The Combat Stress Program
The Combat Stress Program (2002-2012)
I created the Combat Stress Program in response to the events of 9/11 for deploying units that needed high level training before entering the war zone. It also become a significant training location for federal agencies and law enforcement for 10 years.
One of the key programs that was developed and taught in the Urban Warfare Center is this very program. In the spirit of the quote, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy," the Combat Stress Program teaches participants the principles that will ensure their ability to survive and thrive in the fiercest combat engagement. This day long course exposes participants to an environment as near to real as possible, reinforcing principles through force-on-force scenarios using marking gun technology that both reward success, and punish failure.
This cutting edge course has received acclaim from both deploying and returning troops who have described the experience of the program as being as close as it gets to actual combat. The program is focused on using the five physical senses to overwhelm the participants. It was developed by recognizing the fight, flight and freeze responses of units under going training while significant amounts of stress were heaped upon them. As the stress was reduced and identification of the stress responses understood by the participating units, mission success increased and the ability to react quicker to the threats became more apparent.
Attacking the Five Physical Senses
Sight: The absence of or light in its extremes are used to overwhelm the sense of vision. The safety gear worn will often fog up, or when hit with paint become milky and unclear. This produces the desired results of confusion. Some people become totally incapacitated while others grab on to a partner and ask “what can I do to help”.
Sound: We use multiple channels of pure high definition sound. As you move from one location to another the sounds shift. Examples are babies crying, Mid East music, dog’s barking, with women screaming and of course the sounds of battle mingled with helicopters. These sounds make it hard to verbally communicate and require units to use hand signals or touch to get the job done.
Taste: This sense is combined with smell in that when they get shot or rocked by the simulators, they can taste the smell, the paint from the rounds and the dirt. All these combine to make life very uncomfortable for an unspecified period of time.
Touch: Out of all the technologies around for shooting people in less than lethal ways, off the shelve paintball guns with modifications made by OPSGEAR® became our premier solution. .68 caliber rounds are large and filled with thick water based paint. When you get hit you know it, and when you shoot another person the big SPLAT, and often the flinch of the person being shot gives you positive feedback that you engaged and hit the target successfully. It is also a clear friendly fire indicator as we use unique colors for good guys and bad guys. The psychological effect of paintball technology is intense. We have fired hundreds of thousands of rounds, and there is nothing that matches its impact on the shooter or the victim. At a cost of a few cents per ball you can’t beat the economics of it either.
Smell: As specifically produced shotgun shells and simulators explode, the smell of powder, dirt, sweet and debris fill the air. Smell is one of the most powerful reminders of a stressful experience we have had, and we use it.
Within the first few minutes of the first scenario, and after receiving several thousand rounds on or in proximity to them, any notions of a "fun" day are gone. They are now in survival mode trying to figure out if the best response to the over stimulation is FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE.
After the stress has been induced it is time to establish benchmarks for the individuals and teams as a whole. We talk about “how did you feel” during the fight. What physical symptoms did you experience? Humility is the normal conclusion to the first event. The cocky and know it all folks are easy to spot and we have many ways to deal with them throughout the day in order to induce true cohesion and effectiveness.
The day is spent talking about principles of dominance in the urban setting, then running more scenarios focused on driving home important conclusions related to those very principles they are struggling with. An example of a correct principle would be to stay out of “funnels” defined as windows and doorways. We reinforce this principle through firepower. Well placed shots by well trained and ego absent opposing forces (OPFOR) teach the principle clearly. As the day progresses so do the missions, until at the end of the day the unit is ready to repeat a mission similar to the first one. Because of this unique process of INDUCING, IDENTIFYING, and INDOCTRINATING stress, the symptoms and tools to overcome this life threatening condition in battle are retained.
Principles learned are retained quicker, and the training cycle is reduced. Another important consideration regarding this method of teaching is the fact that Special Operations units will get large doses of stress during selection and subsequent training. This enables them to dominate more quickly on the battlefield and respond with educated motor skills more rapidly to threats. Line soldiers, sailors and airmen do not get the type of training that normally brings stress levels to the brink of Fight, Flight or Freeze like special operations units do. Therefore they have to learn about these responses in the field and are subject to the “other” forces imposing their will upon them during this learning curve. For units to hit the ground running, they must be stress induced, have the responses identified and be given tools to overcome the negative responses. Furthermore they must build motor skills that reward the proper responses to stress and threats. I.e. engaging and eliminating the threat, taking cover, communicating etc…
In a very real way we can accomplish in one day what most elite units pride themselves on doing over a sustained period of time. We are never trying to induce stress to “wash” someone out of our program as elite units may be doing out of selection necessity. However, we are heaping large amounts of pressure on them, which will require them to work together or fail. Success is determined by teamwork, communicating, doing your job under pressure, and accomplishing the mission.At the end of the story, the Urban Warfare Center®was born out of adversity and a never ending hunger for the best, most stimulating and flexible facility, methodology and technologies that will shorten learning and increase retention. It teaches life saving principles related to combat operations and Urban Warfare.We have had virtually every federal agency you can think of, thousands of soldiers and hundreds upon hundreds of police officers experience the Urban Warfare Center®.
This facility saves lives and is a direct result of critical life lessons I have learned. If we do it right in the Urban Warfare Center® many fathers and mothers will be able to hug their own children when they return from duty on the streets or abroad.
As one Lt. Colonel said while watching his unit perform in the Urban Warfare Center®. “I am sure glad I got to see the strong and the weak in my unit before we deploy”. What a tool for commanders to “benchmark” soldiers before they hit the field. Where more training is needed they can then focus on those specifically.
One veteran of our program and subsequently Iraq found us at a trade show and made a simple, but powerful statement to us about the effectiveness of the facility and program. He said that “he and his unit were able to get into the fight quicker and be more productive under the intense stress of a firefight as a result of this training”