Despite 12 years of continuous combat experience and significant advances in material, design and manufacture technology, the military's holster selection process and guidance on wear still leaves plenty to be desired.
Holster choice is largely inconsistent, frequently arbitrary and only rarely reflected in training or on the square range.
I know this to be true - I just don't know if there's anything to be done about it.
Proper holster selection and wear is important. It should be thoroughly researched, should reflect lessons learned and based on body dynamics and mission. It should not automatically be the victim of intra- and inter-unit conformity. It should certainly not be based on the uninformed advice of untrained and inexperienced peers or the peremptory decision of SNCOs or officers who may have no qualitative rationale (or practical experience) upon which to base their decision.
When I'm addressing the subject of holsters, I'm talking as much about their location in relation to natural body dynamics, expected mission, and how their worn as I am about the breed, brand and construction. There is often very little informed guidance on what in an ideal world would be an individual choice made within an approved selection pool of gear that meets required criterion. The wear location would be tailored to mission, loadout, personal preference and training
Want to wear a holster mounted on the chest of your plate carrier? Fine, choose from holster models X, Y and Z and then qualify and perform proficiency training from that holster on the range. Before making your choice, have the options explained to you by someone who understand the pros and cons of wear locations and the merits of certain build styles. This could mean for instance that the sight of someone wearing a dropleg like Han Solo might quickly become a thing of the past. It might even result in the abolition of droplegs and shoulder holsters entirely except in those cases where it's genuinely needed or beneficial.
Right now, we have droplegs (also called thigh rigs and subloads), crossdraw chest mounted holsters, vertical chest mounted holsters, under-the arm shoulder holsters and a few others. In some cases there are excellent provisions for modularity, such as the Safariland 6004/6005 with QLS and the G-Code RTI system.
Unfortunately, only some Joes and Janes have access to them. Worse yet, in a distressing number of situations those who do have such access are not allowed to wear them except under strict guidelines.
As an example, I was once told at an Air Education and Training Command base that I needed to switch from my belt-mounted holster with a 1" drop to a thigh rig with the (one) spare mag pouch mounted on the same shroud as the pistol. Based upon several years of experience, I protested, explaining that it wasn't a particularly good way to carry in a patrol vehicle, with a garrison law enforcement load and that it impeded running.
I brought up the difficulties inherent in reaching for a strong side dropleg mag pouch with a support side hand and the problems that might result from suddenly making that change after nearly a decade and a half of muscle memory attuned to drawing from the support side waist.
The response from the lieutenant colonel was: "You'll wear it because we bought them, you'll wear it that way because I told you to, and you'll wear it that way because everyone else is."
I would like to think it was a problem presented by an officer more functionary than leader, but such situations unfortunately occur in every branch of service in virtually every MOS and AFSC.
"I think we should ignore types of holsters and focus first on carry location in relation to posture and mission. For instance, regarding droplegs, I have a huge problem attaching a lethal instrument to a part of the body designed to move independently of the body core. There are many options for clearing body armor that don't involve a weak femoral tourniquet. I also think anyone calling gear audibles from behind a desk is potentially dangerous, especially if they've been riding a desk so long they prefer salads to steak," said KitUp! Contributing Writer Aaron Cowan.
On another occasion, all personnel assigned to a deployed search pit were issued M9 shoulder holsters because it was "easier to move around in and under the vehicles." I asked for a day on the range to get them used to the dynamics of drawing and reholstering from the brand new kit. My request was ridiculed as unnecessary.
This haphazard, less than urgent approach is echoed in some deployed locations still today. Regardless of the end user's mission, it just doesn't seem like a holster wearer's potential activities - climbing walls, wading ditches, deploying from vehicles, roping down through a hellhole - has much bearing on the end choice.
“Theoretically we could develop a list of holsters that meet the required principles: security, reliability and practicability. If the holster meets those requirements, the rest should be left to personal preference. For instance, IMO droplegs have their place, but only when someone is wearing heavy external body armor. Senior leaders who don't actually do the job and therefore never train for missions are the last people who should set gear requirements. Too many leaders view conformity as more valuable than effectiveness. Impractical or even potentially dangerous holsters mandated by uninformed leaders are just one symptom of that much larger problem," said Kit Up! Contributing Writer Chris Hernandez.
Only rarely is there much in the way of holster choice, and only more rarely is that choice made as an informed decision.
These aren't rhetorical questions - is there a way to provide a list of acceptable holster models in order to accommodate preference, body style, operating environment and loadout? Is there a way to make sure acceptable holster choices are determined based on a hard, realistic evaluation, or is this whole thing - like our efforts to get rid of the reflective belt - just a quixotic exercise in futility?