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Student AAR from the Bush Tactics Course

The following was recently sent to me from one of the students that came up for the Bush Tactics Course in May. Despite his self deprecating tone he did very well at class, but we (myself included) can always get better too. I haven’t had any students yet that blow through class without any difficulties at all. At one point in the middle of the class he started to hit the mental “this isn’t fun anymore, I’m miserable, wtf am I doing?” wall but he pushed through it despite his physical discomfort. I’ve hit this same wall at times, and it’s at these times that self discipline has to take over. Him and I were discussing this at the time, and he made the decision to not quit because he didn’t want to have to live with quitting for the rest of his life. I thought that was rather heroic and I was proud of him for that. Heroic men aren’t born without fear, they aren’t born incapable of feeling pain, and they don’t have endless amounts of courage and energy to draw from so that they never want to quit. Instead they believe in a greater good and are willing to sacrifice to get there. I once was given some advice from a heroic (in my eyes) Gunnery Sergeant once pertaining to PT and hiking. He told me it hurts for everyone, even the guys in perfect shape, they just have the fortitude and discipline to push through and keep going. While being in better shape physically makes the work easier, mental fortitude has to be strengthened and developed as well so that when the “negatives” start to stack up we can get through them. “Negatives” are things like being cold, tired, and hungry. It’s when something breaks or plans change. It might even be the annoying guy you’ve been partnered with. All these things by themselves are easy enough to deal with, but when they start stacking up that’s when things get serious. This is why a positive mental attitude is extremely important, you have to be able to manage the negatives so they don’t stack up and bring you down. You have to be able to process them and come out with something positive. If you’re already in a bad mood and struggling with wanting to quit because you’re tired and cold, you’re really going to be hating life if it starts to rain. Instead you just process each element individually and make up your mind to not worry about it. “Sure it’s cold, but it’s not North Pole cold.. These bugs suck, but they gotta eat too.. A little dirt never hurt..” Viktor Frankl said “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.I think it’s a very important idea and one worth remembering during challenging times. That mental limit, where we want to quit, is a part of ourselves we should be familiar with, and I’m proud of my students when they come face to face with that part of themselves and fight past it. I’ve often thought of this part of us as a defensive mechanism in our brain similar to an overprotective mother, someone who tells us it’s OK to quit and to just come inside and have some brownies. It will look for any excuse to justify quitting too. Oftentimes it will be the supposed fear of aggravating some long healed injury (how convenient!), or perhaps it will be in the form of criticizing the instructor or class (he’s a dickhead, I’m out of here..). Whatever it is, it only has to make sense in the moment, and I have no doubt that 24 hours later after they’ve slept and ate these quitters come to regret their decision, or they lie to themselves the rest of their lives, knowing deep down that they are lying..

Cold, wet, and miserable was the forecast at the start of the class.

It’s been about six weeks since the course and I’ve been meaning to email you for some time.  There have been many realizations made since then. It did confirm my suspicion that it would be fun. It also confirmed my suspicion that I’m a strong shooter. Regrettably, it also confirmed I’m weak as shit. And complacent. And quirky.

On the 18 hour straight drive home I realized my feet were twice the size they should have been. I had edema from below the knees down and it got quite unpleasant by the time I was home…led to bloodwork, stool samples (that got me concerned…besides, who wants to give anyone their poo?!), water pills and compression socks. Damn I felt old. I guess high altitude, I think you said 3300 ft above sea level?, and high salt content combined with a fair amount of exertion isn’t so great. I’ve had partially numb toes since then too. Anyway, I share all of that because while I enjoy the outdoors and work doing industrial maintenance, a normally not so comfortable job as is, I was in a constant state of discomfort for the duration of that experience. I had largely ignored it to focus on the tasks at hand. I have found there’s a price to be paid for that too. Luckily, no back pain though. And that has led me to the doctor for all the above, but also physical therapy. All of that to say this: it has put me on a good pathway to healing and recovering from chronic pain AND a lifetime of not-so-good habits. So while not extreme for some, and not quite for me, it was a challenge and it was good to see where I was in the pecking order…on the bottom. And that’s a good place to build a solid foundation. Maybe shoot less and work out more?

