Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ambush! What We Learn From Tragedy

The following is from the website “The Tactical Wire” and was published near the 40th anniversary of the shootout. The post is by Claude Werner and was posted 25 June, 2015. His blog is The Tactical Professor
Copyright 2008-2016 The Tactical Wire. All rights reserved

“The Pine Ridge Shootout – 1975

On June 26, 1975, FBI Special Agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler were murdered on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While attempting to serve a Federal arrest warrant, a massive gun battle ensued. The Agents' cars were hit with 125 bullets and they were severely wounded early on in the gunfight.

Agent Williams had pursued a vehicle he believed contained the subject of the warrant. Agent Coler, who was nearby, came to assist. Only a few seconds into the pursuit, the subject vehicle came to a stop. Agent Williams radioed that the vehicle had stopped and the occupants had dismounted with weapons. The Agents' vehicles then came under fire not only from the pursued vehicle's occupants but from nearby houses, called the Jumping Bull Compound.

Upon hearing Agent Williams' transmission, FBI Agent Gary Adams drove to assist, however, he was 12 miles away. Williams called over the radio that both he and Coler had been hit. Gunfire could be heard in the background. That was his last transmission. Testimony indicated that persons from a nearby tent encampment heard the firing, came to the scene, and also began shooting at the agents. Later testimony indicated that at least seven persons fired at Williams and Coler.

Upon arriving, Agent Adams, joined by Police Officers of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, came under rifle fire. Their tires were shot out and because of the fire they were unable to reach Agents Williams and Coler for several hours.

Agents Williams and Coler were hit early in the fusillade and were only able to fire five rounds in return. Agent Coler's handgun was fired once and Agent Williams had fired his handgun twice. Agent Coler had two long guns in his vehicle, each of which had been fired once.

Agent Coler had been hit in the arm, which was nearly severed. This wound was sustained while retrieving his long guns from the trunk of his car. His arm had been wrapped with a makeshift tourniquet by Agent Williams. Agent Williams was wounded in his left arm, side, and foot.

Once Agents Williams and Coler were no longer able to fight, the three principal shooters walked to the agents' cars. Those individuals were Leonard Peltier, Robert Robideau, and Darrelle Butler. Peltier had been in the pursued vehicle, while Robideau and Butler had come from the nearby tent encampment. Peltier was not the subject of the warrant Agents Williams and Coler were trying to serve. However, he was wanted on a separate warrant for Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) for the Attempted Murder of an off-duty police officer in Milwaukee. His presence on the Reservation was unknown to Williams and Coler.

There was no eyewitness testimony as to the exact events at the agents' cars. Both Agents were executed at close range with an AR-15 rifle. Agent Williams was shot in the head, killing him instantly. A defensive wound on his right hand indicated he had put his hand up in front of his face before the shot was fired. Agent Coler was viciously shot twice in the head while lying on the ground, unconscious or near unconscious.

Leonard Peltier fled to Canada, but was eventually captured by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and extradited to the United States. On April 18, 1977, he was found guilty of the first-degree murders of Williams and Coler. On June 1, 1977, Chief U.S. District Judge Paul Benson sentenced Peltier to two consecutive life terms for the murders. All his appeals have been rejected.”

I posted the entire story of the tragic Pine Ridge shooting because there is much we can learn from this incident. I know law enforcement (LE) uses this for training of what not to do. Most civilians won’t be put in a situation like this, but we can still learn combat driving tactics to get out of a situation like this.
You have to always be wary of driving or walking into an ambush. One of the worst situations you can be in is an ambush from simultaneous multiple directions. It’s hard to fight against. Really the only way to get out of this situation is retreat very fast. This is not something the average soldier or LE officer is wired for. We need to understand that retreat is a maneuver that can save you. It is seldom used in training but should always be an option.
Driving out of the kill zone is the only way to survive, especially if rifle rounds are being used. A vehicle has very little cover unless it is armored with plating.
In training I was put in a similar situation. Lucky for me I had not penetrated the kill zone all the way. They implemented the ambush too soon. There was no one behind me. Out of fear I instinctively threw the car in reverse and floored it. I should have executed a J turn but in my, what I later described as “controlled panic”, I just wanted out of there. We were using paintball and it sounded similar to live fire rounds hitting the vehicle. It was not fun to get hit by about 30 rounds by the time I was out of range.
In a real world situation if you can’t drive out your only chance is to get out. We implemented some egress drills where if you are with a team someone lays down suppressive fire while the others move away and toward cover if possible. Then a team member gives the same cover to the suppressive member and he retreats. We did it with and without injuries to ourselves or hauling another member out. I would much rather only worry about myself. One drill that we only survived once, was a two man team with one injured. The successful attempt was due to accurate suppressive fire that actually hit two attackers. I don’t know if we would have survived any other way. Being prepared to drag someone out is something that should be practiced. At that time we were all in out early 20’s and in pretty good shape. Add 20 years and 60 pounds to everyone and it may be impossible. Being dressed properly would help. Sandals and shorts may not be a good idea all the time.
In the Pine Ridge shootout “being saved” never happened because of the situation. The backup was there but pinned down. The agents also were hit with a well-executed ambush which accounts for their not returned very much fire. Backup did no good other than keeping suppressive fire coming their way keeping those rounds from going to the doomed agents.
During an ambush you need to think “Is retreat possible?” Then be prepared for egress if you can’t drive out. Never giving up is also something that needs to be thought out. As soon as you give up it’s over.
If you even think you’re going to need more firepower have it handy. Fighting your way to your rifle is a nice thing to say to emphasize the need for a rifle, but I’m not sure it’s very real.
Coler’s trunk was accessed. As soon as you open that trunk, you have targeted yourself. The same thing happened to Gordon McNeil in The Miami Massacre 11 years after Pine Ridge. If the shooting starts and you are not an arm’s reach from your rifle, get used to fighting with your side arm. This is why it is emphasized so heavily to always be near your rifle in the military.
Training only at 0 to 15 feet is bad idea. You should know how your handgun shoots at 25 or even 50 yards. Shooting prone is safer and easier. If possible getting out of the vehicle, using it for some cover and shooting prone may be a good defense.
Medical training is also something we learn we should have from this shooting. In this situation a hospital was several minutes away. With Williams life threatening wounds Coler needed to be able to give first aid. It looks like he tried to help Williams with a tourniquet. It would be good to have a good first aid kit close and the training to work on someone else or yourself. If the attack stopped and he was able to put on an effective tourniquet, Coler may have been able to save his partner. Knowing how to treat yourself with one hand is something that should be practiced a bit before actually having to do it. Maybe practice on yourself using water as a blood substitute to simulate how being bloody would make treating yourself that much harder.
If we’re talking about lots of work with your handgun then you need to know an honest understanding of your limits with your gun. Practice whatever is needed to increase your effectiveness with your handgun. Train realistically. All those people standing there in a weaver shooting 25 feet at paper will think your nuts. But you will be better prepared if the unthinkable ever happens.
I’ll be the first to say the above ambush will probably never happen to you unless you are LE or go to Afghanistan. But it’s good to have the knowledge for a possible “without rule of law” scenario that may come your way.
Semper Paratus
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