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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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