Tactical is as tactical does: finding a tactical definition

What’s a good tactical definition? The word tactical is one of the most prevalent — and most over-used — phrases in the firearm, outdoor, and…well, tactical industries. We’re going to talk today about tactical meaning and context. 

Hopefully without being pedantic. Well, too pedantic anyway.

What does tactical mean?
Tactical meaning is very easy to define: something is tactical if it is used tactically. Right? Tactical is as tactical does. 

tactical meme: the tactical stack

Unlike some tactical maneuvers and formations, the “tactical huddle” (which is different from the “tactical stack“) is not a good…tactic.

Tactical Definition

The meaning of tactical is two-fold: first is formal (i.e. dictionary), the second is common use (i.e. colloquial). 

The dictionary definition: tac * ti * cal

The dictionary definition: tac * ti * cal

Dictionary.com defines the tactical thusly: 

tactical (US) [ tak-ti-kuhl ]


1. of or relating to tactics, especially military or naval tactics.
2. characterized by skillful tactics or adroit maneuvering or procedure: tactical movements.
3. of or relating to a maneuver or plan of action designed as an expedient toward gaining a desired end or temporary advantage.
4. expedient; calculated.
5. prudent; politic.

tactical (UK) / (ˈtæktɪkəl) /

1. of, relating to, or employing tactics: a tactical error
2. (of weapons, attacks, etc) used in or supporting limited military operations: a tactical missiletactical bombing
3. skillful or diplomatic: tactical manoeuvre
First recorded in 1560–70

strategy vs tactics

Many people decry the use of the ubiquitous word. Sometimes they have a legitimate complaint. Other times they’re just enjoying their right to be a part of the permanently disaffected, “I’m gonna bitch about something” crowd (particularly on social media).

That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but we’d do well to remember that, like many words, the definition of “tactical” will probably always be at least somewhat different than the colloquial meaning of the word.  

A fact that neither excuses mislabeling and ridiculous marketing, nor obviates the need for civil discourse and a willingness (at times), to just say okay, well, that’s just your opinion man — we’ll agree to disagree

Tactical is a label placed on something someone wants to jack the price up on and sell for a higher price because it’s ‘tactical’. In the context of the firearms, knife, and gear industry, it has been over-used and bent from its proper meaning. That originally meant methods or weapons used in combat. Now it means camo packaging and a 30% or greater price hike. They are playing off the proper definition. 

‘Tactical’ should refer to hard use gear with no frills designed and constructed to use under adverse conditions. 

  • A box that’s marked tactical doesn’t make it so.
  • A tactical price doesn’t make it so.
  • A camo finish might just mean it’s easier to lose.

How it works when your ass is on the line...that’s what makes it tactical.          Jake Bush

Tactical Meaning

What makes something tactical?

Well that’s the question, isn’t it?

Something is tactical in one of two ways, at least in the word’s most contemporary common usage. Put simply, something becomes tactical by virtue of how it is used or how and why it is designed. 

The most prevalent connotation today is that of the eponymous tactical industry, to wit: it is a thing (tool, garment, or insert noun here) that has been designed (or at least labeled as) something to be used in an exigent, typically life- or injury-threatening, situation or environment. This label or description is often apt but is just as frequently a misnomer.

The second implication is similar, but rather than a physical object (noun), it’s an action or a mental event or condition (usually a verb), i.e. take the words movementtrainingreload, mindset, etc. and throw tactical in front of it. 

tactical meme: tactical pogie bait
The value of tactical snacks, pogie bait, gedunk, scoff, or scran is not to be underestimated. 

Both of those usages (there are more, as you’ll see) are correct. Both denotations are frequently overused. However, the argument can be made — and I ascribe to this — that the word tactical has become a colloquialism variously defined or interpreted by user and context. 

This is perfectly appropriate when discussing a tactical lever gun (and what might make it more effective in a fight or for home defense) and similar instances. Other times it’s just stupid. 

A third meaning of the word, of course, is that of tactical vs. strategic. That is most often used in a military sense, even if applied to a civilian application. More on that below.  

