If you're gonna be a bear, be a Grizzly

July 18, 2012 By GTI Senior Instructor Doyle Burdette

"If you're gonna be a bear, be a Grizzly!" That was one of my Dad's favorite quotes, and I heard it often as I was growing up. I later learned it is a quote from Mahatma Ghandi. My dad would say this anytime I was involved with any endeavor which required my total commitment and my best and most valiant effort. This saying would come to mind many times in my military and my law enforcement career.

I have used this quote many times in classes I have taught to try to drive home a point. It is all about mindset. As a tactical team member you have to be able to flip that switch at a moment's notice and be a Grizzly. You have to be able to put behind you the mantle of the sheepdog protecting the sheep and assume the vicious single minded purpose of the wolf killer.

We need to have this mindset when dealing with those who threaten the law and order that we represent. We must steel our mind to the fact there are those who want to hurt us. There are those who hate and despise our culture, our values and our beliefs. There are those who sincerely believe that it is their duty to kill us and our children. There have been volumes written and many classes are taught on tactical mindset. That is because it is vital to the tactical team member and anyone who wants to tip the scales of a life or death encounter in their favor. It is as important as our physical fitness, our marksmanship and our tactics. Without that Grizzly mindset we are just another officer with a gun and training. The Grizzly mindset separates us from the regular officer. It is also what gives us the ability to bring ourselves and others home alive.

I have seen this in real life and I have seen it in training. Officers can be trained and know the tactics to use. They can shoot better than anyone else on the team and quote the policy manual verbatim. But the Grizzly mindset brings everything together. That mindset is what brings their knowledge, training and experience together in a lethal and life-saving package. Our training must coincide with this fact. Our training must provoke the Grizzly mindset.

It is well known that we fight how we train. This has been proven time and again. With this knowledge why is law enforcement training commonly so static and uninspired? Are we not doing ourselves a disservice by not taking training seriously, or by not seriously training? We need to train harder as a profession! We need to take our training seriously, instead of seeing it as an inconvenience or unnecessary. We must take the Grizzly mentality which will keep us alive in a lethal force encounter and put it into our training. There is no doubt training must be safe, but training must be as close to realistic as possible. That means there could be injuries in training despite our efforts to mitigate them. If our training is so watered down that we do not induce a Sympathetic Nervous System Response then we are training wrong. We are in a dangerous profession and changes are generally bought with officer's blood. We must change this! Our training must be Grizzly training! Attempts to be too "safe" in training can lead to officers dying on the street because the first time they encounter stress which induces a Sympathetic Nervous System Response will be on the street. That is the wrong place to find out how that officer will react. We must place higher levels of stress in training. The Sympathetic Nervous System Response is going to happen in any lethal force encounter. In order to control that response we must train, trying to induce an SNS response. We can bring stress to the officer in any number of ways. Movement, the unknown, shoot and no shoot, time factors, all of these can help induce stress on the range and in the training structure. The best method is force on force with a marking cartridge. Nothing drives home a bad choice or tactic like instant negative reinforcement because that is how life will deal with us.

Not only do our law enforcement trainers need to step up and make the training more realistic but the officers being trained need to step up as well. As students we need to take training seriously and make it as real as possible. We need to throw ourselves into any training and make it hit home. Students need to have the Grizzly mentality as well. Treat targets as if they were real people. See the two dimensional target as a three dimensional person. If it is a no shoot target then give voice commands. Take it to the ground and simulate handcuffing him/her. If you are practicing low percentage shots, picture the hostage as your wife, son or daughter. Make it real! Give yourself a reason to train harder. I have had the privilege to see how some of our Tier One soldiers train and they are Grizzlies. If you weren't in the room with them you couldn't tell if they were dealing with a paper target or a role player. They treat them both the same. This works for them and they are the best at what they do, why should we not train as seriously?

We also need to get away from the attitude that everyone is a winner and no one fails in training. If there is ever a time to fail it is in training! Training is not some kind of feel good therapy! Sometimes a person's best is not enough. If the mistakes are pointed out and then fixed, their best can be better. I can understand that training should end on a good note but at the same time if the standard for that training is not met then the training should not end. Keep training until the officer can end it on a good note. Training should be designed to teach or reinforce good tactics. It does not benefit the officer being trained if mistakes are not pointed out. Whether it is marksmanship, emergency vehicle operations, active shooter, or CQB, the training could save their life and they should take it seriously. If they fail they should be told they failed. The mistakes should be pointed out and then fixed. Any compliments given should be earned. Otherwise we are cheating the student.

Unfortunately we have a short memory. It has only been 11 short years since our country was attacked. When that happened, the righteous indignation of the victim rose up across our nation. The false sense of security was ripped away and Americans felt threatened on their own soil. Money flowed to all of our law enforcement agencies in order to prepare us for a future attack. Almost every agency procured new equipment and took advantage of any number of schools and training to prepare for the next attack. We had a Grizzly mentality then. We saw our weaknesses and strove to fix them. Now, 11 years later we have started to grow lax again. We have started to let the Grizzly mentality hibernate. Our enemies are sitting and quietly planning their next attack. We must prepare now so that we are not caught napping again. We must push ourselves now! We must not plan for the last battle we fought because the next one will be totally different. We must prepare for the next attack. We must train harder and faster until we fail. Then we fix it and train harder and faster until we fail and fix it again. This is how we get better. All those who have chosen to be SWAT officers decided they wanted to be a bear, but, "If you're gonna be a bear, be a Grizzly!"