“David is an amazing teacher and friend. He is a man of integrity, compassion, and grit. As a speaker and instructor he helps you to examine your technique, core values, and beliefs. Then he helps you determine how best to adjust for greatest benefit. An hour with David Burnell can give you the tools to change your life.”
After the 9/11 attacks David founded the Urban Warfare Center and the Combat Stress Program. Thousands of soldiers, federal agents and police were trained to win the fight in through his branded stress inoculation training. According to senior military and law enforcement leadership these programs saved lives and reduced casualty rates.
The Urban Warfare Center was founded by David Burnell in 2002. It was operational from 2002-2012. This was an elite force-on-force training center located near Salt Lake City, Utah. David ran this facility and its training programs for free to military and law enforcement. Thousands of soldiers, airman, police and federal agents were training in urban fighting using force-on-force and stress inoculation. Key to the programs offered here was the Combat Stress Program.
The Urban Warfare Center® was born out of adversity. The facility was built on the premise that “no good plan survives first contact with the enemy”. This training center became a model for building sound principles that survive the ever changing battlefield on the city streets or abroad. It was created in 2002 from experiences that stemmed from growing up in a combat zone in Los Angeles, my experiences with the military in the 1980’s, and the stress factors related to water and land based Search and Rescue Operations.
The facility was FREE to all police, federal agencies and military units. The reason I provided this place for free is an easy one. I wanted to remove all barriers to entry for the person closest to the fight. If we take out the politics, more people that risk their lives every day will benefit from better training, tools and experiences. I know first hand as the son of a twenty-four year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, and the brother of a patrol/SWAT operator that cops take huge risks on the line every day. Moreover, I know as a veteran of Air Force Special Operations missions that you can never have enough realistic training.
One of our seasoned instructors and the veteran of a large gunfight during an active shooter incident said, “Training should be harder than the real thing”. We agree and through the principles we applied in the Urban Warfare center this was a reality in most cases, outside of the obvious nobody died during training.
This program was shared at the request of the British government by David at Warminster's Land Warfare Centre in 2005.
Our motives were simple, we want those who defend our way of life to have the advantage and come home. We want them to dominate the enemy and win the fight with minimum loss of life.
Shortly after moving my company at the time to my first warehouse from my garage, I had my eyes set on another warehouse right next door. I could clearly see in my mind's eye the layout of a multi-level, less-than-lethal shoot house. My thoughts went back to England in the late 1980’s and a hostage rescue program I was able to attend. I considered the facilities we used, the tools we had (weapons), and the impact it had on me personally and in my military career. Because of that program my thinking processes were forever changed. Based on that experience I knew if I could create a place that exposed people to high levels of vulnerability, and could give off the feeling of being at risk by overwhelming their senses, then I could help save lives and create elite warriors.
Over the period of about a year and a half the 10,000 square foot Urban Warfare Center resolved into a world class force-on-force training facility. Each addition and expansion was put against the test of creating vulnerability while not losing the look and feel of an urban setting. The results were a place that requires constant vigilance and situational awareness. Team cohesion is forced or you will most likely fail the objectives given.
The ability exists to choke the facility down or change the layout was also critical.
Surprise, speed and violence of action
Leave no one behind
Wherever your nose goes so does the muzzle of your weapon
Don't pay for terrain twice
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast
Two into danger
We are believers that range time is critical for real world operators. On the range you build accuracy using muscle memory, learning how to reload your weapon efficiently and how to deal with malfunctions. We also affirm that force-on-force training is a critical component of preparing for war. Regardless if you are patrol, SWAT or a soldier, you need another human on the other side of the scenario; moving, thinking and shooting back to condition you and your brain for the real world engagement.
Being a less-than-lethal facility of course means no “live-fire”. Authorized technologies were simunitions, air-soft and paintball technology. We have adopted the .68 caliber paintball technology as a staple platform for all of our programs because of its ability to mark a target, use selective colors for squads and Opposing Force and the cost.
Our weapons had military grade modifications so you could get the form and feel of a real firearm. You also get similar characteristics; i.e. the sub gun will have a lower round capacity than the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW).
We also use RED or BLUE guns for many of the line drills or static teaching moments.
The only program we actually hosted and ran consecutively from beginning to end was the Combat Stress Program. In the spirit of the quote, “he is best who is trained in the severest school,” the Combat Stress ProgramTM teaches participants the principles that will ensure their ability to survive and thrive in the fiercest combat engagement.
This day-long course exposes participants to an environment as near to real as possible, reinforcing principles through force-on-force scenarios using marking gun technology that both reward success, and punish failure.
This cutting edge course has received acclaim from both deploying and returning troops who have described the experience of the program as being as close as it gets to actual combat. This program has also been used by patrol and SWAT trainers as a primer for training with great success.
We begin by giving the unit its first scenario. This mission requires the unit to accomplish objectives as a cohesive unit in an environment that is as close to a real fight as possible without really killing people. We do this by..
We used industrial fog machines, lasers, stroke lights and many other visual distortions to create the fog of war. We would also use the absence of or light in its extremes as well as different colors of light such as red or green to overwhelm the sense-of-vision. The safety gear they wear will fog up or take rounds and produce the desired results of confusion. Some become totally incapacitated while others could fight through and stay calm.
