the stationary person only has to move his or her aim a few inches in order to still make hits.
Nevertheless, around cars, movement is vital, and Mike stressed the importance of being able to move safely around a car with pistol in hand. The next few hours were spent with Mike instructing us in how to move around safely with our handguns. This is hard to describe without video, but the key is to always keep your pistol pointed in the direction of the “bad guys” even when moving away from them. If you watch this video of Mike in a different vehicle class, you can see how, when he moves from the vehicle to the barricade, his pistol is down near his side and pointed slightly rearward (Mike starts out in the passenger seat).
This was just one of the four techniques that Mike shared with us on how to move quickly and safely. We did several different drills to help us practice these techniques, each of us partnered up with someone else so that we could monitor how well we were keeping our muzzles pointed in safe directions.
We finished the morning, which had run into afternoon, going over the kneeling position, an important component of fighting around vehicles. Like other members of special operations with whom I have trained, Mike is generally in favor of shooting around cover with the outside knee high and the inside knee down. This is done for a number of reasons, chief among them being that keeping the outside foot down and knee high keeps you from falling over outside of cover. Regardless of which knee is down, the key to the kneeling position, in Mike’s opinion, is the weight distribution of your body over your legs. He said a lot of people teach the kneeling position incorrectly or, if they do teach it correctly, do not know WHY they teach it that way. Mike favors getting very low so that your chest basically touches your thigh with your weight low. We did a few live fire drills shooting from the kneeling position and then broke for lunch around 1315.
I should mention that, at some point during the kneeling drills, my Glock 19 suffered its first ever malfunction (over 4000 rounds in). I was so shocked, I actually did NOT perform a “tap-rack-assess”. Instead, I accidentally handled it more like the Magpul “Art of the Dynamic Handgun” video encourages, where I just canted the muzzle up a bit and looked into the ejection port. I saw a round had gotten hung up on the feed ramp, so I just pushed the back of the slide with the heel of my palm and got back to work. Had I executed a “tap-rack-assess” I may very well have induced a double-feed. I’d like to blame John for the loaner magazine that MUST have been the cause of the issue!
At 1415 we were ready to roll again, this time with carbines. We started by checking the zero on our carbines. John and I had spent a few hours at a local range the night before getting ours pretty well zeroed (we both favor the 100 yard zero). Mike said that he didn’t really care at what distance we zeroed our carbines (in general), but that whatever zero we might choose should be the flattest trajectory at the distance at which we would probably utilize the carbine. The furthest distance at which we could shoot at this facility was 50 yards, so Mike gave us some time to work on our zeroes. Although I was pretty content with my zero from the night before, I still made a few fine adjustments to try to dial it in a bit more. I was happy that Mike gave at least 4 or 5 chances for people to shoot 5 round groups, check targets, make adjustments, etc.
Drills with the carbine were not as all-encompassing as with the pistol, mainly because Mike said several times that it is easier to control the muzzle on a carbine than a pistol (and easier for an instructor to see where the muzzle of a carbine is pointed as compared with a pistol). Still, the carbine brings with it its own challenges compared with handguns, the most obvious of which (and critical to CQB and vehicle work) is sight offset. Thus, once we were zeroed, we performed a series of drills designed to test our offset and allow us to factor in that offset when shooting at close ranges.
With those drills out of the way, we moved on to switching shoulders. I am glad that Mike covered this, as it’s not something I’m especially adept at, especially when one factors in how to maneuver around the 2 point sling without strangling oneself. Despite Mike’s demonstrations, I still struggled a bit. For me, it’s just a question of repetitions, as by the end of the class, I was doing better with this. Clearly, though, I need to spend more time on carbine manipulations in my living room!
The final drills we did on Day One involved carbine reloads. Mike demonstrated his preferred methods for reloading both right and left-handed. I got a lot out of his left-hand reloads, as again, this is something I rarely practice. The subtle movements he teaches really do make changing mags left-handed much more effortless, and once I had them down I did well. I should note here that, much like some other former Tier One operators-turned-instructors, Mike strongly encourages flipping the safety of the carbine into the “on” position when performing reloads. Indeed, the carbine should be on safe whenever its operator is off the sights. Again, you can read his own thoughts on this topic here.