Examples of “Tacticalization”

Tactical Gear

Once upon a time, the joke was, “Paint something black, call it tactical, and charge more money for it.” Nowadays you could replace black with FDE, Coyote Tan, or some other color and it would work just as well.

There is some truth to that derisory phrase, but not as much as some malcontent frequent-complainers and condescending often-scoffers might believe (or at least want you to believe).  

You may disagree with the nomenclature, but some seemingly improbable items (jeans, for instance, or brass knuckles, or boots) are tactical, not just colloquially, but by design. Tactical equipment that has been improved and/or intentionally designed for use in a fight or less-than-permissive area does merit the title.

Are any blue jeans you choose to wear in anticipation of a possible gunfight tactical? Sure, if you chose them because you can move in well in them, or the crotch allows you to Chuck Norris kick someone in the face without causing a seam blowout and a cock-and-ball reveal, or something similar.  Likewise, if the pocket layout allows you to more efficiently access your flashlight (for a bezel strike) or an extra magazine (for a…tactical reload). One could argue that a garment intentionally (and legitimately) designed to improve your ability to carry concealed merits the label, though sometimes it seems counterintuitive (or even spurious): for instance, some might contend that the term “tactical leggings” is a misnomer, though I think there’s probably some latitude there..

What makes something tactical? Well, first you gotta tacticalize it!
What makes something tactical? Well, first you gotta tacticalize it!

And let’s not forget, many a commando has worn jeans operationally for the specific advantages they provide (Vietnam era Navy SEALs or GWOT CAG guys anyone?).

CAG operator in jeans, 2003
This (mostly) not a gratuitous crotch shot of Kyle Lamb in Iraq in ’03. It is a great example of my contention that tactical is as tactical does: see the belt and jeans there? The first is “just” a solid, well-made leather belt. The latter are off-the-shelf denim. So are they tactical? 

However, some denim britches have been designed from the ground up to be of greater advantage in an exigent situation. Examples of this include the Brokos Operatus jeans, 5.11 Tactical’s Defender jeans, the Vertx Defiance jeans, etc. Such garments all boast features intended to be of use in a tactical activity (q.v.). This might include pockets for a rifle or pistol magazine, specific pocket placement or orientation, reinforcement in certain areas, etc.

You can debate about the efficacy of those features, but not their intention. That makes them “tactical”. 

Plus they have really cool names, and that is really important. 

Tacticool meme with a tacticool rifle
This (dramatized) tactical rifle has been tactically upgraded with a number of tactical accessories and attachments. Original creator unknown, but he or she deserves a nod of approval. 

Attributes of tactical gear can sometimes be altered, upgraded, or modified for tactical use, i.e. tacticalized (to quote Travis Pike)

Because if you’re going to be tactical, you should definitely do so tactically.

Such attributes include, but aren’t limited to: 

  • Accessibility/improved efficiency
  • Durability, i.e. ability to withstand hard use under specific conditions
  • Range of motion/ease of movement
  • Implement concealability, i.e. hiding tools or weapons
  • Individual concealment, specifically as in allowing an individual to avoid attracting notice, i.e. the grey man or “in mufti” principle
  • Comfort (particularly under specific conditions)

Often the item or mechanism by which something is upgraded is also referred to as tactical, i.e. “tactical rifle accessories” or “tactical scope”. 

Tactical is a misused and often overused word. Tactical relates to tactics, a planned out method or procedure relating to purposely placing one’s self into a position of advantage. Tactics are smaller scale while strategic is larger scale.

So considering all this, how can (for example) pants be tactical? I guess subdued tones and a lot of pockets put people in a position of advantage. Matt Landfair

Tactical Activity

Here is where we get into a lot of verbs. Not just broad stuff, like tactical training and tactical patrolling, but specific actions: like the tactical reload. Agree with the common use definition or not, a tactical reload is different than an administrative reload and is further distinguished from a speed or combat reload.