Multiple channels of pure high definition sound were used throughout the facility. As you move from one location to another the sounds would shift from street sounds, sirens, babies crying, middle eastern prayers, dog’s barking, women screaming and of course the sounds of battle mingled with helicopters. These sounds make it hard to verbally communicate and require units to use hand signals or touch to get the job done.
This sense is combined with smell in that when they get shot or rocked by the simulators, you can taste the smell of the explosion, the paint from the rounds and the dirt. All these combine to make life very uncomfortable for the duration of the mission.
Out of all the technologies around for shooting people in less than lethal ways, off the shelf paintball guns with modifications became the premier solution. .68 caliber rounds are large and filled with thick water based paint. When you get hit you know it, and when you shoot another person the big SPLAT, and often the flinch of the person being shot, gives you positive feedback that you engaged and hit the target successfully. It is also a clear friendly fire indicator as we use unique colors for good guys and bad guys. The psychological effect of paintball technology is intense. We have fired hundreds of thousands of rounds, and there is nothing that matches its impact on the shooter or the victim. At a cost of a few cents per ball you can’t beat the economics of it either.
As specifically produced shotgun shells and simulators explode, the smell of powder, dirt, sweat and debris fill the air. Smell is one of the most powerful reminders of stressful experiences we have had and we use it.
One of the most critical aspects to learning in the force-on-force world it your opposing force or OPFOR. The individuals that will be the enemy to your students. Some of the critical attributes of these unique individuals is that they lay their egos down for the training experience. This is not a competitive environment, it is a learning place. In order to teach the lessons needed the OPFOR must get shot lots. They must sometimes do things they would not do in a real world encounter. They must have behaviors that are extreme and replicate specific patterns the enemy might use. These role players must become someone they often are not in order to teach the lesson. Some of the key attributes in hiring these people are:
Confident but able to lay down the ego to teach a lesson
Aggressive and also able to dial it down as needed
Skilled and shooting, moving and communicating
Experts in assessing human behavior and connecting dots to learning outcomes
Excellent and thinking on their feet
In stress inoculation shape - much different than running miles
Calm under pressure
Deliberate in their actions
Know how to box and kill the enemy
Understand surprise, speed and violence of action
Look for opportunities to exploit weakness in the fight
OPFOR can make of break a training day or scenario.
At times units have come into the facility thinking they were going to play “paintball”. Within the first few minutes of the first scenario, and after receiving several thousand rounds on or in proximity to them, those notions are gone. They are now in survival mode trying to figure out if the best response to the over stimulation is FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE.
We would run a first scenario and overwhelm the unit with violence, visual stimulation and the fog of battle. We would then bring them out to debrief and peel the experience back for each individual. It was critical for each person to come to a personal understanding of how they performed and never look at someone else. This was a key aspect to our success.
After this hot wash we would then teach the stack for dynamic entry and other particle skills such as room entry and how to shoot, move and communicate in an urban environment to develop team cohesion. We would discuss geometry and angles as well as changing the tempo of the fight in order to overwhelm the enemy. All this was done to prepare them for their next scenario. Much of the discussion would be talking about the body and brain under stress and how we can become hunters by leveraging its effects to enhance our performance versus degrading it.
After the stress has been induced it is time to establish benchmarks for the individuals and teams as a whole. We talk about “how did you feel during the fight?” “What physical symptoms did you experience?” Humility is the normal conclusion to the first event. The remainder of the day is spent talking about principles of dominance in the urban setting, then running more scenarios focused on driving home important conclusions related to those very principles they are struggling with.
An example of a correct principle would be to stay out of “funnels” defined as windows and doorways. We reinforce this principle through firepower. Well placed shots by well trained and ego absent opposing forces (OPFOR) teach the principle clearly.
As the day progresses so do the missions, until at the end of the day the unit is ready to repeat a mission similar to the first one.
Because of this unique process of INDUCING, IDENTIFYING, and INDOCTRINATING stress, the symptoms and tools to overcome this life threatening condition in battle are retained. Principles learned are retained quicker, and the training cycle is reduced.
Another important consideration regarding this method of teaching is the fact that Special Operations units will get large doses of stress during selection and subsequent training. This enables them to dominate more quickly on the battlefield and respond with educated motor skills more rapidly to threats. Patrol officers, soldiers, sailors and airmen do not normally get the type of training that brings stress levels to the brink of Fight, Flight or Freeze. Therefore they have to learn about these responses in the field and are subject to enemy forces imposing their will upon them during this vulnerable learning curve. For units to hit the ground running, they must be stress induced, have the responses identified and be given tools to overcome the negative behaviors. Furthermore they must build motor skills that reward the proper responses to stress and threats. I.e. engaging appropriate threats, taking cover, communicating etc.
In a very real way we could accomplish in one day what most elite units pride themselves on doing over a sustained period of time. We are never trying to induce stress to “wash” someone out of a program as elite units may do out of selection necessity. However, we are heaping large amounts of pressure on them, which will require them to work together or fail. Success is determined by teamwork, communicating, doing your job under pressure, and accomplishing the mission.
Get an inside look into one of the most elite training programs in the world by David Burnell the founder and senior instructor of the Urban Warfare Center. The Combat Stress Program ran for over 10 years and thousand of military, police and federal agents were trained in the dynamics of urban fighting using stress inoculation and force-on-force techniques. In this exclusive video you will see actual real-time footage of military and police units experiencing total controlled chaos while they try to accomplish their missions. You will see the confusion, leadership and struggle that is the reality of the fight. Each lesson has detailed commentary by David Burnell.