In Remembrance of Rex Applegate
Rex Applegate is known to many as an innovative American Army officer who worked for Wild Bill Donovan during World War II.
Applegate did indeed work for Donovan's Office of Strategic Services (OSS), training numerous covert operators for behind-the-lines missions in Axis-controlled areas. During his time with OSS, Applegate worked closely with another legendary trainer, British Captain William Fairbairn. Together, they designed a training program intended to equip raw recruits with the tools necessary to prevail in spontaneous close quarters engagements.
One of the training modules they constructed and ran was known as the "House of Horrors."
What a lot of people don't know is that Applegate started his military career as a member of the 209th Military Police Company. Fairbairn was also a police officer with a military background, serving with the Shanghai Municipal Police before World War II.
This background would allow them to see the law enforcement applications for the type of training they provided to their OSS students. It would also bring Applegate's attention back to the matter of police firearms training--to the chagrin of many--in his later years.
The author of such seminal texts as Kill or Get Killed and Crowd and Riot Control, Applegate's opinion carried a lot of weight. In the matter of police firearms training, however, he found his views scoffed at by many. The Modern Technique of the Pistol, a system of pistol fighting that demanded the use of the sights under practically all conditions, had come into vogue during the late 1970s, and its proponents deemed any type of pistol combat system that didn't adhere to the new philosophy as heresy.
Never intimidated by anyone, Applegate rose to the occasion and began to try and educate the members of the law enforcement training community about what they were missing. It was during this period (the late 1980s-early 90s) that I had my first opportunity to speak with the Colonel. I was far from alone. Police and military trainers from across the globe had started to believe there was a problem with the so-called Modern Technique training approach that had been taken. The problem was easily identified by the extremely low hit rates officers were achieving nationally. Many of us sought out Colonel Applegate's counsel.
Applegate had the answer. "They're not training them to use the pistol the way they will actually need to use it."
Numerous telephone conversations, letters and videos later, I finally understood. Once I could see it, it became painfully obvious. Applegate was right. We (law enforcement) were primarily training our people to pass marksmanship qualification courses--not to prevail in a close quarter spontaneous gunfight with a determined opponent.
Once the fire was lit, the path forward was visible. We needed to take a fresh look at police firearms training and fix the deficiencies. Who better to lead this charge than the legend himself, Rex Applegate?
The only problem was the one enemy none of us can defeat--time. Applegate, then in his 80s, continued to march and did his best to get the word out. As more officers/trainers began to see the logic in his approach, the call went out for him to return to the fray and help more of us see the way forward. He did.
The week he died, he was scheduled to address a police training seminar in San Diego. A few weeks after that, he was scheduled to come to Massachusetts to present a seminar for Saber Group, Inc. To say I was heartbroken when we lost him is an understatement. Above all else, I wanted to thank him personally for never giving up the fight; for continuing to care so deeply about the members of law enforcement that he put his ailing body through much more than we had a right to ask.
Hard to believe the "Old Man's" been gone now for 18 years. Even harder to believe that the fight continues, for so many still can't see the logic of the reality-based approach to police firearms training.
Continue it does, though, Colonel.
Rest easy, Sir.