Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Situational Awareness

Guest Post by Ryan:

Welcome boys and (probably mostly) girls. Settle yourself, get a drink of your favorite booze and relax; we’re going to be here for a hot minute. I warn you: you’ll find no recipes, no Sunday outfits, no “7 Quick Takes” here. This is business. If you don’t have time, come back later.

Elizabeth originally asked me to do a ‘guest post’ regarding the attacks in Benghazi a few months ago. This I would have liked to do, as the entire situation infuriated me. If you want to talk about it later, I’ll describe to you how an entire battalion of Marines plus air and Army assets mobilized to find one brave young man’s dead body. Then we can talk about how an eight hour battle, complete with enemy supporting arms and indirect fire, was not part of a ‘flash mob demonstration’ with weapons. Even bad guys don’t just ‘happen to bring’ PKC’s, RPG’s and 82mm mortars to a protest. But before I get into how repeated comms with evolving SitReps were ignored by the highest authority of the United States military (and before I break something), let’s get back to the here and now.

I’ve decided to make the topic of this something more than an angry rant. Though I do love those, I think some of the points herein might be more useful. At least I hope they’ll stir your daily mixture of thoughts and prompt some new considerations to enter your consciousness.

The world we live in is pretty neat. There’s a lot of cool shit in it and we, as humans, have come a long way from learning how to make fire. Yet, since even those earliest of times, humans still love to hurt one another.  Many would argue that man is inherently good.  This is fine, and quite possibly true.  I prefer a more hesitant mindset: men are capable of evil and they often commit it. Call it cautious, call it crazy; I don’t care.  I prefer to trust no one until I have a decent grasp on their personality.  When I walk down the street or through a store I’m never complacent to think everyone around me is ‘good.’  They probably are, but what if they aren’t?  If one asshole at the next register decides to go bat-shit crazy and rob the place, I’d prefer not to be caught with my pants around my ankles.  Will I react?  Yes.  Will I emerge unharmed and save the day?  Who knows (probably not)?  That depends on every evolving facet of the surrounding scene and the people in it, my own reactions and their execution (I tend to be as clumsy as a blind dog walking into walls) and the reactions of a person I know nothing about.  But I try to maintain a constant evaluation of my surroundings and the people therein in order to not be caught with my dick hanging out in the wind.

People are sheep—Americans as well as much of the world’s population.  They tend to follow a herd of similar people with similar ideas.  Not that this is always a bad thing; but when someone forgets how to think for themselves, question authority or just not care, it has effects on society. There is a lesser portion of humanity that doesn’t always follow path of least resistance.  Lt. Col. Dave Grossman points this out in a more coherent, less hateful manner than I can. Take a moment and read this. With these points made, I’d like to dissect Lt. Col. Grossman’s sheep category as it relates to American society.  As stated previously, there are several types: those who no longer think for themselves, those who do not question authority and those who simply do not care what happens.  All three have a common trait: a lack of situational awareness.

Situational awareness is ground into the minds of certain professionals.  It means paying attention to your surroundings, being cognizant of events unfolding before you,  and formulating a plans for various anticipated scenarios and a personal reaction to the like.  Combat operators rely on a high degree of situational awareness in their daily life-and-death occupations.  But they are humans living in a human environment, a very different environment than most, but human none-the-less.

Translate situational awareness to the daily life of a peacetime civilian: what are the cars on the road around you doing?  Is the guy in front of you on his phone?  Is the fat-ass next to you concentrating more on his double cheeseburger than the distance between your cars?  What about the bimbo swerving while applying new makeup in her mirror instead of using it to watch the road?  How about a trip to the convenience store: how many people are inside? Is the guy loitering at the magazine rack making repeated glances between the cashier and someone else outside the store? Does he appear nervous?  Does he wear a hood or hat to obstruct his face? What will you do when shit hits the fan?

These things may sound ‘crazy’ and ‘paranoid,’ but they really are not. Thought processes like these may reach a level of paranoia if allowed; but kept in check and maintained by a level head, they will serve to hasten your decision-making process when a surge of adrenaline forces your mind into its instinctive ‘fight or flight’ scenarios.  Situational awareness helps to reduce reaction time and increase the speed of a decision that may aid in one’s survival.

