Own the night. I have heard that mantra repeatedly over my career in Special Operations. Our ability to operate under the cover of darkness translates to total domination of our objectives against fully armed terrorists – and no casualties for our team.
I have conducted the containment of an objective by surreptitiously surrounding it, and due to our nighttime capabilities, I came within a few feet of an armed insurgent who had no idea we were there. There are numerous ways the technical and tactical aspects of nighttime warfare have turned the tide in the Global War on Terror.
I will not go into them all, but we must consider night operations to be a crucial aspect of mission success. Understanding the importance of nighttime operational proficiency needed to “own the night,” you would think that the training cycle in the months leading to combat becomes saturated with nighttime training. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Night Vision For Beginners
How can you gain fire superiority? The rest is a learned ability to know who your enemy is and to guess what their reactions to your actions may be, always staying one step ahead. Luckily for me, I would spend nine more months that year in Afghanistan, where I would train, learn, and fine-tune my combat skill set while serving with America’s finest warriors.
In my nearly 20-year career in Special Operations, I have been to almost every US Army Special Forces school available. I have been to Advanced Close Quarters Battle (CQB) training, Sniper school, and air controller school, where I learned to direct aircraft in the middle of a fight – which can be a crucial skill in large-scale nighttime warfare. I have attended advanced Military Free Fall (MFF) School and technical surveillance courses.
Regardless of the curriculum offered, I had great leaders that kept me proficient by sending me to these schools and training me well. I honed my skills outside of combat. Every single school I have been to never really emphasized night training paired with that skill set. Nighttime operations became something we learned on the teams – outside the schoolhouse.
It was probably an administrative or safety protocol that kept us from doing a lot of night training. Still, whatever the reason, we were not capitalizing on the opportunity to become proficient in such a crucial aspect of modern combat operations. Our training time, in my mind, was not fully optimized.
The Civilian Approach
When I separated from the military and transitioned into running FieldCraft Survival, my business based in Durango, Colorado, I realized that civilians did not have a structured process to learn the proper mindset or technical skills needed to overcome what life throws at them. The skills were there to learn, but there needed to be a readily available mode of delivering those skills to potential students.
I started my company considering that to impart knowledge to someone and instruct them effectively, you must Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). I came up with Isolate, Rehearse, Repeat (IRR). The premise behind IRR is that the end state in training is typically a culmination of several sub-tasks, smaller skills, and specific training principles that must be mastered individually before the student can be considered proficient in the culminating event.
For example, let us say you want to learn how to shoot with night vision and an IR laser, much as you would during nighttime combat operations. Although it seems like two separate and simple tasks, it is complex, and you must understand how night vision operates, how your gun operates, and how they operate together. Therefore, you may start with learning the capabilities of night vision. When trying to understand the basics of night vision for beginners, remember to Keep It Simple Stupid.
Night Vision 101 For Beginners
I would suggest walking around with the night vision on to build your understanding of depth perception, loss of peripheral vision, how it reacts to different light sources, and what familiar things look like under night vision so you may begin to differentiate objects and how all of this may hinder or benefit you. Once you have isolated any task that is to be learned, you will then rehearse the task until you are unquestionably proficient at it.
You are not done yet. You will repeat the task until there is uninhibited muscle memory. Once you think you have completely ingrained that task into your memory, conduct an honest assessment of yourself, what we call an After Action Review (AAR). What can you improve on? Isolate those for retraining. What can you sustain when translating from training to operational environments? Every time you have a culmination exercise for a new skill, you must do this. It is the best way to constantly improve and return to the drawing board with things that need work.
Night vision is one tool of many that can greatly increase your chances of operational success when utilized with other equipment. When I was in Special Forces Sniper School, we were exposed to a few night iterations that were more for familiarization than perfecting a craft. The takeaway was that once you get a taste of what right looks like, you must take time to perfect your craft.
The Learning Curve Is Steep
Learning skills takes a great deal of personal responsibility and work ethic. You will never be spoon-fed proficiency. I use this same concept when I teach survival tactics for FieldCraft. I can philosophize and give you great information in a class, but if I don’t give you the tools and how to implement those tools in your environment, then I’m not doing you any good, and you will not leave the class better than you came.
It reminds me of the old saying, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” That statement is at the core of my teaching philosophy and training methodology when I seek to mold others into becoming better-trained and proficient modern survivalists.
The Army taught me that I could become trained in anything. I could be and would be a jack-of-all-trades if I wanted to. However, if I wanted to perfect a skill set, if I truly wanted to be a master, then I would have to train on my own when nobody was there watching. Therefore, that is what I did. Once I understood the concepts and familiarized myself with them, I could take the specific tactics and perfect them as they applied to my job in Special Operations.
Mastering Your Skillsets
Likewise, for your career or hobby, you can follow those steps to proficiency. Always repeating the tasks until they are innate actions. Because I was a Sniper, I started studying every optic, laser, range finder, etc. This allowed me to understand how night vision could give us the upper hand in combat. I started to discover as I evolved that I was only scratching the surface.
Remember, once you receive a block of instruction from an individual, institution, or other entity, when you leave the classroom, that is only the beginning of the process. It is what you take away from that experience and begins to train early and often that makes the difference in mastering that skill. You do not have to be a Special Forces Sniper to understand the best way in which to tackle a problem; you just need to be teachable and disciplined enough to commit to and trust the process.