During the past week I’ve been missed by an RPG rocket fired by a terrorist, shot in the leg by an armed robber, and talked my way out of a confrontation with four angry men. And that was just the beginning!
I’ve been at the West Shore Sportsmen’s Association range complex near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for the 19th annual National Tactical Invitational (NTI). The NTI is a unique learning and self testing event that runs from Tuesday evening through Saturday night each year, right after Memorial Day.
Over the course of the week, participants are tested in live fire simulations against reactive mannequin type targets, as well as force on force simulations against live role players. In addition, nationally known trainers conduct classes throughout the day and in the evenings, and participants share experiences and network with like minded people from all over the country. This is a learning environment without equal.
The attack was initiated by an RPG rocket fired right past you, including a smoke-trailing, screaming rocket!
Each year there are ten separate stages to test each participant’s skills. As NTI Director Skip Gochenour noted, “this is more a software event than a hardware event.” Although shooting and gun handling skills are an essential part of the equation, the participant’s tactical thinking, verbalization, and self control skills are far more critical.
Almost every stage demands interaction between the participant and other people who may pose a lethal threat, or who may not. There are bystanders to deal with, and sometimes there are police officers who may not know you’re a good guy. The participant must move, think, communicate, and only if necessary shoot until the threat is neutralized. In the six live fire stages, the bad guys, bystanders, and others are life size 3-D fully dressed mannequin type figures that only fall to well placed hits.
In “The Village,” bad guys, good guys, bystanders, and all other roles are portrayed by a huge staff of very talented role players, who interact with the participant in very realistic scenarios based on everyday life, plus the occasional violent incident.
The six live fire stages this year consisted of two outdoor problems, and four stages that were conducted inside shoot-houses. The main outdoor stage was set at a golf course, and eerily simulated a terrorist attack on a golf tournament. If this sounds farfetched to you, it was set up to replicate just such an attack shown on captured Al Qaeda terrorist training tapes brought back from Afghanistan.
The attack was initiated by an RPG rocket fired right past you, including a smoke-trailing, screaming rocket! The correct response was to move away from the rocket’s path and seek cover. There, you could see three armed terrorists across the golf course, and you had to engage them with your concealed handgun from about 50 yards away.
Once they were down, you moved to the caddy shack to get to your spouse, and found two more close range terrorists there, which had to be hit without hitting your spouse. The other outdoor stage is a standard skills test, and is the only stage involving shooting marksmanship and gun handling drills in a non-scenario environment. The standards involved multiple targets, rapid reloading, and a malfunction clearance, all under time pressure.
The other four live fire stages involve scenarios inside shoot-houses constructed to allow movement, target discrimination, and tactical decision making. One of these shoot-houses is fairly dark, and the others contain pneumatically operated pop-up targets, targets that run on tracks, and all sorts of props that raise the stress level of the participant. Noise and other distractions are used to good effect here, and the Range Officer who accompanies the shooter supplies the voice for the mannequins.
In each of these live fire shoothouses, before entry the participant is given a “bed-time story” by the staff. This involves a plausible scenario, and gives the participant a reason to be there. In one case, for instance, the participant is shown a photo of his “wife,” who is said to be in the rear of the building, in the process of applying for a job, while you, the participant, wait in the lobby.
Misuse your gun, and the Sheriff will arrest you, or at the least take away your gun. Fail to move swiftly or to shoot well when it really is necessary ends with you being shot.
While waiting, you hear a gunshot and screams, and must find your way to your wife, rescue her, and get both of you out of the building. This particular drill was run in a true 360 degree live fire shoot-house, situated inside a fully bermed area. The NTI staff remain on the other side of the berm, watching the participant via closed circuit TV, all the while popping open doors and activating targets by remote control. Great stuff!
The real test of the practitioner’s skills comes later, however, in The Village. Here, participants are relieved of all live weapons, searched thoroughly for safety reasons, and then issued a Simunitions gun, a few cartridges, and protective face mask. The Village consists of a number of buildings, with rooms, doorways, furniture, etc, all populated by male and female role players.
The practitioner must conduct a number of normal daily tasks, which take him throughout The Village and bring him into contact with various people, under all sorts of circumstances. Like most towns in the real world, many of the occupants of The Village just want to conduct their business and get on with life, but a vicious minority is there to take what they want by force. This is where the ability to read people and their intentions becomes critical!
Misuse your gun, and the Sheriff will arrest you, or at the least take away your gun. Fail to move swiftly or to shoot well when it really is necessary ends with you being shot. Those marking cartridges hurt, but often not as much as a bruised ego!
In addition to the challenges offered in the live fire stages and in The Village, participants can attend a number of classroom lectures provided by professional trainers.
This year the presenters included John Farnam, John Holschen, James Yeager, Skip Gochenour, Doctors Martin Topper and Jack Feldman, and several others. Classes are conducted throughout the week, both during the day and in the evening, and all participants are free to sit in on whichever classes interest them.
Saturday featured a partner’s force on force exercise in the morning. Two participants worked together through two scenarios, which added communication and cooperation with a live partner to the list of required skills. In the afternoon there was a detailed debrief of the week’s events, followed by a banquet on Saturday night. After a very productive week of hard work, NTI XIX was officially declared over.
The NTI team consists of a very large group of highly trained and very dedicated workers. They meet throughout the year planning this event, then spend Memorial Day weekend setting up all the elaborate stages. If you’d like more information, see the NTI website at www.teddytactical.com.
[ Tom Givens is the owner of Rangemaster in Memphis, TN. For more than 30 years Tom’s duties have included firearms instruction. He is certified as an expert witness on firearms and firearms training, giving testimony in both state and federal courts. He serves as an adjunct instructor at the Memphis Police Department Training Academy, the largest in the state. Tom’s training resume includes certification from the FBI Police Firearms Instructor School, NRA Law Enforcement Instructor Development School, NRA Law Enforcement Tactical Shooting Instructor School, Gunsite 499 under Jeff Cooper, and more. ]