Alert Carry Conditions

Alert Carry Conditions

Choosing a “carry condition” that fits your lifestyle and risk assessment well requires a thorough understanding of your options. What carry condition you chose will affect your safety and level of readiness, as well as how you should train for it, so it’s important to choose wisely. This article will provide you with a fundamental understanding of carry concepts. 

But first, some definitions:

Our Pistol Fundamentals students have requested a glossary of the “tacticool” terms we use. For a more comprehensive firearms and tactics dictionary, peruse our Glossary of Gunspeak.

Understanding the following terms should help you get the most out of this particular article, about different ways to keep ammo in your firearm.

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.”

M1911A1 (with a few aftermarket parts), Cocked ‘n’ Locked

Half-load–Condition 3 (See Carry Conditions below)

Instrumental use of a weapon–threatening 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).

Beretta 92FS (M9) top; 92SB bottom.

M1911 / M1911A1–Military versions 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 where you were in your previous OODA cycle.

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

VBIED–Vehicle Borne, Improvised Explosive Device. The third world equivalent of a guided missile. The difference between a VBIED and a walking homicide bomber wearing a suicide IED vest is the amount of explosives that can be delivered to the target.



In the military and law enforcement, “on duty” carry is the condition you keep 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 physically cannot be released until 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. At Thunder Ranch, they use the term half load to refer to Condition 3. A belt fed, open bolt machine gun (MG) is half loaded when the bolt is forward and a belt is under the closed feed cover. An open bolt submachine gun (SMG) is half loaded when the bolt is forward and a charged magazine is inserted. To get your MG or SMG ready to rock, one must merely pull the charging handle back, locking the bolt to the rear. Condition 3 seems to work for the Israelis, and it 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, loaded 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 (USAF advisors to the Afghans 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, mistrustful, misguided policy.



Those 9 brave Americans in Kabul were not the only ones to die because our commanders are more afraid of their own troops than they are of their troops getting killed. Nor were they the first. In fact, that lesson is nearly 40 years old–and 241 Americans had previously paid with their lives to teach the commanders in Afghanistan that lesson they failed to heed.

On 23 Oct 1983, Lance Corporals Eddie DiFranco, Henry Linkkila, John W. Berthiume, and several other Marines, were on “armed” guard duty around the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit’s Battalion Landing Team 1/8 headquarters and barracks during our peacekeeping operations in Beirut. Every Marine is, first and foremost, a trained rifleman. Those sentries’ only job that morning was to shoot rifles if necessary to protect the Marines behind them. All the sentries guarding those sleeping servicemen had M-16 rifles slung over one shoulder behind their backs, in accordance with their post regulations, with NO ammunition in their rifles whatsoever (Condition 4). Each had ammunition in magazine pouches on their belts.

Hezbollah, directly funded, trained, and equipped by the Iranian and Syrian governments, sent a Mercedes truck loaded with explosives through the fence between LCpls DiFranko and Linkkilla. The driver smiled as he drove safely past them, while they frantically clawed at their magazine pouches to put ammo in their rifles.

In his carefully worded narrative of the events, Marine Corps historian Eric Hammel seems to imply that DiFranko’s rifle, at least, started in Condition 3: magazine inserted, nothing in the chamber (The Root, pp. 293 – 95). However, in their sworn testimony before Congress (the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee), Linkkilla, DiFranco, and Berthiume stated that their only ammunition was in pouches on their belts. All stated that by the time they even got into Condition 3, by shoving mags into their rifles (which they had to do before they could even attempt to chamber a round), the truck had sailed past them.

The last line of defense was their immediate supervisor, Sergeant of the Guard Stephen E. Russell. Russell’s .45 pistol was also in Condition 4, devoid of any ammunition. While it may be argued that pistols are not ideal truck stoppers, the guidance system of the truck, the driver, would not likely have been particularly resistant to gunfire of any kind. And he was getting easier to hit all the time, because he was getting closer, at about 20 to 30 mph. The truck flattened the Sergeant of the Guard shack moments after Sgt Russell bailed out of it.

Russell testified that he did not have time to load and fire his pistol at the driver. Instead, he distanced himself from the truck as far as possible, yelling all the while at his fellow Marines to get down. The truck paused in the center of the building for a few moments–moments the “fusing mechanism” of the VBIED, also most likely the driver, might have been drilled through the ear with a .45 projectile–before detonating, killing 220 US marines, 18 US Navy sailors, and three US Army soldiers. Over a hundred others were maimed.

