MSG Howe explaining a technique at the range
On the advice of a couple of other shooters, I began searching last year for a person or company to help me formalize and streamline my pistol instructor qualifications. I'd never set out with the intention of becoming an instructor of any sort, but especially not pistol, since I've been a average pistol shooter at best and far more comfortable with a rifle. But one of the things that I came to realize is that a defining character trait of a mature person is a willingness to work on areas that you're NOT good at. Its hard to take a long look at what you don't do well and then make the decision to change that. It's a lot easier to say "I'm a stud at rifle/pistol/swords/whatever" and keep right on doing that because you look impressive. Anyhow, after examining several schools and instructors I made the decision to travel to Nacogdoches, Texas to attend CSAT & MSG Paul Howe's (RET) Tactical Pistol Instructors course.
I chose CSAT for several reasons. Firstly, MSG Howe's combat experience is extensive and verifiable. Not to mention that much of this experience was during his time in one of most storied US Counter-Terrorism units in the United States. Second, over and over, MSG Howe's ability as an instructor is mentioned time and again in various AAR's floating around the internet. Sure there are plenty of high-speed, low-drag guys with experience, but not all of them make good instructors. These two distinct facets lead me to believe that for what I needed to do, CSAT was the place to go. Now, About MSG Howe himself, there are some interesting words that spring to mind. Sublime. Subtle. Shrewd. Sensible. He is a wise, approachable and patient man all at once. He won't hold your hand, but if you have an honest question, he was always available to answer it. There was no flashy advertising. No brow beating. No chest pounding. Simply put, the man is a top tier example of a quiet professional. The entire experience from talking to MSG Howe down to even the facilities is an immersive learning experience, if your observant enough to take it all in.
The buildings themselves are pretty amazing, there is the main office and barracks which have 24 bunks (a steal at only 25.00 a night), microwaves (2), refrigerators (4), washing sinks (2), bathrooms (3), A large classroom, a pro-shop (basically a candy store for gear junkies), a BBQ area out in the back, and a workout area. An interesting feature is that there are also 3 tac vests with soft & hard armor around the building for dry fire practice (rifle or pistol). Outside there is a large shed with 8 weapons stations and then there are the ranges. The ranges have a 100yd Law Enforcement range (24 target stations), a 100yd barricade and movement range (vehicles) with hanging steels (3x) and moving targets, a 20yd steel pistol range with 2 plate racks and a dueling tree, a 25yd pistol range (14 target stations), a 100yd rifle range with steel targets, a shoot house, and a 500+ yd precision rifle range. To say the facilities were top notch would be an understatement.
I arrived at the barracks at 15:00 and was met by another student and not long afterwards MSG Howe himself showed up. We were told to make ourselves at home and if we needed to, we could go get supplies. I got directions from Eric (MSG Howe's right hand man) and set off to find a grocery store. Not ten minutes later I ended up as the first responder on an automobile/motorcycle accident just a few blocks away from CSAT barracks. For you guys that haven't taken a tactical lifesaver course, where you learn to deal with trauma, you should get to it. You are far more likely to save a life with your med kit than you are with your gun. There were 7-8 people milling about without so much as a band-aid between them, so I slammed the car into park, popped the trunk and grabbed my med bag and ran to the scene (about 20yds), gloving up as I ran. The impact broke the motorcycle riders left ankle, and the bike being slammed on top of him broke his right elbow (I think) and right leg, plus he had a severe head laceration as well. The bike was hit hard enough to skid him and the bike about 30ft away from the impact point.
Aftermath of the crash site 1/2
Aftermath of the crash site 2/2
I had the onlookers help me restrain the rider as I got the bleeding under control and cut his twisted shirt/undershirt off (they were twisted up and choking him). I talked to him the entire time and generally kept things under control until the PD/FD/EMTs showed up. They ended up putting a neck brace on him and then placing him on a backboard for transport to the hospital. I don't think that he had any seriously fatal injuries and I'm not even sure that I 'saved' his life. But at least I kept him from hurting himself trying to move around and kept him alert and talking while 'real' help arrived. I learned a few things today as well. Hand sanitizer. I didn't have any, I do now. I also didn't have sanitizing wipes to clean off gear as I put it away, so I had to tear down the kit when I got back to CSAT to decontaminate it more thoroughly. Like any other critical incident, you'll fall back to your level of practice, not training, I should practice my medical techniques more often. Back at CSAT, MSG Howe listened to what happened and offered to give me a few pointers. He also replaced the items that I'd used up (the bandages, gauze, etc) and refused payment when I opened my wallet. He also helped me setup my aid kit in a more efficient manner. This initial time with MSG Howe gave me a good insight to how generous and open he is about any relevant training subject.