Mindset resides at the heart of awareness; a degree of some sort of training (e.g. weapons, self-defense, etc.) is desirable as well, but just paying attention goes a long way in itself. How long has the guy walking behind you been behind you?  Did you even notice he was there?

A person’s mindset helps determine how they may or may not react.  Nothing is ever certain under pressure when your heart rate accelerates, muscles tense up, and thousands of thoughts flood your mind at once. Having a ‘mindset’ doesn’t refer to occasionally considering what you might do if A, B, or C happens; mindset is constantly having an evolving plan to make a conscious decision and take action when A, B or C occurs. That doesn’t mean an action must be offensive or defensive; your course of action may be simply to extricate yourself from a developing scenario before it plays out.  Or it could be a passive action:
For instance, taking notice of an unrecognizable vehicle at your neighbor’s house and observing it. By noticing the car and paying attention you may be able discern it is someone your neighbor knows or, upon closer scrutiny, you may notice the two men exiting the rear of the house and loading up your neighbor’s stuff.

What now?  Call the authorities, of course.  But what about you?  You will lock your doors. What if those deadbolts fail when the men come to the next house on the block, the one where you are?  Do you have something other than a pair of scissors to defend yourself?  These are part of your evolving mental plan.   A plan that began when you noticed the strange car and decided to pay a little more attention – this is situational awareness. As for mindset: Are you willing to defend yourself?  Are you willing to inflict physical bodily harm or even death upon a fellow human being?  These are questions of mindset.  Long before you noticed the car, every day when you wake up, you must make a decision to defend yourself.  It’s you or them; and when shit hits the fan, if you still cling to any illusions that men are ‘inherently good,’ you may find the opposite to be very true.

Upon casually observing your neighbor’s house, you see them come out with a visitor and give one another parting farewells. Just another day in an ordinary world. Were you ‘paranoid’ for noticing a car and keeping a casual eye on it?  Nothing bad ever happens in your neighborhood; it’s a nice, safe one.  If you choose to think that paying extra attention to your surroundings is paranoia, so be it; but let us take a moment to consider some things that occur every day in our society.

Please read the following. You may find some aspects revolting, but push through it. I wish to drive home a few points.

These instances are tragic, yet very real. Goodwill toward mankind is an outstanding virtue, and good on you for possessing it.  Many of your fellow human beings do not reciprocate.  I prefer to think of people as humans being: they all have their freewill and they all have a capacity for violence.  Even you -- yes you, the ordinary blog surfer losing yourself in other people’s lives, recipes and Sunday outfits -- have a capacity for violence.  How will you use it? Will you use it? Bear in mind from Lt. Col. Grossman’s piece the survey of violent offenders: “The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.”

The unfortunate story of Mr. Newsome and Ms. Christian is closer the extreme end of the spectrum.  Myriad lesser occurrences, ranging from misdemeanor to violent felony, take place every day in our ‘wonderful’ American society. The FBI provides the following description for ‘violent crime’: “In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force.” ( Their data shows that in 2011 approximately 1.2 million ‘violent crimes’ were reported to their offices. This does not account for unreported instances, and even so that number is still likely to be under one percent of the total U.S. population. 

So what’s there to worry about? It’s unlikely anything will happen to you. But what if it does? The difference between people who think ‘if’ - opposed to us crazy, conspiracy-types who think ‘when’ - is that the ‘when’ thinkers are more likely to prevent a dangerous situation through situational awareness or have a better chance of influencing a positive outcome through mindset. Every human has these two things: freewill and a capacity for violence.  How they are used together can determine your chance of survival in a deteriorating situation.

YOU also have freewill, make it work for you. There are many outstanding examples of ordinary people (not combat operators, not police officers, not professional martial artists) protecting themselves in many ways. Here are some positives:

You won’t hear about these on the major news networks at prime time. They will only tell you about the bad shootings; never will you ever hear about the shootings where people have made a conscious decision to defend themselves and their fellow men against those willing to do evil. There is an agenda in place to reduce and/or even remove your second amendment rights. You could spend hours online finding cases where someone successfully protected themselves against assailants through use of deadly force. Major media outlets refuse to highlight these and instead focus on public shootings to instill into your mind that “guns are bad.” These [links] are a tangent (possibly a future post?), but they tie in: these two instances provide examples of two individuals with a pre-formed mindset. Though the decision to physically draw their weapons occurred in the moment, they made the decision to do so long before. This is mindset. 
I want you to practice a few things. Certain things will be more difficult for some of you, but it’s all very easy and quite commonsensical.  

