I looked up the word, “Laboratory” before writing the title of this blog because I was supposed to have attended an “Experiential Learning Laboratory“ last weekend.
It means “a room or building equipped for scientific experiments, research, or teaching, or for the manufacture of drugs or chemicals.”
That word–laboratory–seems a little too nice, neat and clean for how I felt coming out. I felt a little like, “What the ever-living-hell just happened?” with a touch of, “Why am I even trying?” on the side of, “Not too bad, there, chicki-do.”
For the last two years, at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, Craig Douglas (aka Southnarc) has been conducting these “learning laboratories.” They are blind scenarios that only a few people get chosen to participate in. You’re given a simunitions gun, told a very basic task and then sent into a room filled with people watching you with no idea what’s coming and left to figure out whatever is thrown at you. Last year I didn’t get to attend and getting chosen to attend is a little like being excited to be picked to go in front of a firing squad.But I was picked and headed off into the back hallway to wait.
A few people went in before me but eventually I found myself at the end of the hall putting on a facemask while Craig explained to me that I was in WalMart. I didn’t find what I was looking for and so I was leaving the store. At the end of the room is a chair which represents my vehicle. All I’m supposed to do is get in my car and go.
I remember how badly many of the scenarios went last year. Even though I didn’t get to participate I read the after action reports and was hoping and praying I wouldn’t be on that list of screw ups this year. Craig Douglas had given a speech at the beginning of the class that we should go about the scenario as we believe we really would in real life. No gaming it.
My mantra became, “Just don’t shoot someone who doesn’t need to be shot.”
I’d never done a completely blind scenario like this before. I’d been involved in force on force before quite a few times but it was always pretty clear who the bad guys were and where they were coming from.
I step through the door into a long, narrow room lined with people. They are crammed in everywhere–eager observers who are slightly bummed but also a bit relieved that they weren’t chosen to actually participate in the scenario. Now they get to learn vicariously through you. Any one of them could also be a role player. It was on.
I see the chair and two partial walls representing whatever structures a parking lot might have. I look around and remind myself to be calm while I start walking toward my rolling office chair car.
Out from behind the first obstruction comes a woman holding a doll screaming for help.
I’d attended MUC last year. I knew what to do with these people, right?
I try to tell her to stop right there so I can assess whether or not I want to help her from a distance but, no, there would be none of that. She’s practically on top of me, shoving this doll in my face telling me her baby is choking and she needs help.
Craig had told us to act as we would in real life. I’m an EMT. There’s no way, on this side of hell, I wouldn’t stop for a choking baby. As I reach for the baby to start infant CPR another role player comes barreling through the doors screaming at the woman.
I tell him to get back. I might as well not have been talking. He pushes right past me and hits the woman upside the head.
Now I’m stunned and trying to keep up. I’m telling myself to stay calm but I’m feeling like I’m in a haze. I try to get mom to leave but she’s not going. “Dad” is hitting “Mom” and “Mom” is screaming and my mantra is only, “Don’t shoot the wrong person.” There’s also a lot of, “What about the baby?” going on and somewhere in there I snap out of myself long enough to point to one of the bystanders and yell, “You! Call 911!”
Suddenly, there’s a gun. Holy SHIT! Where did that come from? I wonder.
Mom is pointing it at Dad and screaming that she’s sick of him and his abuse. I think, Good for you. At the same time I’m thinking, GUN!! Get yours!.. No! You’re not in danger, yet. Don’t make it worse by going for a gun… But there’s a gun! And where the hell is the baby? What should you do? What should you do? What should you do?”
There’s Mom again, in my face, shoving baby in my arms asking me for help. Ahh, choking baby. Something I know what to do with!”
Hey, we’re in a pretty good place. No one is shot. I have baby. Mom has abusive dad at gunpoint. No one is threatening me. Things are looking up.
I tell Mom to, “Just go,” as though someone in this scenario might actually start listening to me.
Dad is getting more belligerent. The fighting is escalating and I have a brief, Can I leave? thought.
I felt compelled to stay. I cannot tell you why. Then, I’m up against the wall with Mom and Dad is screaming and I’m screaming at her to “LEAVE! LEAVE!”
Dad is yelling at me to give him his baby. Mom is freaking out and Dad yells, “GIVE ME THAT GUN!”
That little voice whispers in my ear, “If he gets that gun, you’re getting shot.”
He grabs the gun from Mom and starts to swing it at me while I draw mine. I put three rounds into his chest and one into his head while moving behind and around cover.
I suddenly realize I still have baby in my arms and I’m holding baby in a perfect isosceles shooting stance. I pull baby back to my chest and Mom flips!
“YOU SHOT MY HUSBAND, YOU BITCH!”
Are you fucking kidding me?!
Mom shoves me and rips baby out of my arms while I’m screaming at her to get back. I’m feeling anger that I stayed to try to help her and immediately prepare myself to shoot her if I see her pick up dads gun. I have gun on her and I’m kind of feeling like I got kicked in the gut.
And Craig ends the scenario.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Craig asks me to tell him what happened.
To hell if I know! I think.
I’m thinking that everything they tell us about managing people is complete bullshit! I’m thinking I really wished I hadn’t raised my hand to volunteer for the class. I’m also thinking, Well, baby has choked to death by now. And, That’s not on you. And Hey, it’s okay. You didn’t get shot!
