My experiences at the 2017 NRA Annual Meetings

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Last weekend I attended the National Rifle Association‘s Annual Meetings of members in Atlanta, Georgia. The NRAAM was held at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) and attendance has been announced right at 81,000 for the weekend. I wonder if President Donald J. Trump was counted in that number. Isn’t it refreshing to have a pro-second amendment President after the eight years we endured from January 20th, 2009 to January 20th, 2017? Sure, gun sales, accessories and ammunition sales set all time records year over year, but it sure is nice having a “friend” living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Overall, the Georgia World Congress Center was excellent. Save one set of escalators being broken, there were enough elevators and other ways to get up and down the five floors of this enormous facility, and I didn’t see adding a hundred or more steps to my daily total as a hindrance. Even the restrooms had maintenance workers stationed near by to ensure cleanliness and the security guards were attentive and tried to be helpful whenever possible with directions etc…

The show floor could comfortably fit eight football fields inside and still have room left over. There were booths on each floor with the NRA Store situated on the fourth floor, you can be well assured that I left a little lighter in the wallet after my visit.

This NRAAM showcased the NRA’s new Insurance and Training products, NRA Carry Guard and NRA Carry Guard Training. More to come in a separate blog posting very soon, stay tuned!

So, it all started for me on Thursday afternoon and candidly, I owe my friend Marty from the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network an apology for not helping both he and Vincent with the heavy lifting. In case you didn’t know, Marty and his wife Gila are a couple titans of the firearms training industry. They have built a firearms training academy that is in the top tier of what this industry has to offer in little old friendly Onalaska, Washington. If you are looking for high quality training and want your skills tested by some of the top trainers in the country, make sure to attend a course at Firearms Academy of Seattle; you will leave with far better skills than what you brought. Oh by the way, Marty and Gila were chosen by the worlds premier firearms training academy, GunSite Academy to host several off-site courses in 2017, that speaks volumes about these folks, both of whom I am honored to call friends of mine.

My volunteer efforts at the NRAAM afforded me access to the exhibition hall while the vendors were setting up their booths and displaying their products on Thursday afternoon, kind of cool to get a “sneak peek” that was authorized; however, at 3:00pm I was firmly seated in room B-203 attending the Firearms Examiner meeting. My volunteer commitment was Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, then to be on-call Saturday and Sunday to inspect any firearms that may have come in late and make sure they were inoperable, even if loaded with a live cartridge.

After checking somewhere south of five-hundred (500) guns the three person team I was assigned to decided we could not do anything more as the vendors in our area were not set up yet.  So, we returned on Friday morning at 7:00am to start again in our designated section and finish checking the guns we were assigned. Thankfully there were no unintended or negligent discharges at the NRAAM this year. (By the way, those tend to happen at these events when ignorant people administratively handle their “carry gun” and show it off to others, never a bright idea)

If you get a chance to volunteer at the NRA Annual Meetings, do it. NRA Certified Instructor, Greg Baird, the NRA’s volunteer coordinator is a class act in every way and he and his team need help is many areas like; the NRA Store, Eddie Eagle, Membership Registrations, NRA Youth Day, the air gun range and of course Firearms Examiners.

Just after the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday morning I was able to get a photo with someone I have respected my entire adult life; NRA Board Member, Richard Childress. I am a big fan of his, not only because of his unwavering support for our Second Amendment rights, but also because of the way he conducts his business as a person and as the owner of one of the most successful NASCAR teams in history. For me there is Richard Childress Racing, and everybody else is a few laps down at the start-finish line.

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A little earlier Friday morning I received a text message from my good friend Santiago Cuellar, from Godspeed Firearms School. Santi is a sneaky devil, surprising me by saying he was coming to the NRAAM for a few hours before heading home to south Florida after a business trip. Santi is an excellent trainer and a really good friend, I was very surprised and delighted to see him in Atlanta.

AAA Me and Santi Cuellar

After saying goodbye to Santi, it was time to get “Brother Vern” registered. I have known this guy a long time. Seems like yesterday I was a Sergeant and he a Private in the Green Machine, but that was 30 years ago when I met my main man “Vern.” Him flying down to Atlanta just to spend the weekend with me and attend his first NRAAM made this a real special weekend. V-E-R-N thoroughly enjoyed himself, but got quite distracted by all the shiny things to see everywhere. I ended up saying “squirrel” a lot just to make him laugh. This guy is one of my very best friends, one that I would want in a foxhole with me. Those who served know exactly what I mean by that, V-E-R-N is 100% my brother.

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Later on Friday I hosted a dinner for some pretty awesome people. Many of these folks are NRA Training Counselors. We met at Ted’s Montana Grill on Luckie Street. The proprietor there, Michael St. Bernard is a great guy, he and his staff did a fine job. Everyone said their food was excellent, having been to Ted’s before I knew that would be the case and part of the reason why I chose this particular place to host our dinner. So, what’s a gathering like this if we didn’t take a group photo? Again, I’d like to give a big thank you to everyone, several of you have suggested that we make this an annual event, and I think that is a great suggestion.