First: get out of the habit of being complacent.  On both combat deployments a common motto of our battalion was “Complacency Kills.” It contained rather ‘moto’ connotations, yet it remained a veritable truth. Try to stop thinking (or in some cases, perhaps trying to think would be an improvement over a lack of any thought what-so-ever) that the world is all rainbows and butterflies.  Much of it is. But if you concentrate on these happy-go-lucky thoughts without regard to the darker, slightly more cynical thoughts, you may not be able to avoid or react to a situation that involves assault, theft or even rape.  Be skeptical of people you don’t know.  It’s okay.  Don’t be an ass or become an introvert, just get a little bit of cynicism into your mind.  Don’t give a stranger your trust until they have earned it. Would you invite someone you didn’t know into your house, give them a spare key, and cosign them on your bank accounts?  I hope not.  Don’t give trust until it is earned. Always think: what will I do if they move in a threatening way?

Next: Pay attention.  Just a little bit at first. Try this – once a day (if you don’t already) try to notice things you wouldn’t give a thought about normally.  What’s the lady in the aisle next to you grabbing off the shelf?  What’s she wearing (descriptively, we aren’t worried whether it’s a Gucci bag or a Target bag)?  When you leave the store, are the same cars parked next to you? What kind of cars were they and what were their license tags?  Here’s an easy one: all your neighbors’ cars, what are they?  Now, can you think of cars that are regular visitors?  These are physical attributes.  Now, mannerisms: This may be more difficult for some of you - you must judge people.  I know, I know – it’s not nice.  Guess what?  I don’t care.  How are they talking? Are they confident, shy, obnoxious?  How do they carry themselves?  Without knowing one thing about them, can you tell if they are someone you’d give a chance at conversation with? Noticing stupid little details like this will accustom your mind to noticing things that really aren’t important, and that’s GOOD.  Because when you’re standing in line at the register and you’re watching the man in front of you, you’ll notice he’s nervous.  You’ll notice him checking his surroundings.  You’ll notice him keeping his head down and face obstructed from overhead cameras. You’ll notice the bulge in his waistband that he keeps placing his hand on.  And you’ll notice that you have nonchalantly paced back, as if you’d forgotten something on aisle 4, and removed yourself from potential harm.

Maintaining situational awareness doesn’t mean you’re some crazy lunatic, as our common, liberally-oriented society might have you believe.  You aren’t the one who’s going to go crazy and shoot up a movie theatre; you’ll be the one with a better chance at helping yourself, and maybe those around you.  At the very least, you won’t be paralyzed with a look of sheer terror plastered on your face. You may be scared, but you’ll be moving - and hopefully living to be scared another day.

In parting I would like to thank you for reading, if you’ve even made it this far without closing your browser.  Additionally, hopefully, no one got too offended reading any of this.  If you did, I’m not sorry and you may feel free to live complacently until the wolf comes prowling. Otherwise, I only intended to get your minds thinking about protecting yourselves. If I can only get you to take two words away from this, they are these: PAY ATTENTION.

I would also like to make a few recommendations in addition to practicing situational awareness and developing a mindset: there are various tools you can equip yourself with to aid in the defense of yourself and others. First let me recommend Fox Labs. Their line of pepper sprays come recommended by several law enforcement veterans I know personally. The ‘heat’ (or ‘oh shit, this really burns’) rating of pepper spray is measured in something called Scoville Heat Units. Most pepper sprays, including law enforcement grade, average between 1.5 and 2 million scoville heat units.  Fox utilizes a formula to achieve 5.3 million S.H.U.’s; I got a keychain canister for Liz. Get yourself two, go out on a nice, calm day and practice with one of them. That way if you must actually use the other, you won’t be fumbling trying to figure it out. Be advised, if you get any on you it will burn but you won’t die. Spray patterns vary from a fog to a stream, like a can of wasp spray. Avoid fog patterns in favor of stream. If you are in an enclosed environment or contrary winds, the stream spray will have less effect on the user.

