After Action Report:
10305-07 Universal Tactical Academy
3-Day Pistol/Carbine Operator High Performance Shooting Course
by Rob S of www.TACTICALYELLOWVISOR.net
Beginning on 5 March and ending on 7 March 2010 I attended a 3 day Pistol/Carbine Operator High Performance Shooting Course at the Universal Tactical Academy (AKA the Universal Shooting Academy) with Frank Garcia. As it turned out due to a personal family issue Frank taught only the first day and days two and three were handled by one of his cadre of instructors, Roy Tyler. Course sign-up was handled through Grey Group Training.
Weather could not have been better with absolutely clear skies and temperatures beginning in the mid 40s and peaking around 60 on 5 March and beginning at 50 and peaking at nearly 70 on 7 March. Weather like this is why we live in Florida.
I believe it is important for any gear or training reviewer to establish their prior experience for the sake of the reader so that they may asses the reviewer's frame of reference and compare it to their own. My training background until this point was heavily rooted in the Gunsite tradition. I have trained in the past with Randy Cain of Cumberland Tactics (6 times), Pat Rogers of EAG Tactical (4 times), Bill Jeans of Morrigan Consulting (2 times), and Louis Awerbuck of Yavapai Firearms Academy (once) all of whom have roots to one degree or another in Gunsite and all of whom have instructed there in the past. I have also trained with Travis Haley, Eric Torres and Chris Costa, now of Magpul Dynamics (once), which has been my only non-Gunsite-related trainer experience. The predominance of my training to this point (all of the above) has been at the Southern Exposure Training Facility. I say all of this to establish a background for myself as a frame of reference to other readers, and to point out that this class was a major departure for me on many levels. Comparisons to prior training are unavoidable and where they occur should not be taken as one being necessarily superior to the other on a macro scale. All instructors, and facilities, have areas where they excel, and I have learned valuable lessons from all of the above, and will return to train with all of them again. After Action Reports for many of my prior classes can be found in the AAR section of my website and in print in various issues of SWAT Magazine.
The Universal Tactical Academy (UTA) is located at 4300 C.R. 630 East just outside of Frostproof, Florida. Frostproof is located approximately equal distance from Lake Wales to the north and Sebring to the South, both of which have many hotel and dining options and are approximately a 20-30 minute drive from the range. I chose to stay at the Green Gables Inn in Lake Wales, and if you call to make your reservation they have a special rate for UTA students. Dining was nearby and convenient with a broad range of choices from fast food, to sit-down chains, to the local steakhouse Manny's Chophouse (recommended! Get there early!).
The UTA facility itself consists of 10-11 competition bays to the south and east and four training bays near the west central part of the property. There is a large Butler-building style barn at the north. There are restrooms with running water and standard facilities, and each bay has it's own covered area as well as a central covered area near the four training bays. These training bays are where we spent the majority of our time and they consist of, from east to west, a steel range with pneumatically-controlled pepper-poppers and rifle-rated dueling trees, a standard bay with frames for attaching targets at fixed distance, a steel range consisting of four plate racks with 6 plates each, and the bay furthest to the west that has a cable for moving targets as well as a variety of steel plate targets and target stands that can be configured into various scenarios. Over the course of the three days we moved from bay to bay in these four as we worked on various skills, as well as made trips to the competition bays as needed.
UTA Facility Satellite Image
1) Training Bays, 2) Competition Bays, 3) Barn, 4) Restrooms, 5) Training Pavilion
West-most Training Bay
Steel plates & cable for moving target shown as well as individual target stands
Second Training Bay from the West
Four plate racks shown, steel plates are all down
Third Training Bay from the West
Wood frames in background for cardboard targets
East-most Training Bay
Rifle-Rated dueling trees shown in rear, bulk of pepper poppers shown in foreground
I chose to keep things simple on this trip and used the same load-carriage system all three days, and the same firearms throughout. Unless specifically looking to evaluate a system and variants I believe that this is a best practice. I have attended courses where the students swap guns more often than they change their underwear and it always presents problems. My gear used was as follows:
Factory Glock 19 and Glock 17
Handgun Magazine Pouches:
Carbine Magazine Pouches:
Wolf 115 grain for 1k rounds & balance a random mix of various brass-cased
Wolf 75 grain for 300 rounds and Federal XM193 for balance
Leatherman PSTII (no longer in production)
Eagle PSI Pouch (custom order from Polite Society, Inc.)
