Alert Carry Conditions

Alert Carry Conditions


Our Pistol Fundamentals students have requested a glossary of the “tacticool” terms we use.  This isn’t a complete dictionary, but it’s a start.  Specifically, it addresses different ways to keep ammo in your firearm.

But first, some definitions:

B-52–a large, 8 engined bomber.  Affectionately called the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat, uh, Fella) by it’s crews, the last B-52 rolled off the assembly line in 1962.  Some of them are still in service.  They were on nuclear alert duty 24/7 from the 1950s through 1989, when President George Herbert Walker Bush stood down the bomber alert force.

Brewing Fight–a fight that is going to happen, but you are not yet actively, directly under attack.

CFLCC–Pronounced “see flick.”  Coalition Forces Land Component Commander.  Usually the head Army honcho in a given theater of operations.

Double Action (DA)–A trigger system capable of both cocking and releasing the hammer.  Most DA systems can be cocked (either manually, in the case of a revolver, or by the slide, in the case of a pistol).  When the hammer is cocked, the trigger only performs a single action–releasing the hammer.  Cockable systems are referred to as DA / SA, or Double Action / Single Action, to differentiate them from DAO, Double Action Only, systems which do not permit the hammer to stay back.  The trigger pull of DA / SA pistols fluctuates significantly between long, heavy DA and short, light SA.  DAOs are always long and relatively heavy, but they are consistent from shot to shot.

EDC–Every Day Carry.  What you have on you on a more or less daily basis.  It might be handgun, and / or a folding knife, and / or a cell phone, and / or spare magazines, and / or house keys, etc.

Flash Fight–starts before you realize you are in a fight.

Government Model–a classic American design, copied throughout the world, based upon the US military’s M1911 designed in the mid-19-aughts by John Moses Browning.  The M1911 and 1911A1 were standard US service sidearms from 1911 through the late 1980s, and have been in use by several units since.  In its original configuration, it is a long, skinny pistol with a single stack magazine, usually (but not always) chambered with fat .45 ACP cartridges.  It is notable in that it is (except for a few design variants) Single Action only, and must be cocked to use.  It has no external manual decocker.  Most LEOs who carry the Gov’t model carry it with the hammer back and the thumb safety on, “cocked and locked.”

Instrumental use of a weapon–to threaten someone, to get them to do something they would not otherwise want to do (get in the trunk, take off their clothes, let the bad guy tie them up, etc).  The weapon may be used to harm someone eventually, and that may be the long-term plan, but right now that is only an option.

Intentional use of a weapon–the perp came here to murder you, and is in the process of trying to do that.

M4–standard US military carbine, a shorter version of the M16 series.

M9–the US military’s standard sidearm from the mid 1980s through the late 20teens.  Essentially a Beretta 92FS, chambered in 9x19mm (9mm NATO, AKA 9mm Luger / 9mm Parabellum).

M1911–Military version of Colt’s Government model pistol (see Government model),

OODA cycle–a continuous process we all go through, constantly, every day.  OODA stands for Observe (receive input from your senses), Orient (to what is happening), Decide (what to do about it), Act (place your plan into motion).  New stimuli can reset you (or the bad guy) to the Os, regardless of were you were in your previous OODA cycle.

Single Action (SA)–the trigger only performs one function, releasing the hammer or striker.



In the military and law enforcement, “on duty” carry is the condition you carry the firearm in to ensure that it is ready to go.  Jeff Cooper defined different levels of readiness to use a firearm:

Condition 1Round in the chamber, charged (loaded) magazine inserted, hammer back or striker fully cocked.  With firearms that have a safety, the manual safety is ON.  With the venerable Government model (M1911 and its many clones), as well as with ARs, Condition 1 is called “cocked and locked,” as the safety cannot be placed on until the hammer is cocked back.  When the US military adopted the M17 (SIG 320), they insisted that it be retrofitted with an external manual thumb safety like the M1911, even though the striker is not all the way back before the trigger is pulled (see Condition 2).

Condition 2:  This applied specifically to Double Action (DA) pistols and revolvers, although you can also (ill-advisedly) carry a Government model this way if you manually lower the hammer.  It is identical to Condition 1, with a round in the chamber and a charged magazine in the pistol (or loaded revolver cylinder) but the hammer or striker is forward / down, so it must be cocked (either via the trigger or manually) first, in order to fire.  A Beretta M9 with the hammer down over a loaded chamber is in Condition 2, regardless of the position of the decocker / safety, as is (arguably) a chamber loaded Glock or SIG 320 that has no external manual safety.  The Glock striker is half-cocked when the trigger is in the forward position.

