As a guy lucky enough to be entrenched a community of fire breathing, meat eating, privation seeking, warfighting, outdoor professionals; I’m in a position where people often look to me for advice on the best “Insert piece of equipment here”. It feels like most people think that if they wear the right jacket or carry the right pistol they will magically be "harder to kill" or "better at life". While I love effective and well designed tools, I oft times find myself looking at the person soliciting information from me and think, “This person would be much better served with a cold dose of reality than any physical tool they can purchase”. The fact is, your mind is the greatest weapon you will ever possess and most people don’t use theirs no matter what’s in their EDC pocket dump.
This Advice Designed by a Real U.S. Army Green Beret...
“The power of the mind” isn’t just some silly tag line for a self help book written by a single float SEAL. It’s something that most SOF guys see evolve first hand professionally and socially throughout their careers. I have found that in our 20’s we went out to socialize at the finer establishments (read: seedy shit holes) of the most evolved burghs in the world (read: base towns and pleasure destinations of the developing world), and would invariably find ourselves in confrontations for the purpose of social posturing (Read: bar fights over girls and to bolster our egos). However, as I have gotten longer in the tooth, these confrontations have become almost non-existent.
It would seem that prolonged exposure to extreme violence and social conflict have developed in us a keen sense for when things are about to go sideways. This sense, when coupled with a maturity that realizes good seldom comes from a public display of physical aggression (often under the influence of alcohol), has led to the realization that the best weapon any of us can bring into an uncertain or dangerous environment is a keen sense of situational awareness.
Don’t Take your Guns to Town Son...
Being born and raised in the great state of Texas, I come from a rich gun culture with a major problem with authority. I grew up on a working ranch with a pistol on my belt and a rifle was always within quick reach. The mindset that having a tool when i needed it was better than needing it and not having it was entrenched in my stubborn brain. It also satisfied my insecurities that my slight build (at 5’8” and 135 pounds, I was definitely a “Mechanical Advantage” kind of guy) wasn’t going to be of much help if the shit hit the fan.
I carried this mindset and these tools well into my early professional career as Special Forces NCO, until one fateful day in El Paso, Texas. On that day my attitude was challenged by a good friend and probably one of the handiest pistoleros I’ve ever met. This exchange really forced me to take a more nuanced view of my need for a weapon in a lot of situations, and reinforced what is most important in any high stress environment: staying alert, thinking clearly, and being decisive.
My team was gearing up for a night on the town, and I had volunteered to be the designated driver. As we were walking out the door I grabbed my Glock 19, chambered a round and slid it into my inside the waistband holster. After all, who knew what manner of craziness we might encounter in a border town on a Friday night, right? My friend, we’ll call him BA, stopped dead in his tracks and grabbed my elbow and ushered me into a side hallway. Our conversation went like this:
BA: What are you doing?
Me: Getting ready to drive you guys around tonight.
BA: No, why are you carrying that pistol?
Me: I’m just making sure we have protection. I have a CHL, won’t be drinking, and I’ll leave the piece locked in the van while we are inside anywhere.
BA just shook his head and this is when he hit me with a truth that I initially wanted to ignore out of sheer stubbornness, but it has really influenced my mindset as I have grown older and wiser.
BA: Who is your favorite superhero?
Me: What? What are you talking about? I don’t know? Batman?
BA: Ha! Yeah, a lot of guys say that. It’s easy to like a guy who is a normal dude with ALL the cool toys. He hides who he is behind a mask, so that nobody knows he’s just a normal human. There’s one problem, none of us are Batman.
Me: Yeah man… I get that. What exactly are you saying?
BA: I’m telling you that you’re Superman. You possess skills, ability, and experience that set you apart from the rest of the population. Just like Clark Kent, you dress up in normal civilian clothes to hide who you really are. And just like Clark Kent, when things get weird, you immediately feel it and flip a switch that gives you a distinct advantage over mere mortals.
At this point, I’m a little concerned that BA might be a few fries short of a happy meal, and I am just nodding to get to the end of this uncomfortable but friendly confrontation. But, this is where he said something that really made his previous statement pop.
BA: When things get bad, you won’t need that gun. You’ll either already be on your way to safety, or there will be plenty of guns on the ground for you to pick up and use. Bringing that pistol out invites an outcome that none of us really want. Comprende?
