A lot should go into how you choose your WML (Weapon Mounted Light); more thought that most people actually put into it, unfortunately. (Brighter isn’t always better – GASP!) Of course, even if you did choose your WML wisely, you still need to know how to use it. Here’s Dave Merrill with some perspective on that very topic – it’s the first or two parts. Today he’ll talk Background, Activation, Searching and Navigation. Tomorrow he’ll discuss Familiarity vs. Navigation and Target Idendtification. Here ya go.
In a previous article for BB&C I outlined the advantages, many different mounts, and features of WML’s. This one is specifically about the employment and usage of a WML.
Firstly, I’d like to state that my ideal setup for night fighting involves the use of a combination of massive offset, a radio, and an AC-130 Spectre Gunship – just like how my preferred method of CQB involves a fast mover and a 2,000 pound bomb. Barring that, a head mounted night vision device and a weapon mounted infrared laser comes in at second. However, largely due to cost and availability, neither method is readily available for the everyman, nor is it applicable to every situation.
Enter the white light.
I once heard this about combat methodology and I largely agree, “Tactics are like political beliefs: We all have them and can get very passionate about them.” Often we like to discuss and argue the minutiae of any given tactic. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of this I think it should be said: What’s outlined below isn’t ‘THE’ way to do it, just ‘A’ way to do it. Likely, you’re not going to agree with everything said, and that’s OK. Your specific departmental, operational, or situational requirements can and will modify the TTPs used.
Though reading is quite often a poor substitute for actually getting one’s hands dirty, this article should give even the layman some points to consider. Some of this information is going to be a repeat of the previous article but with different details. The particular usages of a WML apply inside a building or structure, outside (if the situation permits, such as for our LEO brethren), offensively, and defensively. Also bear in mind that many of the techniques talked about (navigation, searching, shooting etc) all happen concurrently. Fully expect to suck the first several times you practice and train during low/no light.
Always remember that the light is an extension of the muzzle of your weapon. As such (it should go without saying), unless you plan on applying deadly force—a weapon shouldn’t be out.
Let’s start out with the bad shit: White lights kill your night vision. Backsplash can temporarily dazzle you. Activation (whether intention or inadvertent) can let everyone around know exactly where you are and/or project your movements. All of these are true but thankfully there are proven methods to mitigate some of this risk and exposure.
We aren’t nocturnal animals. During 99% of our existence as homo-sapiens we slept during nighttime hours. Only very recently, with the advent of mass technology have we been able to keep the odd-hours that we do today. Aside from a weird contingent of wannabe vampire goth kids, we are the most at ease during the day: when we can visually interpret our immediate environment the most efficiently. Because we find a candle in the dark so satisfying one of the more prevalent problems is overuse of a WML.
Simply turning on a WML is setting you and yours up for failure–you might as well dress yourself up in fluorescent tubes, bang symbols together, and run around in a circle. Aside from some very specific circumstances, any light activation should be brief. How brief? About as long as it takes you to click your tongue. A short burst.
Any activation that you do should take place with the rifle in the ready position (a compressed high ready with a pistol is also good-to-go). Some advocate slightly higher or lower from the standard ready position to reduce the risk of fratricide and collateral damage. Personally, I understand why some units and departments do this but it’s an obstacle best overcome by practice and discipline. It’s important to not activate a light either pointed at your feet or ceiling. A light right at your feet lights you up much like the proverbial Christmas tree while not increasing your individual visibility very much (pretty much the worst of both worlds). The concept behind hitting the ceiling (assuming inside a structure) is to light up the entire room all at once. This is a double-edged sword; the complication is that it places everyone in the room at the same advantage (which means a disadvantage to the guy clearing the structure: you). Bouncing a WML off the ceiling is nearly akin to turning on an overhead light and should be avoided. Better to trust in your training and ability to correctly perform in a low light situation than to even the playing field. I never want a fair fight.
Never sweep your light. If you trigger your light as you bring up a rifle from the low-ready (or high-ready) you are clearly broadcasting your exact position. Look how air traffic controllers use their cones in sweeping motions to signal to a pilot their exact locations–a sweep of a light has the exact same outcome.
Flashing a light from the ready position, even though it’s not as bad as sweeping, still gives someone a good idea of your location. As such, it is paramount to always move after activation. There is a school of thought that advocates always mounting your light towards the outside of your body and therefore away from the centerline of your body (for example: a right handed shooter would mount off the right side of the rifle). However, that particular mounting solution is not always practical or possible, only works for someone directly in front of you, and may or may not help depending on your direction of movement. It’s not a simple answer of, ‘then always move left’ because your flow largely depends on other factors (obstacles, teammates, objective etc).
You have to find what you’re looking for, right? The instinctive solution to finding someone at night with a flashlight is to sweep a light from side to side. Remember that bit about sweeping? It applies here too. Searching should be done methodically as to not leave any gaps while not constantly sky-lining yourself. I prefer to slice the pie from the outsides-in. That is: [far-left] [far-right] [near-left] [near-right] in quick pulses. The old high school algebra trick of FOIL comes to mind (First – Outer – Inner – Last). Remember not to focus solely on the hot spot of your beam and to utilize the spill that comes off of it to your advantage. It goes without saying that larger areas will take more time. I’ve seen others support the simpler technique of hitting dark corners (if in a structure) sequentially and using the spill to check the rest of a room.
For navigation purposes you should rely on After-Image Navigation (AIN). We’ve all seen fireworks before. If you close your eyes right after viewing a rocket explode in the air on a July evening, you’ll see a negative image of that explosion inside your eyelids. That image you see is the after-image. Fireworks, white phosphorous explosions, camera flashes will all give you after-images. A WML is no different. The way to use AIN is to take a quick flash of a room to identify obstacles and obstructions in order to skillfully navigate through a room while releasing the minimum amount of white light.
Athletes, especially those who practice/practiced gymnastics or dance, will find AIN easier to accomplish. That sounds weird, for sure. The reason why is people who are trained in extra-coordinated and dynamic bodily movements (no, not a barracks whore… at least not unless she’s also a gymnast) invariably have better kinesthetic awareness. Kinesthetic awareness is knowing the position of your body in space and time relative to your surroundings. Simply put: They very quickly know how far they have traveled towards/around a briefly seen object even in complete darkness. If it wasn’t for this, the balance beam competition during the Olympics would more closely resemble a Jackass movie than anything skilled. Fear not, this is something that gets better with practice.
To be continued in Part Two.
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