Tactical Anatomy(tm) Training

Nearly a year an a half ago, back in December of 2005, part of my column was about the firearms training program being developed by my friend and colleague, Dr. James S. Williams. At that time, we were both preparing to make separate presentations to the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers' annual conference in Albuquerque, NM. As it turns out, unfortunately, ASLET closed up shop shortly after that conference, but the importance of training for law enforcement officers never ends. I said in that column that I would return to the work of Doc Williams again and in more detail. I am doing so now, because he has recently completed his new instructor manual and it is now available to bona fide law enforcement firearms instructors, through his training company, Tactical Anatomy Systems, LLC.

First, let me review Jim's background for you. He is a full-time emergency room physician by trade, but he has an intense interest in firearms training and helping police officers survive deadly force encounters. In addition to being a partner with David Maglio, Andy Vissers and Michael Williams in the Wisconsin-based Firearms Training Associates, LLC, he is affiliated with the Ripon (WI) Police Department as their medical officer. He has been developing this program for several years, and has made presentations about it not only at two ASLET annual conferences, but also at annual conferences of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) and the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI). He has also conducted training seminars for various agencies throughout the country. Although he enjoys conducting the training himself, he does have a pretty intense day job and long ago recognized the need to develop materials for other trainers to use to expand the training to as many cops as possible. And, before I leave the bio part of this, I want to also mention that Jim is an excellent competitive shooter. He is the Wisconsin State IDPA coordinator and has organized, and won, a number of IDPA matches. He was the Wisconsin IDPA state champion revolver shooter in 2001 and 2005. In other words, when he speaks of the importance of accuracy, he understands the concept from both the sending and receiving ends.

What Doc Williams is trying to get across is that accuracy is the most important factor in quickly stopping a deadly attack. But accuracy really has several components. In other words, accuracy is not just being able to hit what you are aiming at, but is also knowing what to aim at. The shot must hit something vital that the bad guy needs to keep attacking. Therefore, you have to know where those vital areas are in the human body--hence his trademarked term "Tactical Anatomy(tm)." As a result, a key component of Jim's training is what he calls: "3-D Target Visualization." This is innovative because most law enforcement training is still conducted in static, two dimensional environments. We are beginning to make some big strides in this area, principally with force-on-force training and various video simulators. In fact, part of Jim's training program includes how to make the most of such training. He is also in the process of developing, along with a commercial target manufacturing company, some suitable 3-D targets to use in a conventional range environment. Simply put, Tactical Anatomy(tm) is the combined skills of accurately placing your shots and placing them in the right spot to be most effective.

Much is made nowadays of the various issues regarding "stopping power" of police ammunition. However, there are no magic bullets, at least as far as typical police handgun ammunition. The various common law enforcement pistol cartridges in use today are remarkably similar in their performance in ballistic gelatin. Anecdotal evidence shows, however, that no matter what happens in the lab, performance in the human body can be quite unpredictable. The best we can do is to make the most of what we have available. That is why accuracy is so important. Too often there are cases of police shooting at an assailant, hoping that they will hit something vital that will stop the attack. Sometimes they are under the false impression that any hit will do. It might. Sometimes the mere thought of being shot is psychologically enough to get an attacker to give up. But we are seeing more and more that both the psychologically and chemically enhanced behavior of many aggressive people has already moved past simply being scared or intimidated into submission. A recent shooting in my home area is a good lesson. An individual with a knife, who was attacking a sheriff's deputy, was shot four times with 230 grain .45 ACP Speer Gold Dot ammunition. That ammo is certainly one of the most respected of all cop carry loads. In this case, the deputy stopped shooting when the rather large suspect simply knelt down and stopped advancing toward him. To that point, the deputy couldn't even tell that he had hit the man, based on his reactions to the bullet hits. Although seriously wounded, the attacker could still have continued his attempt to stab the deputy, if he just simply hadn't gotten tired of being shot. In this case it worked out alright, as the deputy was far enough away. So, if we understand that there are no guarantees of "instant stops," then we can move on to making every hit count.

As I said before, most range training is done in a two-dimensional environment. Part of what Doc Williams is training officers how to do is to visualize the location of vital target areas in the human body from a 360 degree perspective. Bodies move in gunfights. As the body moves, so do the points of aim that are necessary to hit vital targets. Hunters have learned this. They know that the animal they are stalking may not present itself in an optimum stance, or even standing still. If they are to be successful, they have to know where to aim from various approach angles. Same thing here. If a suspect has turned, ducked, bobbed or weaved, as they often do, the aim point changes. They might even be shooting at you from the ground. When was the last time you practiced that shot?

As a group, the cops who have been most receptive to Doc's training are the "special teams" types. They realize that they will be called upon to handle the really tough, tricky jobs. They know from experience that the circumstances and environment will rarely be ideal. Snipers, for example, have to make tough, accurate shots with split-second timing. Every one has to count. As an illustration, Jim uses the example of an operation where a sniper had to shoot a hostage taker. He placed the bullet just where he had been trained, essentially "right in the ear hole." However, in this case, the sniper was not only to the side, but firing from an elevated position. In this case, the bullet traveled at such a steep angle that it missed the vital, deep brain target. Although it was a serious wound, it did not prevent the suspect from shooting and seriously wounding the hostage before he collapsed himself. Understanding the need to change the point of aim for such a shot would probably have produced the desired instant stop. By the way, this also illustrates that there are no absolutes regarding rifle caliber "stopping power" either.

Now that you understand the concept, here's the good news. Jim is available, his day job schedule permitting, to conduct his training, either for field officers or for firearms instructors. But he recognizes that both the timing and the cost for his services can be a barrier to actually getting it done. So, he now has a training manual available for law enforcement firearms instructors that will allow them to custom tailor the training to their agencies needs and resources. He has been working on this for almost two years and it is now "hot off the press." For less than $70 (manual cost and shipping), you can ratchet up your department training and get your troops thinking about three dimensional aim point accuracy. The movie The Patriot had the best line: "Aim small, miss small."

Please check out the Tactical Anatomy Systems, LLC web site for further info. If you have to shoot, putting the bullet in the right place and at the right time is a skill our profession requires. Dr. Williams is giving us the benefit of his professional advice. I find it's usually a good idea to follow the doctor's orders.