Big 4, Little 4 (B4L4)

It’s time we discuss training philosophy, and triage of training tasks. This post is intended for civil defense organizations and NCOs of rudderless military units, given the current unstable times (more to come).

The concept of the “Big 4” came from Ranger Regiment in the 1990s. It was a way of focusing training and ensuring that it was balanced. The original Big 4 were Physical Training (PT), Marksmanship, Medical, and Battle Drills. In 2005 Vehicles was added to make the Big 5. These basic competencies are the foundation of complex and difficult operations.

We’re going to do Big 4 Little 4. The Big 4 are the originals: PT, Marksmanship, Medical, and Small Unit Tactics (SUT). I changed it to SUT because that term is more representative of what is actually taught. Battle drills are just a few set drills, while SUT encompasses the battle drills as well as other common tactical tasks like patrol bases and ambushes. The Little 4 are Vehicles, Communications, Fieldcraft, and Leadership.

In the Little 4, Vehicles and Communications are self-explanatory; both are technical fields that require training and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Fieldcraft is on the list because people just don’t spend the time in the woods and outdoors that they used to. Leadership is something that is trained and practiced all the time. The reason it is included is that specific training outside of normal duties and performance should occur on this topic. That is, leadership development should be deliberate.

Training Philosophy

Principles:

  • Ideally, each event should translate to as little as a single day or less of instruction (this may not result in immediate mastery).
  • Training should follow the crawl-walk-run philosophy, where the training starts simple and gets more complicated and difficult.
  • Training should follow a “spiral” pattern, where we circle back around to the same topic and continue to build mastery through the course of a training cycle.
  • Training events focusing on one topic should incorporate crossover between other topics as much as the infrastructure and skill of participants allows.
  • Force-on-Force training should occur to sharpen skills and test out SOPs.
  • Instructors should teach events and provide references in such a way that the person being trained can later practice their skill alone. When possible the event should also be “train-the-trainer,” enabling the student to go on and teach others the skill.

B4L4 Training Events

What follows is a list of key tasks and training events for each of the B4L4:

  1. PT (Physical Training)
    • Calisthenics, circuit training, speed and agility
    • Strength training
    • Ruck marching
    • Hand to hand fighting: Boxing, Jiu Jitsu
  2. Marksmanship
    1. Pistol Basics: safety, functioning, fundamentals, 5-step draw, first 100 rounds
    2. Pistol Intermediate: move and shoot, magazine changes, team shooting, barricades
    3. Basic Rifle Marksmanship
    4. Carbine basic: reflexive fire, magazine changes
    5. Carbine intermediate: move and shoot, barricades, transition to pistol, team shooting
    6. Long Rifle: accuracy traits of the weapon, ballistics, bullet drop compensating, positions
  3. Small Unit Tactics
    • Battle Drills: react to contact, break contact, attack, enter and clear
    • Formations and order of Movement
    • Ambush and Raid
    • Recon
    • Urban
  4. Medical
    • MARCH (Massive bleeding, Airway, Respiratory, Circulation, sHock)
    • Casualty Collection Point (CCP), triage, evacuation
  5. Vehicles
    • Off road driving techniques
    • “Sport” and urban driving techniques
    • Battle drills: contact, disabled vehicle, infil/exfil procedures
    • Recovery
    • Loadout and setup
  6. Communication
    • Frequency theories
    • OPSCHEDs, brevity codes
    • Equipment setup and operating
  7. Fieldcraft
    • Shelter and survival
    • Camouflage and stalking
    • Navigation
    • STANO (Scopes, Target Acquisition, and Night Observation) ie optics
  8. Leadership
    • Planning and briefing
    • Military theory and history
    • Reaction
    • War games
    • Intelligence

Sponsor Note
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Examples: Crawl

  1. Basic Pistol – Instructor teaches safety, operation, and drawing of pistol. Students practice dry, then shoot 100 rounds in groups of 10, practicing parts of their draw, fundamentals of marksmanship, and other basic shooting skills. Resources: Simple range, pistols, and ammunition. 4 hours or less needed. (2. Marksmanship)
  2. Jiu Jitsu – Instructor warms up students, teaches a technique, then leads sparring practice. Resources: mats, old clothes, 2 hours or less. (1. PT)

Examples: Walk

  1. Buddy Break Contact – Pair of students practice bounding backward to break contact while shooting at targets. Assessed on time to break contact and hits achieved. Resources: Rural range, firearms. (2. Marksmanship, 3. SUT)
  2. Stalk and Shoot – Student stalks up to a predetermined firing area, and fires a precision round from concealment. Assessed on accuracy and camouflage. (2. Marksmanship, 7. Fieldcraft)
  3. Skill Builder Navigation Course – Students navigate from point to point, performing technical tasks at each point such as communication, optic use, physical challenge, weapon use. Resource intensive, but can train large numbers quickly.

