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How To Survive A High Intensity Firefight

self-defense survivalThere are three different stages in a life-and-death self-defense scenario, but before we go into those a quick story will help.

This story is true to the best of my memory and does take place in a war zone. The story, the tactics and weaponry do not apply to a normal self-defense scenario, but the three stages are still there.

This was 2009 in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, and it was late fall and extremely cold outside. We had a simple mission that day: Go into a local village, get some information from a local source and hopefully get out without a shot fired.

We moved out in the early morning, before daybreak. The local Taliban wouldn’t try to fight us at night for two reasons. First, they were undisciplined and liked their sleep, and secondly they knew we absolutely owned the night. Our advanced night vision optics were a force multiplier more than anything else we could carry.

We moved into position around the sources house and “detained” him. Detaining him made it seem like he wasn’t a snitch but a victim of American bullying. Inside his compound his family shared hot tea and we gave out candy and soccer balls to his kids.

A few hours later we patrolled through the town just to establish a presence and moved out. The mood was generally high since when we got back we could catch some breakfast and the possibility of a nap was there if we were lucky. We moved out of the village by bounding teams, and then everything went crazy.

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We began hearing all at once a great surge of whistles come from the village. We had never heard them use whistling as a signal, but we weren’t stupid. We started sprinting to the closest cover, a high dirt and rock mound left over from the locals digging irrigation canals. This hundred yard dash through open fields felt like it was miles. As the last man in team two I barely hit the cover before we began taking fire. (Most Marine squads are three teams, but we were a small squad.)

The racket of PKMs and AK-47s lit the world around us up. We had two support weapons in our squad and I gunned the one in team two. We utilized talking guns to preserve ammo and establish a good base of fire.

From here the call was made to engage the enemy and destroy them. Team two would move first with suppression from team one and utilizing the cover of smoke grenades. We would move to a berm roughly 60 yards diagonal from our position to the right, from here we would establish a base of fire and allow team one to move past us into the village.

helmand province self-defense

Image source: PBS

Team one utilized their support weapons including the M249 SAW. M203 Grenade launchers and a designated marksman rifle gave use a wall of lead to move behind. We moved hard and fast to the berm and established our positions. We set up a base of fire and team one moved past us, briefly stopping to catch a breath and reload. From our berm it was 50 yards to the village.

They took off over the berm 90 degrees off set from us so we could keep firing as long as possible. Here is where everything went wrong. First off, the field was nothing but mud and team one quickly became bogged down in knee high mud, and their movement was greatly slowed. Second, my machine gun went down and would only fire single shots. The spring that held in the gas tube had broken and the tube popped out with every shot, making automatic fire impossible. The only way to fire fully automatic was to hold the tube in with my hand.

Luckily my thick gloves kept my hands from burning and I was able to get the gun into action. Team one moved as fast as possible, but it still seemed like a snail’s pace. They were able to make it to cover and establish a foothold in the village and allow us to move (along a drier path) into the village.

From here we repelled the enemy out of the village and back to their holes after several hours of sporadic fighting, lasting to the late evening before being reinforced and ready. We were able to fight so long due to our squad leader’s experience (Fallujah veteran, three purple hearts, and more tours than most) and his absolute unwavering order to carry our boom bags. The boom bag was full of things that well, went boom. They were stuffed with M203 grenades, magazines, linked ammo, and extra water.

Each support gunner carried a thousand rounds of ammo, when the standard load out was 600 for the other squads. The guys with grenade launchers strapped bandolier after bandolier of grenades on their bodies. We even carried three LAWs as a just-in-case.

Once we saturated the area with different squads the Taliban decided it was time to drop or hide their weapons and become farmers again. We conducted a thorough battle damage assessment, checked our bodies and gear, collected as much intelligence as possible, and gathered any enemy weapon we could find. We headed home; we had spent 10 hours duking it out.

I told this story for a reason. We want to consider the prior-to-engagement portion of the scenario. The prior-to-engagement period is often the longest. It starts the moment you walk out the door and ends as soon as you draw your weapon.

Three Stages of a Self-Defense Scenario

No. 1: Preparation

concealed carryThe first step is prep. Proper preparation prevents poor performance. We headed out on patrol that day with the idea it was going to be an easy day. Go out, freeze our tails off, get some intel and get home in time for breakfast. Even with this mindset we carried our proper load out and our heavy boom bags. Because of our preparation, we succeeded and everyone made it home that day. If it’s one of those days you really don’t want to carry that extra magazine, that back-up gun, or even your main weapon you need to power through it and strap up.

That trip to the gas station could quickly find you witnessing a robbery, the trip to get milk could end with you broken down on the side of the road, unarmed in the dark. The what-ifs are endless, so the only question is: What if you aren’t prepared?

Next off is your training. Prior to this deployment we were trained for over a year on top of the school of infantry and boot camp. Every firefight I was in went back to my training. I knew how to make my weapon work, how to address malfunctions and how to keep in the fight all due to my leadership and training.

Secondly, we went out when the sun was down, hoping to avoid any kind of conflict. Avoidance is the biggest step to survival. It’s simple: You can’t lose the gunfight you aren’t in. If it’s a stupid place at a stupid time, don’t do stupid things.