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On Saturday morning I woke up at my usual 5:30am not the 4:30am I had the previous two days and went to work out in the hotel fitness center, then I waited for Vern to get his heart started so we could head out to the NRAAM.

Saturday was all about hitting as many exhibits as we could, I was still on-call for my duties as a Firearms Examiner, but my first stop was at the Benchmade Knife Company booth so I could drop off my Mini Reflex II automatic to get sharpened and a deep carry clip added. Both were done free of charge and they sent me a text message when my knife was ready for pick-up. Now that’s what I call great customer service. Thanks Benchmade, I am a customer for life!

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Saturday at the NRAAM is the day that John Howard, NRA National Training Manager hosts his annual Trainers’ Update. This years update started off with John introducing the speakers and immediately Dr. Joe Logar took the microphone and gave an excellent presentation on the NRA’s Adaptive Shooting program. If you are an NRA Certified Instructor, Training Counselor or Coach you need to get to know Dr, Joe Logar, he can help you with ideas to train those athletes and responsibly armed citizens that have physical challenges. Dr. Logar can be reached via email at jlogar@nrahq.org

Next up was NRA Training Counselor, Klint Macro and his presentation on the new Pistol “Program.” Nothing really earth-shattering here, just information that if you have received the NRA Trainers’ Updates via email you would know already. Unfortunately many people do not receive those updates and the NRA needs to fix this so everyone is getting information disseminated directly from the Education & Training Department via email and not having to rely on asking questions of the “hive” on Facebook even though their Training Counselor should be their first point of contact.

Klint’s presentation went a little long and led John Howard to announce that we were going to take a break before National Coach Trainer Daniel Subia’s presentation on the NRA Coaching program. This break totally broke the inertia of the update because nearly everyone in attendance flocked toward John and his staff to ask questions and get their face-time. I have attended the Trainers’ Update three of the four years they have been held and I have never seen John call for a break, not once. When the five minute break was up, Daniel and his guest presenter had to wait until everyone finally exited the room to start their presentations and they were left with maybe a dozen of us. IMHO, the coaching program presenters should have been afforded the same courtesy in making their presentations to the entire assembly of Instructors, Training Counselors and Coaches just as Dr. Logar and Klint were able to do, unencumbered by a break. Extremely poor time management led to this ball being dropped, and it is a shame because we need more people in the coaching ranks. Maybe in 2018 Daniel can lead off the Trainers’ Update.

There was no information given at the Trainers’ Update on NRA Carry Guard Training, I bet you a cookie that all of that information is being closely held by Ackerman-McQueen who handles all of the advertising and marketing for the NRA and the NRA Carry Guard Insurance and NRA Carry Guard Training programs.

One of the really cool things in the back of the room, Tony and Rob Lambraia had a makeshift UTM firing line set up for all Instructors to try the UTM training cartridges. If you are not using UTM in your training, you might want to consider it, they are excellent for Force on Force scenario-based training. Find out more about UTM by visiting their website at: https://utmworldwide.com/

After the presentation on coaching, I was able to meet and speak with Mike Hughes, Founder and CEO of NextLevel Training, Mike is the man behind the SIRT Training Pistol. I shared a real success story with him about a student/instructor of mine who greatly improved his defensive marksmanship skills by using a SIRT Training Pistol over a period of about a month. This student had a target grouping that looked like a shotgun pattern in my defensive pistol course and I worked with him to make some improvements during the course; however, after working with the SIRT for a few weeks he came back to me for another course and qualified easily, with a really tight grouping all the way back to 15 yards. The SIRT Training Pistol works, you just got to buy one and put in the time and effort to press the trigger correctly to get the desired result. It’s called “practice” yes, we talkin’ ’bout practice. (Thank you Allen Iverson)

Of course the NRAAM is also about meeting old friends and new ones as well. On Saturday afternoon I introduced my friend to “Uncle Mas” and bought him a gift membership to the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, so he is now part of the ACLDN family. I wanted to get Uncle Mas to call him “Young Brother” but that didn’t happen; however, Vern did get a signed copy of “Gun Safety In the Home.” Thank you Marty, Gila, Vincent, Uncle Mas, Gail and all of those with the ACLDN family.

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Additionally on Saturday I was able to spend some time at the Colt booth talking with firearms training industry giants, Ken Hackathorn, Larry Vickers and Daryl Holland. I was fortunate to be able to spend a fair amount of time with both Ken and Daryl, but Larry had a book signing at the booth, and business is business. I will be taking a course with Ken later this year, and hope to have dinner with him as well. Later in the afternoon I found Ken once again and showed him a photo of my friend Steve standing next to him at a course in Arizona a couple years ago. Ken recognized him immediately and said, “I remember him, he was shooting a Glock 19, and was a good shooter too” both observations were spot-on.

