Friday, November 06, 2015

Military Training vs. CWP

In a discussion I started about the Second Amendment, there was the following exchange. This is stripped down and the names changed for the privacy of the participants. So I used "Tom" and "Harry". [1]
Tom: College age "kids" fight our wars for us. 
Harry: You do realize that the college age "kids" who fight our wars have had a certain amount of training, both in handling their firearms and in keeping their cool in a stressful situation prior to going into combat, don't you? 
Tom: So do all of concealed carry permit holders. 
Harry: I do not have a background in the military. So correct me if I'm wrong in assuming that the training required for a Conceal Carry permit in just about ANY state does not even begin to equal the training one would receive in ANY branch of the Military. I know it varies from state to state, but in Illinois (the first state whose specifics showed up in my Google search) the training requirement is 8 hours of firearm safety/marksmanship and 8 hours of instruction of how the Conceal Carry law works (when it's acceptable to carry, etc.).

Actually, Harry's assumption isn't unreasonable. Anyone watching movies (or just the news) may have the impression that all military personnel are well-honed killing machines, trained in esoteric forms of armed and unarmed combat. This isn't really true, although those folks do exist. Most jobs in the military are just jobs.

I was in the US Air Force. I was a radio electronics tech, but having been stationed overseas, I was required to undergo weapons qualification above that which was provided within the continental US. Keep in mind that I was not in a combat role, and received the equivalent of about a 1 day concealed weapons permit (CWP) class, centered around specific weapons that we would encounter. It was of far more interest to the USAF that I get through Basic Training to tech school and learn as much about radio electronics as humanly possible during my stay there.

In Basic Training I spent one afternoon at the firing range, where I was taught basic gun safety, how to load the weapon, and which end to hold and which to point. I fired at a target and had to hit it. While the military trains in firearm use and safety, it did not provide me with any of the additional training regarding civilian law that comes with a CWP. To be perfectly honest, unless you're in a combat role, CWP training is more extensive and practical. A military trainee would not know where he can or can't carry a gun, how it is properly concealed, or how it is properly stored outside of a military armory.

He does learn about who is or isn't a valid military target and has a weapons officer who ensures that the weapons are secured for him. In a seven-year military career I touched weapons only a few times: that one day in Basic Training, a refresher course before being sent overseas, and qualification training at RAF Croughton.

Of course, my experience is dated. We've fought a couple of wars since then. I'm sure things are dramatically different for those who are deployed today.

Harry was unskeptically accepting of that information, and I'm glad, because it's the truth. Those who are in combat roles are unquestionably among the most highly trained in the world at their primary job. But there are many, many people in support and non-combat roles who are given cursory weapons training because they need to be focused on becoming the most highly trained in the world at their primary jobs, be they radio repair or anything else.

Harry had a follow up question that I'd like to share, because it's a good one:
Harry: Thank you both for educating me on that. As a civilian, I guess I find that surprising. Of course, if it's not crucial to your job, I don't suppose firearm training is all that important. I admit that most of my information on what basic training is like comes from movies and from conversations with a few friend of mine who went through the marines. (and those are almost 25 year old conversations). Is it also incorrect for me to assume that all our servicemen are trained to function in highly stressful situations?

Here's my perspective: Actually, Basic Training itself is a "highly stressful situation" if you're not mentally prepared for it. As to whether it matches what you see in movies... well, that depends on the movie. If it's "Stripes", then not so much. But we got our identities stripped away to a certain extent with the buzz-cuts, uniformity of clothing, and the universally-shared name of "Airman". We got yelled at and made to do menial and sometimes nonsensical tasks without explanation. We were physically pushed to the limit of our physical condition every day. In my flight, I saw one recruit attempt to take his own life. I saw another one collapse and die on the track. But I personally was not stressed at all. There is nothing in Basic training that is particularly stressful if you are mentally prepared for it.

And that's really the purpose of such training. Mental preparation. Your identity is stripped down, and then built back up with less emphasis on yourself and more on teamwork. Your body is stressed to improve it. Your mind is stressed for similar reasons. You're given nonsense tasks to accustom you to following orders that may not make sense from your viewpoint because they are given by someone who has a broader strategic view. When such orders are given in the real world there isn't the luxury of educating the rank and file and getting their "buy in". That could get you killed, and we were aware of that.

At my duty station overseas we did regular week-long NATO drills. We were issued gas masks and chemical gear. Just going outside was not a task you underwent lightly, as your return indoors involved a long and drawn-out decontamination process. If you did go outside, you'd better have visited the bathroom first. We were not issued guns, but were given cards denoting who would have had guns if this were an actual incident. Scenarios included chemical attacks, bomb strikes, and mock invasions. One of the favorites was something we referred to as the "officer-seeking missile" or "NCO-seeking missile", in which those with the least experience were the only ones left "alive" to carry on the mission. Again, I didn't find these particularly stressful (they were actually kind of fun). As with Basic, the idea here is mental preparation, and you quickly learn that if you are willing to accept that unexpected things WILL happen, you don't freak out when they do. It's 90% in your head. If you're paying attention to life, you don't actually need a military education to come to that conclusion.

Outside of training, there were certain realities of life as a military member overseas that became routine that you might find strange. Such as, we were encouraged to vary our route to work daily, as well as check our cars before starting them. The IRA was still a "thing", and this was around the time that a car bomb was exploded on a runway in Beirut. Shortly after I returned home, I was preparing to drive my mother somewhere and by force of habit I checked the wheel-wells for bombs and cut brake lines. My mother asked me what I was doing. I didn't tell her, but I did laugh a little at myself and thought, "Oh, yeah... this is America."

Does that prepare someone for live fire? I can't tell you, because I've never been in a firefight. All I can say is that most training involved thinking about such things in advance. If you think about scenarios in advance, then you spend less time thinking about them when time is something you don't have. Every individual I know with a CWP spends a considerable amount of time outside of formal training thinking about how that weapon would be used if necessary. I wouldn't minimize the importance of doing that, or put them down for it, as it's completely responsible and makes them and the people around them much safer.

Where the conversation went from there is something that I'll have to save for a later post. I may scare you.

[1] If you're wondering where "Dick" is; in most any political discussion, *I* am the Dick.

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