Tactical activities aren’t always verbs, of course, particularly at the individual, armed citizen level. There are adverbs, adjectives, euphemisms, and probably other syntax/language terms/words I don’t know. Like when you conduct or rehearse tactical decision games with your family. 

weapon light use: canopy lighting
“The word ‘tactical’ refers to the deliberate actions taken to achieve goals in an overall strategy.” Daniel Shaw

It’s hard to describe a high-risk warrant service, hostage rescue, or other job conducted by a SWAT team as anything but tactical, of course. That’s why we have the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and individual “tactical operators” — although the operator term is another matter entirely (and one we’ll discuss at a later date). 

FBI HRT members
FBI HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) personnel “stacked up”. Photo by Jon Fletcher.

Tactical Brands

Permutations of tactical appear on many an advertisement, product label, and company description. 

Some of them, as in the case of certain training companies (e.g. Viking Tactics, Vickers Tactical, Raidon Tactics, Lead Faucet Tactical, etc.) are completely righteous. 

Some things are decidedly not. 

stupid is as stupid does
Stupid tactical is as stupid tactical does.

Tactical Training Organizations

Another sort of brand is the increasingly common tactical training company. The preponderance of such organizations actually use the T word in their name. The commonality of the term does not equal commonality of quality, but debating the relative merits of such instructors and their cadre isn’t the purpose of this treatise. 

Magpul AK Mags with Ken Hackathorn

Examples of such organizations include (in no particular order), Viking Tactics, Vickers Tactical, Lead Faucet Tactical, Combat Shooting And Tactics (CSAT), and Bone Tactical.Four of those companies will provide excellent instruction. The fifth should have people running to find the definition of the word poseur and the term caveat emptor

Just about everything in this picture is tactical, not least the mustache — true story.

tactical operator meme: tactical facepalm

That’s it for now. This will be continued.

Have a tactical day.

Kyle Lamb of Viking Tactics
Sometimes tactical may manifest in a most unlikely way.

Tactical: What is it?

By Kyle Lamb, Viking Tactics, @vikingtactics

SGM (Ret), US Army, 1st SFOD-D

Tactical Tactics-Tactical Shooting-Tactical Instructor of All Things TACTICAL

When Grand Master Flash, aka. Dave Reeder reached out to me with a simple yet effective plot against my inner dialogue, I didn’t even have to take a deep breath, find my inner Chi, and make the decision based on Global Warming and the BitCoin market.

I just said … “YES!”…”What was the question?”

“Hey Lambinsky, if I give you some magazines for your favorite weapon will you tell us what Tactical means to you?”

As I said, the resounding answer was “yes”. There is no reason to pass on the proposition to receive the aforementioned accessory for any firearm. But now the trouble started. I had made the decision to become a magazine prostitute for the simple pleasure of a magazine or two – now to deliver.

What is Tactical? How do I define Tactical?

What is Tactical? Man, this is a tricky question. In today’s market of goofballs like 5.11 and their band of merry left-wingers, it would seem everything from skinny jeans to printed shirts with beer cans would be tactical. That’s obviously not the way things (should) work.

The best way to determine if something is tactical is to ask yourself this question:

“Would this be used as an arm or accessory of arms to bring our anger against a prepared enemy?”

Not for shopping at the mall or when headed to do your next Crossfit workout. 

If your pantaloons won’t work while assaulting down the streets of Chicago or Kabul, then they really aren’t tactical. Are they?

If your firearm is built with a curve in it to make it easier to hide against your kale-salad-infested waistline, then it really isn’t tactical either. 

If your mindset is that you should use a technique that allows for the not-so-fast de-escalation of force, such as shooting to maim rather than kill, then it isn’t tactical either.

So there you have the reasons and gear not to use for tactical operations. Now let’s talk about what is tactical?

What is Tactical?

Tactical is usually a firearm or something else we call — and are willing to use as — weapon, no matter how much that chick who used to be a dude and can still piss standing up tells us. Most really tactical weapons are black, because black guns matter, or camouflage, because it’s good to remain unseen when someone is trying to find you and kill you.

Tactical clothing is a textile that goes on the outside of your underwear, but if you are wearing underwear you aren’t really tactical either. Real tactical dudes don’t wear underwear. I would also go out on a limb and say real tactical gals don’t wear panties…but that’s just a hypothesis. 

