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All-female self-defense class in Latrobe aims to cut risk of attack

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 8:14 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Jim Greg instructs the A.W.A.R.E. class at the Army & Navy store indoor pistol range on September 22, 2013 in Latrobe.

Linda Thomas said that after six hours of training, a woman in her self-defense class was no longer afraid of firearms.

“By the end of the day, she was one hot mama and was operating her gun very well,” she said.

Thomas, 54, of New Alexandria was one of about 10 women in the class limited to that size by instructor Jim Gregg.

A police officer since 1998 and a firearms instructor with the Pennsylvania State Police since 2006, Gregg started the Armed Women Attacker Response Education program last year.

At first, Gregg was asked to train other officers' wives who were interested in proper firearms training and self-defense; then as a part of his company, Urban Survivor, he opened it to the public.

The class teaches first-firearm ownership — beginning with the very basics for women who have never picked up a gun — then covers safety, principles of marksmanship, basic self-defense and use of pepper spray.

Gregg said the most important skills are “situational awareness.”

“It basically means your mind is your most important weapon,” he said. “We can't stop bad things from happening to us, but we can take steps to minimize that risk.”

Bianca Fagen, who took one of the first A.W.A.R.E. classes in April, said she appreciated how knowledgeable Gregg and the other instructors were.

“He has such a passion for this,” said Fagen of Unity. “I'm glad I did it. ... I'm definitely much more confident.”

Fagen said she feels more prepared for the unexpected after spending time in the class.

“I know that I am able to protect my family, and I would put up one hell of a fight,” she said.

Taking night classes at Westmoreland County Community College and working as a receptionist, Jodi Musick said she wanted to take the class to help be more proactive than reactive, if a violent situation would arise.

“I just wanted to be aware of what to do in case I'm ever put in a situation like that,” said the 20-year-old from Unity.

Amy Bowser said she had used a gun before but wanted to feel more comfortable preparing for an emergency, so she signed up for the September class.

“We live in times where, if people want something bad enough, they are so brazen today,” said Bowser, 39, of Windber.

Just the existence of the class may make people think twice before attempting a crime, therefore making the entire community safer, she said.

Even though her husband is in law enforcement, Bowser said taking the class with other women helps make it more comfortable to ask questions.

Women can try different types of firearms and determine which one might be the best “fit” for them, Gregg said. Depending on age, skill, body size and type, women may feel more confident according to the type of gun they use.

The next class is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 20 in the Army and Navy Store, 800 Ligonier St., Latrobe. Registration is required; call Gregg at 724-331-7521.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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