SF WORSHIP AND THE SHRINE OF GEAR
The tactical community is obsessed with Special Forces. We lust for their gear, we admire their skill, and we daydream about their jobs. Just like the kid that watches his favorite MLB team after baseball practice, wanting the same glove as their favorite player. Wanting a chance to be in those stadiums.
It’s easy to see the appeal. We like guns and the Special Forces seem like the major leagues of shooting them. If we wanted to model our self defense postures after anyone, doesn't it seem logical that we would choose them?
What effect has this had on the tactical, defense, prepping, and shooting community at large?
I think it’s created a pantheon. On the top of Operator Mountain lives members of Delta, DEVGRU, and the SAS. We buy gear they use in tribute to them. We sacrifice our credit card space in their emulation. We worship at the feet of the almighty Tier One.
This has led to quite a lot of tactical marketing in our industry (and make no mistake, this is an industry -- you’re being sold to every day). As the Call of Duty generation comes out of two Middle Eastern wars into the successful stages of their careers, money to burn on the things they thought were cool has finally started to appear. They can afford the tools of the trade and pour through hundreds of options to optimize the best they can for what is “battle-proven,” or “SOF Approved.”
The problem here is that it’s all about gear. A photographer uses experience to fine-tune their image-taking equipment to fit their needs. A guitarist selects the right equipment to get the sound they want. But what's the difference between their equipment choices and ours? A landscape photographer wouldn’t use the gear of a sports photographer. A country musician wouldn’t want the gear of a heavy metal musician. Why have we decided that the kit of an Assaulter fits our needs? “Mission dictates gear,” is a military mantra that still rings true. However, we are mostly without a mission, or buy gear completely disregarding it. There’s a focus on the consumerist aspect more than ever before, and the endorsement celebrity is a Navy SEAL.
THE BALLAD OF TACTICAL JOE
While we don’t see explosives and bolt cutters at most ranges, we do see carbines and rifles. Often what we see on them is an imitation of what has been witnessed in Hollywood, articles, video games, or otherwise. Let’s paint an example.
Tactical Joe lives in a major city apartment where the range of his most likely shooting scenario is “across the room.” His only place to practice is a 25 yard indoor range. He’s got it in his head that he needs a nice optic, and after extensive research he settles on an EOTech Vudu. $1,300 later he posts the rifle online and gets the affirmation wanted in likes and comments. He says he may even make a day trip out to the countryside where he can shoot at a 100 yard DNR range and “really stretch its legs.” He read an article saying that Marine Raiders supposedly liked this optic. That is a more than satisfactory endorsement for him!
This is someone who fell into a tactical trend. Afghanistan required more magnifications for longer shots that didn’t sacrifice too much in a village. The operational environment of the country is where concepts like the RECCE rifle were really refined. When coupled with competition circuit popularity, they proliferated widely. Most every modern “competent” build of a rifle you see in a magazine or at a trade show features an LPVO. It’s the “right choice” right now. It’s what Special Forces is using, and thus Joe decided it’s what he needed. Joe likely won’t ever shoot much further than he can throw a baseball, but he’s got all the magnification he needs to see a poster sized piece of paper on a metal hanger just a few feet away. Could a Holosun have worked for this? Of course. Could an equally gucci Aimpoint T2 have worked for this? Absolutely yes. But it’s not what special forces are using anymore.
Joe goes onto the message boards, discords, and comment sections. He shows off his build, and someone asks, “why such a large optic?” Joe’s ready, though. He’s got reviews to link to, pictures of operators using his scope, and a hundred hypotheticals about what his glass will allow him to do when S hits the F.
Joe's city mostly features muggings that happen along his bus route, but he doesn't have a concealed carry license. He's gotta put that budget towards a new handguard, of course.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS
Joe’s next flaw in thinking is that gear can accomplish tasks without a user. The weekend shooter defends his 1-8x LPVO purchase with the retort, “What if I want to shoot out to 500 yards?!”
Joe hasn’t shot that far before, but he has no doubt of his ability to do so when the moment arrives under stress. And while I’ve never personally known of a shot taken in self defense and under threat of harm at 500 yards, I’m sure Joe could cook one up.
This is what I will dub the “In Emergency, Break Glass,” fallacy. The idea that simply owning something guarantees its effectiveness. Like the fire extinguisher in the stairway of an office building, it’s there in case of fires. The building code required it, so they have it. The employees (who have never touched the thing) shouldn't have to worry about a blaze, they have a fire extinguisher, right?
There is a tell for this mentality, and it’s the phrase, “Well I’ll just _______.” You hear it often by the inexperienced crowd. The kind that thinks buying a compass has checked the box of 'never getting lost.' Ask them if they’ve considered the idea of their GPS going dead or malfunctioning and they’ll say something along the lines of, “Well I’ll just use the compass I bought!” The lack of any navigation experience doesn’t bug them in the least.
In the very online and hypothetical world of preparedness and tactical skills this sort of logic is all-too familiar. It’s a human condition that isn’t unique to our little slice of the world. It’s the same thing that makes folks buy new spandex in order to get in shape. The money spent makes them feel good, because expending the sweat is hard and takes real work. Folks look for gear to be the solutions to their lack-of-training issues. Joe thinks that scope makes him a Designated Marksman. Real marksmen know better.
WHAT DOES TACTICAL EVEN MEAN ANYMORE?
This brings me to a lot of communities that are based around survival for whatever they want to endure. "SHTF" was most commonly used about natural disasters in the early 2000’s, but now it’s hard to see it without the connotation of defending against a government threat. Guys who say they’re “into preparedness” muse over their 4th or 5th AR build in discussions but have no plan for the power simply going out. Guys who say they’re “survivalists” eye up financing quality NVGs and IR lasers yet they're overdue on an oil change by about 3,000 miles.
The tactical dudes have used the “boogaloo” meme as their invitation to crash the preparedness party. They make the lifestyle of being independent and skilled about how many tactical carbine courses you’ve attended instead of how helpful you think you could be to your neighbors in a snow storm. The quirky community that helped pioneer small-scale aquaponics and DIY rain-catches for your suburban abode has changed. They’re being edged out in the blogs by dudes with 5.11 stickers on their trucks that think your knife sucks because it doesn’t have a glass breaker on it.
To conclude, my message is to understand what you’re preparing for. Most civilian scenarios revolve around natural disasters and ideological unrest. Would you believe that the IDF SF crews don’t have a protocol for what to do in a tornado? I have doubts that an Air Force PJ was sent to Ferguson, MO in 2012 to aid the police with his extensive knowledge of domestic political uprising.
If your life doesn't call for a military solution, you may want to look somewhere other than the military for methods. A great starting point would be to continue reading right here on ISG where we offer our thoughts on more immediate and practical concerns to the prepared citizen. Situational Awareness, Threat Detection, and Every Day Carry recommendations. We don't know everything every reader may encounter, but between all the members of the team at least one of us has experienced all the most common.
Thank you for reading, and good luck out there.