Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Inaugural Instructor Enrichment Program (IEP) with Apache Solutions of Yadkinville, NC. The three-day course was held Friday, November 17 through Sunday, November 19. It was attended by fourteen professional firearms instructors from across the country. I was extremely pleased that six attendees were women. In fact, the participants were quite diverse in many areas, including age and experience, which lent to the overall value of the course.
Based on the title alone, I knew this experience would be one to remember. It’s an enrichment program, rather than an instructor development or qualification course. That’s what makes it unique. Apache has set out to enrich the skills already existing within the professional firearms industry. They have successfully designed a system where instructors are provided a graded assessment, based on data-driven metrics and feedback, allowing input from a diverse network of professional colleagues within the firearms industry. During the three days of participation, instructors are evaluated, and data is collected for feedback and action. This allows a unique experience that is both challenging and adaptable, while also encouraging continuous improvement and progression.
The inaugural IEP session was filled by invitation only. All attending instructors held professional certifications, most commonly Rangemaster credentials. Admittedly, I was impressed by those who attended, as their stellar reputations and contributions preceded them. It was a remarkable group providing an exclusive experience!
The seriousness of the course objectives was evident upon registration. Before the initial day of class, a series of pre-course assignments were required, providing a graded opportunity for participants to demonstrate professional presentation skills, organization, executive presence, safety implementation, and activity planning. Additional presentation topics were assigned, to be presented on the range, along with a written task due upon arrival to the class.
Training began in the classroom with an overview of the schedule and a review of adult learning theory. A meticulously written manual accompanied the course, covering topics such as range management, skill building, marketing, and techniques for teaching technical skills. Also included were worksheets and assignments encouraging a systematic approach to designing exercises and drills to teach almost any aspect of marksmanship and basic gun handling. Just before lunch, it was pop quiz time. While this made me extremely nervous, I was excited about the purpose of these exercises. More important than our performance on written or shooting qualifications was our ability to soberly evaluate ourselves as instructors. This was one of the many measures that made the IEP stand out.
The entirety of the course thereafter, apart from about thirty minutes at the conclusion, was held on the range. Each participant was paired with another who would act as a coach during range activities. Unlike other courses that continuously swap coaches throughout, this assignment persisted through the weekend, allowing for much more in-depth feedback and solid relationship building. My partner was amazing! I learned as much from her, if not more, as I did from any other portion of the course. We were invested in one another’s success, and it showed. Quite honestly, my performance on the final day looked completely different than the first, and it’s due to Shannon’s coaching! Many others felt the same and built bonds that will continue into the distant future.
Each instructor had multiple opportunities to manage the firing line, guiding participants through range exercises and drills. Presentations were reviewed and accessed by the Apache staff and participating instructors against a standard set of criteria, allowing a full 360° of feedback. From my perspective, this was the most valuable portion of the course. I received direct and authentic reinforcement, criticism, guidance, and instruction that I have already begun to implement. Everyone attending was a highly regarded, professional instructor. To receive personal, immediate guidance from each is invaluable – nothing to take for granted.
Range time also included several drills and qualifications shot for score. Shooting qualifications included a calibrated assessment developed by Apache to measure technical skills. Any marksmanship proficiency imaginable was reviewed, practiced, and tested at some point during the well-rounded range drills. As with any program, challenge coins were offered through a couple of friendly competitions, but that wasn’t the focus. We were there to recognize our personal benchmarks and as certain a path to improvement.
I ended the course in tears, literally. They were tears of joy and gratitude. During our final remarks, I couldn’t help but reflect on my journey. As I mentioned to the class, I never imagined myself sitting among such elite individuals. I started this journey to address a lack of diversity within the 2A community - to simply create a "safe environment" where anyone could learn to safely exercise their Second Amendment rights. Seeing such a diverse group of professionals and having the opportunity to gain such elite knowledge was beyond anything I could imagine. The tears flowed from a heart of appreciation, as this is an experience I will always cherish. To be in that room was an honor! To be a part of history, as I believe this is, was nothing short of amazing. Apache’s IEP fills a gap that hasn’t previously existed in the firearms industry.
I promised myself that I would take the course again, and regularly. The layout permits a different experience every time, with varying instructors attending each session. The grading encourages constant improvement, and the course design, relying heavily on the contribution of instructors in attendance, ensures that no two classes will be alike.
Any firearms instructor who wants to master their craft needs this Instructor Enrichment Program. It’s the only opportunity I’m aware of that allows each participant to gather professional, data and performance-driven advice from a community of professionals.
The IEP does not result in a terminal badge of honor. This program extends beyond a pass/fail designation or certification. Instead, each participant receives a grade, based on a traditional grading scale (A-D, with an F requiring remediation). Contributing factors include pre-course work, safety, presentation skills, range management, and more. Peer evaluation weighs heavily into the final grade, allowing for a well-rounded assessment.
I am proud to have earned a B in the class. This course is quite challenging. My goal is to apply lessons learned and to return, seeking improvement with each iteration. The bar is high, but there were quite a few in our session that passed with an A. It is possible, but certainly not easy!
Three days of instruction allows for a well-rounded and thorough experience. Equipment needs are very reasonable and suitable for the exercises performed.
• About 600 rounds of ammunition.
• A reliable handgun. Most instructors ran their EDC systems.
• Quality holster. This course allowed for appendix carry, unlike many others. Almost all exercises are conducted from presentation, so a good holster is necessary.
• Dummy rounds.
• Shot timer.
• Sharpie or large marker.
• A professional level of vulnerability and an open mind! This course is not for those who want to be defensive or argumentative. It’s not for those who just want to be the best in the room. It is for professionals serious about becoming the best version of themselves as a firearms instructor. Many perspectives are shared, so new ideas and concepts are inevitable. They should be embraced. I can honestly say that the entire Apache cadre and all attendees offered valuable guidance, correction, coaching, and advice.
The Apache Solutions team has filled a gap with this program. In my opinion, this course should be a requirement for every serious instructor with ambition, professional maturity, and business acumen. It offers a perfect opportunity for regular, ongoing assessment and growth. The Apache cadre – Tim, Frank, Dan, Zach, Derek, and Murphy – worked extremely hard to develop a program and course guide that has certainly raised the bar for the industry, ensuring communities are safely and professionally trained in pistol craft. I am thankful to have been one of the “beta testers” and will continue to be a student of the course!