I’m Neal Trent; I was a soldier once, and a lot younger then. Actually, I retired from the Army on July 1st, 2003 after a total of 32 years. It’s in my blood, I guess. I was born at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1947 and pretty much lived all over the world for most of my life. I used to call Florida home, but got to Texas as fast as I could. My Dad retired from the military in 1962, and moved us to Deerfield, Illinois, where I eventually graduated from high school with a remarkably undistinguished record. I somehow managed to get into the University of Tampa, where I continued to amaze professors with an ability to slink by academically while maintaining a full time party schedule.
Everything always catches up you, except for when it doesn’t, and my time came in late 1968 when I got a draft notice. To make a long story short, thinking that I was such a smart guy since I could always manage a C-average without doing too much, and knowing that Infantry was not compatible with a long life, I was able to enlist for medics, wound up an MP, and went to Vietnam anyway. So much for being a smart guy with two more years tacked on to boot.
However, this turned out to be the best experience of my life, and when my head finally came out of my 4th point of contact, you could hear the pop all over Southeast Asia. The epiphany was exactly this: I figured myself to be such a smart guy, but the people I worked for just didn’t seem to agree. Then I realized that the only thing they had to go on was (a) my record, and (b) my attitude. I vowed that if I ever got back to the states, I would do my best to build a record and lifestyle that would get me somewhere besides low man on the totem pole.
Honorable discharge in hand, I re-entered the University of Tampa in January, 1973 and graduated with honors in August, 1973 with a BA in psychology. After a year or so of a management job, I knew I really wanted to go back to school and get back in uniform. Taking a risk in terms of income loss and a new baby, I entered Northwestern State University in January, 1975, enrolled in ROTC, and graduated in May, 1977 with a regular army commission and an MS in Clinical Psychology.
The next 10 years were some of the best of my life; command, operations, troop duty, field duty, platform instructor, great people, great assignments. The Army sent me for a PhD in Clinical Psychology from 1987-1990, which was interesting in that I was an active duty Major assigned full time to a graduate school on the left coast, surrounded by militant vegetarians, man-hating feminists, and anti-just-about-everything-important-to-me protestors. Turned out to be another great experience, though.
For the next 13 years in the Army, I was able to avoid getting stuck in health care jobs all the time, and actually was able to get back to troop command and staff jobs pretty often, one of which was at the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. With my unusual background, I’m not sure the Army Medical Department knew exactly what to do with me anyway. I think I was the last Army shrink Infantry branch qualified, or at least the last one to think that was important. The capstone was a few months as Deputy Chief of Staff, III (US) Corps before I retired.
Today, I’m a faculty member in the Family Medicine Residency Program here at Fort Hood, Texas. The academic rank that goes with that is Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, but I’m on the ground 100% at Fort Hood. My biggest fear at retirement was the idea of doing the same thing everyday for the rest of my life, but that was unfounded and I really love working with young physicians in training. Besides, they’re the best type of physicians: Army physicians! This is home now, and my wife and I love Central Texas. Kids are grown, but we’ve got two Golden Retrievers who we both work to support in the style to which they’ve grown accustomed.
With Donna a teacher and me a psychologist, we both are concerned about the rips in the social fabric of this great nation, not to mention the erosion of the constitution into some sort of “living document” that can be ignored or changed for ideological convenience. I’m not an Old Testament sort of guy, but I am a big proponent of the 1st and 2nd Amendments meaning just what they say. Funny how the 1st Amendment seems to apply anymore only if you happen to be anti-2nd Amendment. Emotion has its place, but logic leads to better decisions. And, it’s abundantly logical that since we are citizens, not subjects, the exercise of our God given right to defend ourselves is essential to both freedom and safety.
CCM: Was there a specific incident that caused you to carry a gun?
Neal: No, not any specific incident. It’s more due to the fact that in one way or another I’ve spent most of my adult life in and around the criminal justice system, as an MP, working in prison settings and in forensic practice as a psychologist. When you’re that familiar with cases and files, you pretty much have the “it can’t happen to me” myth exploded. I had a colleague who used to say, “These aren’t bad people, they’ve just done bad things”.
I’m probably not smart enough to sort out the philosophy of that worldview; but, to me it’s irrelevant when you’re on the receiving end of a criminal or predator who is intent on harming you or your family.
CCM: Have you ever had to use your firearm in a defensive situation?
Neal: Not as a civilian. But, I did have a close call last fall in Dallas. Thankfully, my CCW training here in Texas, and lots of mental rehearsals, pretty much allowed me to avoid the use of deadly force. I will say that there is a fine line between “brandishing” a weapon and signaling a predator that you’re not going to be a victim. Your best weapon is between the ears, and on that day, most of my neurons were firing and the ones that weren’t didn’t matter. I was alert to his presence before he made his intent known, but I was not in a situation to be able to retreat, given my bad back and the fact that the guy would have been on me like Elvis on a cheeseburger. While I didn’t technically brandish, tactical placement of hands on certain parts of my clothing caused him to reconsider and walk off. That’s the beauty of concealed carry laws; the bad guys just don’t know anymore.