Examples: Run

A true “run” event is a full mission profile, or exercises which encompass all phases of an operation. Ideally they will include Opposing Forces (OPFOR). This can be a legitimate training event for both groups. These events should also include leadership decisions that materially affect the training event. These events should build upon previous training.

  1. Sniper attack on High Value Target (HVT) – Target is a steel target set up on a realistic objective. Sniper team plans their infiltration into the area, sets up a final firing position and shoots, and then successfully exfiltrates. (1. PT, 2. Marksmanship, 6. Communication, 7. Fieldcraft)
  2. Assault on Outpost – Assault team infiltrates by truck and then foot, conducts recon on objective to complete their plan, then assaults objective. This can be more complex by adding follow on objectives based on intelligence collected during the assault, and leadership decisions based on the initial recon, and intelligence. (5. Vehicles, 7. Fieldcraft, 3. SUT, 8. Leadership)

Yearly Training Schedules

Training schedules should, above all, be reasonable to implement and safe. They should build on previous blocks of instruction. The instructors should plan out the year based on the goal of running a culmination exercise if possible. It’s ok to dial the exercise back or up as the year progresses and the reality of the men is apparent.

Basic Online OPSEC

Here’s a link to a good basic primer for online security. Long story short is to ditch social media, ditch Google for DuckDuckGo, and use Brave as your browser.

The Simple 4×8 Raised Bed

Value up front: Here is a drawing link to a raised bed design I made and use. It is cheap, easy to build, and easy to order from just a few local lumber store parts.

This bed costs a whopping $76.43 in April 2020 dollars from McCoy’s lumber (my preferred store). The bed has a few interesting features:

  • $76.43 price per bed
  • Only 4 parts to order: 2x10x8’s, a 4x4x12, 3″ screws, and 2 x 24″ rebar pins
  • 1.6 cubic yards of space to fill
  • 29.5 square feet of planting space
  • Treated lumber will last for a decade or more. As long as the treatment is not CCA (contains arsenic), the general consensus is that treated lumber is safe for gardening.
  • 4×4 nubs can be used to attach watering, trellising, row covers, etc
  • Bed can be easily taken down and re-assembled at another location

Tips for Raised Bed Gardening

  1. My number 1 tip is to get Brett Markham’s book Mini Farming and simply follow his recommendations (I’m not an affiliate and get no money from this).
  2. Fill the bottom of the raised bed with old dead wood and logs, then fill the rest with topsoil and mushroom compost (50-50 mix). Don’t use suburb soil to fill raised beds, the soil is terrible. However, it helps if you turn over the soil under the bed, but it’s not strictly necessary.
  3. Put the bed on top of level ground. There is no need to dig the bed into the ground or anything.
  4. Amend the soil with mushroom compost or home-made compost each year.
  5. Check your local extension office for information on how and when to plant. The extension offices are one of the few government agencies that typically put out good information.
  6. Use wood chips, leaves, brown paper, cardboard, or compost as mulch.
  7. Water plenty, raised beds drain and dry quickly.
  8. Use the cloth bags (search your local garden store or Amazon) for growing root crops: that way gophers cannot get to them before you do, and harvest is as easy as dumping the bag out and grabbing the roots.

Deciding on the Best Bed

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new era of food insecurity in the West. While people are not yet lacking for calories, they have less choices at the store. Many have responded by starting gardens. I heartily agree with gardening. The yield is knowledge, healthier food, and time outdoors. Gardening makes for a more healthful life. My own motivations for gardening occurred before the pandemic: I was dissatisfied with the produce at the store, and concerned about future supply chain problems.

When I started gardening years ago, I began with raised beds and had immediate successes, along with failures. I have experimented with many methods, including raised beds, traditional tilled fields, no-till garden, raised rows, cloth bags, and trellising. For beginners, raised beds are by far the best value-added method. To that end, I’ve decided to compare raised bed types. I did this for myself: I wanted to know the best practice for rapidly augmenting my growing capacity if need-be.

