My Extended Weekend of Punishment and Preparation at the Direct Action Resource Center
June 24-27th I had the honor of taking the Tactical Urban Sustainment Course (TUSC) at Direct Action Resource Center (DARC) in Little Rock, Arkansas.
What is DARC and What is Their Mission
“Direct Action Resource Center, founded in 1996 by former Green Beret, R. Mason, is one of the leading training resource centers in the industry. DARC specializes in a myriad of tactical, technical, and strategic planning, developmental training, testing, evaluation and implementation for the military, law enforcement, public agencies, US government agencies and private enterprises.”
– The DARC website
TUSC is unlike other DARC courses in that it is designed for any responsible member of the general public, not just those in a military or law enforcement role. You stay on-site and must pack your own meals for the duration of the course. TUSC is designed to simulate and prepare students for scenarios in which both modern infrastructure and rule of law is diminished. It’s easy to hear this summary and dismiss it as “unrealistic”. On the surface, it may sound like something straight out of Mad Max or The Walking Dead. However, someone could easily experience AT LEAST one event that the TUSC course could prepare them to handle. The best examples would be the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Minneapolis Riots (2020), the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle (2020), and the Valentine’s week winter storm in Texas (2021). Extrapolated further, one must simply look to Ukraine to see situations where average citizens are thrusted into a new reality of having to self-sustain and master their own environment without the assistance or the amenities of modern society.
This write-up won’t cover the specifics of what I learned, but rather will highlight some of the principal takeaways and some questions to ask in preparing your plans and mindset for a potential TUSC scenario.
As stated on the DARC website regarding this course “TUSC addresses some of the tactics and techniques that could be utilized by a small cohesive group to secure their assets and survive during a period of political, social and economic instability with localized recurrent levels of violence where the rule of law is absent or virtually nonexistent.”
What TUSC Is Not
TUSC is not a wilderness survival course. TUSC isn’t a summer camp that trains you to live off the land after you disappear from the city into the wilderness. Most people live in an urban/suburban area and bugging out to the wilderness is logistical impossibility if someone wants to plan for success.
TUSC is also not an assaulter’s course. Outside of some basic CQB and small unit tactics, this class isn’t going to turn you into a high-speed operator. The tactics that were covered are simply designed to keep you alive in contested areas and give you the tools you need to rebuff attacks from other parties.
Day One: “Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable”
Day One started out with the basics. We were assigned to small teams with a team leader, and we broke off to first do a shake-down of everything we packed. Linked below is a great video from Spiritus Systems covering a very versatile loadout of equipment for TUSC. If you attend TUSC, you will also receive a packing list that may have been updated since this video.
All that said, I am a chronic over-packer. And I managed to (barely) fit everything that I would ideally be able to keep on me into my pack. After some discussion, we partitioned off items we felt we could live without. I cringed a little at the thought of having to give up some redundancies and extra supplies but realized by the evening that I had done myself a favor by ditching the extra weight. After our first day of classroom lessons and physical exertion with some small unit tactics (SUT) intros, all I wanted to do was rest.
We were told that a simulated opposing force (OPFOR) of TUSC graduates was out actively looking for us all night and that we had to maintain complete light, info, odor, and noise discipline throughout the entire evening, and that a minimum of two people would be awake at any given time for security and for hourly radio check-ins with the other teams that were scattered around the campus. Sleeping outside is hard enough, but in extreme heat and in disjointed shifts, it becomes even more difficult. Also, because of the light discipline requirement, everyone had to ruck through the wilderness with the assistance of our Night Observation Devices (NODs). Having owned and trained with my NODs, I didn’t fair too bad. However, this was still the longest amount of time a had worn a night-vision goggle (NVG) system and increasing the weight of your head by 10-15 percent doesn’t go unnoticed by your body when it’s done for that long. My pack was heavy, I could barely carry it. As a result of my lack of upper body strength and my overpacking, I was clunky and goofy anytime we had to move our patrol base. Once we settled in, I threw a bug net over my whole body. This worked well keeping them off my face as I attempted sleep, but I had long sweated off all the bug repellant I had sprayed on, and anywhere the net lay flat enough for a bug to get a bite, they had a full buffet.
