Lessons from my second Will Petty VCQB Class
Recently I had the tremendous good fortune to attend Will Petty’s VCQB class with the Breach Bang Clear crew at 88 Tactical in Nebraska. This training was fantastic for everyone. But, as usual, I was special.
Why was I special? Primarily because I have a gigantic weiner.
But a secondary (far secondary) reason is that I had taken the class once before. This gave me a different perspective than the other students. When I took the class last year, I was stunned to learn how poorly I had understood the way bullets interact with cars. The first course I took slapped a lot of stupid out of me; to say it was a learning experience doesn’t even begin to describe how much my mindset about shooting around cars changed. Will Petty and Steve Fisher are dicks who hate everyone (as I noted at https://www.breachbangclear.com/patrol-vehicle-cqb-instructor-course/). But they teach some good stuff, and I left that course with my eyes opened.
In that class, Fisher demonstrated the cover an A-pillar provides. He shot a sedan pillar with several pistol rounds of different calibers and types, multiple 5.56 rounds and a 12-gauge slug. Nothing – like, not one single round – penetrated the pillar. Holy crap, I had thought. I was from the old “the only cover on a car is the wheels and engine block” school of thought, and using a pillar as cover had never even crossed my mind.
Fast forward to last week. I arrived at 88 Tactical with a pretty good idea of what we’d do, but I was prepared for surprises. I knew Petty had taught a lot of VCQB classes since I last saw him, and chances were he’d evolved and improved as any good instructor would. I expected some new drills, maybe new demonstrations, but figured the basics would be pretty much the same.
The basics did stay the same. There were some new drills. But the details were very, very different.
When Petty shot an A-pillar with different rounds during the ballistics demonstration in this second class, before every shot he’d ask, “Do you think this round will go through the pillar?” The students would give a mix of yeas and nays. I smirked at everyone who answered yes. I had seen a piece of shit Dodge Intrepid pillar stop everything, and this time Petty was shooting at a much larger and beefier SUV. I just knew nothing would penetrate.
I was right about all the pistol rounds. Then he fired a 5.56… and it penetrated. He and students fired others. Some penetrated. A 7.62×51 penetrated. A 12-gauge slug penetrated. I had quit answering Petty’s question by then, after being wrong several times in a row. At the first class I had learned that pillars were basically bulletproof. In the second class I learned that wasn’t exactly the case. They’re sort of, generally, probably bulletproof. But not necessarily.
Why the different outcomes? What happened? Variables happened.
One lesson Petty taught last time that I didn’t take to heart until this time was “remember the variables”. There is no perfect rule about shooting through vehicles. A million factors can affect the round as it hits a vehicle’s glass, plastic or steel. A perfectly aimed shot through glass may hit a target when fired at a 70 degree angle, but fail at 71 degrees. A certain portion of a certain car may usually stop every small arms round known to man, but if you take cover behind a car that was assembled on a Friday afternoon by a guy in a rush to hit Nancy’s Squat n’ Gobble, that certain portion of that certain car may not stop as much as it should.
A second, very important lesson I learned this time was about positional advantage on a vehicle. This was new to me, and wasn’t mentioned in the previous class. Petty pointed out the obvious truth that the average car is higher in back than in front. In a gunfight between two people around a car, all else being equal, the one shooting from the trunk is better off than the one shooting from the front bumper. Therefore, Petty commanded, if we get into a gunfight around a car, try to be at the trunk rather than the front bumper. Simple.
So when Merrill and I had a Force-on-Force gunfight around a car, I was lucky enough to start near the trunk while Merrill was at the front bumper. In addition to being obviously outclassed by a handsome Hispanic man with a gigantic weiner, Merrill knew he was in a disadvantageous position. So when Petty yelled “Go”, Merrill immediately sprinted from the front around the trunk toward me.
I knew I had a positional advantage. I knew I’d be more accurate if I stayed put. I knew I’d be safer if I stayed behind cover. I had just been taught this. So I held my ground and shot Merrill in the face, right?
No, I didn’t. I retreated while engaging.
Don’t get the wrong idea; I mean, I was fighting Merrill, so of course I won (and to be honest, I didn’t retreat because of the gun, I retreated because Merrill was yelling very suggestive comments about his passionate desire for Latinos). But I still instinctively did exactly the wrong thing by moving away from cover and a position of advantage. Which proves that we don’t automatically do what we’ve been trained to do, and that I need to keep taking this class until I do it without thinking.
When I arrived at 88 Tactical, Matt Stagliano from Firelance Media asked, “What are your goals for attending this class?” One goal was, “I want to gain a visceral understanding of how rounds interact with vehicles. If I’m ever in a shooting involving a vehicle, I don’t want to have to think about how the vehicle will affect the rounds I fire.” Well, this class reinforced what I learned in the first class, and maybe if it comes to it I’ll have that visceral understanding of the real points of cover on a car, what a car will do to my rounds and the bad guy’s rounds, and what shooting positions work best around vehicles. But I won’t yet have a visceral understanding of the new concepts I learned, like maintaining a position of tactical advantage.
That’s not because Petty didn’t teach us that point; he did, and did a very good job of it. But slow learners like me can’t just go to one class and possess a skill for life (police departments and the military, please take special note of this point). We all need practice and multiple iterations to really learn a skill. In VCQB class #2, I may have mastered skills I learned in class #1. But I just barely familiarized myself with new skills, which now require more training and practice.
In a nutshell, my second VCQB class taught me to never stop training.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LIGHT writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley and Proof of Our Resolve. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog, Iron Mike Magazine, Kit Up! and Under the Radar. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.