Blue Force Gear Vickers Combat Applications Sling modified for one-to-two-point use
Belt System & Handgun Used - see chart above for particulars
Carbine Used - Optic mount & Battery Assist Device shown were replaced with products listed in chart above
Training Day One (TD1)
Training Day One began with the students' arrival at the range at 08:30. We unpacked our vehicles, got ourselves situated, and met and chatted with Frank. He had a folder with a course outline and business card in it waiting for each of us, and a cooler stocked with water and Cokes for us to help ourselves to as needed. I was one of two students in the class, and the other student was someone I have trained with in the past. I think the fact that UTA went ahead with the class even though there were "only" two of us says a lot about them. First, they have the facility, the targets, the steel, etc. which means that class-specific overhead is relatively low and really comes down to instructor salary and cost of targets. The range costs, taxes, insurance, etc. are all being paid regardless of whether the range is being used or not. This is just the first of many benefits of having your own range that I noticed over the three days.
We began the instruction at 09:00 with the lecture portion of the class. He began with his background, what he's been doing the last 7 years overseas, and his take on competition, training, and how the two relate to fighting with firearms. Frank says "I build shooting machines", and he spent the rest of the day proving this to us. This was closely followed by a session on the Fundamentals. It is always interesting in training with various instructors and/or reading their books, articles, or online posts that all agree that the Fundamentals (note the capital "F") are the key to everything, yet everyone's definitions vary slightly as do their prioritization, categorization, and instruction method. Frank's seven fundamentals are categorized as follows:
For the sake of brevity I am not going to go into the details of the above, except to say that if you think you see something there that is missing, it's not. One way or another Frank fit every Fundamental that I've ever heard of into those seven categories, and most into the first five. One thing that impressed me over and over again was a statement Frank made repeatedly that "I have to teach you". For example "I have to teach you to perform reloads" or "I have to teach you to transition from target to target" or "I have to teach you to waste less time" (more on this later). Instead of "you have to learn", Frank says "I have to teach you". I think it is an important distinction and an indicator of his mindset as a teacher and his dedication to building shooting machines.
Once the lecture portion was complete we moved out to the range where we performed some dryfire drills. Frank was checking for how we draw the pistol, how we grip the gun, how we stand, etc. Rather than jump right into teaching a thing, he first evaluated what we were doing and where we needed attention. Obviously the small class size helped in this regard, and if we had even one shooter at a lower experience level, this would not have been possible, but I got the impression that this is something Frank always does to whatever degree possible given the skill level of the shooters. Frank found holes in both of our stances and draw strokes and grips, a little ways he could make improvements and give suggestions on things to watch for and work on over the course of the three days.
We then moved on to load up and begin shooting on the third training bay from the west. Because the draw stroke and other issues related to it had been addressed during the dry practice all drills were fired from the holster. Frank observed as we ran various drills and shot on various styles of targets. He made suggestions about trigger manipulation, stance, drawstroke, grip, etc. as we fired these drills. There was constant feedback and tips on making improvement to various aspects.
One of the things I liked best was the ability to try things over and over again. It was fast paced but Frank has a good system for using multiple targets so you aren't stopping all the time to paste. Having his own facility with lots of targets and places to set them up allows this to happen. For example, he had two IPSC targets for each of us that had nine 2" dots spray-painted on them. We each put approximately one magazine's worth of controlled pairs into each dot. That's 135 rounds per cardboard with no need to paste at all. Frank has different ideas about trigger control than I'm used to but having all that chance to practice helped me tremendously in getting used to his way.
This took us to lunch time, working these various types of cardboard targets. We went into the town of Frostproof for lunch and were back at the range in only an hour. I am used to eating at the range in most classes because of the remote location, and while I wouldn't call Frostproof a bustling metropolis the people were nice and the food was good. It was a nice break given the pace of the morning, and a chance to sit and talk with Frank and my fellow student.
