My wife and I have two traditions that intersected on our 10th wedding anniversary trip in 2021. The first tradition is to take turns planning out secret vacations—one of us is completely in the dark, trusting the other person to come up with a great vacation. During our 2021 trip, it was my wife’s turn to do the planning. The second tradition is attending one or two multi-day firearms-related training events per year. As a part of our 2021 anniversary trip, my wife scheduled us for the Black Ops Experience with Arizona Tactical Adventures. Based on that exposure, which we both truly enjoyed, we ended up scheduling a three-day Teams and Night Vision training with the same organization in 2022.
The Black Ops Experience
My wife and I showed up at a nondescript building outside of Phoenix, Arizona for our scheduled appointment. The Black Ops Experience is designed to give anyone, at any level of skill, a taste of working in tight interior spaces (shoot house) with AR-15s using non-lethal paint-based simunitions, and monocular night vision. Our instructor, Mike Simpson, adapted the ‘standard’ package to incorporate some additional team tactical discussions not normally a part of the packaged experience upon hearing our level of training.
The two-hour experience included about an hour focusing on safety, simple tactics, and equipment orientation. The experience included tactical pants and shirts, plate carriers, eye protection, tactical helmets, AR-15s adapted for simunitions, and a PVS-14 night vision monocular. We covered basic low-light and close-quarter tactics as well as working as a duo. Ideally, a fire team consists of four or more, but we are more likely to work together as a team of two. The next hour was a series of no-light scenarios using the indoor configurable shoot house and engaging static targets in near-total darkness.
We talked more about the importance of working as a team, and I asked way too many questions about night vision. I would highly recommend the Black Ops Experience to anyone in the Phoenix, AZ area. It is an amazing experience, regardless of your skill level, if you are wanting to get a feel for using night vision. Mike is an amazing instructor able to tailor his message to the skill level of his students.
Out of curiosity after the class, we discussed what other training options Mike Simpson offered.
Transitioning and Customizing
Over the next few months, with Mike’s help, my wife and I both invested in night vision optics and IR lasers for our primary home defense ARs. We also decided to make further use of Mike’s facilities (indoor and outdoor) for a more focused multi-day training. We knew we wanted to further our own team skills and invited two close friends.
Through consultation with Mike, we came up with a range of training options. These included his standard pistol and rifle training courses, a multi-day course customized to include team tactics, outdoor building clearing, and more night vision and shoot-house work using force on force. Our group consisted of my wife (dedicated to training, an instructor, but newer to firearms compared to the rest of the group), a good friend (Marine and instructor), and me (Instructor with three decades of experience). We decided on the latter and ended up scheduling a 3-day training course with my wife and one of our two close friends. We flew out the day before the training and enjoyed Phoenix before checking into our resort suites arranged by Arizona Tactical Adventures.
3-Day Customized Training
Day one started early at the same indoor facility as The Black Ops Experience. Sight Alpha consists of equipment rooms, a training/lecture room, a restroom, and the adjustable shoot house with an approachable exterior. We discussed safety, gear, and the warrior mindset (focusing on fitness, emotional strength, and fighting spirit). We then geared up for the weekend, including adjusting our AR-15s, straps, helmets, and plate carriers for the next three days.
After gearing up, dry practice focused on different shoulder mounting techniques and fast transitions of the rifles from right to left. Next, we worked on communicating as a team, establishing control of an area prior to entry and methods of making entry to a potentially hostile building. The communication techniques and commands had been adapted by Mike to be easy and intuitive for civilians to learn and master, but also similar enough to commands used by LE and military to allow understanding regardless of where you received your training.
Then, we worked on threat identification and engagement prior to entry, team entry techniques, and fully securing each room. We continued with further scenarios to test our communication skills and techniques to safely and efficiently exit a building. Each scenario used static targets but had varying objectives, hazards, and layout changes of the shoot house. Finally, we ended our indoor session with a debriefing. We discussed adapting the skills we learned to civilian self-defense and after-action procedures of a defensive encounter.