The final reload drill was a fun one. Load carbine with a magazine with 1 round, and chamber that round. Make sure all of your other magazines also have only 1 round in each. On go, shoot, reload, shoot, reload, shoot, reload, etc. Surrounded by several “partners”, they keep adding single rounds to all of the magazines you drop, so that you have to KEEP shooting and reloading for one minute. It was here I experienced the only malfunction I had with my carbine. I think I slammed in a mag too hard with the bolt to the rear, and the round popped out of the mag and ended up hung up inside. When I tried to fire, it would not work, so I dropped the magazine and grabbed another without fully clearing the chamber. I ended up with a double-feed due to not checking the chamber. Once I diagnosed it, I actually cleared it fairly quickly, but I need to practice malfunction clearances more often.
Day One ended with me having fired 213 rounds through the Glock 19 (all 115 grain FMJ from several manufacturers) and 154 through the AR-15 (all Federal 55 grain M193 FMJ).
Day Two again began at 0900. Mike first asked if there were any questions about anything from the day before, and then showed us this video. I had seen it before, but it was definitely worth watching again with Mike as he gave us his commentary. Mike had the added benefit of meeting the police officer at a conference where he was able to gather additional information.
The big lesson that Mike wanted us to take from this video, and it is something he would stress for the rest of the day, was that you should use the car for cover as long as it is helping you more than the bad guy. But, once it is helping the bad guy more than you, then you need to get away from it, and fast. As it happens, that’s exactly what the police officer did in the video. The driver had no idea where the police officer was, and the police officer maneuvered around toward the front of the car while the suspect still thought the police officer was next to the car. But, once the suspect fell down (mortally wounded, as it turned out), the officer could no longer see him, so he retreated to a better position, in darkness, from which he could see the car in its entirety in his field of vision, allowing him to be ready for the suspect if he popped up again.
I am going to be deliberately vague about some of the tactics Mike taught, as there were things we did in class that he does not want widely disseminated in order to protect the people he teaches. But, in general terms, Mike said that people make too much of fighting around vehicles. He said that, once a vehicle is stationary, it is just a piece of terrain. Imagine a boulder you can shoot under or the like. Just like any other piece of terrain, it can be used by one side as an advantage against the other side, and which side has the advantage can shift or change very quickly. Thus, you have to use it as an advantage until it becomes more of an advantage for the bad guy than for you. As noted above, that is when you have to get away from it and seek different cover or distance.
We then set about moving three derelict vehicles around the range into positions that suited what Mike had planned for us. Once in position, he demonstrated some different ways to set up to shoot over, around, and under vehicles. Realistically, he said, keep as much of the car between you and the bad guy(s) as possible. He stressed (and we saw later when we shot at the cars) that, although not every part of the car is “cover” (i.e., stops bullets), anything is better than nothing. As he said, if someone was going to shoot him in the chest, he’d rather be wearing a T-shirt than be bareback. He also demonstrated the stupidity and futility of shooting over a portion of the car (trunk, hood, etc.) with the carbine oriented sideways. He said you get to drop down all of about 3 inches while, at the same time, completely mess with how you are accustomed to hold, shoot, and account for exterior ballistics and holdovers with your gun. In short, it just is not worth it.
Mike answered some questions along the way, and then we started shooting around the vehicles. The vehicles were arranged parallel to the targets (which were about 35 yards away, 8 x 8 steel), and we moved from vehicle to vehicle shooting from different positions at each (around front bumper, over hood, across trunk/truck bed, around rear bumper, and underneath, as applicable). These weren’t really tactical drills per se, as they seemed to be designed more to get us used to shooting around vehicles and get familiar with the offset of our sights. Several students struggled with this latter aspect (my moment would come during a later drill), as the hood of one car, the windshield of another, and the far side of the truck bed all took close range hits.
We then reoriented the vehicles in order to get familiar with shooting around them from other directions. We also placed some VTAC-style barricades between them as additional points of “cover” to work around. We practiced around these, and then moved into some team concepts. I am going to be a little vague here, but the basics were “peel” maneuvers that involved fire and movement in order to fight away from the vehicles to either effect an “escape” or maneuver on the “bad guys”. We then broke for lunch around 1230.
