Defense Direct Action Resource Center Separates the Men From the Boys Dave Merrill November 30, 2016 Join the Conversation Proceed With Caution Photos by Matt Landfair and David Merrill Down an unimproved road in the backwaters of northern Little Rock, Arkansas, sits the Direct Action Resource Center, commonly known as DARC. As you drive toward the gated entry, mosquitoes buzz in the air. You pass a swamp-ish pond, where turtles throw themselves into the water. Beyond the simple chain-link barrier lies a training facility where some of the very best law enforcement and military personnel train for worst-case scenarios. After passing through the threshold from its rural surroundings, you're greeted by an actual helicopter fuselage mounted on a raised platform for speed roping. An airplane hull, complete with all seats — including flight attendant serving carts — waits beyond. It's immediately apparent that this isn't your run-of-the-mill shooting range. Though it's been around for more than a decade, DARC (pronounced “dar-see”) has managed to stay out of the limelight. It was the first center exclusively built for tactical urban training, and while some training facilities rely on flashy advertising or big-name instructors, everything I heard about DARC came from the mouths of graduates. Details were always vague, with knowing nods, quiet murmurs, and sly grins exchanged among any alumni present for the conversation. Is this Skull and Bones routine just flash — or is there something more hidden behind the veil? Mason teaching the nuances of assaulting. The founder and owner of DARC is a former SOF warrior, Richard Mason. He's of small stature, built like a barrel, and pieces it all together with a fiery red beard and piercing eyes that could freeze lava. A comparison to Gimli, the dwarf from The Lord of the Rings, paired with an M4 sprung to mind, but some thoughts are best kept unsaid lest we never sleep soundly again. When I told my wife I'd be attending a course at DARC to check out the facility, she said very seriously, “You're going to get hurt.” Wait! My former-psychological-operations soldier wife knows more about the school than I do? Sh*t. Complex structures and real obstacles make for a challenging training environment. DARC is best known for their LECTC, the Law Enforcement Counter Terrorism Course. While we knew it would be challenging, the term “challenging” would turn out to be an understatement. Some courses, even from professional schools solely devoted to law enforcement, are structured for the students to succeed or for simple team building. DARC is not one of those places. Though teams naturally become more cohesive through shared hardship and experience, no scenario the students were put in is specifically designed to be won or lost — the scenario is the scenario, and you prosper or you fail. To give an idea of the intensity of the course, over a five-and-a-half day training period I put in 96 hours and expended nearly 3,000 Simunition rounds. Over 50,000 Simunition rounds were fired by students and OPFOR (opposing forces) during the week. And this was just Level 1. The training methodology at DARC can be characterized as rapid incrementalism. Imagine a college-level math class originally designed for a 16-week semester crammed into three weeks, and you'll have the right idea. Each step immediately builds upon the previous, and if you miss anything you'll be well behind the power curve. LECTC is a tactics course, so if your weapon manipulations aren't solidly at a subconscious level there's no way you'll be able to succeed without being carried by your stronger teammates. The coursework takes large and complex problems and breaks it down into bite-sized elements — but no matter how small you cut up that 72-ounce steak challenge, you still have to eat the whole thing to win. “We don't teach people what to think; we teach people how to think,” explained Mason during a conversation after a particularly rough raid. “We're training for the Super Bowl, and you'll never know how many people you've saved if you do it right.” The instructor cadre at DARC is incredibly dedicated, comprised almost entirely of full-time law enforcement personnel. They've seen the tactics, techniques, and procedures from DARC work firsthand and therefore are very motivated to pass on the knowledge to others. Far beyond a typical weekend basic course load, the class had a very impressive student/instructor ratio — the best I've ever experienced for a large class. For 24 students in LECTC, there were 10 instructors standing by for corrective action. There's no sliding by, and there's no place to hide. You have to do it legitimately. Just as important as the actual instructors are the role players. There's no taking turns amongst the students — there are assaulters, and there are terrorists. A small group of role players take time out of their daily lives to regularly wreak havoc on those training at DARC. They aren't stupid, and they know the entire layout of the facility better than the architects who designed the place. They're nameless, faceless, and show no mercy. Almost all major force-on-force training scenarios took place in the dead of night — if not with white lights, night vision, and lasers. DARC shares a healthy relationship with several other companies, including L3 Communications. An L3 representative was actually on hand at the facility to troubleshoot and fix any equipment issues that cropped up and to loan out night vision gear to those in need. Not your everyday square range. In addition to the airframes at the facility, there are dozens of vehicles to work with. School buses, city buses, compact cars, and molester vans were all present and standing by, waiting to be used and abused. Live-fire ranges are peppered throughout the entire campus to accommodate both short and long ranges. A concrete village covering more than an acre is a complete gunfighting nightmare with enough angles to give a geometry teacher the cold sweats. And, arguably the heart of DARC, a huge covered modular shoot house is purpose built for maximum carnage and assaulter demoralization. The shoot house is the centerpiece of many DARC courses. It's more than 6,000-square feet of concrete and steel, structurally reinforced by the tears and frustrations of anyone who has ever stepped foot inside. Dozens of rooms and hallways present endless angles that help the OPFOR murder the hell out of students. Some of the interior walls can be removed to alter the layout and keep everything unpredictable. Catwalks cover the entire upper portion of the structure for instructor and student observation. A high steel roof is equipped with interior lighting, so neither weather nor time of day are ever an issue — and everything is wired for sound. Why sound, you ask? So they can play heavy metal loud enough to rattle your teeth and make Manuel Noriega surrender all over again. But as you may have surmised, there's more to DARC than LECTC. They offer nearly two-dozen courses that span the range from beginner to expert. Breaching courses cover both mechanical and explosive methodologies. They have Advanced Urban Warfare (AUW) and long-range precision shooting. Recently more popular, for reasons that remain obvious, is TUSC, the Tactical Urban Sustainment Course. TUSC focuses on surviving the breakdown of law and order following the immediate aftermath of a mass catastrophic civil disturbance. And, of course, they have your less-sexy basic rifle and handgun classes as well, all taught by experienced instructors. Patches and other assorted flair have been popular in our industry for a long time now. The bulk of them are passed out at trade shows and conventions with little or no fanfare. It's different at DARC. I earned a coveted patch during the fourth night of the course with a lot of sweat and a little bit of blood. Now, when I come across someone sporting a DARC hat, I can engage in some knowing nods and quiet murmuring myself. The aftereffects of the loving caress given by Simunitions. Direct Action Resource Center Phone: (501) 307-9031 Email: [email protected] URL: www.facebook.com/DirectActionResouceCenter/ *Note, you may have to log in to view the page. As of this writing, this is the actual spelling of the link. 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