We started out with a short classroom session. During this were given the buildings alarm codes, padlock combinations, and basically the keys to the CSAT kingdom. We traded introductions and learned a little about each other. There was a mix of LE, civilian PSD contractors, CCW instructors, gun store owners, a gent from The Wounded Warrior Foundation, and a sprinkling of civilian pistol owners. From that point we were told what each day would entail. Days 1-4 would be our skills development, and then days 5-6 would be us instructing new students under MSG Howe's watchful eye. The program itself is based on a simple series of 10 standards. To look at them at from an outside viewpoint, the standards seem almost too simple, nothing flashy, just a couple of single shots, a reload, some holster work, a malfunction drill, a single long range shot, etc. What's daunting at first is the time standards. As low as 1 second for some of them. But again, what seems simple is anything but. The standards are designed around a very simple framework of shooting situations that MSG Howe ran into over and over during his operational time. The simple fact is that it's better to be excellent at a handful of simple/fundamental techniques than to be mediocre at hundreds of marginally useful techniques. I won't go into details of the standards themselves for a few reasons. The biggest one being that MSG Howe prefers that they remain unpublished, mostly because it encourages people to practice them incorrectly on their own. We started with 16 Instructor candidates and we split into two teams of 8 to help with range logistics and to divide teaching duties.
The week's schedule
The whole system scales easily upwards from range to sims to actual combat/tactical use. A lot of what you would see in other 'tactical pistol' classes is simply not present. Examples are shooting from supine or prone, extensive malfunction drills, etc. A lot of that comes back to MSG Howe's philosophy of taking ground aggressively and pressing forward. MSG Howe demonstrated each standard dry, live and live with time. Much like watching any artist work, he makes it look easy. Almost deceptively so. MSG Howe give you a lot of latitude, basically enough rope to hang yourself. He never browbeats you with 'do it my way'. He simply says "Well, I do it this/that way, but that's just me". After demonstrations, we practiced the standards for ourselves. We then ended the day with us shooting three of the standard drills, three times each while bring videoed.
MSG Howe demonstrating a drawstroke
We started out day two in the classroom again, this time being shown how we looked on video and MSG Howe pointing out where we could make changes to improve technique and where our current technique was failing us. From there we went back to the range to begin learning about modules, which are exercises outside of the standards to both help improve your performance on the standards themselves, while at the same time, the standards help improve your performance on the modules. During the modules we did some 'fun' things like shooting on steel at 80+ yards, precision hostage shots, movement drills and other useful learning tools. We also began shooting remedials, which is where you take the drills that everyone is doing poorly on, shoot them three times, then reshoot the standards to see if improvement has been made. WE added a 25yd bullseye drill to help us diagnose shooting issues such as grip, stance, lockout, etc.
MSG Howe timing us during the first standards run
Once you passed the standards with 80% or better (8 of 10 standards in one course of fire), then you were awarded your instructors hat from MSG Howe and began helping with running the line, drills, modules, standards and also helping prep new instructors to teach the individual drills in the standards and modules for the students coming on Saturday. We picked up two instructors on the first try, one being a Torrence PD rangemaster and the other being one of the civilian contractors. They also happened to be the two team leaders as well. 'Running the Standards' becomes one of the things that weighs heavily on you as time passes. If you don't pass the standards, you don't get an 'instructors certificate', you get a 'certificate of attendance'. MSG Howe doesn't run a 'everyone gets a medal' school, you pass his standards or not. Simple as that. It would seem that in a 8+ hour day you'd do a bunch of things, but at CSAT, you practice fundamentals in a particular flow where each exercise, standard or module improves the other two areas. Its a complex series of simple tasks, nothing more, nothing less.
Sign as you head into the range
MSG Howe timing us during the first standards run
At this point, MSG Howe and the other new instructors begin to fine tune the shooters, fixing small issues here and there. We began to pick up more and more instructors as time went by. I hadn't made it at this point as I was missing two small (but important) pieces of my mental/physical puzzle. We also began making serious preparations for the students that would be here in a day and a half. Modules and standards were assigned to various people, who had to write a synopsis with a partner, then practice it in front of MSG Howe as it would be presented to the students. I was fortunate that I had a great partner for my demonstrations (the malfunction drill and the Mary-Katherine Module) and our presentations went off without a hitch. Other folks hadn't practiced their presentations as diligently and were assigned remedial presentations to polish their instruction points. I shot the standards several times, getting closer and closer, but not quite there yet.