After lunch it was back to the range where we worked out with the various steel targets. From the plate racks where we worked on shooting from cover to doing the same on the pepper-popper range, back to the cardboard. Each time we came to the line we brought 5 magazines each. When those magazines were depleted we went back to our bags, reloaded or retrieved more, and either went back to what we were doing previous or moved to another range to work on specific deficiencies. If we were having trouble with the plate rack then we would go back and work on the dots again to dial in the accuracy.
Student engaging plate rack from cover/concealment under Frank's watchful eye
Training Day Two (TD2)
We returned on Training Day Two to a different instructor, Roy Tyler. Frank had a family emergency that he needed to tend to in his short time back in the states but he promised both of the students a return trip to complete two more days of training with him once he returns. Roy is a very experienced instructor in his own right having served in Vietnam, worked as a deputy sheriff in Florida, and having instructed at the Smith & Wesson Academy. Roy has a different teaching style than Frank, but it was nice to see another of the staff and to see that while style may differ the message is the same. I have dealt with multiple instructors from the same organization in the past and often found them not to be on the same page, which was not the case here. Frank, Roy, and the other UTA instructors make sure to meet a couple of times a year at the range to review what they have all been working on and what they are finding in their own travels and come together to decide how this will impact the overall tenor of UTA.
We began the day with Roy on the plate rack. He stated that he likes to begin and end each session (morning and afternoon) with steel, as it is not only a good way to warm up or test what you've been working on, but it's also fun. After that we spent the morning working on short movements. Many of the ranges have a series of 2'x2' boxes on the ground constructed of PVC piping. We used these boxes in many different ways over the course of the three days, and in this case we used them to introduce short movements; in and out of the box moving forward, aft, left, and right. Roy then added a block of instruction on the emergency or "combat", as well as the speed, reload. As Frank did the day before, Roy assessed where the students' abilities stood to begin with and, rather than rehashing what we already knew he worked with us to perfect our technique. He worked with us to keep the gun "in the pocket" instead of dropping it down, and being efficient with our movements. We added this to the movement drills we were doing before, engaging first one target, then speed reload, then another target. We ended the morning back on the plate racks and added in cardboard targets to the mix to change gears while reloading.
It was back into town, to a different local spot, for lunch again at 11:30. With the intensity of the day's work up to that point it was nice to get away, relax, and enjoy a meal together.
After lunch it was back to the plate rack, then shooting on the move, and then we moved over to the competition bays and shot part of a stage that was left over from the Florida Open a couple of weeks before. This stage incorporated some props, in the form of a toilet and some walls, as well as some moving targets that swung back and forth. Roy used this setup to talk about IPSC shooting but also to demonstrate how it both applies and differs from real-world defensive shooting. An example of this was the swinging targets with a predictable pattern and tempo. After Roy instructed us on how to engage them and we worked on them for a few tries, he explained that while challenging from a competition or drills standpoint a real-life target is unlikely to exhibit such a measured and predictable movement. We then shot the first portion of the stage as the shooters had at the Open, beginning seated on the throne before retrieving the pistol from a pedestal and engaging the various targets on the stage. We then moved to the plate racks again before calling it a day.
Author begins the stage seated on the "throne"
Author engages targets after retrieving pistol from pedestal seen to the right
swinging target seen in the center of the opening next to the white wall
Author engages targets from the right side after moving from the left side
Instructor used stage to discuss use of cover, setting up to avoid obstacles, etc.
Training Day Three (TD3)
Training Day Three was all about the carbine and we were joined by Roy again. After two days and over 2,400 rounds of pistol, my wrist was plenty sore and I welcomed the change to the long gun. Finding that failure point for myself and my body was a good experience for me. We began on steel again, this time engaging the dueling trees on the pepper-popper range just to warm up and for Roy to get a sense of our existing abilities. We then moved back to the same types of drills we were doing the day before with the handgun moving in and out of the boxes on the ground but from further back with the carbine. We then moved over to the lane that runs down the center of the competition bays and engaged steel targets at 50, 75, and 100 all standing. At 100 Roy used the post of one of the covered pavilions to demonstrate several supported standing positions and we each tried them to determine what might work for us. The targets in this case were self-resetting poppers and two of the Larue Tactical Sniper Targets. The drill was to first knock down the Larues, and then continue to engage the poppers until the Larues reset, then knock them down again and go back to the poppers. The goal was to hold down the Larue targets. We then moved back to the dueling trees before breaking for lunch.