Regarding the class, it was good. I’d recommend it to anyone who is faintly interested in the subject and wants a serious dose of reality compared to the make believe and fantasies of Facebook groups and some YouTube material. The other attendees were great, the sole reason I made it through the course, and while friendly, also quite sober. And while nothing can replicate the real deal, everyone there was quite serious about learning and being present. It wasn’t overly relaxed but it wasn’t militant either, a great balance and one that is probably the product of its instructor. So in that regard, it was good.

Having had limited exposure to a few militia crowds and the stigma that can sometimes be associated with them, I was happy to see that none of that was present at Badlands Fieldcraft. Everyone who showed up was there on their own merit and dollar. There were no uniforms, no artificial hierarchy…no weird salutes or half done insignias. The hierarchy that did occur was one that was established by deeds and people there. Some were just more natural leaders or had experience in a given task, so it made sense for those folks to lead. Also, and I feel it’s very important to note, there was no feeling of this being a social club. We were all there to learn and to learn from each other. There was no make-believe and no one seemed to be out there pretending; there is no political motivation to be had when everyone is at ground zero. Even with a few prior military service and experienced fellows, they shared “a way” to do a task, not “the way”. So while there is military doctrine inspired approaches, this is quite distinct from a militia’esq experience and I believe that is not only desirable, but necessary. (It’s a shame that something as ancient as learning to fight and defend one’s self, family and property has become taboo in modern western society. Skills that once were a required prerequisite to be a respected man in one’s group and culture have become something outsourced and misunderstood by those with rose colored glasses. Studying tactics and the skills to put them to use is another form of martial art, and it may even be a more honest form of martial art, not hiding behind sporting equipment and competitions so as to be acceptable to the general public who then supports it with money.)

I was challenged enough by the terrain and moving equipment over it that my discomfort was a bit distracting. I could have learned more if I was more physically capable or adapted to the terrain/elevation. This is solely my issue and a learning opportunity/reality check as to what is necessary to maintain a moderate tempo achieving those goals we had in class.

The gear list provided is comprehensive. You will not want for anything going with the prescribed gear list, that’s for sure. Being loaded down with my iterations of those items wasn’t too bad, but I found there were a few pounds I could have shed. I didn’t touch my multi-tool, but for weapon related reasons, I’m glad I had it if I needed it. With that being said, I did need a weapon cleaning kit and was glad I packed it. (During both classes I did in the early spring there were multiple students who slipped in the mud and ended up with a plugged muzzle. Having a GI style cleaning kit with solid rods to punch the bore clean was important.) The shovel didn’t see much action and a two man group could have done with one, at least in our scenario. (He makes a very good point here, spread loading gear in a team is a smart way to reduce weight) Multiple forms of water purification is advised, but I wish I had not brought a stainless bottle (This student has not been through the Fieldcraft Course yet and when he does he’ll fully appreciate the stainless bottle) and a Grayl filter. My headlamp, while very versatile and rather lightweight, wasn’t used once for light discipline reasons. A large tarp for shelter is nice and comfy, but like the previously mentioned items, be sure to share with a friend because one man really doesn’t require a 10×10 tarp (This is why I prefer the MEST), unless you’re one for luxury…and being found in the bush. (On a side note, as the instructor I carry the full gear list and more for every class to ensure I can demonstrate any techniques or lend out equipment if need be. With the gear list for this class, and the skills to go with it, the only limiting factor to the duration you can be out is your food and water.)

My pack weight came in at 76 pounds wet with food and I surmise I could have did without about 10%. But know this, everyone takes a different avenue to achieve tasks. If you’re being shown how to do something a certain way, it makes sense to have that tool to learn with. And that list may vary from class to class or region of operation, so the list was good and accurate but I would suggest that this is a very nuanced subject and you’d probably be better off safe than sorry as an individual. If you’re coming up to train with a buddy or small group, consider a two men for one tool approach for some things perhaps. (Feel free to reach out to me to discuss this prior)

As an avid shooter, I love shooting and would have loved to have done more of it. The reality of that course is it would be inappropriate. You have the perfect amount of shooting for all kinds of reasons. Round count and the cost of that, opportunity to shake out individuals kit (see what works and doesn’t – reality check for that WreCkY RiFle!), range estimation, working with limited amounts of ammo, emphasis on hits utilizing volley of fire (making a valley of fire?!)…all of these are nearly perfect to my estimation. I’d love to shoot more but that’s not what it’s about here and the other lessons learned during shooting we’re great. Really, you gave me a good 10% booster to my skill set on this one.