Being Tactical involves the use of Tactics. If your Tactics aren’t sound, you most likely are not… Tactical.

Lastly, mindset. If your mindset is one of peace and tranquility, you definitely ain’t  Tactical. A Tactical Mindset is one of focused aggression and vigilance. Vigilance means that you have a plan to kill everyone you meet should the need arise.

Hyper-vigilance isn’t a symptom of PTS, it is a symptom of Tactical or Combat Mindset. 

Somebody has to protect the aforementioned anti-gun, tofu slurping designers and upper management at the latest “Tactical” company from hurting themselves. Aggression is what we use to stay alive during conflict. Aggression will get you through most things in life, especially the dangerous times. 

When should you be Tactical?

Be Tactical when needed, but more importantly be tactical when those around you are completely oblivious to the ever-changing situation around them.

It might well be up to you, the Tactical Dude or Dudette, to be in control of the situation. 


The author of the next opinion, somewhere overseas looking for more than just the definition of the word tactical.

What does “Tactical” mean?

Peter Nealen, American Praetorians, /ActionThrillerRenaissance/

Former Reconnaissance Marine and (Tactical, of course) Author 

Words are abused a lot these days. But the word “tactical” has been treated as a catch-all for decades now. It’s gotten so bad it’s become a parody of itself. Back in the ‘90s, before the GWOT kicked off, the running joke was to just take anything, make it black, and call it “tactical.”

These days, it seems like you could substitute Flat Dark Earth for black and achieve the same effect

Gear, weapons, gizmos, whatever…it all gets labeled “tactical” to go after a particular commercial demographic, whether it’s cops, young Marines or soldiers trying to supplement their gear—we did a lot of that back in the day, at least in Recon—preppers, or just people who want stuff that looks cool. (

Note: Nothing wrong with that, even in the cases where it gets a little cringeworthy. That is Rule Number One, after all.

But seriously, what constitutes “tactical?” Is it just a particular look, with lots of rails and earth tones and Velcro? I’d argue no, no matter how often it gets used that way.

The word being derived from “tactic,” I would say that something can be genuinely called “tactical” if it fills a useful role in a combat situation, whether in open warfare or the defense of self and home. This can generally be narrowed down to a few criteria. Again, this is my personal opinion on the matter.

1. One, it should be rugged.

This automatically excludes a lot of cheap, Chinese-made junk on Amazon that’s advertised as “tactical” because it looks like much more expensive and well-made gear. Something you’re going to potentially put through its paces in a high-stress, life-or-death situation needs to be able to stand up to a lot of abuse. It should be built like a tank.

This does not necessarily mean “mil-spec,” though that’s generally a better indicator—provided it’s genuine and not just marketing—than many of cynical vets would tend to admit.

2. Two, it should be as light as possible. Especially these days. If you’re potentially going to be fighting for your life, the old saw of “ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain” is going to get very real, very quick.

3. Three is a corollary to two: it should be streamlined. 

It doesn’t matter if you can pile every pouch possible onto it, if you don’t need that pouch (or the attachment points, whether rails, Velcro, MOLLE, or something else), then it doesn’t need to be there.

It’s going to weigh you down, it’s going to get tangled, and you’re going to be cursing it every time you move. No matter how cool it looks in that carefully staged photo.

4. Fourth — it should actually be useful in a life-or-death situation.

This final point can be a bit hard to judge, and is best sorted out through training. 

• Will you really need it if you’re fighting for your life? or
• Will it just get in the way?
• Is it something you might need in a vanishingly rare and very specific situation? or
• Is it a genuinely useful tool under most circumstances?

Once again, this last part can only really be figured out through training, shaking out your gear through likely scenarios.

This I think, the real meaning and attributes of the word “Tactical,” properly applied:

Something is “tactical” if it is a useful tool in a high-stress, life-threatening situation, and is well-built and designed enough to do the job while taking a beating without breaking. This makes it less of a hard-and-fast definition based on particular characteristics and makes it more of a matter of trying the gear out under stress and putting it through its paces to see if it will hold up and do its job, and that the job is one that is worth the money, weight, and bulk.

