Continuing my tradition of running my guns hard and Israeli-style, I was very happy to kick off the new year with the Green Ops Defensive Carbine I Clinic this past Sunday. This was the third time I’ve taken this particular class, and I can say that each and every time, I’ve learned something new.
This time around, I decided to go with my IDF Colt Commando carbine clone. Yes, that’s right… I went with a plain-old AR-15 for once. Read on for my impressions of the class!
(Full disclosure: I got this class comp’d. You can read this and decide whether you think I’m biased or not in my review. I would have paid for it anyways.)
Green Ops is a local training outfit in the northern VA area. They run classes and clinics throughout the year, about twice a month, most of which are at the NRA HQ range or in one of a couple ranges out Culpeper, VA. You can see their very full schedule over here.
This particular course was at the NRA HQ range in Fairfax, VA. The NRA HQ range is about 15 50yd lanes, and it’s well-lit and clean. It really beats the, uh, questionable amenities you find at many outdoor private ranges. Now, I will say that I am not particularly happy with the range right now, because 1) they jacked up match fees and 2) they recently banned all steel-jacketed ammo. I have a LOT of that stuff in my private ammo stocks, and it totally killed my plans of using my awesome new 6.5 Grendel SBR for classes. I grabbed half a case of the (currently-cheap-ish) brass-cased 5.56 ammo for this class, but if ammo prices ever start rising again, I am going to be fairly concerned about my ability to financially sustain high round count rifle classes regularly. There’s nothing Green Ops can really do about that other than look at other ranges for hosting classes, which I suspect is not going to be as cheap as renting out the NRA range.
Here’s the class synopsis from the website:
This clinic covers the basic defensive use of the carbine (AR Platform 5.56/.223). It will begin with the fundamentals of marksmanship and move into more advanced drills. Students will improve their carbine handling skills with a strong emphasis on the fundamentals. Students will learn self-diagnostic skills to continue development of their own personal performance.
It’s a step up from “total newbie carbine”, but I would not call it advanced, or even intermediate. You are doing fundamentals. This is good, because fundamentals are the things you’re going to be doing the most of anyways.
There were four (!) instructors for this class for about fourteen students. This is a crazy-good teacher-student instruction ratio, apparently because they were mentoring new instructors. I really appreciated it. Instructors were Brett, Andy, Chris, and Fred. Brett and Andy have their bios up on the Green Ops website. Everyone but Andy had significant military experience, and all four of them were firearms instructors in their day job. That last part is something I like, because I think it adds a lot of credibility up front to their ability to deliver a great class. This was the first time I had met Chris and Fred, but they seemed like cool dudes and very able instructors. There were also the two usual RSOs from the range. There was no safety drama, so they mostly stayed back and kept an eye on things.
I’ve mentioned before how students can really determine the tone and pace of the class, and I’ve gotta say, this was one of the more switched-on classes I’ve seen. At least 3/4 of the class walked in with what appeared to be good rifle skills, and even the other 1/4 of the class was pretty competent. Class composition was diverse, but only one woman this time around.
Equipment was similarly pretty excellent all the way around. Lots of high-end optics on nice-looking carbines. One guy was running a SCAR-16 with a can, and ran it damned well at that. Also saw a couple SBRs. No guns went down hard that I saw, and it seemed like everyone was zeroed in nicely. In fact, I’d probably say I had the worst gun of anyone in terms of the technology on it.
Mandatory gear description time: I was running my IDF Colt Commando LE6933 SBR on an Anderson lower. Furniture was period correct A2 grip, Colt stock, and KAC RAS. Light was a Surefire 6P with upgraded LED emitter and an XM00 tail cap going to a knockoff remote (Night Evolution version of the SR07 – works great, incidentally) mounted on a GG&G flashlight mount ring. Optic was an Elbit Falcon MkII (I’ve written about it) zeroed at 36yds, backed by an ARMS 40L rear sight (which the IDF uses!). Mags were various Magpul pmags. Ammo was Federal Black .223. Sling was an IDF “silent sling”.