Student engaging steel targets at 50 yards unsupported
Student engaging same steel from 75 yards unsupported
Roy joined us for lunch this time, and brought along a copy of SWAT magazine from the '80s because he knew that I write for them from time to time. It was interesting to see the old techniques and gear (and clothing!), but the real surprise was Roy himself in several of the pictures in more than one of the articles. This prompted an interesting discussion about the history of training and how things have changed over the years. It was a nice departure from the shooting but keeping in the overall theme of the three days and learning from someone who has been around the firearms training world a long time and seen many things come and go.
After lunch we moved back near the barn area (see aerial photo above) and engaged cardboard targets that were set up in the pond in front of us at close range, another cardboard target a little further away, and steel targets (more of the Larue) at approximately 100 yards. We engaged from behind low barricades with ports cut in them, and Roy discussed the pros and cons of "crowding cover" vs. using the barricade for support to get your hits. We shot from the top, in the ports, and around the sides, engaging the closest cardboard, the second cardboard, and then the steel and cardboard at distance.
Cover drill shot after lunch
cover seen to the left, close target with vertical strip, then target seen to right at the edge of pond,
then steel target between two cardboard seen in the distance.
After this we moved back to the training bays where Roy set up two targets approximately 20 yards apart and moved us back to 15 yards from the target line. We engaged each target with two rounds each swinging from one to the other. This was a great opportunity to work on the eye movement lessons that Frank has imparted on us with the handgun on TD1. Getting to run the drill repeatedly (we took turns running one magazine each through the drill, multiple times) gave us a great opportunity to try various techniques. I chose to ignore the eye movement lessons for a few repetitions to prove to myself that the techniques we were taught were applicable and Frank was right!
Student engaging target to the left under Roy's watchful eye...
...and then the target on the right.
Author running the same drill
Roy then introduced the transition from carbine to pistol. As with all of the other skills we covered over the course of the three days he discussed the drill with us and then turned us loose to see what we could do before offering tweaks and corrections to improve our performance. The drill was to first fire on the dueling tree with the carbine, flipping all of the plates from one side to the other, before moving to the small pepper poppers with the handgun. We ran this drill several times, with many repetitions, to again give us a chance to implement all of the skills we had worked on over the three days as well as to implement suggestions that Roy made for us.
Dueling tree and poppers used in transition drills
One small popper not shown to the far left for a total of 6
We finished out the day working on some point-shooting techniques with the carbine, increasing distance to target to test the limits of the skill, and shooting a few scenarios to put together all of the lessons learned over the course of the three days. After over 2,400 rounds of handgun and nearly 800 rounds of carbine my training partner was depleted of ammo and we ended the day at 16:00, relatively tired and having absorbed a whole lot of instruction over the course of the class.
Having a facility like this at your disposal makes all the difference in the world. Having it be your own home facility is even better. The instructors know what's there, they can make changes to the arrangement prior to, or in between, classes based on the students coming in, and things can be set up so that they just flow from start to finish. The pneumatic steel, the plate racks, the competition bays... Unbelievable. And Frank has plans to expand and make things even better, so keep an eye out in the future. He has a lot of visions for ways to use the facility to grow the shooting sports and the training available to those of us in this area as well as beyond. Remember that while we were training in 60 degree weather some parts of the country were snowed in. If I lived up north and was looking for an excuse to get out of the cold in February I can think of a lot worse ways to do it than to spend three days at Universal Tactical Academy, and with the close proximity to Disney in Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa, you could easily bring along the whole family.
Guns & Gear
I am sold on all of the equipment and guns that I used in the course of this class. The one exception is the Wolf 75 grain 5.56 ammunition that has been giving me trouble since December at an EAG class. I have shot various types and weights of Wolf in the AR platform for years and have gone 1,000 rounds + in the past without cleaning, but this 75 grain stuff, while the most accurate Wolf I've ever shot, is incapable of getting past 300 rounds in any kind of aggressive firing schedule. It will have to be relegated to competition purposes where we rarely exceed 200 rounds until I deplete more stores, and other more reliable ammunition will get used in training environments.