The appearance that is usually what gets something labeled “tactical” doesn’t really enter in here, no matter how important looking cool is to the Three Rules:

1. Always look cool.

2. Never get lost.

3. If you do get lost, make sure you still look cool.


Joe Dawson of Bruiser Industries, former Naval Special Warfar

Frogmen in the desert, taking a tactical selfie while driving tactically during a tactical operation.

Definition of the Word Tactical

Joe Dawson, Bruiser Industries, Cigar-Lover, Tactical (!) Nerd, and Bibliophile

Retired NSW CPO, Sniper Schoolhouse Course Chief

In this industry, as with any industry really, we love to throw around buzz words. Articles and descriptions frequently wind up sounding like a marketing campaign.

Words that draw forth an emotion or association such as “tactical”, “recce” and “sniper” are attached to items or weapons casually.  This is meant to affix these actions, qualifications, and units to an item or technique as if by some act of god or magical power given from on high the bearer or user thereof will be bestowed magical talents.

As if wearing tactical pants will bestow the military knowledge of Sun Tzu, or buying a woodland camouflage savage bolt action rifle will transform you like a ghillie-suited superhero into Chris Kyle or Carlos Hathcock.

What do these words really mean and what makes something truly “tactical”?

The most used of the three terms mentioned earlier would be “tactical” by an enormous margin. If you were to ask Merriam-Webster the definition of the word you would find;

         “1: of or relating to combat tactics: such as

          a(1)of or occurring at the battlefront”

Is your multi-cam keychain “tactical”?

The seat covers for your dodge ram?

Maybe the backpack you purchased covered in MOLLE with 14 locations for patches?

This line of (admittedly rhetorical) questions may have offended a number of people. Many will be thinking of how to justify their purchases.

There isn’t any need for that.

I am as freedom-loving as the next person and I 100 percent believe in your right to purchase whatever your little heart desires with your hard-earnedi money.

I simply submit that the words in popular usage, i.e. in merchandising and sales, actually bear a much different actual meaning.  

Someone is “tactical” when they are conducting/receiving training that could possibly be used on a battlefield.

I don’t believe this necessarily has to be by someone who is in the military.

It could be someone training to defend themselves and their loved ones at home or during a carjacking at the gas pump using “tactics” drawn or passed down from lessons learned or intended to be used on the military battlefield. Your battlefield (car, living room, alley) may vary – but it’s still a battlefield.

This use makes such actions “tactical”. The intention to use equipment in this fashion or conduct combative operations is what makes equipment “tactical”.

Your Punisher skull trailer hitch, MultiCam beer coozie, or low-lumen/low-reliability flashlight (with tactical strobe function!) need not apply.

Tactical is as tactical does ~or as it’s intended to be.


Tactical Environment Ground Truth vs Big Picture Awareness

When you are engaged at the tactical level, you grasp your own reality so clearly, it’s tempting to assume that everyone above you sees it in the same light.


When you’re the senior commander in a deployed force, time spent sharing your appreciation of the situation on the ground with your seniors is like time spent on reconnaissance: it’s seldom wasted.

Jim Mattis, Call Sign Chaos

Tactical Skills and Gunfighting

The universal truth about gunfights is that there are no universal truths. Gunfights are replete with variables unique unto themselves which will never be exactly replicated…

…In another sense, there are universal truths about gunfighting. There is a thread of continuity throughout all gunfights that go well. The basics are in place, clean mechanical skills are exhibited and the shooter’s mental composure is in evidence. There is a thread of continuity in all shootings that go poorly. The basic skills are not in place, clean mechanical skills are not in evidence and mental composure is all but absent…

…More to the point…is this truth: Individuals who have good clean mechanical, shooting and tactical skill sets and who additionally maintain their composure under fire seem to prevail more than those who do not. The deeper and broader the skill sets and the more clarity of thought under pressure that an individual exhibits, the more cleanly the gunfight is resolved…

Remember this as you train.