And I did. It suddenly dawned on me that we were all trained in the profession of arms, but that we had spent a lot more time being trained and conditioned when NOT to shoot than when TO shoot. A truly competent Special Operator knows his operational environment and dictates his loadout and mindset based on those atmospherics he picks up on. This skill is called “Situational Awareness”. In no way was BA, or am I now, saying that there isn’t a time and a place for possessing a gun, but the time and place for it is MUCH narrower if you are using your brain first.
Taran Butler Doesn’t Sell +5 Mana Pads, But He’d Make a Killing on Them if He Did.
Oftentimes, religious carrying of a weapon enhances an unrealistic fantasy that the weapon itself is the answer to a complex and volatile situation. This primes the bearer to take the initiative in a very high stakes game of poker where in most instances the outcomes are death or long term scrutiny and potential jail time.
None of this is to say, ignore your training in how to use weapons. The loudest proponents of situational awareness as a first line defense are the best shooters and fighters I have ever met. I am harping on the importance of mental conditioning more to reinforce that in most situations violence should be a final line of defense, not a first line option. If you’re not proficient and actively training with your chosen weapons on a regular basis, you probably don’t have any business carrying them at all.
You might tell me I am being naive or even a coward (most internet hard guys and keyboard heroes LOVE to throw the C word around). You might think that I don’t understand crime stats. You could say that I am overstating the value of situational awareness. No opinion in this world is free of criticism. I don’t have time to dig into numbers and write a thesis on this, but I can tell you that I have walked into some truly dangerous situations around the world without a gun on me, and I walked away (In my opinion) because I was hyper aware of the danger and didn’t have a definitive course of action where a positive outcome hinged on violence of action. I was forced to plan for contingencies and stay alert, because being complacent wasn’t an option.
“Nice Glock, I’m More of Hi-Point Kind of Guy…”
Frankly, with the tactical/gun industry spending 100’s of millions in marketing to target identity consumers, a lot of people in this marketspace are defined by the brand of gun/knife they carry or the Instagram preacher they worship. Arguments on the internet will always be stupid. “God’s Caliber vs. NATO crap” may have been replaced with arguments about the best kind of ditch to hide in or the advantages of “Grip Zone” over stippling… but the constant is that they distract lazy people, looking for an easy solution to a complex problem, from focusing on the most difficult and important thing to develop: an agile mind.
I still carry a weapon when the situation dictates. I carry a knife for opening MRE’s and USPS flat rate boxes. I carry a pistol to Key Leader Engagements to remind my foreign military counterparts I haven’t forgotten how to use one. Hell, I keep a rifle in the truck for snakes and rabid dogs. But, at the forefront of my mind I remember, I don’t need a phonebooth OR a pistol to protect myself and my family from violence. I need to be able to sense danger before it becomes unavoidable, have a predetermined plan, and calmly enact that plan. If things get so bad I NEED a gun there will be plenty of them laying on the ground to use.
In a world where personal protection has become a style statement, I encourage you to choose situational awareness as your primary AND secondary weapons.
And remember, sometimes good situational awareness is going to dictate that the best tertiary weapon is actually a Carl Gustav. DOL
Life has taught me that there are always those members of a population that can’t follow simple rules. Here’s where our extra thirty pounds, five inches, and fifty percent more physical strength can actually be of benefit. When you observe a woman enduring that sort of thing, step up and tell the source to KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. And if she doesn’t want to engage with you, even after your chivalrous act, you KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS too. This is simply behaving like decent humans. It’s easy. It’s what we owe the women in our lives and it’s how we become better as men and a species.
Give your goals a face, something that once achieved, it can be recognized. This process is simple, yet methodical, calculated and systematic, like a well-run science experiment or clinical research. This doesn’t mean that you have to wear a lab coat, but you do need to be enthusiastic, disciplined, dedicated and probably a little creative.
A recent discussion in the SOFLETE Team Room got me thinking about all the stupid things I’ve done that could have shortened my stay on this earth. Sometimes those things were necessary or at least unavoidable. The extremities of combat or the exigencies of professions like emergency services place practitioners in situations that demand an acceptance of risk. But a lot of times my narrow escapes were the results of being under-planned, under-trained, or under-aware.