On being tactical


Anxious to become more tactical? Lee offers his opinion of what the often misunderstood term should mean. Hint: It’s more than just shooting. 

by Lee Williams

There are a lot of gun owners today who are anxious to hop onto the tactical bandwagon.

Most struggle to define the term – I still do – or argue about what it means.

There’s ‘tactical’ stamped on the slide of my XD 45. That makes me a tactical shooter, right?

For me, tactical is not a sport involving three guns, or a clever marketing gimmick, or a weekend carbine course.  Being tactical is a mindset, a lifestyle – a very demanding lifestyle.

The most-asked question I receive is: ‘Where can I get good tactical training?’tac bacon

My answer: Ft. Benning, Georgia, or MCRD Parris Island, or at any police department with more than 500 officers and its own training academy.

Those not willing to commit six years of their life to defense of the homeland, or those who are not seeking a career behind a badge, can still ‘be tactical’ if that’s what they really want, but the should be cautious.

Nowadays there seems to be too much emphasis placed on weaponcraft – maxing out a tactical résumé by attending this guy’s gotta-have tactical pistol class or this person’s must-see-to-believe tactical carbine operator’s course – rather than on developing sound tactical decision making skills.

The best tactical training I’ve ever received taught me how to think. There was very little emphasis placed on mastering any specific weapon system.

Militaries around the globe have long managed to train even the most brain-dead conscripts how to shoot, move and communicate. The Soviet Army’s long history proves my point. Mastering the M4 or the Glock does not a tactical shooter make.

Being tactical means being ready – mentally prepared and capable of using force. The weapon system becomes immaterial. It entails being aware of your surroundings, limiting your exposure to threats, sizing up people you encounter and having a plan – actually, having lots of plans.

My tactical baptism occurred when I was a young cop and attended my first Street Survival Seminar presented by Calibre Press, which is now part of the Lifeline Training family. Over its 30 year history, hundreds of thousands of officers have attended the course. It has literally saved lives.

The worst part of the training was the videos. Watching officers killed in the line of duty and then analyzing their mistakes was powerful but horrible. I really caused me to think.

I still remember some of the “pre-attack indicators” the instructors discussed. And their insights into the physiological responses that occur during a gunfight later proved remarkably accurate.

They also articulated the difference between healthy situational awareness and paranoia, which can be a fine line.

Note: when you can’t go to the bathroom at 3 a.m. without slicing the pie, looking for bad guys behind the shower curtain, your might be a bit overly tactical.

Thankfully there are instructors out there who incorporate tactical decision making into their lesson plans, rather than focusing solely on sending rounds downrange.

My friend Peter Burlingame is one. There are many more.

They realize that the most effective tactical training is teaching students how to recognize and avoid dangerous situations, thus obviating the need for any use of force.

Perhaps then-Major General James Mattis put it best in 2006, when he issued the now famous rules for his Marines to follow while operating in Iraq: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

Some might consider General Mattis’ advice a bit overly-dramatic, but it helped keep his Marines safe.

I think it’s one of the reasons he eventually got his fourth star.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


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