The grip reduction from Boresight Solutions was a godsend. I do not know if this office-worker's hands would have survived had it not been for the great attention to detail, careful smoothing of all the right parts, and just great all around package in the work Boresight did on my Glock 19. At one point the gun got pretty gunked up and the trigger was getting very stiff. Frank asked me if I wanted to change to my spare and I said "no way, I can't give up this grip" and just dealt with the crappy trigger. My spare will be going to Boresight very soon for a similar treatment.
The only downside of the Boresight gun is that the high-cut front strap meant the Peters holster rubbed the social finger of my shooting hand pretty good. At 500-600+ presentations I doubt I ever would have noticed otherwise, but keep an eye on my Peters Holster review for my solution. I would love to see Ben from Boresight, and Greg from Peters work together to come up with a Boresight package or treatment on the Spada holster as I believe the two complement one another perfectly other than this one tweak.
The US Grunt Gear Warhog belt was fantastic. I wore it for all three days with zero fatigue on the hips, and the velcro inner belt that is paired with it kept the heavy back-end with my trauma kit (thankfully un-needed) and dump pouch from slipping down over my no-ass. I will be making a few subtle tweaks to the overall system, largely consisting of replacing the Eagle pistol pouches with pouches from USGG.
Just about everyone has an opinion about round-count in classes. Some only want to go to classes pushing out 1,000+ rounds over three days, and some think anything more than 200/day is a waste of ammo and time. Having attended a class at the other end of the spectrum from this one (Louis Awerbuck's carbine at 600-800 in three days) that was one of the best training experiences of my life, I think it's all situational dependant on the instructor and the facility. I have certainly been to blasting classes that were a waste of ammo, and I have certainly attended classes where I would like to have shot more. I think that the biggest thing that leads to the high round counts at UTA is no pasting, the use of steel, small class sizes, and lots of repetition. If other instructors had a similar setup they could just as easily get the same round count. Frank was able to correct some of my issues as pertains to trigger control, flinching, over-gripping the gun, etc. It was nice to make the correction and then get to try it 200 times rather than make the correction, try it 15 times and then have to move on to something else. Having a lot of space to hang targets and be able to shoot on multiple targets were the keys to doing this. If the facility had been more constricted it would have been harder as we would have needed to stop and paste the targets more often. Instead we just moved over and shot another target. Even though we were only a class of two, Frank likes to keep his classes small even when full. Combine all of this with an "assess then teach" methodology instead of an "assume everyone is a moron" technique where the basics are re-taught even if not needed, and you easily get to a high round count that is still productive.
After I got back I got an email from a friend that asked:
> Was it tactical or competition oriented?
I would say it was a little of both. Frank has pretty obviously gotten a different take on things with what he's been doing overseas and with the units he's been training here. He also only taught the first day, and TD2 and TD3 were Roy. Each made a lot of reference to competition but they also pretty successfully tied it back to "tactical". They would talk about speed, but they would talk about how that relates to "real world" as well. I never felt like I was being given a strictly "here's how to win an IPSC match" class but it did come up from time to time.
Frank made an interesting comment that I think is pretty apt. He said "IPSC is more about offense, and IDPA is more about defense." Having been an IDPA shooter for quite a few years that has recently begun attending USPSA matches, I found that to be a pretty appropriate statement. What I found truly interesting was how Frank applies the lessons of IPSC/USPSA to fighting with a firearm. He said on the first day "I have to teach you to consume less time". This is clearly something that applies whether facing the clock or an armed opponent.
What we did not do was any running around like an IPSC lunatic, we did not discuss stages in terms of how to dissect them etc. other than when we shot on the stage from the Open and Roy took a few moments to explain how competition works, specifically IPSC, and why it can be beneficial.
What they seem to be going for, based on my whopping three days there, is teaching how to make the hits you need to make in the time you have available. I believe that applies to competition as well as real life.