After a delicious local lunch, we headed to an outdoor range to work on live fire with rifles and handguns. We began with basic fundamentals of rifle usage, longer distance shooting, the impact of a suppressor, and transitioning from left to right rifle mounting. We also worked on transitions to pistols from rifles and back again. The remainder of the afternoon was working as a team to engage targets (stacking), and the communication necessities to inform teammates of intention. We also applied the skills we learned in the shoot house to glass house scenarios, which consisted of a multi-room building with doorways laid out using poles and hi-vis materials to establish the walls.
Day two saw us returning to the outdoor range and picking up with the glass house scenario drills. The drills continued to focus on the proper use of cover, working as a unit, and covering all areas of potential threats. We worked on single room, multiple room, and hallway entry and movement. We then transitioned from working in pairs to working as a three-person fire team in various roles. This included keeping overwatch, building approach, building entry, and controlling cleared rooms, and moving through multiple rooms. Continuing to build on these skills, we discussed entering and exiting a vehicle as a team and then conducted similar exercises starting from a vehicle—first dry and then live fire.
In all the scenarios we first discussed the tactics and potential issues of the scenario, and practiced the roles and situation dry. Once we had run through the training dry, we would then debrief and discuss safety. Once we felt confident and Mike did not see any safety issues, we would then proceed to practice the scenarios using live fire. As the afternoon proceeded into the evening, we broke for dinner and then returned to the range after sunset. Thus began the nighttime practice of our team skills and
shooting with the night vision monoculars. If you have never shot ARs on steel at night under nothing but Arizona stars using night vision, this experience alone is worth the price of admission!
On day three we returned to the indoor facility. We started the day with a deeper discussion of the importance of communication in working as a team successfully. We also reviewed the lexicon of commands we had built up over the last two days. We then discussed other tools including VR systems for further training in needed team-based skills. This discussion included demonstrations of various technologies. This review ended with a discussion of setting reasonable team training goals.
The remainder of day three was force-on-force drills using the ARs adapted for simunitions. Mike would set up a scenario for a team of two (lead and support) to work through. He played the role of the potential threat in each scenario. As two of us worked through the scenario and attempted to solve the problem, the third would be watching everyone’s moves and responses in the adjacent training room through closed circuit TV. After each scenario, we would debrief in the training room on what went right, what went wrong, and what could be done better.
After each debriefing, Mike would set up a new scenario and we would rotate roles. In this way, we conducted multiple scenarios, with outcomes such as non-firing use of de-escalation, ambiguous situations that finally turned violent, and a scenario that started with Mike firing on the current team with little to no warning. Each scenario required different responses and exposed weaknesses in our newly acquired skills. It was both humbling and thrilling to be able to practice. Each scenario was incredibly engaging, required different skills, and the debriefing sessions were very helpful. Once time was up (we were still hungry for more!) we conducted a debriefing of the three days as well as a discussion of future training opportunities.
All three of us were very impressed with Mike’s ability to break down complex information and appeal to three people of very different backgrounds. To be honest it is a rare instructor that can truly provide intense training, but also make sure it is accessible to all of those they are teaching. My wife and I have taken some great classes but have often had to adapt to the instructor to maximize what we learned.
Mike taught a great three-day course but adapted to what we were learning while making sure to engage all three of us. We thought he did a great job highlighting each person’s unique strengths while challenging us to work seamlessly as a team. It became truly evident why so much practice and repetition is necessary!
Additionally, though we were conducting advanced drills, the use of dry fire practice sessions and Mike’s continuous vigilance ensure a very safe environment when conducting the live fire drills. One critical takeaway was how much value is placed on truly thinking strategically before movement, while then still making the team’s movement smooth and deliberate. This mindset also assists in not rushing and creating unsafe conditions unnecessarily.
We also continued discussions of defensive and offensive tactics even during our breaks and meals and overall left the training with a lot of skills and techniques to integrate and practice. Overall, I can wholeheartedly recommend the two-hour Black Ops Experience to anyone who is interested in getting in some shoot house experience using night vision.
If you are looking for additional training reach out to Mike and let him work with you to design a great training experience crafted to your goals. Our goal during these three days was to learn how to better work as a team and we all expanded our skills and further learned how to work better together because of Mike’s instruction.