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The Combat Mindset: The Judicious Selection of Fighting Equipment

Precedence of Mindset

“I believe in the unequivocal primacy of mindset over all other combative resources and the cultivation and implementation of a congruent mindset, be it applied combatively or otherwise.”

Combat Mindset

“An enduring commitment to the survival and well-being of those I value (myself and others) through deliberate training and analysis, resolute problem solving in the face of danger and stress, and candid reflection thereafter.”

Chase S.

The Combat Mindset The Judicious Selection of Fighting Equipment

By Chase S.

I’m a firm believer in the adage “buy once, cry once” regarding material objects that play a significant role in my life. However, when it comes to objects my life is in some way dependent on, I’m insistent on that maxim’s sage approach to managing my lamentations. I don’t know of many people who would shop for reserve chutes in the clearance isle at the bargain outlet, but I have encountered numerous people who feel comfortable purchasing nonmilitary grade gear for use in personal protection. When selecting firearms or firearms related equipment, the first question I feel one should evaluate before proceeding is, “What am I purchasing this for?” It seems self-evident; regardless of your objective, your gear should be optimized for that objective.

In light of this, I feel strongly that if the equipment in question is in any way being considered for combative purposes, given the option, anything less than military grade kit, as defined below, is insufficient. For the purposes of this article, I will loosely define military grade to be material that meets or exceeds the approximate reliability, durability and performance of comparable material contemporarily fielded by the United States military. With that in mind, I will utilize the term military grade as a reference to what I consider a minimum standard for fighting equipment.

A point of clarification; “military grade” and particularly “mil-spec” can be and often are loaded, ambiguous, and especially in the case of the latter, erroneously applied terms used for the purposes of marketing. For those who don’t know, any item without a Technical Data Package (TDP) cannot, by definition, be mil-spec. A TDP essentially details the required design configuration and procedures to ensure adequacy of item performance for government procurement. In other words, to my knowledge, your favorite company’s current production AR-15 barrel isn’t mil-spec unless it’s, in the least, produced by either Colt or FN.

That doesn’t mean it is not military grade, however. Commercial military grade gear is often of equal or even superior quality to mil-spec gear; I am only clarifying that it is technically not mil-spec, the same way that a clip is technically not a magazine. While the terms may casually be used by some interchangeably, in actuality, they have different meanings. I make this distinction not to argue semantics, but rather, with the intent of facilitating discerning gear selection.

When I am researching military grade equipment for selection, there are four fundamental components of that equipment I evaluate before anything else. The first and most essential of these is reliability. I will define reliability to be the probability a product will successfully function as intended. For example, when I dial the turrets in an optic, the reticle’s movement will correspond appropriately with that input or when I pull the trigger on a firearm, it will fire and if so designed, cycle properly. It’s often said that the loudest sound in a gunfight is a click. For obvious reasons, when your life hangs in the balance of a potentially lethal situation, your gear’s failure to perform as designed may tip the scale in the direction of irrevocable catastrophe. Accordingly, there is nothing as vital in fighting equipment as reliability.

The second component I evaluate is durability, which I consider a subcategory of reliability. To me, durability means a product’s ability to accept use and abuse over time while maintaining its reliability. If I dial the turrets of an optic back and forth thousands of times or drop it against a hard surface, and it is adequately durable, it will continue to function as intended. If I fire thousands of rounds through a rifle, it will continue to fire and cycle properly. This is particularly important for someone who has little or no access to resources for repair or replacement.

The third component I evaluate is a product’s performance. I view performance as the degree to which something meets the criteria it is being judged by in the execution of its objective. For example, rifle scope turrets that perform exceptionally not only adjust a scope’s reticle each time the turrets are dialed, but also adjust the reticle with repeated precision and consistency. A rifle with exceptional performance not only fires when the trigger is pulled but, devoid of conflicting input, shoots such that the point of aim aligns with the point of impact with minimal deviation, amongst other qualities.

With this in mind, consider that evaluating the reliability, durability, and performance of an item does not take place in a vacuum. It is only through actual use that these qualities can be observed. I most frequently look to the results of items that have been tested in combat or combat like environments by as many people as reasonably possible for as long as reasonably possible for data regarding these characteristics. I have no hard and fast criteria for the number of men and women using a piece of kit or the time it has been used for. Typically there is a consensus amongst professionals worth weighting heavily regarding an item’s combat worthiness. Ultimately, the final decision is each individual’s responsibility.

However, while I value the “tried and true” over the “latest and greatest,” this approach can run the risk of being resistant to useful change, which is counterproductive, and needs to be put further into perspective. It is important to remain cognizant that the objective here is to adopt change in gear selection when a thorough analysis has been done, in as timely a manner as possible, should it be determined that the benefits of that change outweigh the costs. Let’s not forget the long-lived and overwhelming reluctance from significant parts of the firearms community to accept now highly regarded innovations in combat equipment such as the M16 family of rifles and the Glock family of pistols, despite the former’s conclusive triumph over its initial adversities in the field and the latter’s quickly established reputation as a diehard workhorse. In short, what I am actually most interested in is the latest and greatest tried and true gear that fits my needs.