Next off, the whistling was a sure sign of trouble. We didn’t look around and hope nothing happened. Instead, we sought cover, and prepared for the engagement. We took environmental cues that something was going to happen and reacted in a way that preserved life, which enabled us to fend off an attack. Seek cover; a barrier stops a bullet, a knife and a physical attack.

2. The Attack

During a self-defense scenario everything is going to be going fast and without pause. Your adrenaline will be jacked up beyond belief. You will have to react in some way. Maximizing your aggression into the attack will give you a much greater chance of victory.

You need to attack as fast and as hard as possible. As a law-abiding citizen you have to be reactionary. Ender’s Game is a book on the Marine Corps reading list and for good reason. The most important lesson I learned was to attack hard and fast, and you’re not fighting to end that fight, but to end every fight after that.

You need to be able to keep as cool a head as possible. This sounds easy, but it’s far from it. No one is Rambo in a firefight. The coolest head will still have their mind racing. You have to exercise control; remember you need to reload and be able to get your weapon working again when it fails. Introducing stress into your training will help you learn to keep your head on straight.

Be ready for things to go wrong; sometimes you’re knee-high in mud and sometimes you aren’t.

3. Post-Attack

Never assume the attack is over. Once the attack is over, though, you need to stop and gather yourself. Check your surroundings; do not holster until you are sure there are no secondary attackers. I don’t suggest picking up your attacker’s weapon, but making sure your enemy is no longer armed is a key to survival. Check your ammo situation, check yourself, and make sure you aren’t wounded. Check anyone else you are with — family, friends, etc.

Think hard and think slow. Make sure you are prepared before during and after the fight. Preparation means survival, and survival is the ultimate goal.

What survival tips would you add? Tell us in the comments section below. 

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5 comments

  1. MODERNMINUTEMAN

    Outstanding info! One thing for sure is murphy’s law applies so practice as if things might go wrong because they will. Thanks Travis for a great article.

  2. I am a retired schoolteacher. I live in Mexico and my wife is Mexican. She associated firearms with narcos, coming from Navalato, Sinaloa…Home of the Sinaloa Cartel. So she was less than sanguine when I got my CCW in Arizona. We had a little house in Arizona where I stored my foreatms.

    The first time we went to Arizona after getting my CCW I mentioned, as we crossed the border, that I was going to stop at the house before we drove the 135 miles to Tucson. And she asked me “Why do you need a gun?”. I tried to explain that I almost never need a gun. But “better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it. I even attributed it to Captain Call.

    Well, we got to Tucson and went to the parking garage under the placita. It was packed. On the first floor we were going down a one way aisle when a car full of young men turned in going the wrong way. They cussed at me and told me to back up. But I pointed out that they were going the wrong way and there was a line of other cars blocking me in. So they backed out took off. And I thought no more about it.
    But when we got to the bottom level and were going down a dark aisle, we were suddenly surrounded by 5-6 young men who began tapping experimentally on my pickup to see my reaction. And I almost panicked. I had a flash of them dragging my sweet wife from the truck and us ending up pretty sad. Their leader knocked on my window and said, “Looks like we win, eh?”
    But I suddenly remembered that I had a Para-Ord LDA .45 with 13 rounds laying on the seat of the truck under my newspaper. I was so relieved that I laughed and answered the young chicano in spanish. I said, “Yes, and won’t your mother be prouid?”
    It was as if a liittle cartoon light bulb went off over his head. I could almost hear his thoughts…”Wait. This old guy ought to be freaking…”. And he took his hands off my window as if he had been burned. He said, “Let’s go, guys” and all the others quit tapping on my truck as if they, too, had gotten burned and they disappeared like smoke.
    We did our errands and I said nothing about it. But the next time we crossed the border my sweet little wife asked, “Are we going to stop at the house for a pistola?”. When I told that story to her 90 year old father who had lived through revolution, the rise of narco-cartels, and kidnap gangs. He laughed. She got miffed. But she never again asked “Why do you need a gun?”

  3. Great article with lots of good things to remember. One point I would like to make, is that as a civilian you are not likely going to be carrying any night vision with your concealed carry gun, and there is good and bad about using lasers on a weapon for night firing. The point I would make is this, for a few extra dollars you can usually (very often at gun shows) find tracer rounds for your gun. To make a box last, spread them into your magazine every 2-3 rounds. If you have to fire at night without lights and lasers, it’s nice to know where your rounds seem to be going. If you want to take this to the next level, try to locate some incendiary rounds. They will burn at around 5000 degrees and if you are shooting at a car full of bad guys, a few of these will easily start their car on fire. Their goes their cover, you just put up a HUGE call the fire department and police sign that can be seen for miles, and they aren’t getting away. Just make sure you have those extra mags to keep them from finishing you and taking your vehicle.

    Steven Glenn
    Security Professional

  4. I think the Boy Scout motto saved the day! BE PREPARED! Combined with your squad leader experience I get the sense that is what really saved everyone.

  5. When walking in a bad area, have a small mouse gun such as a Beretta Bobcat .22LR in your hand, even if stuck in a jacket pocket when passing a group of people, with your thumb on the safety. You might not even be able to draw it, but, the 1-7 rounds you get off even inside the pocket, might give you a chance to get at your bigger concealed weapon or to run for it.

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