10 courses open to civilians that actually teach you how to operate
Look, we get it. You have an unquenchable thirst — a yearning for the trumpets and cannon-fire, but the kids have soccer practice on Tuesdays and you have bowling league on Thursdays. What is a would-be operator to do?
High-end training is seeing an incredible boom right now. Whether you're a Global War on Terror (GWOT) veteran looking to relive some of those glory days or just a red-blooded American looking to add a little spice to your life, there are training opportunities aplenty.
But what about the serious student who wants to challenge themselves at the same level as some of our most elite warriors? We're going to give you a rundown of some of the best private training opportunities available because this is America — and the only reason you need to drive fast, shoot stuff, and jump out of airplanes is that you want to.
U.S. Army Rangers assigned to Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, helocast into the water from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, assigned to 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, at Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii, Nov. 14, 2018.
(US Army photo by 1st Lt. Ryan DeBooy)
You can't jump right into a high-level class though, so we've provided a roadmap to keep it fun and relevant. If you're already at a high skill level, go ahead and jump right into the deep end, but don't say we didn't warn you!
Many of the classes and events are also physically demanding, so make sure you prepare before beginning your own special Q course. Once you've been training and start feeling good about yourself, amp it up and challenge yourself with our first training event:
1. GoRuck. The lads over at GoRuck have been doing their thing for a while now, and the GoRuck Challenge has evolved into a multi-event destination. As special as the Special Forces are, they're all ground-pounders at heart, so you'll need to be able to put weight on your back and get to the objective. If you really want to have some ruck credibility, be prepared to complete the two-day H-T-L, a combination of their Heavy, Tough, and Light events. Before you can be special, you gotta be tough. GoRuck also offers Ascent, a three-day "adventure" that will immerse you in wilderness survival, first-aid, and mountaineering — minus the granola-eating hippie garbage from your REI wilderness survival classes.
GoRuck Ascent is legit wilderness training.
(Screen grab from YouTube video uploaded by Tony Reyes)
2. Courses of Action. Leadership training is paramount in the military. Courses of Action, led by former U.S. Army Special Forces NCO Johnny Primo, offers a Small Unit Tactics course that focuses on rapid decision making, communication as a leader, and other essential skills in highly stressful situations. The four-day course is held in Texas and rotates students through leadership roles and at least 12 missions, always facing an opposing force. Regardless of the small unit you lead — family, work team, weekend softball league — you'll learn effective skills that will impact every aspect of your life.
Land, sea, air … it doesn't matter where! If you're special, you take the fight wherever it shows up. The next two courses are all about that life aquatic. If you can't swim or haven't in years, you might want to check out the local Y to get your feet wet before diving in.
3. PADI Open Water Diver. A basic diving certificate is just the beginning — like any other skill, you have to keep improving. PADI provides classes and certifications all over the country, so don't let a lack of an ocean get in your way. The Advanced Rebreather Diver is where all the cool kids are, so be prepared to put in the time to claim your throne as the King or Queen of Atlantis.
PADI offers courses across the country, including everything from basic diving certification to advanced rebreather diver.
(Photo by Jennifer Small/PADI)
4. OC Helicopter PADI Heli-Scuba Course. Any weekend warrior can dive out of a boat. If that's not good enough for you, you're, well, special. And special people dive out of helicopters. That's right, it's time to take your diving to the next level with helo-inserts. At $1,250 per person, it's not cheap, but think of how impressed that chick over in accounting is going to be. You can't be the office alpha if you're not doing alpha stuff.
Well, we've covered land and sea — now it's time to take to the air. Hold on to your security blanket and prepare for the airborne lifestyle. It's not cheap or easy, but you're up to the task. Besides, you can't look down on the regular grunts doing grunt stuff if you're not Airborne!
5. HALO Loft. There are great skydiving instructors all over the country, but there's only one civilian High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jump, and that's HALO Loft. How high are we talking? How does 28,000 to 43,000 feet sound? Honestly, it sounds terrible to me, but I'm not special. If you want to claim those bragging rights, tuck your pants into your boots and get ready to regale the world with tales of airborne glory.
You're almost there. You've forged yourself into something better than you were, but now that your body and will are steel, it's time to sharpen. These are the skills that really set you apart from the pretenders — skills that have real-world, everyday applications for the safety and security of you and your loved ones.
6. ShivWorks ECQC, Extreme Close Quarter Concepts. There are a lot of folks out there teaching great things, but Craig Douglas at ShivWorks has been teaching people how to work in close and nasty with blade work, weapon retention, clinching, groundfighting, and striking, mixed in with plenty of force-on-force. His 20-hour ECQC course has been taught all over the world to all sorts of very special folks and is one of the most refined curriculums out there when it comes to getting it done up-close and personal. It doesn't matter if you're a white belt or you've been sweeping the leg since the 1980s, you'll learn something that will have an immediate impact on the way you live your life.
7. Jerry Barnhart Training. There are many shooting programs ranging from very good to complete crap, but there is only one Jerry "The Burner" Barnhart. Even though The Burner has been teaching deploying units since 1987, his classes have become a rite of passage in the wake of the GWOT. There are plenty of competition guys who have worked with our special warriors, but none have had an impact on the industry like Barnhart. From helping guys situate their kit to refining trigger presses, he's next level. He doesn't publish a training calendar (he doesn't have to), but get a hold of him and get into a class.
8. Rogers Shooting School. This is one of the granddaddies of the tactical shooting world. Bill Rogers has been training military and police instructors from around the world for more than four decades. This school is recognized as one of the most challenging shooting schools in the world and has humbled some of the best shooters from some of the most elite units. Rogers and his cadre tolerate no crap; be ready to go out into the Georgia woods and come out a week later a whole new shooter. Focusing on targets that stay still for a maximum of one second, this advanced school is not for the easily defeated.
9. Greenline Tactical. Don Edwards spent over 20 years in the Special Operations community fighting everywhere from Operation Just Cause (Panama) to Operation Enduring Freedom. He spent this time perfecting the skill of fighting under night vision, and when he retired, he went to work consulting and teaching for TNVC, cementing himself as a go-to source for all things night vision. When it comes to getting your night-jiggling on, no one speaks with more authority than Edwards. Check him out to find out why the good guys own the night.
Tim O'Neil has won five U.S. and North American Rally Championships; he was a factory driver for Volkswagen and Mitsubishi through the late '80s and early '90s and drove for the official U.S. Air Force Reserve team in the early 2000s.
(Photo courtesy of Team O'Neil Rally School)
10. Team O'Neil Rally School. Cars kill far more people every year than gunfire, so one of the best things you can do as a prepared citizen is to get some advanced driver training to even those odds. The Team O'Neil Rally School has become one of the most prominent providers of advanced driver training to Department of Defense clients. Their Tactical Mobility Package focuses on skills ranging from recognizing vehicle ambushes to high-speed loose surface training to skid pads — and even high-angle ascents and descents. If you're going to be driving a Hilux on a crappy road in the dark — or just driving your kids home from school — Team O'Neil is where you need to go.