Montana RTO Course: Two Student Reviews

Every class is a humbling experience. The opportunity to meet and arm good people with the knowledge and resources to make themselves and their groups better is one that I do not take lightly. At the behest of the staff at American Partisan, we brought the RTO Course to Montana and the American Redoubt. It was an incredible weekend from my perspective and one that, Lord willing, we’ll be doing again in 2019.

 

That said, I’ll let the students take over.

NCScout’s RTO Course (Montana 2018) – Review

First and foremost I want to say NCScout’s RTO course is by the best course I’ve ever taken and I’ve taken some pretty cool courses out there over the years. Granted, it is focused on communications and radio, so if you are already interested it will make it all the more interesting. I also want to thank those in MT who helped facilitate and organize the course, they are great people and their efforts are very much appreciated.
Day 1:
NCScout greeted us all as we came in, with smile and a handshake (good start). The majority of us in the class were amateur radio operators, a couple of us were AmRRON members, with varying degrees of skill. I my self have been a ham for 11 years, but have only recent started using my license so my hands on experience was limited to barely moderate. First we covered traffic handling and report formats, something I’ve never learned before and NCScout really broke all of it down in bite sized pieces so everyone understood it well, with many questions politely and professionally answered throughout. The breaks between each small chunk of info I believed helped with retention and allowed us a few minutes to process the info and take any further notes. We decided on code names, Primary, Alternate, and Emergency frequencies (FRS/GMRS), authentication phrases with corresponding translation matrix (simple number to letter association in order 0-9), and a password challenge for in person verification or search and rescue operations.

 

After learning some basic traffic handling we broke into two groups and one group stayed near the classroom and the other walked across a field. We practiced being the two different teams in the field sending SAULTE and other military style reports, all the while practicing authenticating and short and concise radio transmissions. The entire time NCScout was encouraging us, giving us pointers, and tips which were all great and actually helpful. Then we switched places with the other team and copied reports they sent us. At the time we were acting as two separate teams in the field, but this was really more of a TOC (Tactical Operations Center)/Scout team deployment scenario, as all field exercises were for the course.

After the first field exercise we covered basic antenna theory and I would have to agree with previous reviewers, NCScout has a way of explaining it so that it is easy to understand. Also the fact that you have a subject matter expert there so that you can ask all those questions you have when you’re at home reading a manual or article that could be used as a form of torture is key. Specifically we covered the specs, operating characteristics, and construction of a dipole antenna, in this case a Jungle Antenna. We also covered how line of site communications worked and how it does not work, with a number of equipment and operating suggestions. We all continued to build our own antenna (you get to keep) to cover a specific frequency band as NCScout walked around answering questions and helping each of us where we needed it. After building the antenna I honestly feel confident enough not only to build more dipole antennas, but also other antenna types. NCScout really removed the mystery (or lack of confidence) from the mysterious art of building functional improvised antennas. Sometimes we just need someone who knows what they are doing to get over that self induced hump, that was definitely me before this class. We proceeded to test one of the antennas we built on a few different radios while it was hanging from a tree close by. We did have an issue with hearing repeaters, but they were just too far away. We did notice a huge performance difference with the improvised antenna for the NOAA station we could pick up over the stock antennas on the radios, the quality of reception increased dramatically.
After lunch we came back, covered other antenna types (he brought one example Yagi) and, as the earlier dipole instruction, I really understood Yagi antennas MUCH more after NCScout explained them and answered some of my questions. I will definitely be building a Yagi in the near future, because of the great instruction. We did not build any of the other LOS (Line of Sight) style antenna types, but I learned enough to be able to build one from cheap materials quite easily, so the I retained enough from his instruction to move on. We moved on to Digital Modes, a basic overview of how they work, which ones are most common, and discussed the negatives of some of the modern vendor specific digital modes namely on HT (handheld radios). We didn’t go very heavily into digital modes, especially since these classes may not have licensed hams in them, the subject could easily be a course of it’s own (would be nice if SOMEONE could facilitate that), but it was a good overview and a lot of great suggestions came out of it.
Later that afternoon we covered HF (High Frequency) prorogation (bouncing off the ionosphere) as well as NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave). We learned the benefits and limitations of both and also the effects of band conditions (Solar weather) on HF communications. We then proceeded to build one HF antenna for 40 meters (range of HF frequencies) and take it outside and test it using a few different radios, including the new CTX-10 QRP radio (which had some VERY cool built in features), and other people’s radios they brought with them. At the time we tested there was little traffic and the band conditions were pretty bad so we weren’t able to make any contacts, but the improvised antenna was working and you could hear some faint traffic. We tried a digital mode, but there was a technical issue (timing) on the tester’s computer. We ran late that day (6PM) testing the antenna and bombarding NCScout with questions who kept on patiently and politely answering.
Day 2:
We covered some more OPORD (Operations Orders) and how to set things like your groups Missions, Execution (details and timeline), Support (who is carrying what), Command org, and the importance of memorizing your SOI. Then continued into how to setup your TOC and got suggestions in regards to that. We covered the usefulness of generating One Time Pads and just so happened to have an expert of sorts in the class as well who gave a demonstration of a useful device and answered some questions. Then we did one more field exercise where we had a couple of the classmates do suspicious stuff (passing off items and planting things in the ground) as a team (scouts) observed them, then we created reports and reported into the TOC who repeated our reports and confirmed. We then switched places with the other group so each team got to be either Scouts or the TOC. At the time we found our primary frequency would not reach the distance we were at in the field from the metal building classroom, so we had to switch to the alternate frequency (real world reason). We also covered some more equipment suggestions like a TACH Headset or a H-250 Handset. After our exercise we learned what an After Action Review is and then did one for the course.
Summary:
This by far was one of the best courses I’ve taken, and I’ve taken some fun firearms training courses and a great intelligence related course (also fun). NCScout is a great teacher, funny guy, who has great stories and examples to share and is very approachable. He definitely radiated the “there is no stupid question” vibe and was great about trying his best answer all the questions and asked numerous times if we had any more questions before moving on to other subjects. The setting was professional, the field exercises were orderly, and there was plenty of room for people to talk and network with each other, I know I met some great guys from surrounding states and exchange some contact information. I would say the only thing I can think of that could use some slight improvement is informing people of specific meeting locations (either for the meet and greet or the actual location of the classroom at the facility) and maybe a description of whomever so we know who to look out for. Otherwise I can’t wait to take one of NCScouts other courses and I hope we can get him back up here to the American Redoubt, if not Idaho next time.  😀
You can find more information about NCScout and his courses, as well as awesome articles at: https://brushbeater.wordpress.com/
And for the second:

Class review, 8-9 Sep 2018, Hamilton, Montana

This was the first time that NCScout had come up to this neck of the woods to teach a class, and so it was also the first time we had all met him. The first thing that struck me about him is that he’s down-to-earth, has an incredible passion for what he’s teaching, and is an extremely skilled educator. I’ve been to a lot of classes with a variety of well-known and not-so-well-known instructors, and NCScout was hands down one of the best, if not THE best.

I was skeptical about how good the class would be since I’m a comms newbie and am starting from the basement. I was even more so when I saw that there were some seriously advanced people there, including a guy from AMRRON. I figured there was no way that NCScout could bridge that gap and help both of us learn something. I was wrong; he managed to take every single person’s skill level and raise it. Every one of us in that class learned a great deal, and most importantly, we all took those skills and knowledge back to our own groups, where we can teach others as well. We all left that class with knowledge, but also a comfort level in what we learned so we can teach our own groups and get more people trained.

The entire class was practical knowledge. Rather than get lost in the esoterics of radio theory or play with the “What should I buy” list, he showed us the stuff we really needed to know, such as how to make do with what we have and get the absolute most out of our existing equipment. We learned basic antenna theory, sure—and then we built antennas that we could all take home and use. In fact, the supplies to outfit a full class of people with a working antenna cost much less than $100, and all of the supplies were from a local hardware store. We learned to improvise in the field, when we don’t have the money or time to mess with a high-end antenna or tinker for weeks in the garage building one. We built a functional antenna in 10 minutes that fits into our kit and can be deployed with some sticks and 550 cord. That alone was invaluable, and that wasn’t even close to the last of what we learned.

Proper handling of radio traffic, discipline, and reporting was also front and center; we learned how to convey the most (and most critical) information in a logical process that is standardized and easily worked with while still protecting the group’s location or identity. We also practiced field communication tactics and observation, and everyone got a chance to really work the radios and get comfortable with doing it while practicing new skills.

We also saw some other things as well: a brand new HF radio model get demo’d for the first time ever, as well as the AMRRON one time pad generator. It was amazing to see these products in action, but we also learned a bit about how solar cycles can affect transmission and reception while watching them work. The best part was seeing a pair of radios communicate through encryption and learning that you don’t need to spend thousands on special equipment; a certain $60 radio, used properly, can protect you in all the ways you need.

One of the biggest parts of what made this class so good was how it was structured. There was no after-lunch slump in which you struggle to stay awake while barely getting anything out of the class. Instead, all note-taking or theory was done in the mornings; afternoons were spent outside in the fresh air, putting the new info to use in a real and practical way. Breaks were offered every 30 minutes; they broke up the day very well and kept us focused and fresh.

As I mentioned, NCScout is an amazing instructor. He is entertaining, fun to learn from, and peppers his lessons with real-world examples so we can see the potential fallout of a decision or mistake. He also, however, made the class a lot of fun, and rather than being stuck in a room we were all over the fairgrounds, practicing everything from SALUTE, SALT, or ANGUS reporting to deploying our antennas. On the last day we even set up and ran a TOC (Tactical Operations Center), to learn how to properly interface with guys in the field during an exercise or real-world scenario.

All in all, there isn’t much I would have wished differently. There were some really uncomfortable metal folding chairs, but the frequent breaks mitigated some of that and it wasn’t his fault since they came with the venue. Class went from 0900-1800 the first day; we ran late so that people could get a chance to use their own (new) gear and get a feel for it. We were out the door on Sunday by 1400, however, and that gave long-distance folks a head start getting home. Everything about that training showed professionalism, passion, humor, and just a great time. NCScout’s attitude alone puts him at the top of the list of instructors offering must-take classes. If you haven’t gotten a chance to take his RTO course, do it. There is literally nothing you will regret about doing so.

Again, to all who attended, I thank you very deeply for the opportunity and the excellent weekend. The hospitality and welcoming of the Redoubt Region could not be any better. Lord willing we’ll be there again. In the meantime, consider taking advantage of the training opportunities we have open if you’re looking for courses to take you and yours to the next level. We’ve got classes through the spring of 2019 with new dates to be added soon.

We’ll see you out there.

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4 thoughts on “Montana RTO Course: Two Student Reviews

  1. Pingback: Brushbeater RTO Course – Why You Should Take It – Lower Valley Assembly

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