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My friend and shooting partner, Mark Feldmeier and I are always looking for quality firearms training, and when we heard that Kelly Venden from Criterion Tactics was going to be running a 2-day 3 gun course at NE Shooters in New Hampshire, we jumped on the opportunity to train with this legendary tier one operator.
Kelly (Shooter) Venden is one of those quiet professional that has done it all. Kelly brings 30+ years of continuous federal service providing relevant and real-world experience from numerous Air/Ground/Sea operations, and extensive training environments. These capabilities are derived from; military professional education, combat deployments, scores of worldwide training events, inter-military CONUS and OCONUS joint training events, airborne, ground, and maritime insertion technical experience. Kelly's weapons specialties and professional training are associated with numerous operational U.S. agencies working both military and federal law enforcement counter-terrorist activities.
Kelly’s company, Criterion Tactics, currently provides innovative pre-deployment and sustainment training to active duty professionals for worldwide operations. Staying engaged with the SOF and LE community, Kelly ensures up to date mission operations requirements are adhered to in order to work successfully alongside users, getting firsthand input for future readiness requirements. He recently returned from Afghanistan performing duties on the Gen. McChrystal initiated Counter-Insurgency Adviser and Assistance Team (CAAT). The team responsible for patrolling with, and advising ground commanders on counter-insurgency techniques and practices. Information gained from the ground, is reported directly to then commander Gen. Allen (COMISAF) on "ground truth" issues concerning COIN best practices in support of COMISAF campaign planning.
Mr. Venden's specialties include Operations and operations planning, weapons, tactical employment/deployment, operational technical surveillance (TSE), training program evaluation and development.
As a Special Operations member, SGM Venden participated in many National Command Authority directed operations; the most famous being the first successful hostage rescue in recent history. Operation Acid Gambit was an operation to retrieve Kurt Muse, an American civilian living in Panama and widely reported to be a CIA operative from the Carcel Modelo, a notorious prison in Panama City.
Kelly’s assistant instructor Greg Delae, is a pretty hot trigger puller himself. Greg started out shooting high power competition. That eventually got boring so he sought out training in tactical applications. Greg then got involved in IDPA and competed in local, state, regional and national
events. Greg is a NRA rifle instructor, NRA Patron member, certified AR-15 armorer, and a Triple Nickel coin holder (look it up.) Greg has trained under Tier 1 operators: Kelly Venden, Kyle Lamb, Larry Vickers, and Jeff Gonzalez. With bona fides like that, it’s easy to see that these guys can deliver some pretty awesome training.
The training schedule was as follows:
Day 1 Tactical Shotgun & Pistol (1/2 day per)
- Tactical Mindset/Situational Awareness
- Tactical Kit review
- Shotgun Manipulation Skills
- Pistol Manipulation Skills
- Marksmanship Fundamentals
- Close quarter operations
- Static to Dynamic Position Drills
- Dynamic One-Handed Pistol Manipulations
Day 2 Tactical Rifle
- Tactical Rifle and Kit review
- Rifle Manipulation Skills
- Close quarter rifle operations
- Static to Dynamic Position Drills
- Tactical live fire movements
- Bilateral rifle manipulations
- Practical Pistol & Rifle Application Drills
Before the course started Kelly reviewed some of the basic admin stuff, talked about big boy range rules, and finished off with a very good medical brief. We were fortunate to have a thoracic surgeon in our class. And, my buddy Mark is a former US Army combat medic, and is currently a P.A. in a Trauma Center. We were good to go!
Our class had a broad level of experience, from just beginning tactical shooting all the way up to Andy, a retired Marine Corps Warrant Officer with lots of combat trigger time. Given this wide spread in tactical proficiency, Kelly and Greg were able to provide training that was challenging to all, without completely overloading the folks with less tactical shooting experience. That in itself can be a challenge.
One of the principles Kelly teaches is efficiency of motion. I understand that to mean; the smoothest, most direct path for your body parts to follow to complete a given task is going to be the smoothest path. And smooth equates to speed. That makes a lot of sense to me. Another tenet of Kelly’s training is (excerpted from the September edition of the “Cri-Tac Caller&rdquo “Perfect Practice Promotes Proficient Performance (5 P’s). Conduct of every technique should be conscientiously performed precisely, fundamentally perfect…at a speed where perfection is key! Speed comes with proficiency; confidence comes from perfect practice. Perfect analogy; you drive without thinking of applying brakes, gas, or turning the wheel. Shooting must be the same “ingrained” responses to the recognized environment.”
Kelly runs a good number of drills that all build upon each other. None of them are terribly difficult. The key is to perform the drills as efficiently as possible. If you haven’t run the drills before, the challenge will be to perform them perfectly. If you are familiar with the drills, the challenge is to perform them perfectly and faster. I saw my efficiency increase, which means faster times on all drills. And that was my goal.
My favorite drill was the “Box Drill. This is normally conducted by moving tactically around the outside of four cones setup in a square and engaging an array of targets to the front. Kelly’s version of this drill uses cones set in a trapezoid pattern. The trapezoid makes this drill more difficult because you are never moving directly toward your target. This is a very important technique to know when you are trying to get off the” X” under fire. Most drills were run right handed and left handed. If you have never run your gun with your “other hand” you should give it a try. It’s a skill that can really come in handy at times. The last drill we ran was a mini 3-Gun challenge. We started with the carbine on a VTAC barricade shooting steel, picked up my shotgun, started cramming shells while moving to the pistol station. More hits on steel with the pistol, and transitioned to the shotgun. Shot a couple poppers then moved up to finish off shooting a Texas Star. What a fabulous way to end a course!
This was a great course! Kelly and Greg did a great job disseminating good info, nobody got hurt, my efficiency increased, and it was just plain fun! I don’t know what more you could ask for from a course like this. It was well worth the money and ammo expenditure!
A note for beginning tactical shooters: If you are thinking about attending a tactical course but feel some trepidation, no worries. Choose your weapon, practice operating the controls, reloading, making clear and safe, getting a good sight picture, and a good trigger press. Understand the Safety Circle. If you can perform these tasks safely, you are probably ready to go. Find an instructor you want to train with, check out their background and pull the trigger. Just do it! You’ll be glad you did…especially if you get to train with Criterion Tactical.
Jim Lowrimore is a retired U.S. Navy Air Warfare Systems Operator. He has numerous overseas deployments, Expert rifle and pistol medals, is an NRA LE Pistol and Shotgun instructor, and is the Armory Officer at a Dod installation. He has trained with numerous tier one operators, and competes in USPSA and Steel Challenge events.
Mr. Venden owns and operates Criterion Tactical, LLC; a successful Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business providing firearms instruction to LE agencies, civilians, and military organizations. His training venues include South Texas, NEShooters, Long Island NY, Sig Academy, Highlands Keep training facility in West Chester PA, to name a few. Please visit www.criteriontactical.com or on Facebook as Criterion Tactical.