Condition 3, otherwise known as “Israeli carry,” has a charged magazine inserted, but NO cartridge in the chamber. Condition 3 seems to work for the Israelis, and is probably advisable with shotguns or ARs transported in vehicles.  However, it has several downsides (see below).

Condition 4 (sometimes called “Condition Zero”), has nothing in the gun.  A charged magazine may be stored elsewhere, ready for immediate insertion.  Legally required during storage or transport in some states.  Some jurisdictions require the magazines to be unloaded as well.



On 27 Apr 2011, a Green on Blue occurred at the Air Command and Control Center (ACCC, or “A-triple C”) at Kabul International Airport.  An Afghan pilot shot and killed 8 USAF personnel and a civilian contractor.  The former Army contractor who was killed was unarmed.  One KIA had an M4 rifle on his person but no ammunition on his person (Condition 4 / Zero).  Of the remaining six USAF personnel in the room when the shooting started, ALL were armed wth M9s in Condition 3–nothing in the chamber.  ALL were killed in that “Flash” type fight without getting off a shot.

Two USAF personnel in the next room, also in condition 3, had time to contemplate the meaning of the gunshots next door (Brewing fight; complete OODA cycles) and thus time to chamber a round (Condition 1 or 2) from Condition 3, which they were required to be in by “CFLCC” / local policy.  While everyone else fled the building, those two courageous airmen engaged the Afghan turncoat in the hallway, and fatally wounded him, but one of them, Capt Nathan Nylander, was also killed in the process.

We may never know the exact sequence of events in that ACCC, or if there was collusion (or at least tacit cooperation) by the numerous other Afghan personnel in the room (none of whom were killed), but one thing is certain:  we stacked the odds against those brave USAF airmen (and the retired Army contractor they were supposed to be protecting with their issued firearms) by not trusting them to keep a round in the chamber of their pistols (or any rounds at all in the M4; he had only recently arrived in country and had not yet been issued ammo).

USAF Policy had been, since 1988, that the Beretta M9 be carried in the holster in Condition 2:  round in the chamber, full magazine inserted, decocker (/ “safety”) OFF.  That is how those brave USAF personnel were trained to carry and present the M9 from the holster–from Condition 2.  I know this because I trained literally thousands of them before they deployed.  But the CFLCC did not trust those advisors working outside the US zone to carry ammo in their chambers (they had been in Condition 4, no ammo in the pistol at all, until only a few months before the April 2011 shooting)–and the US Air Force commanders had caved to the CFLCC’s ignorant, misguided policy. 

One other problem with Condition 3 is that it assumes you have a free hand to jack the slide back.  Our support hand may otherwise be engaged–dragging a wounded partner, holding a cell phone calling 911, off lining the bad guy’s weapon, etc.  It is possible with many (but not all) sighting systems to hook the rear sight or optic on one’s belt (not one’s jockey shorts, boxers, or pajamas) but that is far from certain and induces stoppages when short stroked or stroked with the ejection port too close to the hip.

The point is this:  a pistol is an “airbag” tool of last ditch, IMMEDIATE, close range personal defense.  It is underpowered as a man stopper, and has few advantages, the chief being its portability.  In other words, it can be there when you find yourself in a Flash fight.  If you have time to bust your rifle out of wherever you store it, you probably have time to chamber a round.  Not so much with pistols.



For civilians, regardless of what Condition you choose, there is less distinction between being “on duty” and “off duty” than there is for a law enforcement officer.  The responsibly armed citizen is usually both at the same time:  not looking for trouble, as a cop or soldier sometimes must, but ready to respond to deadly threats in kind.

It might be less imprecise to call civilian “duty” carry or storage “on alert,” like our nuclear armed B-52s were during the Cold War.  An alert bomber might be in flight (like a pistol out and about in EDC), or sitting on the ramp waiting for an order we all hope never comes (like a pistol in the safe at home), but either way, on alert means being ready for battle at an instant’s notice.

If you keep a gun on Alert in your home, I recommend you leave it in a quick access safe.  I have no fiduciary interest in V-line, but I highly recommend their cypher locked safes.  V-lines require no batteries and have no electronic circuitry to fail the one time in your life when you need your piece.  They can be unlocked in the dark in seconds.

If you’re worried about not remembering the combo, leave your car keys in the safe.  You’ll be able to do the combo without even thinking about it in a matter of weeks.


This started as part of a Training Summary for Violence Avoidance and Survival classes.  VAS is geared primarily toward an unarmed audience, although almost all the students we had this time are armed on a regular basis.  It was supposed to be a brief explanatory note but metastasized, as my writing often does, into several paragraphs.  I hope it clarifies some concepts for you.

–George H, Lead Instructor, Heloderm LLC

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