As you read this essay, please keep in mind this thought, contributed by a police officer, Todd Jayne. “[Shooting] is probably the most important skill [a soldier or peace officer] may never need. When it comes time to shoot, you are doing so for your life, or the life of someone else. There is literally no other facet of our job where that is 100% true.”

Many in the intended audience of the Firearms User Network are warriors; for us, firearms’ ultimate purpose is as a weapon, one where skill may be measured in lives. Is this an activity where any warrior can be satisfied with mediocrity?

Robert McNamara was famous for bringing his Ford Motor Company ‘bean counters’ to the Pentagon and applying his business and management strategies to the business of war. But, as Mr. Jayne suggests above, war and its preparation are not endeavors that lend themselves to the typical concepts of efficiency. In truth, the opposite is nearer to reality. Consider that if an entity is known to be able to overcome immediately any opposition, that opposition is likely never to be launched. Whoa, doesn’t that mean all the entity’s preparations for war will never be used … and are thus a waste? This is the Vegetius Renatus paradox of deterrence: si vis pacem, para bellum.

Even without attempting commercial efficiency, the reality of limited resources demands careful allocation of those limited resources. A popular adage is, “People are our most valuable resource.” OK, but let me color that with Mark Twain’s metaphor: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Anyone who has observed Israel’s wars against her neighbors knows this is true. My point here is, if we must have a relatively small armed force, let’s have each member’s goal be perfection in fundamental pursuits. Gen. A.M. Gray, USMC said, “Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman.” I believe the same attitude applies to all warriors: you are first and foremost a marksman, because, for you, no other skill is more fundamental.

A saying goes: Perfect practice makes perfect. Vince Lombardi observed, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” That pursuit of perfection is something we should never deny to those of our members who want that chase.

I know a soldier who was never given access to or a chance to practice any Army obstacle course. The soldier was sent to an Army school where passing the “O” course was required, and only two chances were allowed. The soldier failed and was sent home. Later, at a subsequent school, with practice and preparation, the same soldier excelled on the “O” course and finished as a distinguished graduate. So the question is, why was the soldier not allowed to try and try and try in the first iteration? Stated differently, why would we deny success when success is within reach?

I know a soldier who is a better than fair shot, but had never shot the “pop-up” targets on the Army qual course. The soldier shot a poor but passing score (29/40) and was pulled off the line so other soldiers could shoot. Passing is 23 hits on 40 exposures; that’s a 42% miss rate … with no pressure, no one shooting back. This is passing for the most fundamental skill of a soldier? Our soldier was genuinely embarrassed to leave the line with such a poor score, and not a little angry at not being given an opportunity to shoot again in a subsequent relay. But, here, the management decision was made and “better was the enemy of good enough,” and good enough was allowed to win.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” If the Army has a soldier who is willing to dedicate 10,000 hours to maxing the “O” course or perfecting his sight alignment and trigger squeeze, why would we deny him the opportunity? If we are smart, we won’t, for two reasons. If we do:

we deny that soldier the pursuit of perfection that may result in excellence, and
we lead that soldier to be satisfied with mediocrity.

If we’re going to be a force of limited numbers, those few we have must be allowed to be their best.

The world of the warrior is not the world of the feather merchants. In a fight, you cannot hit your opponent too hard, you can only end the fight more quickly. I do not disparage the store clerk for his expertise in sweeping a floor, and he may be rightfully proud of a job well done; but dust isn’t life. For the warrior who deals in life, excellence must be a routine mindset in all military endeavors, especially shooting, because “when it comes time to shoot, you are doing so for your life, or the life of someone else.”

Stay safe all,
John Tate