To hold all my mags, I had a Grey Ghost Gear UGF Belt with some Esstac Kywi mag pouches, random medical and utility pouches, and a Blackhawk Omnivore TLR holster. Just to see how it would perform, I had my Fauxland Special in the holster. No complaints about the holster, it worked great.
What I do have complaints about is that my Anderson lower had a slightly tight magwell, and my mags refused to drop free during class. This isn’t the end of the world, but when you’re running on a timer, it kinda sucks. After class, I modded my pmags a bit and filed on the magwell to mostly fix this problem. I didn’t know about the problem because, before class, the one mag I tested it with was a 20rd Lancer. Oops! The gun and optic were otherwise very reliable.
Lesson learned: test ALL the parts of your system before class – to include the ammo and mags.
Alright, enough gear talk. What about the class?
It will hopefully not surprise you that the class follows the same format I’ve seen with every other competent training outfit – an hour of classroom time followed by 3-4 hours of range time.
I didn’t take any notes during the classroom section because THEY SEND YOU THE SLIDE DECK AFTER CLASS. I love that Green Ops does this, because it frees you from writing and lets you engage with what’s being taught.
The first thing that gets covered are justifications for use of force. The core elements of justification that are taught:
Brett does a really thorough job of discussing these in the relatively short classroom time that we have, and gets into some of the stickier details. Intent, for example, can change very rapidly, especially if you draw down on someone and they decide, hey, maybe there’s better people to mess with elsewhere.
One of the things I also like about the classroom presentation is that they encourage students to validate the training for themselves. The worst thing in an instructor is a G-d complex where they’re teaching the one true way. The exact words are “treat everything we teach you as a lie”, which shows a great deal of confidence (rightfully so) in what they’re teaching.
There’s the usual safety brief after that. Interestingly, there was not a whole lot of discussion of marksmanship principles. This was a very reasonable decision given the students in the class, and further, it seems like it might not be all that helpful anyways. All the useful instruction was given out on the line, where it had much more immediacy anyways.
Once classroom time was over, it was time to hit the line. I don’t know about you, but that’s always my favorite part of things!
The class was split into two relays of seven shooters each. Everyone got their own target across drills, and the instructors would work with each student on the line as the drill progressed. Given the number of instructors, you were getting a LOT of personal attention during class, which is pretty great.
Each drill was explained by Brett, and then ably demonstrated by an instructor, and not always the same one. I used to think was kind of a standard thing, but I was surprised to hear during a Primary and Secondary episode that there are a fair number of instructors who don’t do those demos. I think it builds confidence that the instructors can walk the walk as well as they talk the talk.
The first thing we did on the line were some dryfire drills. Dryfire drills are always good, and they get you warmed up for live-fire. It was basic “bring it up, pull the bang switch, do a reload, etc.” stuff.
Moving on to live fire, we confirmed zeros from prone. Everyone seemed like they were on target. I was using a 36yd zero, which produced the expected results.
We then ran the drills:
- Kneeling transitions
- Barrier shooting
I didn’t take any notes on the drills, either, because, again, they send you the list of drills. The secret sauce here is all quality instruction, and that is exactly as it should be.
I didn’t too horribly except on reloads, which were exacerbated by my lack of practice, unfamiliar gear, and failures to drop free. Gotta put in the dry-fire reps! I pushed hard on speed this time around, maybe more than I should have, because I felt like that would force me to really work on my recoil control skills. I wound up not getting a good sight picture at times because of this… lesson learned.
One interesting story from the class: when I was running the barrier shooting drill a second time, the instructor overseeing me (Chris) challenged me afterwards to try just doing a complete hands and shoulder swap, instead of just the “choke up” technique I had previously been using (shoulder swap, but keep hands as usual). I did it, and it felt much more natural than I had realized. It’s something I’m going to be practicing at home to see if I can make it work.