Scott Reitz, The Art Of Modern Gunfighting

Tactical Acumen in Exemplar Selection

Later that year I was sent to Okinawa to join my first infantry unit. I was lucky: I had joined the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, where most of the key leaders had spent years fighting in rice paddies, mountains, and jungles. They knew their stuff.

Far from being standoffish because they had seen combat, they were tough and friendly, and they readily shared their combat knowledge. I didn’t have to earn their support; it was mine to lose, not to gain. At the same time, each of us was establishing an individual professional reputation. Whether you stayed in the Corps for four years or forty, that reputation would follow you: Were you physically fit? Were you tactically sound? Could you call in artillery fire? Could you adapt quickly to change? Did your platoon respond to you? Could you lead by example? example?

You had to be as tough as your troops, who weren’t concerned with how many books you’d read. I tried to work out with the most physically fit and learn from the most tactically cunning.

Jim Mattis,  Call Sign Chaos

Tactical vs. Strategic at Tora Bora

…[B]attles often veil the valuable lesson that failure at the strategic level by men and women in conference rooms can easily obscure an enormous tactical victory by the boys on the ground…

…I will leave the overall strategic debate to the critics and scholars, for I was not in those air-conditioned rooms with leather chairs when they came up with some of the strangest decisions I have ever encountered.

And I could care less.

When it comes to tactical issues on the ground, in the dirt and rocks and snow, face-to-face with the enemy, American general officers and political decision-makers typically are not involved in the tactical planning. They provide the macro task, issue vague guidance, and articulate the big-picture intent. Ultimately, they approve or disapprove the final plan. Tora Bora would be no different.

Dalton Fury, Kill Bin Laden

Tactical Gear for a High Value Target (HVT)

I’d already laid out my Crye Precision Desert Digital combat uniform. Designed like a long-sleeved shirt and cargo pants, the uniform had ten pockets, each with a specific purpose. The shirt was designed to wear under body armor. The sleeves and shoulders were camouflaged, but the body of the shirt was tan and made of a lightweight material that wicked sweat away. I’d chopped the sleeves off of my shirt because it was hot.

Sitting on my bed, I started to get dressed. Nothing I did from the moment I started putting on my pants was random.

Every step was carefully planned.

Every check was a way to focus and make sure I didn’t forget anything.

These were the same steps I did before every mission.

Before I slid my pants on, I rechecked each pocket on my uniform.

In one cargo pocket, I had my assault gloves and leather mitts for fast-roping. The other cargo pocket had an assortment of extra batteries, an energy gel, and two power bars. My right ankle pocket had an extra tourniquet and my left one had rubber gloves and my SSE kit.

In a pocket on my left shoulder, I felt the $200 cash I’d use if we got compromised and I needed to buy a ride or bribe someone. Evasion takes money, and few things work better than American cash.

My camera, a digital Olympus point-and-shoot, was in my right shoulder pocket. Running along the back of my belt, I had a Daniel Winkler fixed blade knife.

I tucked my shirt in and picked up my kit and inspected it again. The ceramic plates covered my vital organs in the front and back. I had two radios mounted on either side of the front plate. Between the radios, I carried three magazines for my H&K 416 assault rifle and one baseball-size fragmentation hand grenade. I also had several chemical lights rigged to the front of my vest, including the infrared version that can only be seen using night vision. We’d crack the plastic lights and throw them in front of rooms and areas that we had cleared. The lights were invisible to the naked eye, but my teammates could see them through their night vision and know what areas were secure.

My bolt cutters rode in a pouch on my back, with the two handles sticking a little ways above my shoulder. Attached to my vest were the two antennas for the radios.

Running my hands over my kit, I tugged on the breaching charge I rubber-banded to the back of it. I next focused on my helmet. It weighed less than ten pounds with the night vision goggles attached. It could officially stop a nine-millimeter round, but in the past, the helmets had stopped AK-47 bullets. I switched on the light attached to the rail system that runs down the side of the helmet. It was a brand-new Princeton Tec charge light. I’d used it in my last deployment.