How to conduct ourselves with noise discipline and the tips to maintain it was good stuff. Things like buckles that you can hear 30 yards away or greater, not a consideration with my background. That right there is why I came. 

Signals and formations were great. When not charging a hill with an unknown amount of Tangos on the other side, I do actually pay attention. To read the concepts is one thing, to practice them was another and it was good. More importantly, the hows and whys combined with practicing with those who are equally serious was extremely valuable. Making those decisions in real time and ensuring you have clear and concise communication to empower those decisions will always be a challenge for me I’m afraid. I suspect most struggle here (You are correct here), but I feel more so for myself.

Real world time with NODs and thermal was good. It was quite interesting to see how thermal completely changed the game, INSTANTLY. I’m also glad I planned for others and had 3x the batteries I needed and was able to feed that thermal to ensure our survivability in our exercises.

The mission planning was a whirlwind mostly over my head (It always is the first couple times you are around it. A few of the guys had a fair amount of experience with the process already so they led the effort, which can be hard to keep up with when you’re first learning) due to me struggling, however it was great seeing it done. The exposure and hindsight offered more into the hows and whys and I’m glad I was there even if I barely contributed to it. It was also revealing as to what kind of personalities were in class and their natural proclivities. Mine was to survive and blow shit up (A man’s got to have goals!) I think.

The culmination of the practice leading into the mission was awesome. Simply awesome experience. It was good times. Patrolling, real time problems and resolutions, threats that modern tech make for security, terrain features and changes, implementing and using all that gear that gets romanticized…all of it. I’m well aware I was thrown in the back as to lessen my liabilities (Negative..) but I did take my responsibilities seriously and detected that first drone as early as possible….probably my only shining moment (The students were able to evade my drone six out of seven times). And as humbling as that was, normally being a strong and competent member, it was revealing.

All of the little tips and tricks everyone brought to the table are invaluable. The 4 days of immersion are key! There is no faking it, nowhere to run back to without going to your vehicle; you have what you brought and you had better have chosen well. I WILL be back, probably to the first class as there are many things on that side of the class I need to cement in.

Sorry for quite the book here…I’m out of steam and I’ve rambled quite a bit. Moral of the story, 100% would recommend and will be back. Learned a lot, I think anyone would and anyone who is interested and capable should. Theres more thoughts, but I got nothing and I’m fading fast.

10 thoughts on “Student AAR from the Bush Tactics Course

    1. Me too, its a lot of fun and everyone learns a ton because you’re being exposed to a half dozen other guys doing the same thing but a little differently. Lots of tips and trucks get shared back and forth.


  1. I feel old boy there, I think at some point in every class I ever been to, I tell myself “this is the last class I’m doing”; or I leave thinking I suck at this stuff. It makes more sense the more you immerse yourself into it.

    But ya this class was excellent!

    Just my opinion here, but I think it would be totally awesome to someday do a big force on force event out there; like 2 squad sized elements or 2 camps far apart try to find one another and go at it? Or a bunch of different exercises?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, that’s that internal overbearing mother telling you to go home and have brownies! As one of the rules in “12 rules for life” by Jordan Peterson says, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who somebody else is today.”

      You’ve got a very good idea going, it’s something I’ve thought of doing for a long time, a rendezvous of sorts. Force on force is a great opportunity to learn things that are impossible to learn otherwise and the camaraderie and fellowship developed is second to none. You’ll be one of the firsts to know when I think I’m ready to attempt it, take care buddy!


    2. Excellent suggestion DirtSpanky as long as class alum get first dibs on a spot in class! ; ) That being said I sure as shit embraced the suck a time or two at class that’s for sure. “this is the last class I’m doing” ha, that is me as well LMAO

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Re: Student Post. Excellent Post Op Review of Course. PARD, give your self more credit, Seriously! In your Catalog of Life Experiences, the entire gamut of what you were exposed to , you have no parallel experience. Yet Irrespective of that No QUIT in you. as Jeremiah Johnsons mentor said ” Pilgrim you come far”. Clay- Daniel: Jones Wyo.

    Liked by 1 person

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