Vetting a potential firearms instructor’s military credentials

One byproduct of the Global War on Terror is an infusion of highly trained and extremely experienced veterans leaving the military and entering the civilian firearms instructor pool.

Most of these folks have had multiple combat deployments with some of this country’s most elite units.

The vets offer a refreshing new take of firearms training — multiple deployments teaches what works and what doesn’t — and are leading the way in reforming stale, old-fashioned, because-we’ve-always-done-it-that-way, techniques.

Frankly, they’re calling BS on a lot of training dogma that should have been shit-canned decades ago.

Smart, switched-on students can benefit from their warfighting experience like never before.

Gone are the gunfight theorists. They’ve been replaced by real gunfighters.

Unfortunately, this new focus on real-world, high-speed instruction has given rise to some nefarious types who hope to steal a bit of hard-earned valor by adding carefully worded claims and/or outright lies to their resumes, so they can compete in the marketplace against veterans who are chock-full of real valor and therefore don’t need to steal any.

I was recently contacted by a reader who took one instructor’s class and was less than satisfied with the training, some of  which he considered downright dangerous.

One of the key factors in choosing this trainer, the reader said, was that the instructor claimed he had “trained Army Special Forces personnel.”

As you’ll see, this statement can be very problematic.

Here’s my best advice on how to vet a potential firearms instructor’s military credentials, but first a disclaimer.

Some of the best instructors I know have never served a day in the military or carried a badge in their billfold.

They’re 100-percent civilian instructors, trained and credentialed by NRA, USCCA or some other organization.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with this — at all — as long as the instructor doesn’t try to teach above their abilities, take credit for ideas that aren’t theirs or make false claims. That’s when the bad things happen.

Would you allow a surgeon to operate on a loved one if the surgeon had never actually performed surgery, but had instead watched a few YouTube videos or taken a few classes from bonafide surgeons?

Of course not.

Then, why take a gunfighting class from someone who has never been in a gunfight?

In my humble opinion, most civilian trainers are outstanding, and there’s nothing wrong with civilian trainers teaching basic firearms courses. But if you want to learn how to really fight with a pistol or carbine, find a bonafide surgeon.





“Trained” or “Trained by”

Most military special forces units routinely send personnel to study with civilian instructors and competitive shooters.

They hope to learn a new technique or two, which they’ll bring back to their unit and share.

It’s commonplace.

Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it’s a bust — a wasted trip.

If the guys are impressed, they’ll send more of their teammates to the school. If they’re really impressed, the instructor may be invited to teach at their unit, which is a big deal.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen a few resumes where the instructor has said they’ve “trained” special forces personnel. What they’ll often leave out is the outcome of this training. Did they just train a couple guys? Were the guys impressed? Did more return? Did it lead to changes in their unit’s curriculum?

Simply saying they’ve trained special operators is hardly an endorsement of their program.

I’ve also seen a few resumes where the instructor claims to have been “trained by” special forces types. This, folks, simply means they’ve taken a class or two. It, too, is not any type of significant type of  endorsement of their program.





The U.S. Army Rangers are the best light infantry in the world. Rangers lead the way in every armed conflict this country undertakes.

They’re highly motivated and well trained.

But, not everyone who wears a Ranger tab has served in the Ranger Regiment — far from it.

Many who survive Ranger School and earn the tab go back to their home unit.

Therefore, if you encounter an instructor who claims they’re a former Ranger, I’d ask about their service a bit more. If they can’t tell you which Ranger Battalion they served in, well, be careful.




Special Forces

Whenever a fraudster or valor thief is uncovered, it always seems they’re claiming to be a Green Beret — the Army’s Special Forces.

Similarly, there are a lot of support personnel assigned to Special Forces units — men and women who have not been through the Special Forces Qualification Course or “Q-Course,” but who can legitimately say they served in an SF unit.

Be careful.

True SF-qualified personnel are “tabbed.” They’ll likely hold an 18-series Military Occupational Specialty or MOS. They’ve served on an operational team.

Again, as with anyone claiming any elite military service, ask them about it. The real guys won’t be offended. In fact, they’ll appreciate your questions because they too can’t tolerate the fakers and the phonies.





Navy SEALs

I once met a “Navy SEAL” who said he couldn’t remember the number of his BUDS class.

I wrote a story that outed him, got him fired from his government consulting job and drank for free for a couple weeks courtesy of some real SEALs.

No special operators are easier to vet than Navy SEALs. In fact, there are organizations dedicated to outing the fake ones. They’re very helpful.

If you think you’ve encountered a fake, give them a call.

If you’re lucky enough to train with a real SEAL, it’s guaranteed you’ll learn a lot.





MARSOC and foreign military

I’ll be honest, I know very little about Marine Raiders or Force Recon. Does anyone? Strong, their OPSEC is. Good on ’em!

Vetting foreign military members is difficult too — especially Israeli special forces, because they have so many specialized units.

If you have specific questions, I’ll do my best to get your questions answered.






Those other guys

I am unaware of any firearm instructor who has ever claimed to be a member of the Army’s most elite special operations unit, or the Navy’s, who wasn’t actually a member of the unit.

Theirs is a very small world, in which everyone knows everyone, or at least knows someone who knows everyone.

Like with every elite unit, the ones who have retired recently usually have the most experience and the most current skills.

If you are able to train with a member of one of these units, you are indeed very, very fortunate.

The skills you’ll learn are the best in the world — period.

Nuff said about that.




Need help?

As I’ve said, the real-deal dudes won’t mind you asking about their background. Unfortunately, given the number of fraudsters and fakers out there, it’s become part of their life.

I vet folks for a living at my other job, so if you have questions I’m happy to help lend my limited expertise.

Also, if you encounter a valor thief, please let me know.

They make really good news stories — tales I’m more than happy to tell.

As always, thanks for your time.



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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