Because our commanders don’t trust our own troops to safely handle the guns we give them.

Make no mistake: this tome is not an attempt to arm-chair quarterback any of those brave Marines who had put themselves in harms way by going to Beirut, or those brave Airmen who went to Kabul. All were volunteers. But I am calling out the commanders who physically disarmed them, which inevitably led to their feeling mentally disarmed–which killed many of them

Not too long ago, I was in a Walmart with one of my oldest friends, a former Marine. It was late in the evening, and the sliding doors we came in through apparently were closed to entry (or exit) after we came in. When we tried to walk out through the same doors, they would not open.

As a former Air Force airman and Army soldier, I stood there and waved my hands at the motion sensor, stupidly, for a few moments. “I guess we’re going to have to walk to the other exit,” I said. My friend the Marine, instead, reached between the doors and pulled them open with brute force. That’s how Marines, even older former Marines, roll.

As a whole, the Marines have a more aggressive combative mindset than any other branch of the service. If Sgt Russell’s commanders had let him carry ammunition in his pistol, he would have felt armed, instead of just burdened by a pistol-shaped steel paperweight. He’d have felt like a warrior instead of a sitting duck. I have little doubt he’d have shot at that driver, instead of egressing the barracks.

If Sgt Russell had been trained to move laterally or obliquely off-line while returning fire, as our students are, he might even have lived through the experience. But hardly anybody was teaching lateral / oblique movement off the X in the 1980s.

As a USAF Security Policeman, state park ranger, city cop, Border Patrol agent, and special agent / criminal investigator, I carried duty firearms with rounds in the chambers for decades without incident. I was only one of tens of thousands who manage to do the same thing, all day every day for years, safely and effectively, all across this country and in many places overseas.  If cops can do it, why can’t our troops?

Either our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are cretins who cannot be trusted, or their firearms training is not what it should be. Or their leaders’ firearms training is not what it should be. Those are the only plausible explanations for their leaders’ lack of faith in their ability to do exactly what professional small arms instructors taught them to do, at great expense to the taxpayer, explicitly for one purpose: keeping them alive when we send them to places where people hate them and can reasonably be expected to try to kill them.

Those Americans were killed by spineless, ignorant policies, made by spineless, ignorant “leaders,” as much as by enemy action.

We can’t fix spineless until we remove the zero defects, one strike you’re out, no back-talk officer promotion system that prohibits junior officers from truly speaking their minds at staff meetings. The CFLCC is not entirely to blame for policies that nobody in the chain of command, between the CFLCC and the operators who got killed, told him were bullshit. But that is a different subject altogether.

What we can fix is our leaders’ understanding of how guns work and what they are for. Every time that CFLCC qualified with small arms during his entire career, more emphasis was placed on unloading the weapon to make it “safe” (those are actual range commands from the tower: “Unload and make safe”) than on being dangerous to our enemies. Training operators to unload the gun or de-cock ASAP after every string of fire leads to a habit of doing so in the field, even in the middle of a fight–or, in the case of the ACCC in Kabul and the Marines in zombie apocalypse 1980s Beirut, before the fight even begins.

One of the NRA’s cardinal safety rules, taught to many new shooters before they grow up to join the military, is “ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.” I would posit that an M9 on the hip of a commissioned officer outside the US wire in Kabul, Afghanistan should be ready to use. If you are armed against criminal attack in the US, perhaps yours should be, too.

Most of our training with firearms is in a recreational or administrative context. There’s nothing wrong with a Boy or Girl Scout at summer camp unloading his or her rifle after shooting and leaving it on the line for the next scout to learn how to load and fire. But consequently, many people grow up erroneously believing that an unloaded firearm is somehow less dangerous than a loaded one. Guns are purpose built to be dangerous. What’s even more dangerous than any inanimate tool outside of human hands is the supposition that such a thing as an “unloaded, safe” firearm exists. That’s why Heloderm teaches “Treat every firearm as if it is loaded” instead.



So maybe if you are still fearful of ammunition, you think “Well, Condition 4 is a no-go, but Condition 3 is loaded enough.” You’re a big boy or girl now, and it’s your decision to make. But one other problem with Condition 3 is that it assumes you will 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 keep 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 do not have a safe to lock it up in, I do NOT recommend leaving a gun laying around unsupervised with ammo in or near it–even if you don’t have kids. You might find yourself staring down the wrong end of your barrel if you come home and interrupt a burglary in progress. The safest place for your pistol, if you are awake outside your home, is on your person. If it can’t be on your person, it should be locked up.

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 that 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