AAR: DARC Tactical Urban Sustainment Course (TUSC) 4-7, 20 SEP 2015
By: John D. Remf
What this AAR isn’t:
A complete breakdown of the TTP’s and minutia taught in the class. There are reasons for this. The most important is without being there and participating as a team under the eyes of competent instructors, mere words are going to be a disservice. There is a lot more information and experience gained from the course than can be translated into an AAR.
What this AAR is:
An overview of the scenario, purpose of the class and some lessons learned.
The purpose of the Tactical Urban Sustainment Course is an introduction to the problems one would face in the event of a breakdown of order following a catastrophic civil disturbance, either man made or natural. Developing the mindset to find solutions to those problems is emphasized over specific a+b=c mentality. This includes instruction on what to expect when our daily comforts, conveniences, order and security are no longer a reality, and what you can do now, to make that transition more manageable if it becomes necessary.
The course was held at Direct Action Resource Center (DARC), specifically the shoot house, village, pistol range and the “swamp”. There was some instruction in the Q hut when the classroom provided a better venue for teaching particular points. However, the student was expected to live outside, under minimal cover with his team for the duration of the class. Days began at 0900 and ended between 2200 and 0000. The weather was typical late summer Arkansas, hot and humid. This is not a hard course for most people. Living on the ground outside is not that difficult, but the idea is to get students just uncomfortable enough that certain points have a greater impact. Things like having clean dry feet are easy when you can prop them up on the couch at the end of the day. More on that later. We had 13 students, all males ranging from their teens to mid forties. The experience of the group ranged from raw civilians, ex military and a high school student. some were previous DARC grads including at least one previous TUSC grad.
From the beginning of the course, emphasis is placed on what the individual and group will need to survive. Having said this, the course is not a survival course. Certain mainstays of survival training, like using fire to cook or purify water was specifically banned except during admin times as the light and smell will give you away in the real world. Considering how fast societal behavior can change post event, the idea of noise, smell and light discipline becomes a necessity.
We were provided with a basic packing list from the previous TUSC along with the instructions to bring what we thought was necessary to live in a non permissive environment for four days. This meant water, food, gear or the means to source them from or immediate surroundings. Instruction began with explaining the concept of layering your gear, with absolutely necessary items being kept on your person at all times, and spreading the rest out over your load bearing gear or pack. The discussion of preferred pack size was covered as well as design that facilitates ease of movement in and around buildings and vehicles.
Sometimes you are the windshield, and sometimes you are the bug. Somewhere in the middle of that is a good guy with a gun, which he loses.
Before turning us loose on our first task we were broken down into our six or seven man teams and each student dumped their pack for a show and tell to the team. A common mistake is to pack too many “nice to have” items, or fail to layer necessities in the event that packs have to be abandoned. Some students seemed more inclined to pack for a camping trip, including gas stoves and cooking gear. Some had full on battle rattle, while others had more low profile setups. It wont help to describe everyone’s layout, but it suffices to say everyone made changes before we were told to pack it away. What we had on us at that point was what we would use for the duration of the course. With a few exceptions this standard was kept.
After sending us outside, we were told to get water and purify it. Water, being the first priority on which everything else depended, was lesson one. The swamp; or vegetated oxbow lake, was to be our source. Our team had no fewer than 3 gravity water filters as well as chemical treatment options. Those who had iodine tabs kept them on our first layer as an emergency backup in case we had to leave everything behind and run. I also had a 15 liter dry bag specifically to scoop water for feeding the gravity filters. So, off we went to the swamp, with front and rear security. Without being too verbose, lets just say a couple of us sank through the crusty upper layer of the “shoreline” up past our knees. One of us repeated this several times as he scooped foul, scummy water from our source using the dry bag and filter bags. This turned out to be our first mistake. As efficient as the gravity filters are, failing to screen the muck prevented them from working after we had retrieved the water and were back in camp. After some improvising with mosquito netting we did successfully screen out the larger debris and get the filters working. The other team, after seeing this, wisely decided to move further down road to collect water. Even with a solid plan, and the ability to improvise solutions to unforeseen problems the task was exhausting. Having learned the lesson, we were allowed to get water from the one spigot for the duration of the course, as long as we ran it through our filter system first. After this we began a POI on movement through a structure as a team. This was followed up with applying what we learned in a FoF iteration with each team taking turns being the heroes or bad guys. Afterward we reviewed what went wrong and what went right.