I set the helmet on my head and pulled down my night vision goggles, or NVGs. Unlike some of the conventional units, we had NVGs with four tubes instead of the usual two. This allowed us a field of view of 120 degrees instead of just 40 degrees. The standard goggles were like looking through toilet paper tubes. Our NVGs allowed us to clear corners more easily and gave us greater situational awareness. Switching on the $65,000 goggles, my room was bathed in a green hue. With a few adjustments, I could see the furniture in crisp detail.

Finally, I picked up my rifle. Pulling it into my shoulder, I turned on my EOTech sight. Mounted behind it was a 3X magnifier, which allowed me to shoot more accurately during the day. Aiming at the wall near my bunk, I tested my red laser, which was visible to the naked eye, and I flipped down my NVGs and tested the IR laser.

Pulling the bolt back, I chambered a round. I performed a press check by sliding the bolt back and inspecting the chamber to make sure a round was seated. I double-checked to make sure it was on safe, and I rested the rifle back against the wall…

…With my camouflage uniform on and my gear ready to go, I grabbed my Salomon Quest boots and pulled them on. They were a little bulkier than the low-top trail-running shoes my teammates sometimes wore. I swore by these boots because they protected my baby ankles, which I twisted with great frequency. I had climbed the mountains in Kunar Province and patrolled through the deserts of Iraq in these boots. All of my gear was proven and had been vetted on previous missions. I knew it all worked…

…For the last hour, I’d considered the smallest tasks. Everything had to be perfect. I tied the loops of my laces down in a double knot and tucked them into my boot top. In the middle of the room, I hoisted my sixty-pound vest over my head and let it rest on my shoulders. I tightened the straps, basically sealing myself in between the plates. I took a second to make sure I could get to everything.

Reaching above my head, I could grab both handles of the bolt cutters. I touched the breaching charge over my left shoulder. I connected the antennas to my radios and put on my “bone phones,” which sat on my cheekbones. These would allow me to hear any radio traffic through bone conduction technology.

If I needed, I could also put in an earbud to cancel out the ambient noise and allow sound to travel directly into my ear canal. In my right ear, I would hear the troop net. On the troop net, I would hear all of my teammates communicating with each other. My left ear would monitor the command net, which would let me communicate with the other team leaders and the head shed.

As a team leader, I’d need the two separate nets, but the reality was there wasn’t going to be much traffic on the command net for this objective. Only the officers were going to be talking on the satellite radios, and most of the radio traffic on the target would be through the troop net. All of my checks were done. I’d completed my steps to prepare for the mission. I took one last look in the room to make sure I didn’t forget anything, and headed out the door.

Mark Owen, No Easy Day

The Effective Tactics of Savages

In January 2014 ISIS fighters from Syria—well-trained, well-equipped and in huge numbers—surged across the now-illusory border into Anbar in large conventional columns of armed and armored vehicles, joining guerrillas who had already been active in Fallujah and Ramadi, in an offensive that drove the government out of both cities.

The initial push left ISIS in complete control of Fallujah, and in partial control of Tikrit (Saddam Hussein’s home town and a long-standing center of Sunni insurgency) and Ramadi, capital of Anbar. The offensive was noteworthy in part because of its speed and violence, in part because of ISIS numbers and capabilities, but mainly—to my eyes, anyway—because it telegraphed that ISIS had moved beyond its recovery phase of 2011–12, beyond the renewed insurgency of “Breaking the Walls,” into what guerrilla-warfare theorists call a “War of Movement.”

ISIS was acting more like a conventional army than a guerrilla organization: instead of operating in small, clandestine cells, in plain clothes, by night, with civilian vehicles and light weapons, ISIS was running columns comprising dozens of technicals, trucks, artillery pieces, and captured armored vehicles. It was moving openly, in large groups, by day, in uniform, fielding heavy weapons (mortars, rockets, and heavy machine guns).

Its tactics combined urban terrorism and clandestine reconnaissance with mobile columns, snipers, roadside bombs, suicide attackers, and terrorist cells, showing a level of sophistication well beyond that of AQI in 2006–7.

And as it captured territory, it was acquiring tanks, heavy armored vehicles, artillery, and vast amounts of funding, and picking up recruits. ISIS was thinking and fighting like a state: it had emerged from the shadows.