I debated on confessing this, but I wanted to quit. I had begun thinking of how I would do it. Make up some lie. Pretend to be sick. Say I had a family emergency. Somehow, I talked myself out of it every time, but not by much. I kept repeating back to myself a phrase we learned the first day in the classroom, “mindset, skillset, toolset.” If I couldn’t keep my mindset positive, I wasn’t going to learn anything. Despite my misery, I knew that whatever I experienced this weekend would be a walk in the park compared to what a “real life” scenario would be like. If I can’t survive this weekend, I might as well not even bother trying to prepare for a true emergency. It was by every definition “uncomfortable” and by pure exhaustion I got some sleep after making camp and then again after completing my guard shift. I share this in all honesty so that it will be an encouragement if you decide to take the TUSC course or anything similar where you find your own will being challenged, “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Questions for Yourself:
- When was the last time you deliberately made life uncomfortable for yourself to test your own limits?
- Have you tested your own ability to carry everything you need to survive in an emergency situation on your own back?
Day Two: “The Water Tax”
Day Two, I woke up not completely soaked, but the thick fog from the night before had left me damp from head to toe. Little did I know, this was an omen for what was to come. Water would be the focus of the day. Once we settled into the classroom, we were presented with a flood of water wisdom. You see, when we live in modern America, we don’t even have to think about water. We turn on the faucet and it just appears. The result of the convenience of water, is that we are wasteful with it, without a second thought. At TUSC, we had to procure our own water from the swamp, and then filter and treat it for consumption and cooking. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to carry and work a multistep (and ideally, semi-sterile) process at the point of physical exhaustion, with extremely poor sleep, and dirty working conditions? I'm starting to, but I still feel barely competent at the task.
This was easily the hottest day, and some of us (myself included) were sweating out water as fast as we could consume it. To add insult to injury, we quickly realized that all the items currently available on the market for water filtration and treatment are nowhere near sufficient to sustain an individual for any realistic amount of time; much less a family. Most of what currently exists as a “plug and play” water treatment system is for short-term individual use on camping/backpacking trips. We were introduced to some do-it-yourself options that could scale up for family use, but months of planning are required to get the systems in place. Keep in mind, those months of setup are only possible when done in a time where access to modern infrastructure is still existent. That became a consistent theme throughout all TUSC; the notion that planning before an emergency was the only way to guarantee success. Much like the rest of life, truly successful people are able to delay gratification for the bigger value at a later time.
As the day progressed into night, the heat didn’t let up. We made basecamp in a shoot house and established a sleep/guard rotation so that most people would be able to rest or do administration tasks like filter and treat water. Due to the scorching weather, even trying to sleep was a chore. I specifically remember laying on my sleeping mat with my bug net draped over me and just pouring sweat right off my body. It was so bad that when we were engaged by OPFOR, I was happy, as it was a chance to leave the shoot house and have something to do in the outside breeze.
What also became apparent in this exercise, is how disjointed sleeping becomes in a survival environment. Tasks can come up ad hoc, security can never fall below 33 percent, and engagements with opposing forces are not planned. Thus having an ability to sleep whenever possible becomes paramount. There is a haze that your mind gets pushed into and recollection of events can be disjointed. As I reflect on my experience, I really can’t remember exactly when I did fall asleep that night and how many security shifts I was woken up for.
Questions for Yourself:
- Can you mass-manufacture water without functioning utilities?
- Are you putting off preparations because there isn’t an impending danger right now?
- Have you practiced using your gear for sustainment, or are you under the assumption that you understand its limitations?
// Keep a watch out for PART II of my experience at TUSC.