Kris Paronto: People love challenges, even when they don’t think they do. We challenge them. We push them enough to make them realize that they have accomplished something for themselves, and their confidence grows.

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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Kris Paronto: Stop talking and start moving! How to create a tactical training environment to improve the student’s skills and not the instructor’s ego.

The Interview

Thomas Lojek: Kris, you are still very active in the training sector. Could you explain your focus regarding your training business?

Kris Paronto: I served with 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, and later as a private security contractor for various private security companies to include Blackwater Security, SOC, and direct hire for the CIA long before the Benghazi attack happened.

I spent a lot of time in beautiful countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, etc. And they are beautiful countries, really. It’s savage beauty, but beauty nonetheless.

I worked overseas for over ten years, gaining a lot of experience in and out of combat zones. In between deployments, I would come back to the US and work for Blackwater’s High Threat Protection OGA program as a Lead Instructor.

This allowed me to apply the tactics we were teaching in the US to real operations.

I was able to see that tactics that may work in a controlled environment may not work in an uncontrolled environment.

I learned so many valuable lessons during these years… learning from other operators and instructors and then being able to practice my craft as an instructor in between deployments and at times during deployments as some required us to teach and train Afghanis on firearms, force protection, and tactics.

I started Battleline Tactical in 2017, approximately four years after leaving the CIA’s GRS Program.

I had not been actively deploying or active in the training sector and felt the draw to get back into training others. Battleline Tactical was started in the hopes of passing on knowledge that had been passed down to me but also for me to get back into the firearms community.

We originally started three years ago.

It was myself and a former GRS Teammate, Dave Benton.

Since then, Dave has since departed, but the team gained Former 1st Batt Army Ranger Ben Morgan, Former MMA Fighter, multiple black belt holder Benny Glossop, and Former Army MP Jeremy Mitchell as lead and assistant instructors.

We also partner regularly, teaching joint firearms courses with outstanding fellow instructors Daniel Lombard of Davad Defense, the Mauer Brothers of Treadproof Training, Paul Braun of Maxim Defense Academy, and Brad Dillion and his crew of excellent instructors at Red River Gun Range.

We have an excellent team, and as of right now, we primarily conduct mobile training.

In the past, we have looked for ranges and facilities around the country to run our courses, but we now primarily use Davad Defense’s facilities in Crete, Illinois, and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Defender Outdoors in Ft. Worth, Texas, Treadproof Training in Nunnelly, Tennessee and Red River Range in Shreveport, Louisiana.

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Coaches are there to teach, lead, motivate, mentor and bring the best out of an individual

Kris Paronto: We do a wide range of training, from stress fire training to basic pistol or basic rifle, which is great.

All of them are satisfying, but I have to say my favorites are still the novice classes.

It’s especially rewarding to see the confidence grow in a new shooter.

During my blackwater days as an instructor and student, we traveled to many training sites around the country, and I always felt that there was a lot of standing around talking.

There was too much talking by instructors about themselves, long drawn-out Powerpoint presentations, and most times, instructors talking, not so much about the lessons they learned from their experiences, but trying to validate their credibility.

However, the instructors from whom I learned the most got us in, briefed us on course expectations and curriculum, and then got us out on the range.

They demonstrated tasks and had us work on the tasks right there on the range, making spot corrections when necessary.

So, at Battleline, we wanted to expound on this latter.

Yes, we need to talk to instruct, and sometimes that means you have to stand up on your soapbox and tell the participants what we have done or explain why we conduct a tactic in a certain way to provide the example as to why that tactic did or did not work in real-time.

But I felt that it always went from instruction to “Hey, look what I have done… Look how cool I am… I got all these experiences…”

As a student or fellow instructor, I didn’t want to hear that.

It was the part when I started to tune an instructor out, and learning suffered.

When the motivation to be mentally present in training drops, the quality of the training always suffers, and in the end, we have become ineffective instructors and failed the student.

So we, at Battleline Tactical, begin to apply training another way.

I used my experience playing varsity sports throughout high school – football, basketball, baseball, and track which led to playing NCAA Football – as a training model.

I thought to myself that firearms training and tactics are nothing more than a sport, and an instructor is nothing more than a coach.

Coaches are there to teach, lead, motivate, mentor and bring the best out of an individual.

Football practices are also constantly moving, going from training station to training station with little, unnecessary talking by a coach unless it’s to make a spot correction or demonstrate the task to be completed.

There was little standing around.

And I took this experience and made it the fundamental principle of the training courses at Battleline Tactical.

We generally have relatively big classes, but they can fluctuate.

Thirty people or more in a firearms class is a significant number of participants for a training class.

So, we split them into groups of ten people, conducting the training associated with that course.

For example, for our gunfighter course, we’d divide a group of thirty up, putting ten people into combatives, ten others at the pistol range, and ten at the carbine range. And we rotate every two hours.