The Torrence PD gentlemen during their presentation
This was the final day of prep before the students started to arrive. The weather was pretty sad that morning, raining, about 35 degrees and very hard to keep warm as the humidity sucked the heat out of you. Although I'd come very close (within 1 drill of passing) the standards the night before, I made a big mistake. I opted to shoot the standards again while my mind was more focused on the cold than on what I needed to shoot. I did pretty badly and this was a hard blow to my mindset. In retrospect, it was a learning experience about where your mind needs to be, but it was also a lesson in patience about choosing a battlefield that puts the odds in your favor. Again the day was filled with practice, presentations, dry runs, planning and more of the prep that leads up to when the students actually begin to show up. Again, there is so much subtle learning during this phase of the instruction. MSG Howe isn't there saying 'do/say it this way or that way', but he wants presentations to be clear and concise when working with a new teammates in front of the student. If your verbiage is a bit different, he's ok with that, so long as the point is getting across and is sound. You learn even when you're not aware that you're learning.
Once it warmed up and my fingers began to cooperate, I shot the standards again, coming very close to passing, so I knew at this point I could do it. I got pretty annoyed and swore at myself out loud at missing the drill by two hundredths of a second. And even though my anger was directed at myself, MSG Howe wasn't having any of it. An instructor has to maintain a calm, even demeanor at all times no matter how frustrated or angry or annoyed that s/he gets. I got mentored for it and glad that it happened. I asked about a specific problem and in one sentence, MSG Howe gave me the pieces of the puzzle that I needed to clean up the trigger control issue that had been dogging me. I went back to the barracks that night and dry fired for about an hour with the new technique before bed.
The students first day out
The weather was much improved and folks started showing up. We were slated to have 24 students but we ended up with about 18 total. This proved to be really nice because we had a near 1:1 student to student-instructor ratio. We started out with safety, then introductions all around, we discussed the standards and their practicality and then moved onto the range. We spent the morning with the new instructors demonstrating and explaining the first half of the standards, and then running the class through them. At lunch, I ran the standards with MSG Howe on the shot clock and I passed them and received my hat. I had a serious brain fart during the malfunction drill, but I still finished it out. I felt really dumb because up until that point I'd not failed the malfunction drill at all that I can recall and considered it my best drill of the ten. Regardless, I didn't realize how much pressure I'd been putting myself under and had to decompress a bit at lunch. Even when you're feeling good, sometimes your mind can be your own worst enemy. Anyhow, after lunch we had the students shoot the rest of the standards and then video taped them, just as we had been videoed ourselves and we broke for the day.
MSG Howe video taping the students
The students shooting the standards on shirts covered targets
This was the final day, weather for Saturday and Sunday had been pretty much perfect. 70's, light cloud cover. We had a great group of students, several of which were very talented and a couple of guys that needed some work/guidance. Some of the instructors were tired, and being on your feet for 6 days straight had been an eye opener to a few. After a classroom review of the video we hit the range and broke the students into smaller groups to shoot modules: barricades, shirts, movement. After those modules, we broke for lunch and then had the students shoot the standards on shirt covered targets to show how people don't have scoring rings and you still have to maintain your accuracy. We also shot the Mary-Katherine module (hostage drill) and I'm quite pleased to note that our team had did very well in its 200 shots. After the modules were all done we had the students shoot the standards under time. None of the students passed, but they did get to take the standards with them as a baseline for future performance. And I'm sure that CSAT will be seeing a lot of those faces again.. and again..
The Instructor Class Photo
When the final curtain fell, we had 13 new CSAT instructors. Unfortunately, we had a few folks that didn't make it. They were very close, but time and pressure were ever present enemies. I suspect that at some point in the future, they'll be back having practiced the standards to demonstate to MSG Howe and I wish them the best of luck. I know that we all gained tremendous insight into teaching and the why/how of MSG Howe's methods. There were no burning cars or flashy explosions or cool guy drills, but I wouldn't trade what I learned for any of that. I cannot emphasize how valuable this sort of learning is when you're learning from the source itself. If you get the chance, you should mark CSAT and Nacogdoches on your map.
Above the barracks bar
Stock 3rd Gen Glock 17 (w/ Glock extended mag & slide release)
TLR-3 Weapons Light
Bladetech OWB Belt Holster
Sellier & Belliot 9mm
Spec Ops Brand Riggers Belt
Spec Ops Brand Dump Pouch
Uncle Mike's Dual Mag Pouch
Coyote Tactical Trauma Kit
Howard Leight Impact EarPro
Ice Tactical's Training Log
Written by Kelly H.
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