Next, home defense. Some states are F-ing retarded with their gun laws; but in MOST states it’s no trouble to keep a firearm in the home.  Carry is another issue, which will be avoided here. The good ol’ scattergun is probably one of the best home defense weapons available. Shotguns provide outstanding fire in close quarters situations and can be loaded with various types of shot-shells to fit your situation.  They are simple to handle and do not require the precision aiming required for long range point targets. I suggest a pump-action 12 or 20 gauge Remington 870. This brand and model have been around for many years and are reliable, yet affordable.  They can be commonly found in Wal-Marts, Academy Sports and the like for $300 -$400.  Get someone to teach you proper safety and basic knowledge, how to use it and get plenty of trigger time in order to familiarize yourself and become proficient with it.  Depending on your living situation a variety of loads are available.  For apartment dwellers and homes with bedrooms on opposite sides of the house, a smaller No. 4 or 5 load may be preferable to big double or triple-ought buck (in order to reduce wall penetration).  Do your homework, talk to someone knowledgeable and get familiar with your weapon.  

My reason for pumps opposed to semi-auto: pumps are cheaper, have less mechanics involved (thus reducing possibility of mis-feeds or malfunctions) and carry a psychological factor as well.  Most people can recognize the heavy ‘cha-chunk’ sound of metal grinding against metal to chamber a round – if someone uninvited hears this from your back bedroom, they may think twice and move on to some home without that sound.


  1. I don't have time, so I'm coming back later.

  2. Here's a really interesting article:

    TL;DR: The 3 principles of self-defense are:
    1. Avoid dangerous people and dangerous places
    2. Do not defend your property
    3. Respond immediately and escape


    1. Without having read the article (I will), I mostly agree. There are times, however, when dangerous people and places are unavoidable. Especially when you and you sisters/girlfriends are too excited about the Hanson concert to care and park and walk through the shitty part of town. Sometimes you can avoid the places, but the people are everywhere. As far as number 2 - yes, wallets and purses are replaceable; what about the house your family is in? What about getting carjacked with your family inside? You gonna let 'em drive off with the kids? Again with number 2, not always possible. Number 3 = situational awareness. The main focus of the above article. Pay attention so that you can react quicker, either extricating yourself of defending yourself if necessary.
      Again, haven't read that article from Sam Harris yet, these are the things that immediately come to mind. Sometimes its not your property the bad guys want - its you. If they're faster, you may have to defend yourself. I'll read that article after my last final this afternoon.


  3. Even though there is no picture included of what YOU wore on Sunday, Ryan, I did read this. I should probably go practice with the pepper spray that Jacob gave me a few years ago. What do you think of tazer guns? Worth considering as another addition or alternative for the individual who doesn't want to go the firearm route?

  4. Ryan, this is awesome. Thank you.

    FYI: Raid (the insect spay) is great for those places that don't allow pepper spray or guns (read DC). But fortunately I live in Alexandria and exercise all the rights of the second amendment. :-)


  5. Martha, I wore a terrible outfit on Sunday. Check and see if there's any sort of expiration date on your old spray. It may have lost some of it's pressurization. As far as electric defenses, anything that may give you an advantage over an attacker is worth considering; just make sure you're very familiar with it so you don't fumble when the time comes to employ it.
    Trena, yes. DC is one of the most retarded places in the country (my opinion). It is a prime example of how disarming citizens and overbearing gun legislation fails. Despite these 'measures for safety' it has one of the highest crime rates in the country. Look into the undercover operation in 2011(?) that recovered a large arsenal of automatic weapons and explosives in the city. No matter how tight the government squeezes, the 'bad guys' will find a way to accomplish their objectives. Cops can't be everywhere at once; you must look after yourself.


  6. Just to harp a little bit more: one example why 'gun control' won't work.

    Also, do yourselves a favor and look into Operation Fast and Furious (if you haven't already). Federal-sponsored op to track US weapons into Mexico; the BATFE lost control and basically gave thousands of firearms to the cartels, you know - the organizations that murder people on a daily basis? And this is the same government that wants to take them from you. Trena, don't give them up. Molon Labe, if you know what I mean.


  7. Okay, I finally got a chance to read this all the way through. Nice post, Ryan! I'd be interested in another one about instances where people have been able to defend themselves.

    Pat got me a couple pepper sprays from Fox Labs a while ago. I've never practiced with them tho. ;-( I actually made it through security at an airport (POST 9/11 mind you) with one in my luggage (not on purpose; I just forgot it was there). Makes you feel _real_ safe doesn't it?