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Kris Paronto: In combat training, we have to train for the moment when a threat or threats are in front of you, but there will always be some variable that will change that “one way“ we may know to handle the situation, so learning different methods to handle “one” situation will only benefit you.

About the author

Kris Paronto – “Tanto” as he is affectionately known in security contracting circles – is a former Army Ranger from 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment and a private security contractor who has deployed throughout South America, Central America, the Middle East and North Africa. He also worked with the US Government’s Global Response Staff conducting low profile security in high threat environments throughout the world.

Kris was part of the CIA annex security team that responded to the terrorist attack on the US Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th, 2012, helping to save over 20 lives while fighting off terrorists from the CIA Annex for over 13 hours. Kris and his fellow brothers-in-arms story is told in the book 13 Hours written by Mitchell Zuckoff.

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How do I counter a threat then, when everything goes wrong?

The Interview

In the last interview, we spoke with Kris Paronto about the differences in training approaches, specifically about flexibility vs. dogma in training.

This article picks up where we left off last time.

Thomas Lojek: Last time we spoke, we were talking about flexibility vs. dogma in training.

How do you balance these two aspects?

How do you get people in your training to understand that they might need both one day?

Kris Paronto: Whatever training evolution you do, you should learn different methods to address different levels of training.

In combat training, we have to train for the moment when a threat or threats are in front of you, but there will always be some variable that will change that “one way“ we may know to handle the situation, so learning different methods to handle “one” situation will only benefit you.

Yes, there may be one way that is better than the others, but if a variable makes that “one” way impossible to complete then you better have a secondary, or even tertiary way.

What if you lose your hand?

What if you fall off a wall and you break your arm?

What if I have to break a finger?

How do I counter a threat then, when everything goes wrong?

And honestly, I learned the best when that monkey wrench was thrown into the mix, when that stripper named Karma came out of nowhere to destroy even the best laid method or plan.

As I told you in our last conversation, I learned a lot from my football coaches when I was young.

They gave me a certain set of rules and within the rules, they told me, “Play and try what works and what doesn’t work, and learn from your mistakes and failures so when that situation arises again, you’ll know what to do.“

I have seen guys with a plethora of experience still make mistakes or lock up because they didn’t prepare themselves for that unseen variable.

Karma came in with a vengeance and caused havoc.

It’s happened to me as well, but first I was lucky to come out of the situation with all my fingers and toes.

Then I did my self-evaluation or required AAR while with the 2/75 and GRS and learned the hard way, in front of my peers, what I did wrong and what correction that would need to be made so I didn’t do wrong again.

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A “Don’t quit”-mindset?” and for better training results

Thomas Lojek: What would you recommend to develop a “Don’t quit”-mindset?” and for better training results?

Kris Paronto: One thing that I always tell people: Even if you fail, you keep going.

Don‘t just stop and beat yourself up over the failure or mistake.

Learn from it in the moment.

It’s fresh and in your immediate memory.

Make the correction in your head, but continue to train and move forward.

That bullet is downrange and we can’t take it back, all we can do is readjust, re-aim and refire.

And this is where very dogmatic instructors can cause harm with their training style.

I’ve experienced it as a student and instructor: Especially in room clearing or force on force scenarios.

The participant just stops when they make a mistake, almost freezes in place instead of continuing on with the drill.

When I’m the coach/instructor, they will sometimes look to me, like: “Tell me something. What do I do?“ and I’ll say , “I don’t know. What do you think you should do?”

It’s not that I’m ridiculing or patronizing them.

I want them to continue to think because the worst thing in the world to do in a dynamic situation is not to make a bad decision.

It’s to make NO decision.

That was pounded into my head as a young Ranger private.

It’s that we continue to move forward.

We don’t stop or quit and we train through the mistakes, (unless the mistake was so egregious that my squad leader deemed that we needed some on the spot correction, haha) and we keep finding work, keep moving forward.

I’ve been blessed to know, from experience, when shit goes sideways, we can’t quit.

We have to keep fighting, keep going.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes during my career, but I always kept fighting.

I kept moving.

That’s the Ranger-Mindset that I was blessed enough to experience and ingrain into my own personality.

We never stop.

The most well-laid plans go to shit all the time, but if we don‘t stop we’ll normally come out on top.

The I-quit-and-wait-for-advice-when-I’m-wrong habit is a dangerous mindset that grows around dogmatic instructors.

Instead, a more flexible training approach teaches people to keep going.

No matter what, you drive on, continue to complete the mission, then we go back and evaluate so we can dig into what was going through the participant’s head at the time the mistake was made.

I learned this quite extensively every Monday after a Saturday football game as we watched and dissected film of the game prior to going to practice.

Nothing will humble you more than sitting in a room of your teammates, watching a mistake you made over and over again in slow motion.

This also carried on to when I was with 2/75 after a mission or training operation, but it taught me how to be able to handle constructive criticism, as well as how to provide constructive criticism the correct way, without belittling the person it’s being directed to.

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The fear of failure has to be understood very well

Thomas Lojek: What role has fear and the fear of failure in combat training?

Kris Paronto: Fear as a tool, as an element of training, including the fear of failure, has to be understood very well and where it has its place and where it doesn’t.

I think fear and the fear of failure is a necessary element when we are going through vetting or trying out for a Special Ops Unit or Top Tier Paramilitary Organization.

We need that sense of fear of failure to cause a little bit of stress.

It causes the cream to rise to the top and weeds out those that aren’t ready.

Normally the fear of getting kicked from the unit or being DNR’d is stress enough.