You have two hours, now focus on the task, self-correct when you make mistakes, and don’t forget to smile and have fun. We don’t rest too much between the rotations because, as a Ranger or football player, we didn’t take many breaks until the training day was complete, so it’s just my style.

It makes our classes highly dynamic, focused, but most of all enjoyable for everyone, from the novice to the experienced.

Everything and everyone are constantly moving.

Instruct, demo, train… stop talking.

We learn more by making mistakes, figuring out why we made those mistakes, then fixing the mistakes by doing it correctly

Thomas Lojek: How is your students’ reaction to your more dynamic training style?

Kris Paronto: It is fantastic. After the course, people are tired, but they have a sense of accomplishment.

People love challenges, even when they don’t think they do.

We challenge them.

We push them enough to make them realize that they have accomplished something for themselves, and their confidence grows.

There is not a lot of downtime, not a lot standing around, because I think this is the death of many courses: too much talk. We lose the attention of the student.

Bring your students on the line, demo, train, assess, correct, re-demo if necessary, train, assess, correct, etc.

Because I believe that we learn more by making mistakes, figuring out why we made those mistakes, then fixing the mistakes by doing it correctly.

We learn more by doing, learning, and doing again.

Let students learn valuable lessons by what they do in your course.

Don’t replace their hunger for a unique experience with what you think would make a good story about yourself unless that story can add to the training module.

Challenge them to act, to move, to try out, to solve problems, and to fail as well as to excel.

Of course, you have to make sure that everybody is safe, especially when you give your students room to make a few mistakes during a class. Safety is a hugely important factor in Battleline Courses.

Make sure safety is 100% and then have the students carry out the training.

Let them make mistakes.

Let them learn through their own mistakes and let them learn with their own hands, with their own eyes, with their own heads while they are thinking and moving.

I guess you could call it dynamic learning.

It’s the most effective form of learning.

As firearms instructors, we aren’t instructors… we are coaches and mentors

Thomas Lojek: How do you come up with this training style? Does it have something to do with your career in the military and your years of contractor work?

Kris Paronto: It was straight pulled from football. My dad was Division 1 football coach for the 1984 BYU National Championship team.

So I grew up around football legends like LaVell Edwards, Mike Holmgren, Steve Young, Jim McMahon, and Robbie Bosco.

I saw how Head Coach LaVell Edwards mentored and how his assistants like my Dad, Mike Holmgren, and Norm Chow taught players that would later become greats in the NFL.

It was mentoring, not instructing, trying to bring out the best in the player.

The mentoring culture from an early age stuck with me, along with my own years as a player on the field.

Then one day after a course, I was doing my own self-assessment, and I realized: As firearms instructors, we aren’t instructors… we are coaches and mentors.

We are there to motivate and bring out the best of those who are coming to our courses.

Changing ourselves from being an instructor to being a coach and becoming a mentor for those who look for our advice keeps the ego out of the training.

It is about our students and how they improve and not about our stories and experiences unless they reinforce a technique or tactic.

We create an experience for them based on what we have done before, but not by what our status is in the firearms community.

There is a lot of arrogance in the world of firearms training.

Truth hurts, but it’s the truth.

And this arrogance is intimidating to new shooters, which stops those interested in firearms and tactics from getting into firearms classes.

This “tactical ego” arrogance creeps into training and causes damage even in the professional sector and on a high operational level.

It stops those on all experience levels from getting into or continually learning firearms and tactics and affects their true dedication to getting better every day.

At one point, the arrogance of having a rank or name replaces the most simple truth in a warrior’s life: There is always room for improvement.

So, we play it differently in our courses.

And what we do works wonderfully!

We get a lot of new people into our classes who turn into enthusiasts, which is humbling to us at Battleline.

But, we also have many seasoned pros, coming from law enforcement or highly experienced military veterans, who respect the training environment we create by our individual approach.

They also provide their own lessons learned and training points to the class, which we encourage.

It is great to see how it works:

The beginners leave our courses with confidence.

And the pros with respect.

And that is what we want to see.

We want to see somebody smiling because they feel that they have learned a little that they can improve with or provided a teaching point that will help someone down the line.

The most effective operators are those who can employ different tactics habitually when various situations present themselves

Thomas Lojek: Your training style gives students more freedom to learn, try, fail, and figure things out for themselves.

But isn’t the nature of combat training, especially in the military, somewhat more dogmatic?

Where is the line between effective freedom to learn by individual mistakes and the pragmatism of dogmatic rules in training?

Aren’t there always a few things that have to be handled with: “That is how it has to be done. Period.”

Kris Paronto: The thing with freedom vs. dogma in combat training is it’s always somehow like having our good old military kit bag with you: We want to throw so much in your kitbag that we can pull it out when the situation arises.