The fourth aspect I consider in combative gear selection, and in my observation the one most regularly neglected, is an item’s commonality and consequent likelihood of availability. Regardless of an item’s durability, it will inevitably fail. If one considers the possibility of having to depend on that item in an extended disruption of society or in a political climate where new production of that item or its components may be restricted, that item’s commonality and availability is critical as well. This includes parts for replacement, the type of magazine a firearm uses, or the specific cartridge a firearm is chambered for. If your gear needs resources in circumstances where access to them is more limited than it was before those circumstances, how likely will it be you can find what you need?

Does your firearm rely heavily on uncommon or proprietary components you may be unlikely to source, or will you be able cannibalize parts from your immediate environment if needed? Perhaps your rifle is chambered for a standard NATO cartridge, but uses uncommon or proprietary parts or magazines. When those parts or magazines need to be repaired or replaced, the likelihood of doing so successfully decreases dramatically when compared to those of more standardized equipment. Perhaps your rifle is fairly standard otherwise, but chambered for a cartridge that will be difficult or impossible to find when you run out. A .308 may not shoot as flat as a 6.5 Creedmoor, nor is its ballistic coefficient as lauded, but when you exhaust your supply of ammunition, the former will be much easier to replenish than the latter. As a general guideline, standardized military cartridges will be significantly easier to acquire than their nonmilitary counterparts, particularly in times of shortage.

Nevertheless, one’s equipment still may not meet that individual’s mission specific needs simply because it is used by the military. While the military is often limited by its budget in the type of gear it selects, during a protracted combative engagement there are far more restrictive parameters placed on a single person or comparatively small group of people when compared to a formal military, in large part regarding logistics. Replacing resources is only a portion of one logistical dilemma; replacing them with frequency is another.

One thing a formal military typically has access to during prolonged conflicts that an individual typically would not is a relatively immediate resupply.

In recent years I see more and more people running low profile gas blocks and full length hand guards on their fighting AR-15s, which necessitates the use of a front sight that, by nature, is not as robust as a traditional fixed front sight base. Often times, these back up iron sights (BUIS) flip up and down, thus adding to the complexity and fragility of the part. There is nothing inherently wrong with low profile gas blocks or full length hand guards and the use of back up iron front sights. They are an asset in many applications and, to many, are aesthetically pleasing.

Yet, I find the classic A2 front sight base to be most desirable for any AR-15 which is intended to be used as a fighting rifle, particularly by a nonmilitary individual in the absence of immediate access to resources. Elite military operators and those most likely to use back up iron front sights in combat typically don’t participate in operations that extend past a few days or weeks apart from resupply at a time. If a BUIS gets damaged or broken, it can be taken to an armorer for repair or replacement at the conclusion of the operation without significantly affecting the overall serviceability of the rifle during the operation when used in conjunction with a primary sight, which is most commonly a red dot. Military grade red dots are reliable and durable and those employing them professionally most regularly install fresh batteries before an operation and carry replacement batteries should the need for them arise.

In the context of a prolonged engagement, chances are you’ll be stuck with what you have, possibly with no tools and few spare parts or batteries at your immediate disposal. With respect to optics, batteries will deplete on those that require them and magnified glass optics are, by all standards, fragile instruments. If a conflict or circumstance lasts long enough, eventually you are overwhelmingly likely to have to rely on your iron sights. Are the ones you have dependable?

Simplicity can also be a useful characteristic of combative equipment. Is your gear engineered toward simplicity, which is invaluable should the need for repair arise in circumstances with limited resources or does it require unique tools to work on despite having the parts on hand? For that matter, you may not even have basic tools available for parts that are common and relatively simple to work on. Having equipment you can make simple adjustments to or perform basic maintenance on despite this and knowing how to do so is an additional advantage. Do you need a special tool to adjust the front sight on your rifle or can you use a hard object or the tip of a bullet? You may not have a bolt disassembly tool on hand for your Remington 700, but a shoestring will work as an improvised replacement in a pinch. Are you familiar with how to make one useful?

When deciding between two or more items that meet both the aforementioned criteria and my mission specific needs, given the option, comfort is often a determining factor in my ultimate decision. Ergonomics, weight, fit and other factors related to comfort all play a role in my final selection. The angle of a grip, the weight of a rifle, or the cut of a garment or pair of boots may make the selection of an otherwise sufficient choice more trouble than it’s worth. These are details that often are not universally advantageous or detrimental, but rather ones whose value is relative to each individual. Consequently, it’s worthwhile to make the effort to interact with or try an item on to determine maximum compatibility with your needs. The repercussions of not doing so may range from mild inconvenience to the complete inability to use that equipment.

One factor that plays a limited role in my selection of combative equipment is cost. As I alluded to at the outset, if the cost of equipment my life may depend on is high, but that equipment best fits my needs, I won’t allow cost to preclude me from selecting it, to the degree it is realistically attainable for me. Conversely, I am not dissuaded from selecting an item if it is priced lower than others of its kind, as long as it meets my needs. While cost is often in indicator of an item’s quality, this is not always the case.

Taking the above into account, I believe strongly that it is important to recognize that no matter how much one spends or what kind of gear one selects, proficiency can’t be purchased in the form of material objects. New, top shelf boxing gloves won’t make a man Muhammed Ali. Only with natural ability and proper training will he become a world class boxer. What’s more, a learned man with a healthy combat mindset and a Henry lever action can outperform an uneducated, spiritless man with an M16. With that in mind, let’s not kid ourselves, all other things being equal, “size” doe