To that end, I’ve posted the comparison for the reader’s review. I’d draw your interest specifically to the pricing on the bottom. First is cost per ft^2 (CPF), then CPF over years of use, then CPF over total performance.

TypeUnits5 30Gal Cloth BagsJustin Rhodes Raised BedsJustin Rhodes Raised Beds TreatedCinder BlocksGalvanized Horse TroughsSimple Treated Wood
Overall Inner Sizeft2’ Diameter4’ x 8’4’ x 8’2.67’ x 8’2’ x 4’4’ x 8’
Square Footage Perft^23.14323221.33832
Square Footage TotalFt^215.7323221.33832
Depthin162020242418.5
Volume PerYd^30.161.981.981.580.591.83
AttributesScore
Toxicity0-5353443
Gardening Performance0-10466544
Portability0-5522042
Immediate Usability0-5511141
Longevity Years0-104361086
Asthetics0-5254333
Total0-20232222232719
Deliverywks
CostUSD$$38.99$330.00$396.00$109.10$99.00$76.53
(CFP) Cost per Ft^2USD$$2.48$10.31$12.38$5.11$12.38$2.39
CPF / Longevity~USD$$0.62$3.44$2.06$0.51$1.55$0.40
CPF / Performance~USD$$0.11$0.47$0.56$0.22$0.46$0.13

Basic Night Vision Outfitting and Employment

I’ve received numerous requests for guidance in the past few days from people wanting to beef up their nighttime defensive capabilities. I’ve spent years using various night vision, thermal, and IR designation systems (NODs) in crummy locations. This article is for people just getting started, or without a lot of money to spend on this stuff. I’ll try to be concise. Here goes:

Seeing Versus Engaging

You need to consider the difference between seeing things with night vision, versus successfully engaging them. A simple hand-held or helmet-mounted device is beneficial for situational awareness, but a “stock” daytime firearm just isn’t really compatible with such a device. You have three options to get your gun in the night fight:

  1. A weapons mounted night vision device (behind or in front of the daytime optic), known as a “clip-on”
  2. A dedicated weapons-mounted, zero-able night vision optic
  3. A weapons mounted laser combined with a helmet-mounted NODs

Number 1 “clip on sight” is typically expensive and used for precision rifles. That way, the zero’d sniper scope remains mounted to the rifle both day and night. These are great. They can extend the range of your daytime long gun out to 500+ meters on a nice night. The bad news is that they are expensive, and you either need a helmet mounted NOD or a friend to cover the short range problem.

Number 2 dedicated optics are somewhat immature technology. Some of the best examples of this are the scope series by ATN. The bad thing about them is that they are software reliant, so if the electronics shit the bed you are in trouble. There are non-software options, but they are either very old or very expensive. If you are comfortable with technology, the ATN isn’t too bad for day/night use in the $700 range.

For the new night vision user, I recommend option 3. It’s fairly inexpensive to get a helmet mounted NOD setup and a weapon mounted laser. Your situational awareness is good with this setup. While the range of the laser isn’t great (figure 30m for pistol and 200m for carbine), it’s a lot better than the range of a non-NOD equipped adversary. This setup is a game changer. I’ll give you a few basic rules for what to buy, and then a basic first setup:

  1. Do not buy any NOD less than Gen 2+. They just aren’t good enough. Gen 3 or 4 tubes are quite good. Gen 2+ tubes will work well with good illumination from the moon or ambient light.
  2. Make sure you buy the correct mounting parts to get the tube on your helmet, or other “hat.”
  3. Make sure the weapon laser you buy is IR. Not red, green, or whatever else. Color is IR.

Starter Night Vision Setup

The Night Optical Device

  1. A single PVS-14 is a good bet. Go to Optics Planet, or Amazon, and search “PVS14”. AGB Global sells a Gen 2+ tube for $1,929.00. Buy the best you can afford.
  2. To mount it, you need a J-arm and a skullcrusher at a minimum. These two items, at time of writing, are $88.99 and $119.99 respectively.
  3. Total cost to see at night is $2,137.98.