When we returned from lunch, we took the team concepts to the next level by actually starting off inside the vehicles and having to get out and make hits on the steel while maneuvering down the line of vehicles and barricades. Here, I performed a major fail. Returning from lunch, I had loaded my AR but did not chamber a round, so when our first drill began I got out of the vehicle ready to make the “evil steel” pay for targeting us, and my carbine went click instead of bang. I maneuvered back and operated the charging handle, then proceeded to forget my offset, shooting the side mirror off the vehicle! Ugh.
After we had all gone through once, Mike stopped us and stressed the importance of moving much more quickly. He then performed the drill in front of us with one of the police officers who was very squared away, showing at what pace he wanted us to fire, communicate, and maneuver. We quickly learned the importance of communication between teammates. When John and I ran this drill a second time, we did MUCH better.
The final module of the class was some ballistics testing. Students got the chance to shoot through glass into targets inside of cars, from inside cars through glass to targets outside cars, and through doors to see the effects of bullets on targets behind the doors. We did not all shoot during this segment, although anyone could have. I chose not to, focusing instead on the how different rounds handled the glass and metal. Indeed, it was a priority to get students who were using different calibers and who had different bullet designs to shoot first. Thus, we got to see .45 ACP ball vs .45 ACP Gold Dots, .40 165 grain hollowpoints, 55 grain M193 5.56 vs. some of the bonded rounds, 115 grain 9mm ball, etc.
Probably the most interesting aspect of this portion of the class to me was to see how some bullets were yawing and essentially tumbled into the targets (easily identifiable by the oblong holes left in the targets). When asked if we should aim high or low when shooting through glass, Mike said neither. Just put the front sight on the target and press until you get the desired result, shooting through the same hole in the glass. He said that yes, bullets will react in certain ways when they hit glass from certain angles, right up until the time when they react in different ways! And, as anyone can see on the CTT Solutions website, Mike does not believe in relying on luck.
We spent some time cleaning up brass and glass from the range, and then got together for some final words and the awarding of certificates. John and I were on the road by about 1730 hours.
I fired 124 rounds through the AR-15 on Day Two and didn’t shoot my Glock at all. So my final round count for the class was 278 carbine and 213 pistol. Clearly, this was more of a tactics course than a shooting course.
I really liked this class. Though I had done some vehicle work in some prior classes, this was the first course I took that was exclusively vehicle-centered. Though Mike differed in a few areas in terms of tactics and techniques from other instruction I’d received, he was always able to clearly articulate why he teaches things a certain way. Indeed, he said several times that we don’t HAVE to do things how he tells us. Instead, he said, “This is what I do, and this is why I do it.”
Mike is a fantastic instructor. He is knowledgeable, can present material in a variety of ways in order to get his point across, is very funny, and is very approachable for sidebars about tactics, techniques, gear, etc.
My only gripe with the class is that the Alias website description of the class made it sound more “civilian” friendly. However, Mike said that the course description, as posted by Alias, was more akin to his Urban Vehicle Countermeasures class, which is handgun rather than carbine-centric and geared more toward the concealed carry practitioner. I don’t regard this is as a mistake by Mike, but probably a “cut and paste” clerical error at Alias. Having said that, it’s not like I bypassed an Urban Vehicle Countermeasures class in order to take this one. Had the Urban Vehicle class been offered close enough to where I live, I would have taken it instead of this one. Unfortunately, I think the only one offered all year was out west, possibly in California. As it was, I was happy to take ANY vehicle class with Mike. As readers of the blog have probably figured by now, John and I are both thoughtful and analytical enough that we can take most of the lessons from the Street and Vehicle class and apply it to our own lives, which do not involve badges or carbines.
One other note: this is not a “beginner’s course”. I would say that someone taking this course should be AT LEAST at my level, if not higher, in terms of marksmanship and weapon-manipulation ability. In addition, since the course involves some movement, dropping to one knee or the other, etc., I would suggest that anyone thinking about taking this course do an honest assessment of his or her physical abilities. There were at least two or three people in class who seemed to nearly require a winch to get up from the kneeling position. All the best tactics in the world will not help you if you move like a glacier.
In summation, I would highly recommend this course. Though particularly applicable to those in law enforcement or those who might work on security details—in the United States or abroad—there is plenty here for average Joes like myself. This is the most “tactics”-oriented class that Mike teaches, and it’s a privilege to be able to learn tactics from someone who has such a wealth of experiences to draw upon. I will look forward to the chance to train with Mike Pannone again in the future.