The well-maintained small-arms ranges as seen from the shoot house. Blackwater Target Systems are used throughout. Note the tranquil surroundings. Photos by Dave Spaulding
Know what’s going on around you at all times. The author performs a 360-degree scan during a carbine drill. Photos by Dave Spaulding
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Few reading this haven t heard of Blackwater. The training company/facility that morphed into providing security for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq after the Sept. 11 attacks has received more than its share of publicity some good and some bad. While this hasn t hurt the company in regards to training military and security personnel, I ve noted reluctance on the part of some law enforcement administrators to send their officers to the impressive Blackwater facility in Moyock, N.C. For those who haven t been there, it s a large, remarkable installation that can accommodate any training need and I mean any! The facility includes firearms and explosive ranges, shoot houses, a simulated town, a mock high school and battleship, driving tracks, a K-9 training area, a large pond for waterborne operations and a multitude of classrooms.
The facility has the feel of a bustling military base with people and vehicles coming and going constantly just the thing many politically correct police chiefs want to avoid. I had one police administrator tell me, I want my tactical team to act like cops. I don t want them coming home thinking they are Navy SEALs. While such concerns may sound silly to those of us who want America s law enforcement officers to be the best-trained possible, they still must be addressed.
So, what does Blackwater offer the training arena? The very informed and experienced feedback their security operatives have obtained in the war zones of the Middle East. These former military and law enforcement officers are experienced fighters in the global war on terror and can take the lessons learned in actual armed conflict much of it in tightly packed urban areas like Baghdad and apply them to the curriculum taught in Blackwater training courses.
Granted, some of these lessons may not apply to American law enforcement, but much of it does making the training quite valuable, especially to high-risk assignments such as SWAT or narcotics entry teams.
While you ve probably heard of Blackwater, you may not know about Blackwater Midwest, their new training facility outside of Mt. Carroll, Ill. Blackwater obtained a firearms training school formerly known as The Site and put $1 million into upgrades and renovations, resulting in a facility that offers the same quality training as the larger North Carolina facility, just on a miniaturized scale. All the automated target systems the larger facility is known for (which are built by Blackwater Target Systems) have also been incorporated into the ranges at Blackwater Midwest. What s missing is the military base-like atmosphere. Blackwater Midwest is surrounded by tree-lined rolling hills and farmland and with the exception of gun fire, it s actually quite serene.
The designers of the Blackwater Midwest facility utilized every square inch of the 80-acre compound to make sure no part went to waste.
Multiple 50-yard pistol, carbine and shotgun ranges that offer paper, stationary steel and pneumatic target systems;
A 100-yard multipurpose range;
A known-distance rifle range;
An unknown-distance rifle range;
A two-story shoot house;
A rappel/sniper training tower;
A team building/confidence course;
A live fire vehicle operations range; and
Two fully equipped classrooms.
A Great Place to Train
I recently had an opportunity to visit the new facility. Although I didn t take an actual course, I was put through a miniature course of instruction that not only introduced me to Blackwater Midwest s training philosophy, it also allowed me to make use of this new facility and the training equipment available.
My miniature training courses consisted of both pistol and carbine drills. Instructor Tom Alibrando explained to me that the majority of handgun and carbine confrontations faced by Blackwater operators in the war on terror occur in close quarters and are over very quickly. In these situations, the first person to hit their target usually wins. History has taught us the same lesson about armed conflict involving law enforcement officers. Thus, the small amount of training I received occurred inside seven yards with the handgun and 30 yards with the carbine. The goal was to hit fast with extreme accuracy, which, in my experience, is the correct formula for prevailing in a gunfight. For this reason, Blackwater emphasizes a high-ready position for the pistol in which the gun s front sight is kept between the eyes and the potential target. This allows for a very rapid movement to the target while allowing the eyes to stay on the front sight to confirm the accuracy of that first critical shot.
Another pistol drill I thoroughly enjoyed was a dot drill in which the target comprised a series of round, black, numbered dots of varying sizes. The objective was to keep all of your rounds inside the dot you were told to shoot. Since any hit in the dot is considered a solid hit, the size of the dot and distance from the target determines how fast you need to shoot. One s perception of how fast they can go in such a drill is always interesting, and it s an excellent drill to teach a shooter the intuitive sense of just how fast you can go based on the situation at hand and maintain combat accuracy. Add to this a draw from the holster along with some lateral movement, and you have a very functional drill that will teach each and every one of us a little bit about our combative shooting ability. I have since used a version of this drill in my classes with one exception: the shooter is behind cover and when a number is called out, the shooter must expose only enough of their body to get the shot, but shoot fast enough to get all their hits. All who ve done this have found it both enjoyable and frustrating.
I couldn t help but notice that Blackwater s view of the M4-style carbine was the same as mine you run the rifle like you would a pistol. This makes a great deal of sense as humans complete familiar task transfers quite well, so why not apply functions basic to the semi-auto pistol, such as a trigger control, reloading malfunction clearances and ready positions, to the carbine? Blackwater s doctrine for the carbine is very good at doing this, and even though it had been awhile since I shot an AR-15 extensively, I found myself taking to the borrowed Smith & Wesson MP-15 very quickly. As previously stated, we shot most of our carbine drill at 30 yards on steel targets, which is something you don t see often because steel is easily damaged by high-velocity rifle rounds unless the targets have been up-armored for the task. Even so, many target companies will tell you to shoot no closer than 75 yards on a steel target with a rifle. We used Blackwater-designed steel targets that not only took repeated hits of 5.56mm without damage, the over-head rubber suspension system directed all of the splatter created by the incoming rounds directly into the ground. I was so impressed with these steel targets that I intend to contact Blackwater Targets (a separate company under the Blackwater umbrella) to see if a test target can be secured for future evaluation in this column.
I must admit I liked the atmosphere of Blackwater Midwest. It s not that I have anything against the Moyock facility it s quite impressive but there was just something about the very well-maintained, equipped, efficiently run and tranquil surroundings of the smaller Blackwater cousin.
Recently, a young lady contacted me and told me her husband was getting ready to deploy to Iraq in the fall and while he would be in a support function, his duties would require him to travel beyond the Green Zone, and his primary weapon during these excursions would be a Beretta M9 9mm pistol. She wanted him to have a higher level of training with the gun than he already possessed, and she wanted to participate in this training. After all, she would be home a long time by herself. I recommended Blackwater Midwest because I knew her husband would get a high level of training and she would probably appreciate the more sedate atmosphere over the larger Moyock compound. She signed them both up for a course this summer.
If you re an officer or unit that would like to get some of the best training available, but you have an administrator who is reluctant due to reasons similar to what I ve already stated, give Blackwater Midwest a close look. Bigger is not always better.
11311 S. Skunk Hollow Rd.
Mt. Carroll, IL 61053