And we want to learn many different things and ways to do it so we can handle any situation effectively.

But the only way to do this is to learn multiple ways and methods, so we can get into your kit bag and pull “a way” out to accomplish a task.

So, the essence of combat training is dogmatic per se, yes.

However, there is typically a most efficient way to do it when carrying out an individual tactic or technique.

For example, pressing the trigger with our index finger on our dominant hand is better than pressing the trigger with our pinky on our non-dominant hand, lol.

We are saying that having different methods to employ the weapon is beneficial, but one way may be the best.

However, we still need to learn different carry positions, different ready positions, various retention positions, when to be dynamic with our movements vs. methodical because different situations will require different ways of completing the task.

The most effective operators are those who know this and who can employ different tactics
habitually when various situations present themselves.

It cannot be done if we only learn one way or constantly train on one method.

Sometimes, the best way to clear the corner is to be methodical with your movements, enter with a high ready and pie the room methodically… but on other days, maybe the best way will be just to enter a situation dynamically at full extension, get in and dominate it, adding the element of surprise by your action.

But the only way to know the best way to do it right is to learn multiple ways and relearn them over and over… until they all become habitual.

And that is not dogmatic.

It is learning different ways to accomplish a task.

Fill your kit bag to the brim, then train and retrain everything you have in your kit bag until they all become habit-forming movements.

So, as an instructor, I am both.

Yes, sometimes, one way is the best way to handle a situation or to complete a mission.

But the best tacticians know several different ways to complete missions, and they are able to choose the best way for that moment.

So again, it is like you opening your kitbag, looking in it, and having all this stuff there, and then you say: “That is what I need right there!”

You grab it and start moving!

You don’t use a paring knife to cut steak.

You use a steak knife, but how would you know if you’ve never held a paring knife or steak knife in your hand?

We have learned it because we have repeated those actions many times, so we know what to do without much thinking about it

Kris Paronto: When I started in the military, it was all about being instinctive. And I never liked the word.

I never liked the idea behind it.

If we are instinctive, it tells me that our brain is not working.

That’s incorrect. Our brains are always working.

To me, it is “habits!”

It’s developing good habits.

Example – We continually put a car key into the ignition to turn it on (well, we used to).

Over years of constantly repeating this action, we can do this with our eyes closed.

It is not instinctive, though. We have learned it because we have repeated those actions many times, so we know what to do without much thinking about it.

But it is a habit, not an instinct, that leads us through that action.

It is the same thing with any marksmanship fundamental or firearms presentation.

The best option of using a high gun or low gun as we clear a building should become habitual, once we’ve completed the task 100s if not 1000s of times, because our brain is virtually moving you through the situation recognizing unknowns, building architecture, and threats.

Our eyes tell our brains what is around us, telling us, “There is a window. I need to retract. There is a corner. I need to clear it. There are “friendlies.”

I need to be aware of my muzzle and keep my finger off the trigger, indexing it above the trigger well and below the slide, etc.

All this is not instinctive.

Our brain is telling our muscles what to do.

How efficiently we do it depends on how many times we’ve completed the task correctly.

So we train, doing it correctly over and over and over again.

Under duress, we all fall back to our highest level of training.

It is not because of instincts. Our brain can only process split-second movements we have continually trained as our senses become overwhelmed with our thoughts and exterior sights, smells, and sounds surrounding us at that moment.

We learn dogmatic pieces that are proven effective for us individually and as a team.

Learn as many details of dogmatic lessons for situations that demand flexibility and a choice.

Without the dogmatic learning process, you don’t have the freedom of choice to adapt to the dynamic situation later.

So, we have to look at both ways in good training: We have to train dogmatically to get the basics down, but we also need to be flexible when applying them.

It sounds contrary, but it’s not.

It fits into the true nature of combat or any stress-filled situation.

So, coming back to your question: Yes, we have to be individually dogmatic, learning how to do something that is most efficient for “YOU” and then having it in your kit bag as an option.

Because the worst thing that can happen is us questioning ourselves when time is a factor.

The “What should I do? What should I do” countdown increases the already high stress level.

We cannot sit and wait our way out of a situation where our lives may be in danger.

The worst thing to do is to make no decision.

But before that, we have to learn the basics, the fundamentals.

And then continue to apply those fundamentals in movements and apply those movements to situations.

Then we train and retrain all situations, no matter how ludicrous it may seem at the time.

Then, when the happening that you hope never comes happens.

We’re ready for it. We have learned all these different ways to respond actively.

Now we have the options to act, whether methodical or dynamic, by inputting variables according to what is going on.

We cannot learn one single thing and use it in every single situation.

If we do, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

But we can learn many useful “ways,” applying them to the situations at hand and coming up with the best course of action, all in a split second if we’ve made them habits.

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