Thursday, November 01, 2007

Trident Concepts Carbine Operator Course AAR

So. I blew all my saved up coffee money for the year by taking the Carbine Operator's Course offered by Jeff Gonzales of Trident Concepts earlier this month. The class was a 3-day bruiser held at the Quantico Marine Corps Base over the Columbus Day weekend. Here is the AAR I posted at the TRICON alumni forum::

Thanks Jeff and Kane for an awesome class. I learned a lot and appreciate it. Here is my AAR from my experience; hopefully some can learn from it. I will focus on three areas: Self, gear, weapon.


When I saw the course syllabus and read up on Jeff’s training background, I knew I better get in shape for the class. For the four months ahead of time I hit the gym and worked on the Marine Corps daily sixteen (link:$FILE/MCO%20P6100.12%20W%20CH%201.pdf) (a big improvement over the “Daily Seven” of the Marine Corps of my era) along with my run. This more systematic approach differed from my usual gym routine of a random bunch of crunches, weight machine work, and some running. I was pretty much at the height of my (present) game when class time rolled around, as gauged by the SWAT tryout standards my LEO brother gave me (30 pushups max-out, 60 crunches/2 min, and 13:00 min 1.5 mile run). Still a far cry from my FMF days of years gone by, but oh, well. Every class morning and evening I did the Daily 16's stretching routine and took some Advil. It all worked well. By the end of day three I was in better shape than I was last year at the end of Murphy’s two-day handgun class, which had but a fraction of the COC’s physical effort.

To get my head on straight, I put aside all my beliefs about the value of my 15-year-old USMC training and sought to start from scratch. I read up on Jeff’s training philosophies by getting his book “Combative Fundamentals.” It was a great read, and lived up to it’s secondary title of “An Unconventional Approach.” Having an open mind was good, because things have evolved A LOT in those fifteen years. I recommend that alumni get Jeff’s book as a reference text. A lot of what he taught during the class is covered in the book, but the book is no substitute for the class with Jeff standing right there watching you. I'm re-reading it now and getting more insights having taken the course.

Before the class I asked Jeff if I could get by with a 3-gun-type setup of a double mag pouch on a belt, or maybe some mags stuffed in a pocket. Jeff graciously advised me that I would get the most out of the class if I invested in a basic chest rig, and gave me some suggestions. I then went and bought the Eagle Industries custom rig that is sold by SKD Tactical. It held eight mags max and was pretty comfortable once I got it readjusted that first day. I tried it out at the range once before the class and in the basement at home to get a feel for the best adjustment points. Trying gear out before the class should be a no-brainer, but I have read tales of woe on Al Gore’s interweb of people who show up to class with untested gear. The rig was really comfortable and became an extension of my body - it feels weird now not to wear it. Since I wear glasses, my eyepro was a set ANSI-rated safety glasses from Home Depot that fit over my prescription glasses. They worked great, but I needed to take them off in between courses of fire to let the fogging evaporate off. But better than losing an eye. Some people think their prescription glasses are protection enough, but they are wrong. $5 is not a lot to spend for adequate eyepro.


I brought my Franken-STAG and it worked great. The lower is a STAG with a DPMS parts kit, running a 9mm buffer for laziness’ sake (I use the lower with a 9mm upper, too) and VLTOR carbine stock. The upper was a complete STAG factory upper, but I swapped out the factory barrel for a Bushmaster 14.5" with permanent Phantom 5C1 flash hider. I also opted to use the LMT “enhanced bolt carrier” that is supposed to reduce the chamber pressure during extraction by blowing more gas out the side of the carrier and by delaying extraction by a split second or something. It’s also supposed to run cleaner due to the increased gas blow-off. To be honest, I didn’t really notice any operational or cleanliness difference from the regular STAG factory bolt carrier. I also put the black Crane rubber O-ring on my extractor, but couldn’t tell if that helped anything, either, but everyone says it helps. I guess it’s good that I DIDN'T notice any of these parts.

I only had one malfunction during the class: a double feed that turned into an over-the-bolt jam when I mangled the immediate action on morning #1. I was using a C-Products stainless magazine at the time. I have had stripper-clip loading problems with these stainless mags on the square range but never a feeding issue. After the jam there was some other feeding problem with these mags (can’t remember details), so I decided to stop using them and only use my D&H teflons. Those D&H mags worked flawlessly for the rest of the course. I had basic Magpuls on all my magazines and found they helped me get a grip on the mags while in the chest rig and helped get me purchase when stripping an empty mag from the magwell. During the mystery snap cap drill I used one of the Marines’ GI mags and noticed a difference in how I gripped and stripped the mag, and it felt way less solid technique-wise. My ammo was the non-toxic Federal ammo that sells (XM556NT1). The ammo performed without a hitch during the class. That’s my usual range load, and before the class I ran somewhere between 500-1000 rounds through my gun to test it.

For optics, I ran a Trijicon Accupoint 1.5-4x TR-21, AKA “the poor man’s short dot.” I tried running the magnification at 1.5 and 4x, and found that I did all-around best on 2x for both close-up and 50yd work without having to monkey with the magnification adjustment. Nothing like a class to wring out the small stuff and get you locked on. I don’t think I was disadvantaged by having a magnified optic instead of an Aimpoint, but could see the value of the Aimpoint in the class since we were shooting 50yds max (I have a clone on the 9mm upper). During the king-of-the hill timed elimination drills, I was doing better than the ACOG guys and running somewhat even with the Aimpoint guys. However, I never advanced further than the 35yd line.

When the class started, I had the buttstock opened out two notches to my “usual” position, but found that my stock weld was inconsistent during drills and that I was developing a fat lip from getting beat up during recoil. By the middle of the second day I had collapsed the stock all the way in and was shooting nose-to-charging handle. This was definitely an eye-opener since my square-range days had me convinced that NTCH was not for me. Same with the shoulder mount; self-analysis on the square range is one thing, but taking a course under pressure really exposes flaws in your technique (see the photo for exhibit A). Same with the sling. I have a Mad Max-type 2-pointer that I ginned up using an old 2qt canteen strap and some 550 cord. It works, but I found that attaching it at the rear of the buttstock caused the strap to get caught between my neck and the stock, chafing the crap out of it. By day three I figured out to attach it more on the bottom of the buttstock. The class also showed the value of a one-point sling for transitions, both weak-side and secondary.

It was a great time, even with the rifle-over-head lunges, and a tremendous learning experience that I will recommend without hesitation.

Here's a photo from the class (thanks to Nelson M.)


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