The fear of being kicked out of unit or losing my job if I didn’t pass a vetting or tryout gave me a sense of fear that was greater than any yelling or intimidation tactic ever did.

I was adequately prepared though, once I started in the PMC world, because that is the 75th Ranger Regiment.

There is the standard vetting that was called R.I.P which is now called R.A.S.P to make it into the 75th Ranger Regiment, then of course there’s Ranger School if you’ve been lucky enough to not be RFS from the unit before you have your turn to earn your Ranger Tab.

But even on a daily basis while serving with the 75th Rangers, we are continually being vetted.

There’s no lull, and if you screw up, then, at first, there are quite a few creative forms of physically demanding punishments.

And it is necessary.

It helps to remind us every day, who really wants to be there and sorts those that don’t out.

Because if guys can’t handle the daily grind, and I’m not even talking about R.I.P or Ranger School, which is its own special kind of hell, then they’re gonna quit on you shit really hits the fan.

Buuuuutttt, I don‘t believe it’s valuable for open enrollment classes.

A participant coming to a Battleline class isn’t going to learn a damn thing if I’m screaming in their face, or making them elevate their feet and do push-ups until their arms come out of their sockets, or if I throw their optic across the range, because it wasn’t tightened down before we started.

That last one really did happen at a well-known training site.

It was uncalled for and completely unnecessary.

Yes, it is valuable for “can you take this punishment“ training environments where you are going downrange to be part of an elite team or Spec Ops Unit.

I did learn by fear, though, while becoming a Ranger with the 75th and also by joining GRS, but not by fearing an instructor who thought they were intimidating me with their thousand-yard stare.

The fear I learned from was my own self-generated fear, the fear of failing, the fear of not knowing what to expect and the fear of not living up to the standards I had set for myself.

Ranger School exemplified this kind of fear.

The Ranger Instructors put us under tremendous stress levels, but it was great because it made me learn quickly.

We didn’t have the luxury to be told or shown how to complete a task multiple times.

The task, condition and standard was provided, and if we were lucky, it was demonstrated once and after that it was “It’s in your Ranger Handbook. Go find it Ranger!”

The fear of being put in charge at Ranger School coupled with the fear of failing, returning to 2/75 as a tabless bitch and the feeling of humiliation in front of all other guys that would come with it, made me understand that learning curves are quick but they can be obtained and it did help me become a better GRS operator later in my career.

Again though, this fear isn’t necessary for open enrollment classes.

No participant wants to pay to learn a skill, only to be humiliated in front of others.

We, as coaches/instructors, have to know when it’s time to add a little stress and when it’s time to mentor and be coaches.

I am blessed to understand both ways to learn and to teach.

Just another set of skills that were taught to me so I could put them in my kit bag to use when necessary.

At Battleline we look to build our participants up and not tear them down

Thomas Lojek: Do you use these principles in your courses?

Kris Paronto: Yes. We always at Battleline look to build our participants up and not tear them down.

We know there are different ways to accomplish the same tasks and not everyone is alike.

We do teach and maintain fundamentals as a base to learn from as fundamentals are the heart and soul of any coaching curriculum, but we also know that variables can affect a fundamental in which case we have to be fluid with our coaching style.

There are some instructors who belittle participants, sometimes to the point of humiliation and that crosses a line.

A good coach will never talk down to a participant.

They will always find a way to teach, mentor and demonstrate the proper course of action with patience.

Participants book a class to learn something or to work on their skill-set but not to be humiliated.

We all learn differently, but in the end we all want to learn the skills we need to feel secure in our daily lives.

As coaches, we need to find the best way to teach and mentor so a participant obtains that.

We don‘t yell or talk down to Battleline participants.

We mentor them, answer their questions, and motivate them to learn.

They do want a little bit of pressure to feel challenged but to not feel humiliated.

At Battleline, we are coaches. Our belief of “We can always do better“ is something I was taught by coaches that I learned from in football when I was a kid.

We can be honest with each other when we screw up, but we always use the screw up as a learning point to improve on.

This goes full circle of what we discussed before: dogmatic or flexible?

We need to know what coaching style to use because it will fit into what your participant learning process requires at that point in their experience level.

If you have a first-time shooter and you yell at him like it was a Ranger Battalion training evolution, we will lose him/her and possibly a whole community of new shooters.

We lose new shooters in the 2a community because of unnecessary bravado or intimidation.

What I’d recommend to any coach/instructor out there is if you have a course that needs yelling and screaming because you believe it adds extreme stress – make sure it is advertised correctly before the students show up at your range.

Let them know beforehand.

Some will love it and sign-up immediately.

Others will stay away, and this is how it has to be.

We need to provide environments that all can learn from in the open training and advertise it correctly.

I have a few courses that are built around high-stress levels.

And it is not yelling and screaming.

It is just physically intense and exhausting.

The stress level comes with heavy breathing and muscle fatigue.

We don‘t need to yell at them.

The intensity of physical training does the job over time better than intimidation or the blue box of death (pro timer).

At the end of the two days, the participants felt pushed and a sense of accomplishment.

So, to answer your question: Open courses, in my opinion, should use a non-intimidating environment for best results.

Highly specialized training for Special Operations of specific units like big city SWAT teams also need a learning environment that’s coupled with high levels of stress deemed by their Team Leaders and Training cadre.

Those that fall in between this need to take it upon themselves to seek out the type of courses and training that they respond best to.

Learn from everyone and eventually you’ll find that coach/instructor that you respond best to.

This article was published first in:

The Operator

Special Edition February 2022: Tactical Training

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