I think moments like that are where classes become great. I read recently about someone who described a lot of trainers as delivering “entertrainment”. I don’t need to have fun at class, albeit it usually is. What I need is to learn new things, learn to do the things I “know” better, and get pushed to my limits. Green Ops classes deliver that consistently, and that’s why I keep going to them. If I ever get to the point where that’s not happening, I’ll stop – and hopefully find other classes that can do that. (On this topic, I was listening to a P&S podcast recently where Steve Fisher was relating that he had told some students to not come back to his class until they had a training certificate from some other instructor to show him – there’s something to be said for stepping out of the comfort zone.).
Running an AR really did remove a lot of gun-related distractions from play. It is very easy to put it on/off safe, charging it is trivial with your left-hand, etc. However, even ignoring the magazine drop-free problems particular to my gun, the IDF-style Colt Commando had some decided shortcomings compared to my more modern ARs:
- The Elbit Falcon MkII is not a very bright optic. This could be a shortcoming of my particular example, but I would have preferred the auto-adjust scale was a couple notches brighter (using the Aimpoint scale). The problem with not being as bright as I wanted is that it takes longer to find the optic. An Eotech or Aimpoint would have been faster when doing support-side shooting off the barricades, or so I would suppose.
- The trigger gap on mil-spec ARs is outright painful. I walked out of that class with three sore things: legs (from standing for three hours), ring finger (see below), and middle finger. The middle finger was all from having the trigger gap screwing with my high grip. I don’t know how Stoner let this go in his original design.
- The standard A2 pistol grip is awful. That bump just got in the way of my ring finger constantly. I don’t have weird-size hands, either. I would have killed for a Magpul grip about halfway through the class.
- Once you stuff a light and a remote on that 7″ KAC RAS, you really start running out of room to grip effectively. I was bracing the back of my support hand against the top of the lower receiver to give myself additional stability. A 10″ rail would have been a substantial improvement in this scenario. (It is possible a VFG might have been helpful here, and I may experiment with the KAC VFG I have lying around.)
- A suppressor might have been nice to reduce blast, but the A2 FH doesn’t lend itself to mounting one. I’ve definitely grown to appreciate K-length suppressors as a nice way to reduce blast in scenarios where you don’t care as much about actual sound suppression, but do care about weight.
- Lack of ambi-controls made it annoying to lock the bolt back. I know some people hate on the BAD levers, but they’re SO handy for doing malfunction drills.
Guns with the fancy Magpul furniture and sexy handguards really do give you some meaningful improvements – who knew? But still, once you’re past a certain minimum functionality level in your rifle, it’s much more about the driver than the car, so to speak.
There are things I wish were covered in the class, but I acknowledge that time limitations make them impossible to fit in. I’m thinking things like movement, urban prone, a more involved discussion of different types of reloads, longer distance shots, etc. Truth is, I should probably just start hitting 3 gun matches when the season starts back up in the spring, or running PCC in IDPA/USPSA.
You know, speaking of PCC (pistol caliber carbines), it would be interesting to explicitly allow those in the clinics. PCCs have gotten way more popular in competition lately, and they’re a weapon class I think might fit in nicely given the ranges we’re shooting at in these clinics. They would be more of a problem in the real all-day rifle classes, since distances are longer. Something to think about!
Total round count for me was about 140 rounds; I figured this out because I started with 300, and had ~160 left. The website says to bring 300, and I would suggest you definitely do not need more than that. This is not a high round count class; the focus is on doing good reps with the oversight of good instructors.
I had a good (and safe!) time, I learned stuff, and, maybe even most importantly, I came out knowing what I needed to work on with the desire to work on it. It really is impressive to me how consistent Green Ops delivers these classes, and their desire to keep improving how the classes are conducted. I don’t think most students can really spot the little tweaks that get made from class to class that aren’t even in the syllabus, but I notice them, and they’re appreciated.
If you’re planning on doing some dynamic shooting with an IDF-style Colt Commando, you’re not going out under-gunned or with serious disadvantages, but time really has passed them by in some noticeable ways. If you’re like me, and you basically got into AR-15s in an era of Magpul and a robust after-market, this is eye-opening, but educational.
(Special thanks to my man Ace for use of some of his photos in this AAR!)