…the ISIS breakout of 2014 was an indication that the terrorist organization had retained an impressive capacity for rapid tactical adaptation.

David Kilcullen, Blood Year

Considering the Tactical Skills of an Opponent

Finally, the decision was made to make entry through the front door. This is always a nerve-wracking experience. You don’t know exactly where the suspect is, you don’t know his intent, and you don’t fully know his capabilities. In this case we knew the suspect had used a knife on the victim, but we didn’t know if he had a firearm, and if so what type and caliber it was, or what his tactical/shooting skills were. There are always more questions than answers in such situations. And hanging over everything was the pervasive concern over making a wrong decision that got yourself or your partners injured or killed, or resulted in some unknown other person in the building being injured or killed.

Scott Reitz, The Art Of Modern Gunfighting

Tactical Victory Does Not (Necessarily) Equal Strategic Victory

Victory is…different in neomedieval warfare. For Clausewitz and the Westphalian way of war, overwhelming force wins the battle that wins the war and ultimately the political objective or national interest. But when Westphalian militaries engage neomedieval foes, they often win every military engagement yet lose the war, because military success does not equal political victory in a neomedieval environment. In other words, the utility of force in neomedieval warfare is low. Examples of this phenomenon are plentiful: France in Algeria (1954–1962); the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (1979–1989); Israel in Lebanon (2006); the United States in Vietnam (1959–1975), Iraq (2003–2011), and Afghanistan (2001–2014). In each of these cases, the state tried to bomb its way to victory over a militarily inferior enemy yet ultimately failed to achieve its strategic objectives because military force could only achieve tactical results. Westphalian strategies do not work in neomedieval warfare.

Sean McFate, The Modern Mercenary

Tactical Experience Translated to Tactical Training

Jim and Bryan were both decorated for valor for leading small teams in the Tora Bora Mountains in 2001, awards that were pinned next to the Bronze Stars for Valor they had won during a little-known firefight on a rocky outcrop in western Iraq in 1991. Jim eventually became the squadron sergeant major and retired from Delta after being wounded in Iraq and earning his third Bronze Star for Valor. His new job would be no less dangerous.

The third one, Pat, was wounded and decorated during Operation Acid Gambit, the rescue of hostage Kurt Muse at the beginning of the invasion of Panama. Pat survived three helicopter crashes during his time in Delta, and was again wounded during the first combat raid into Afghanistan before retiring several months later.

A fourth troop sergeant major, Larry, was also on the Muse rescue in Panama and is one of the best pistol shots in the world.

Soon after retiring, Bryan, Pat, and Jim took their skills back to Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of an organization with the mission of protecting our troops from improvised explosive devices—IEDs. Résumés containing the words “Delta Force” rise to the top of the heap in a hurry in today’s security-conscious world.

Dozens of former Delta operators have moved into the security industry, while others have taken their skills to the CIA, and they provide progressive leadership, organizational ingenuity, unique expert training, and unparalleled vision in helping protect the United States.

Having retired from the army, many of Delta’s world-class shooters have chosen to carry their skills to the civilian, law enforcement, and military markets where they teach the finer points of combat marksmanship and urban battlefield tactics.

Delta Force legends like Paul Howe of Combat Shooting and Tactics Inc., Larry Vickers of Vickers Tactical Inc., Brian Searcy of Tiger Swan Inc., and Kyle Lamb of Viking Tactics Inc., can’t only teach you how to shoot a gnat off a bull’s ass at fifty yards while on the move but they will actually show you how it’s done first. And they will teach you the combat mindset so important to develop to do this task while someone is trying to kill you first.

Dalton Fury, Kill Bin Laden

David Reeder's Wu Tang name is Lucky Prophet. He is a retired AF veteran, former Peace Officer, and current Tier 2.5 writer-operator. Over the course of his career, he has worked a variety of military and lE billets, served as an Observer-Controller at the National Homeland Security Training Center, a MOUT instructor, and an MTT tracking instructor - all of which sounds much cooler than it really was. Although he only updates his website once in a very great while, he can absolutely be relied upon to post to social media (@reederwrites) at least once a month. -Ish.


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