Now, the reason I was so specific about the water adventure is I am the guy who took the multiple dunks into the muck to get water. Why that is important is because it was one of the biggest lessons I got out of the weekend. I have worked through soaked feet many times. For much longer than this afternoon. And, even after cleaning up before sack time my feet seemed fine. In fact, the next morning they were dried out and didn’t have any hot spots or blisters. Unfortunately, my boots were not completely dry by the next morning. I figured between the two other pairs of socks and the fact we were not going to be getting wet I would be good. That was not to be. By lunch time on day two my feet were toast. This necessitated treatment with what I had available; (iodine), and spending time in shower shoes when I could while my boots dried out in the sun. I would swap them back and forth depending on what we were doing. This sucked, because it meant less time working in the stack during dry runs, except as rear security. The fungal crap persisted through the course, and didn’t fully clear up with the sloughing of all the dead skin until the week after. Having spare wool socks is great, not having a backup set of dry footwear that covers the foot is not. Just a couple of hours of inattention I had screwed myself and potentially jeopardized the group.
Building on the movement through structure techniques learned in day one, more complex situations were introduced and new methods to solving those problems were rehearsed. Repeatedly. In between dry runs, discussions regarding how to identify, and deal with scenarios which would be encountered in our mock situation were covered. The use of real world examples, and personal experience to drive the points home were invaluable. In fact, these discussions are a big part of the experience. At least as much as the team exercises, and can only be fully appreciated by those in attendance. Just like day one, the SOPs practiced during the day were run FoF in the eve/night. Some persistent issues with some of the FoF ammunition caused delays, setting the schedule behind.( More on this later)Considering almost everyone in the class has worked as OPFOR in the LE/Mil classes, mistakes were quickly and ruthlessly taken advantage of by the bad guys. If you fuck up the SOP, you are going to pay for it, but more importantly, the team will pay for it. The end of the night was a practical exercise pitting the teams against each other in the class room. These exercises dealt with security of the element, and attacking the opposing element.
A continuation of day two, adding problems and explaining how the SOPs we have already learned can be applied to solve them. Some of the training which was scheduled for today had to be pushed to day 4 because of the issues with the FoF ammo from day one and two.
We were introduced to vehicle based drills and movement under fire/react to contact drills in the open. Some of the material had been covered in previous DARC classes, so the process went quickly and new material was added including react to contact when traveling in multiple vehicles. This was combined with the previous instruction on movement through the shoot house through setting up our Alamo.
Since we were behind schedule and did not have time to do the concealed pistol and retention POI during the four days of TUSC, Rich and Travis made special arrangements to hold a separate class on 20 September. This meant an excuse to make the trip to DARC for this one day course.
Different group, same drill. This time the hero (in orange) managed to retain his weapon and successfully engage the attackers while also dealing with malfunctions.
This portion of the class consisted of FoF iterations with determined opponents, both one on one and one on two. From ground fighting, to corner drills against opponents who were tasked with physically stopping you from engaging them and taking your weapon to use against you if they could. Prior to getting dirty, we were instructed on weapon retention techniques and using our pistols from a retention position, as well as, how to clear malfunctions with one hand. Numerous drills were covered and each one was scrutinized by Rich and Travis. Corrections were made and points clarified through out the day. We finished the day with a target discrimination exercise called the Three Amigos. I wore what I normally wear every day, and have the Skittle Cankers ™, and scrapes to show for it. It also showed me exactly which parts of my fitness routine were seriously lacking when the soreness set in the next day, and the day after that, and so on. In fact, I still feel it.
So much information that only has maximum impact when you attend the course has been left out of this public AAR. However, some points that stuck with me are:
1. Water is the key to life. Make a plan to have it, clean it, and replenish it without “it” becoming a security issue.
2. Avoidance of violence when possible, and a common set of simple, scalable SOPs to deal with it when you have to.
3. Take care of your feet. Even when it doesn’t seem like an issue.
4. Don’t die bored. Improve and refine systems on a continual basis.
5. Train enough to have a preference, and be able to articulate why.
6. Try to find items for your go to shit bag that have multiple uses. e.g. iodine tabs can be used to purify water, and as an antiseptic for treating fungal problems.
7. Practice and practice some more, now, to verify the feasibility of your plans before they are needed.