Daryl Holland and I spent a little time talking about hog hunting in Florida, I had no idea he used to live just a few miles from me in Land O’Lakes. I proceeded to ask him for some suggestions for my Colt M4 platform rifle, e.g., what optic he recommended for it and such. It looks like I will be buying a Trijicon MRO® – 2.0 MOA Red Dot. I am a minimalist when it comes to optics on my M4 and this red dot fits that mold. I wanted an unbiased suggestion from a recognized subject matter expert on what he would use and I believe he gave it. I left with Daryl’s contact information and said that I might see him at Universal Shooting Academy for his handgun/carbine course with Shannon Smith in January 2018 or I would host him myself in the Tampa Bay area. One way or another, I will run my gun in a Daryl Holland course in the not too distant future.

Next up, Vern bought a standard edition “Vickers Guide: AR-15 Volume 1.” Larry autographed it for him and was very gracious. Many people tell me that Larry is unapproachable and kind of surly. I call B.S., I found him to be neither of those in fact, quite the opposite. Larry did an execellent job in putting this book together, should we expect anything else from someone of his caliber? If you are interested, you can purchase your copy of Larry’s book directly from him at https://www.vickersguide.com/ – You can also find more products in the link below. I am a big fan of the floor plates that he designed for Glock magazines. They work very well when you have to strip a magazine out of a gun because of a stoppage in the cycle of operation. http://www.vickerstactical.com/products.html

By the way, you can be sure that I will do my best to host Larry in the Tampa Bay area in 2018.

AAA Vern with LAV

On both Friday and Saturday I spent some time at the Sig Sauer booth talking with Steven Gilcreast about my upcoming trip to Sig Sauer Academy, Steve checked his schedule and it looks like he will be my Instructor later this summer. I was also fortunate enough to meet Adam Panchaud the Vice-President of Sig Sauer Academy, both Steve and Adam are keenly aware that I am looking forward to training at Sig Sauer Academy.

Now, have a look at this beauty below. Meet the Sig Sauer P320 X-Carry, it is due to be released in about a month. Check out that flat trigger, undercut on the trigger guard and enhanced beaver tail. This gun also has a relief cut on the top of the slide and is milled for a Mini Red Dot as well. I am told that this gun will be added to the Active & Retired Law Enforcement/Military & Instructor discount program at 25% off MSRP. I am currently working with the fine folks at Sig Sauer to get one for Testing & Evaluation so I can write an article that I have been asked to do for one of the gun magazines. Stay tuned!

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Saturday ended with dinner and a great conversation with Paul Pawela and his girlfriend Linda along with my friend, Vern. Paul is Director of Law Enforcement Training at the American Police Hall of Fame & Museum in Titusville, Florida. He is also a former Special Forces Operator and sworn Police Officer; his company, Assault Counter Tactics specializes in reality-based scenario training. I plan to host Paul this fall for a Vehicle Counter Ambush Course in the Tampa Bay area.

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Sunday morning I started again with a workout and then it was off to breakfast with Vern before heading to GWCC. Sunday’s are great at the NRAAM, you can actually walk though the exhibits most of the day without worrying if or when someone will step on your heels. Vern bought a couple barrels for his rifles and I had Travis Hall (Retired Special Forces Medic) educate me on how to properly pack the Blue Force Gear; Micro Trauma Kit that I purchased on Saturday afternoon. You can learn more about Travis by following his business Facebook page at Second Chance Medical Consulting or on the world wide web at http://secondchancemed.com/.

Also on Sunday I made another stop at Patriot Ordinance Factory (POF-USA for short) to see Tony and his team there. POF-USA makes a superb rifle, I have always liked their Gen4 lower and have had my eye on a P415 Edge or a Renegade+ for a while now. I like the gas piston guns like the P415 Edge, but I am also partial to direct impingement guns like the Renegade+, I need to flip a coin or just get it over with and buy both of them. Take a look at them in the hyperlinks that I created above.

Finally Vern and I zig-zagged the exhibit hall for a couple more hours and then then we decided to leave and get some chow at Twin Smokers BBQ. When we entered the restaurant there was NRA-ILA Executive Director, Chris Cox enjoying his dinner. We had just met Chris and shook his hand on the floor at the exhibit hall a couple hours prior. When he left he waived and shook some hands and thanked everyone for coming to Atlanta and attending the NRA Annual Meetings. Chris and Wayne LaPierre are the two hardest working people in the building located at 11250 Waples Mill Road in Fairfax, Virginia. They are both on the front line every single day protecting our Second Amendment rights.

Once Chris left, Vern and I went about our business of smashing some barbecue and talking about the old days when we were younger, had better eyesight and could run four or five miles out the back gate at North Fort Lewis with our rucksacks on for PT. Yeah, my man Vern is a one of a kind, I am grateful that he came down to visit and enjoy his first NRAAM. “Squirrel”

The only thing I didn’t get to see at the NRAAM was President Donald J. Trump. The President gave a speech to the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, if you missed it, I have placed a link here.

In summary; I had a great time, I always do at this event. As I said a few times, I met up some old friends, made some new ones and got some possibilities for future course offerings from some of the top names in our industry.

Ironically I will be back in the Atlanta area next week attending the new Glock Operators Course at the “mother ship” in Smyrna. Be looking for a course review here on Thursday when I return home. I will also be submitting an article on the course to a few of the gun magazines as well, so stay tuned.

Live life abundantly my friends!

Until next time …

Stay Safe & Train Hard!