CCM: What training methods do you employ? Do you have any recommendations?
Neal: With my job now, I don’t get nearly enough range time anymore. I think that’s pretty common for a lot of people, even though we all know that proficiency requires practice. But, you can develop proficiency in other ways than just punching holes in paper. You can rehearse accessing the weapon; you can rehearse clearing stoppages; you can mentally rehearse actions you will take if A, B or C happens. I’m a big believer in the 6 P’s: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
Recommendations? Get to the range often. I’m working on it. Fire the ammo you will be carrying, drill under as realistic conditions as you can, and read everything Massad Ayoob ever wrote!
CCM: How long have you carried a concealed weapon?
Neal: I’ve been licensed in Texas for over 7 years now.
CCM: What weapons do you carry?
Neal: I have a couple of favorite configurations, depending on the context. I’m a 1911 type of guy, so I’m naturally fond of the Kimber Ultra CDP .45 ACP: small package, very reliable, very easy to master. The only problem is, in many situations I’m in, it’s still too large. For that reason, I just broke in a Kahr PM9, and have been carrying that for the last few months. Great carry weapon, utterly reliable, and once you get the grip down, pretty damned accurate too. For backup, I just sold my Kel-Tec P-32 and broke in a P-3AT. Obviously, I’m not as critical of the 9 mm as other guys who like the .45. In a perfect world, I’d carry nothing but .45 ACP or .40 S&W. Reality gets in the way, though, so to me it’s important to find the right balance. Hell, I love the Glock 27, but for me it’s still too bulky for my applications.
CCM: What type of ammunition do you carry?
Neal: Hollow point. But here’s the rub: You’ve got to know your gun and know whether or not it likes Brand A vs. Brand B or C. They’re not all the same, especially with the ability of a semi-auto to digest them all. You’d better find that out on the range first.
Actually, hollow points aren’t exclusive for me. The P-3AT has Glaser Safety Slugs in the first magazine. It feeds them very well, and the steroid effect compensates for the caliber. With the 70 grain load, it develops 1350 fps at the muzzle, and a maximum energy of 283. That compares quite favorably to a .38 Special +P. Backup magazine is loaded with .380 Winchester SXT 95 grain hollowpoints, which is what I broke it in on. But the Kahr is loaded both mags with Speer Gold Dot 124 grain hollowpoints, again, what the gun was broken in with. On house guns, I favor revolvers rather than automatics, mostly due to the fewer moving parts and simplicity at Zero-Dark-Thirty AM when you’re still groggy. But, both are loaded with hollowpoints. I used to keep one with the first two chambers loaded with snake shot, but I’ve abandoned that recently.
My reasoning was that it might be a good idea to be able to prove to some overly enthusiastic District Attorney that I tried something sub-lethal first, even though it was in my own damn house. I’ve been witness in court to some pretty strange distortions of both law and common sense, but (a) our DA’s in this part of Texas are pretty level headed guys and (b) when you read the literature on the true effects of stopping power, you come to the conclusion that quick stops are always best. It’s like Jeff Cooper said, “if you shoot somebody with something like that, you’d better remind him that he’s been shot, otherwise he might become quite annoyed”.
CCM: What concealment holsters do you use?
Neal: I’ve tried most of them. Again, it’s size and concealabiltiy as it pertains to your body build. Shirt out, an inside the waist holster works for me, strong side normally, but cross side when in the car. Shirt in, it’s a Pager Pal. That’s probably man’s best invention to date, except for canned beer and peanut butter. The backup goes in an ankle holster, or in a pocket holster depending on the situation. But, and this is important, as you change configurations you also need to rehearse access enough times so that you don’t get stupid in the fog of battle.
CCM: What do you do for a living?
Neal: I just retired from the Army last summer after 32 years. If I’d known civilians could have this much fun, I’d have retired sooner. My PhD is in Clinical Psychology, so I pretty much split my time between 50% teaching and developing the behavioral medicine curriculum, 50% seeing patients, and 50% doing consultations. Glutton for punishment that I am, I’m also in a psychopharmacology training fellowship, so besides smoking cigars, drinking ice tea, and reading a lot of gun books, that pretty much accounts for the other 50% of my time.
CCM: Do you have any advice for our readers?
Neal: You bet. We all know that our right to own and carry weapons does not derive from the government’s granting it to us. The government’s duty is to protect this inalienable right. But, the reality is that we are licensed by the government to carry. That’s OK, but here’s the deal: We are held to a higher standard. Think of that every time you holster your weapon and leave the house. By virtue of your license, you have a duty to avoid the use of deadly force unless you can’t. You have a duty to avoid risky situations if you can, and to be vigilant. You have a duty to retreat in certain situations, if you can.
Every one of us who is licensed to carry, no matter where the jurisdiction is, represents all of us every day. If you can’t swallow your pride long enough to de-escalate a situation, or better yet, stay out of those places where you know bad situations happen, then you probably shouldn’t be licensed to carry anyway. Our training here in Texas turns on the fact the ability to use lethal force brings with it an enormous responsibility, and that’s worth remembering.