The mounting scheme here is Head–>Skullcrusher–>J-Arm–>PVS-14. See Below:

If you are using a helmet, or a Crye Nightcap, you will also need a swing-arm and adapter plate or shroud. The benefit to this is that you can easily swing the NOD up and out of your line of sight. Also, the Nightcap and similar products are more comfortable. Search these items on Amazon and OpticsPlanet. There are many options. Make sure that the helmet or Nightcap is compatible with what you select. The mounting scheme is:

Head–>Helmet/Nightcap–>Adapter Shroud–>Swing Arm–>J-Arm–>PVS-14. See Below:

The Laser

  1. For pistols, I really like the TLR-2 IR version. It’s $309.49 today. You’ll also need to get a custom holster made to hold the pistol and light. The light is white light, unfortunately. The laser is clearly visible to 50 meters.
  2. For carbines, I use the Steiner OTAL-C. It’s $498.99. The effective range of this laser is at least 200 meters. I haven’t gotten much time on it, but from what I see so far it’s a good purchase.
The Steiner OAL is very small, and does the job.

You need to zero the laser after mounting it. One way to do it is the old fashioned way: shoot at a zero target, and make corrections. I don’t like this method. The laser is off-center with the weapon, unlike an optic, so you get a crossing of the optic line of sight, laser line of sight, and bore line. This leads to unpredictable zero at greater ranges. This method is painful at night. It’s hard to see the zero target.

The better method is called a “co-witness” zero. Co-witnessing means that you look through your zero’d and confirmed daytime sights with your night vision device. Use the broad side of a building for this exercise, after clearing the weapon. Turn the laser on. Now, adjust the laser over to where you want it in relation to the daytime sight. Think about where the laser is in relation to the bore, and offset it appropriately. For example, my Steiner laser is just to the right of the bore. So, I put the laser dot slightly to the right of my daytime zero point on a 100 meter target. That way, I won’t get the laser crossing to the left at longer ranges. This doesn’t matter as much if you co-witness at 100 or 200 meters, but co-witnessing at 25 meters will require that slight offset to avoid a cross.

A Very Inexpensive NOD Option

For those who really need to pinch pennies, there is another NOD option. It’s the SiOnyx Aurora, for $399.00. This is actually a handheld IR camera, that is about the size of a PVS-14 tube. I have looked through the camera, and used it with my weapons mounted laser. I found it to be nearly as good as the Gen 2+ units, at a much lower price. To make this hands-free, you need several custom adapters.

Image from the Etsy store of Kiloohm. I have not tried this out. Buyer beware.

The mounting scheme is as follows:

Head–>Helmet–>Helmet Mount Shroud–>Norotros Rhino 2–>Norotos AKA2 PVS-15 Socket–>Wilcox PVS-15 Shoe–>Kiloohm Adaptive Mount–>Aurora.

All of that stuff totaled up is roughly $1000.

How to Make Your Own MGRS / USNG Maps

To do good land navigation, you really need the MGRS grid overlay. UTM is too clunky, and Lat/Long is just a total non-starter. The civilian version of MGRS is called USNG, the only difference being that there are spaces at natural points in the grid. For example, if the MGRS grid is “13SDC23564332”, the USNG is “13S DC 2356 4332”. Simple enough. Unfortunately, it has traditionally been difficult to get MGRS maps outside of the military and whatever areas they deemed fit to print maps of. Enter GISsurfer, a free service based on GIS that allows users to create their own MGRS maps. You can even overlay satellite and roads if you wish. Let’s jump in: 
      1. Go to GISsurfer.
      2. Click “Menu”
      3. Click “UTM MGRS/USNG Lat/Long”
      4. Click either “MGRS” or “USNG” Screen Shot 2019-11-16 at 7.03.40 PM
      5. Zoom to wherever you want a map.
      6. Select other GIS options, such as satellite, roads, contour lines, or the like. You end up with a map, in this case zoomed up so that each gridsquare is a kilometer. Nice.
      7. The final step is to save the map. On an Apple, I can choose File–>Print, choose paper size and layout, then “Save as PDF.” Your mileage may vary.
Happy hunting, and remember your panic azimuth.

Homemade Rifle Barrels Using Electro-Chemical Machining



This is a followup on yesterday’s post. While I surely have the technical ability to pull this off, I just don’t have the time. I’m curious to hear from any readers who have experimented with this.

Gear Review of the P-14 Gen II+ Night Vision Monocular

3.8 / 5.0

Pros: Excellent value. Near parity with PVS-14 during high illumination. Can use AA or CR2 battery. Couples well with IR lasers for night shooting.

Cons: Only partial PVS-14 BII compatibility, and no company-provided BII.

Bottom Line: This is night vision for the masses. I liked it enough to buy the test unit.

