The inaugural ITS Tactical Muster was a great multi-disciplinary training event. I had never been involved with planning something like this, and was surprised at how smoothly the whole thing went. A large part of the credit for that goes to the students, who represented a diverse set of backgrounds and energetically attacked all training blocks.
Mike, Eric and myself all flew in to Dallas-Forth Worth on Tuesday. We met up with Bryan, Kelly and Matt Gambrell at the ITS offices and loaded up all the gear needed for the week.
The six of us drove out to Lake Mineral Wells State Park to begin the setup and finalize our class preparations. We had rented a building for our kitchen and indoor classroom. We also had our own private ring of camp sites, far from where any other campers would be.
The following day, Matt Fiddler of SerePick and Nathan Morrison of Morrison Industries and The Morrison System arrived and assisted with our setup. One of the projects that needed to be completed that day was the building of a POW camp — something that I had suggested as part of the FTX that the students would be surprised with on Saturday night.
On Thursday the students arrived, along with Caleb Causey, our final instructor. From there on it was a flurry of activity. I didn’t take many photos.
Classes began on Friday with Bryan teaching knot-tying. That was followed up by a land navigation course, which I instructed. It was difficult to squeeze my instruction into a 4-hour block — we had wanted to start with the absolute basics of how to read a topographic map and go all the way to shooting, plotting and following bearings, resection, and plotting UTM coordinates — but the class seemed to be a success. Everyone succeeded in the exercises I gave them during the class, as well as the navigation aspects of the FTX the following day. After the navigation class, Bryan took over again for the stove building class, in which we had everyone build a fancy feast stove. At the end of the class I interjected some of my thoughts and experiences with using alcohol stoves. Nate Morrison completed the day with a class in fire building.
Saturday began with Nate teaching a basic rappelling class. During the downtime I worked with a few of the students on the navigation skills that I didn’t have time to cover during my class. In the afternoon we transferred back to the dining hall for Matt Fiddler’s lockpicking class. This was the first time I had ever received direct instruction in this skill. It helped me immensely. Lockpicking was followed by a shelter building class, which I was initially scheduled to assist with. Our FTX was scheduled for Saturday night and I had taken point in setting up the navigation element of the exercise. I had to forgo the shelter class and run off with Eric to finalize our preparations. Nate ended up taking over the shelter discussion. As the shelter class reached its end, we let the students know that they would be having a late night. I won’t detail the FTX here as I don’t know which elements of it will be reused next year. I don’t want to ruin the experience for future attendees. I will say that we had a lot of fun planning it and the feedback we received from the students afterwards was all positive. I was a little jealous of them, myself. I would have liked to run the course.
Most of us only had a few hours of sleep that night. Sunday got off to a slow start. The day’s only class was Caleb Causey’s medical course. Afterwards we gave out awards, wrapped-up the event, and said our goodbyes.
Matt Gambrell, who is the artist responsible for the ITS patch and t-shirt designs, is also a cook. He served as chef for the Muster, waking up early to dish up three amazing meals per day. We jokingly referred to the event as an eating experience with a few classes thrown in between meals.
Despite being involved with ITS for over two years, this was my first time meeting the rest of the crew. I enjoyed meeting them all and building our relationships. The other instructors — Nate, Matt and Caleb — are all experts in their fields. I learned something in all of their classes and it was an honor to be included in their company. It was frustrating for all of us to need to compress our subjects into a 4-hour block, but everyone succeeded and the combined total of training that we were able to pull off in two-and-a-half days of instruction was amazing. The students, too, were top notch. Before the event I was anxious about what kind of people would attend. I had no reason to be. Some of them turned out to be readers of this blog (clearly they are gentlemen of good taste). We all enjoyed quality conversation.
As someone who served as both staff and instructor, I have an obvious bias here, but I think that anyone who is interested in this type of thing should strongly consider attending the next event. When pricing for the inaugural Muster was first announced I scoffed a little, thinking “How could a 3-day camping trip be worth that much money?” Now having seen what Bryan and Kelly imagined I think the ticket price is an excellent value. Between food and swag, students had a significant portion of the fee returned to them. And the breadth of skills is unmatched by any other event that I know about. Where else can you attend a class in rappelling, break for lunch, learn how to pick and bypass locks, stay up all night sneaking around the woods, and then attend a class on tactical medicine after breakfast? As Nate wrote, it sets a new standard. Not only is the experience fun, students also leave with at least an introductory understanding of important life skills. If I was not part of the staff, I would certainly pay to attend.