I’m trying to think about what just happened and all I’m remembering is a blur of activity and broad generalizations like, “Mom with baby,” “Angry man,” “Gun,” “Fighting,” “Baby in arms,” “Dad grabs gun, points it at me,” “I shoot Dad,” “Mom turns on me.”
I start to describe the progress of the scenario and say, “I tried to stay out of it.”
“Did you?” Craig asks. “Looks like you were pretty ‘in it’ to me.”
I remember injecting myself between the two of them, pushing the Dad back and concede, “Well, okay. Yeah.”
“Did you have your finger on the trigger while you were dealing with Mom after you shot Dad?”
I have no idea. The finer details are completely lost.
Why couldn’t I remember? Why couldn’t I recall where I was when I fired my shots or with certainty how many shots I fired? I thought it was four but it could have been three? Five? When did I tell the bystander to call 911? Before the gun came out or after? How did we progress from the front of the room to the back? Why couldn’t I remember?
“What did you feel you did right?”
This surprises me because I’m feeling a little like I just got run through a washing machine. I feel like I failed the baby. I feel like I failed the Mom. I feel bad I shot the Dad. I just feel awful.
I felt I did good in having someone call 911. That’s about all I can think of at the time.
I ask if I did anything right. Craig doesn’t answer me. At least not with anything definitive I can take away.
He asks if anyone in the room has any questions for me and someone asks me how I felt about the disparity of force between myself and the Dad and what I would have done had he hit me.
I shrugged. I didn’t feel like my life was in danger until he got the gun. Until that moment his rage was not focused on me and I was willing to wait that out for better or worse.
I remembered being mad at Dad for hitting Mom but then I was wondering if I was REALLY mad at Dad during the scenario or remembering the scenario made me mad. I’m confused.
I was thanked for my participation and I sat down feeling like I’d lost. The gal to me said, “You did an AMAZING job!”
I watched two more participants run their scenarios. Both scenarios ended in a variation of themselves, mom, dad and baby getting shot.
I left the room to think.
“You didn’t get shot.”
“I know, but I didn’t save anyone, either.”
“That’s not your fault. You tried.”
“I should have left when I had the baby.”
“Yep. But you still survived.”
“But baby would have probably died. If I left I could have saved him.”
“Yep. But that baby wasn’t your responsibility. If they cared about that baby they would have set aside their differences long enough to get help or save him themselves. You did what you could with what you had to deal with.”
I found the self-justification for my actions to be quite interesting, recognizing my mind building the constructs that would protect my psyche from feeling too bad about itself.
“You didn’t do it all right but you didn’t do it wrong, either. You didn’t get shot! You didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t your fault you didn’t think to leave. You were trying to help. You didn’t shoot mom. You only shot the guy who was going to shoot you. Call that a win.”
One hell of a win.
Between feeling okay about my actions I still beat myself up for not leaving with the baby when I had the chance. Why did I stay? If given the exact same scenario verbally that’s exactly what I would have said I would have done. When I gave the scenario to my mother that’s exactly what she said she would have done. Everyone else I’ve talked to have said the same thing, “I would have left with the baby.”
Why did I stay?
I wish I could answer that question. I also wish I knew how to stop feeling like it’s all this training is worthless if you can’t think. I couldn’t think. At least not about solutions. I could only react to what was happening. I’ll take that over freezing but looking back on it, what’s the difference between freezing and reacting vs acting?
Yeah, when it came time to shoot someone it all went very smoothly. An observer later told me that when the gun came out the first thing she thought was, “This woman can shoot!”
Gun came out. Front sight came over bad guy. I stepped to the side and worked around cover while I shot him three times in the chest and once in the face. That part was easy. Except I forgot that I was holding a child and now “full-iso-baby” is a thing.
But that’s not why I’m doing this. I’m not training my ass off so I’m good at shooting people. I’m training my ass off so I can think! And if I can’t think under that kind of stress than what the hell am I doing this for?!
Another participant took video of my scenario and was gracious enough to send it to me. I’ve watched it probably thirty times. I, honestly, would have no problem with any jury in the world seeing that video. I’m not the aggressor. I was pulled into a bad situation. I was not quick to the trigger. I asked bystanders to call for help and even admonished the mother to leave while she had control of the situation. I shot only when forced to save my own life. Legally, I think I’m covered.
At the same time I’m amazed at how my perception of what happened was so radically different than what actually happened. I thought I was staying out of it. While I was at first, to an extend, I was also very “in” it as Craig had said. I thought I was yelling the whole time. I wasn’t. You can hear me speaking a total of, perhaps, three times. I thought mom had been carrying the gun. She wasn’t. Dad had been open carrying the gun the whole time and Mom took it off of him. I never saw the gun even though he turned his gun side toward me several times. I thought I took all four shots from the left side of cover. In reality I took two shots, moved behind cover, came out the other side and shot twice more.
The acknowledgement that my memory could be so compromised was alarming.
Usually, when I find a deficiency I start looking for the training equivalent to fill that gap. Where’s the training for “think faster?”
Yeah, this all sounds a little “Debby Downer.”
It’s not. Not really.
I won. I went home with no extra holes and vindicated. I also went home with the assurance that I did better than others and as snarky as that sounds there is always that little part of you that celebrates, “Well, you screwed up, but at least you didn’t screw up as bad as that guy!” Most importantly; IT WASN’T REAL!! I got to learn and gauge myself in a safe environment that lets me evaluate myself without the consequences of death. There is real solace in that.
Thank you, psyche, for protecting itself.
Now to find out how to fill that gap.