The PRG (Potomac River Group) P-14 flashed across my radar one morning as a deal on Dvor, $750 for Gen II+ night vision. I was intrigued, along with quite a few other people. A few emails later and PRG sent one my way to test. My testing consisted of walking around, shooting, and taking pictures through the unit. What else could you do?

Looks like a bargain basement PVS-14, and pretty much is (in a good way)

As an experienced night vision user can see, this unit is meant to occupy the same niche as the PVS-14, except for the frugal. With the typical PVS-14 costing $3000, the P-14 is very attractive at $1000 or less. Of course, the market is full of cheap night vision that is so ineffective as to not be worth it at any cost. I have used numerous of the sort of units people buy for $500 or less at sporting goods stores, and found that they are worse than paperweights — the user can’t see anything, but they destroy the wearer’s natural night vision for the following 30 minutes or so.

The P-14 boasts some impressive features. Gen II+, a very low price, made in the USA, automatic brightness, an IR illuminator, and at least the appearance of PVS-14 compatibility. What’s the catch? Well, that’s the point of my testing and review.

P-14 Performance

The last time I wore anything other than Gen III was 14 years ago when I briefly used PVS-7s in a schoolhouse setting. For Gen II+, I read what to expect from other night vision experts: near parity with Gen III under good illumination, and near uselessness under low light. That is exactly what I found.

On a walk through the woods with 0% illumination, I had to use the IR flood light to make any sort of movement. The unit alone was almost worse than nothing. I couldn’t make out branches about to swipe me, yet the night vision eye was useless.

Toyota pickup under partial illumination from ambient light. 40 meters.

On the other hand, during 100% illumination (full moon), the P-14 image quality was only slightly worse than the Gen III PVS-14. On that particular night, I could make out trees, terrain, structures, and animals at several hundred meters. Additionally, shooting with the P-14 was a breeze. A friend and I used a Streamlight TLR-2 IR laser on a 9mm XDM. Shooting 8″ plates with this combo was almost comically easy. At one point my friend had a target at 10 meters and another target at 50 meters and alternated most of a 19-round magazine between each target without miss.

Pup at 25 meters. Treeline is at 150-200 meters.

When I wore PVS-14s on a near nightly basis, I didn’t worry much about the illumination level. If it was good, that was all the better. With the P-14, the illumination level, and the moonrise and moonset matter. That isn’t PRG’s fault, it’s just a fact of life for Gen II+ tubes. However, potential buyers should be aware of this performance gap between Gen III and II+ tubes.

House and barn at 250 meters.
Creek crossing at 25 meters. Poor focus. Far treelike is on the order of 500 meters.

The P-14’s automatic brightness feature works well. Though I prefer manual brightness control in general, I never had a problem with the unit not adjusting well. Additionally, the onboard IR flood light did a good job of illuminating the immediate area.

PVS-14 Compatibility

When I saw the pictures, I was really hoping that the P-14 would act like a drop-in replacement for the PVS-14. That way, those of us who own PVS-14s can also have the P-14, and both units can use common basic gear. The P-14 works with PVS-14 gear to a large extent. The J-arm screws in to the P-14, but it doesn’t keep the unit from swiveling. As long as it’s tightly screwed, it’s not a problem. The P-14 doesn’t have the same automatic shutoff that the PVS-14 has when the unit is swung upward by the user.

It fits my existing PVS-14 gear reasonably well.

The P-14 works with my DSLR camera adapter for PVS-14s, but only if I add a bit of padding to the eyepiece ring. The eyepiece ring of the P-14 is just not quite big enough, so the adapter tends to work loose off of it. It is in no way a deal-killer, but I’d rather the ring just match the PVS-14 standard. Why not?

P-14 Quality

The P-14 does not feel like flimsy junk. I think it could take a little kicking around. It’s stamped Made in the USA. The rep told me the unit is made in Arizona. I’m not sure precisely what that means. While I think PRG is a company with integrity and does make the units in Arizona, that doesn’t necessarily mean all the glass and the tube is also made in the USA. I have no idea where each component is made.

I walked in the unit during a light mist without trouble. There is some distortion at the outside edge of the lens. Overall the quality seems to be present. Time will tell.

One Caveat…

I am fairly enthusiastic about the P-14, so much so that I went ahead and bought the test unit to serve as a backup or loaner. My one caveat is that I can’t vouch for the reliability of the P-14, nor the tube longevity. Tubes are known to last anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 hours, and I have no idea how long this will last. I will certainly update the review if it fails prematurely.