Archive for August 2012
I spent a significant portion of the last four months looking at resilient communities all over the country for John Robb’s site www.resilientcommunities.com. I have a post there today, about how to jump start a barter economy. We’re seeing the exact thing happening in Greece, Italy, Spain…everywhere the economic structure is collapsing. There’s some useful information in there. Click over and have a read.
Some other random observations:
The recent earthquake swarm in Southern California disturbs me and many of my geologist friends. If you track that fault line and you see the unprecedented surge of significant activity (3-5 magnitude earthquakes, over 400 in the last several days, including a major one off the coast of South America), it might be a good time to review basic preparedness. The implications of a major earthquake affecting southern California are significant and national in scope.
Likewise with the pending storm in and around New Orleans, almost 7 years to the day from Katrina. I’ve noticed already a huge jump at the gas pumps because of the rigs closing down ahead of the storm. Gas has gone up between $.30-$.40 cents a gallon in the last two days here. When I returned from my trip, gas had averaged around $3.50 or so. It’s right at $4.00 a gallon today.
Today on the bus, I sat near a number of local gang members, who had a long and loud conversation about the pros and cons of different robbery approaches targeting the new students in this college town. According to these experienced street robbers, walking up and demanding iPads, laptops and backpacks from students, especially the young Asian students, is safer for them (the robbers); less likely to get resistance, and if the police come and arrest them, the charges and subsequent sentencing is “two years more, if you show a knife or a gun or lay hands on ’em!” Their prospective prey, most of them teenagers at their first week of college, sat frozen and scared and stared straight ahead.
More specifics in coming posts about resilient strategies, along with some recently tested and vetted emergency gear reviews, and some more posts over on John’s blog.
During a past life, when I toted a gun for a living, I had the privilege and benefit of training and working with the very best operators of my era. One of those men was Lofty Wiseman. I met Loft during the first CQB Services training course offered in the United States. I then coordinated US operations for CQB Services for some years. We did military and law enforcement training in high threat close protection, hostage rescue and advanced tactical operations. We also from time to time ran courses that were open to the public.
Lofty is a very rare bird: legendary special operator, best selling author, master survival instructor, motivational speaker. He is funny enough to have made a living as a professional comedian, and counts water colors, golf and wood working among the skills he maintains.
As you’ll see from reading the interview (first published in GUNS AND WEAPONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT in 1996) Lofty is also the Godfather of American Special Operations. He was involved in the start-up of just about every major US Tier One Unit. I believe this to be the only unclassified interview Lofty ever gave on this subject. I find it interesting to compare his thoughts from the 90s to what’s happening in military and special operations today.
I’ve heard about Arc’Teryx outdoor gear for years, though until I purchased an Atom LT Hoody I’d never owned any. While doing research for one of my novels I asked some of my friends who are involved in military and police special operations what the cool kids in the tacti-cool community wear these days, and I was told “Everybody who can rocks The Dirty Bird”.
“The Dirty Bird” is one of the outfitters of choice when it comes to tactical haberdashery (though Brian Kroon of Drop Zone Tactical, protege of the legendary Mitch Werbell, has legitimate claim to the title of Tactical Haberdasher) for elite military special operators.
I bought an Atom LT Hoody in my size and favorite color (Grey Man grey) for a ridiculously low price at a local REI. My initial impressions were favorable: great fit, well thought out hood, light weight and compressible.
It looks cool, too.
But I don’t buy gear to look cool or because extraordinary individuals wear it. I buy my gear to hold up to the hard use I put it through out in the real world. I travel a lot and I get to go through a wide variety of climes and terrain as I wander the world. The Atom LT Hoody was tested on early morning beaches in California, in freezing blizzards in the Utah mountains, during the icy cold wind chill blowing through the Wisconsin foothills and across the barren plains of frozen Central Illinois.
Things that rock: This jacket is designed as a close-fitting mid-layer, that can double as an outer layer with its water repellant surface. Shove it under a shell and over a base layer and it can replace all your old fleece in the worst conditions. Why? It’s way lighter. Way more compressible. Way more thermally efficient than several layers. Way more water resistant. I wore it in light rain and in bitter cold with a wind-chill down in the single digits. The outer shell material turned the wind, and I stayed toasty with a mid-weight base layer, hat and gloves. Ventilation is easy, if you know how to run your clothing like equipment: unzip the body and drop the hood when moving, zip up and hood up when stopped; use your hood pulls and hem pulls as necessary to keep that cold air outside and that warm air where it belongs, right next to your body. The slick surface makes it easy to shoulder a pack without snagging, and the material didn’t catch on brush during bushwhacking. The exterior pockets can hold a water bottle, snacks, a hat and gloves if you don’t mind mussing the otherwise trim fit. The hem cord allows the lower edge of the jacket to be snugged tight and above a holster if you carry a pistol openly, and can be loosened to be pulled over one if you carry concealed, though you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t snag when you clear it for presentation.
Things that don’t rock: Small details — thread on the zipper of the inside pocket started coming undone after light everyday use as my main stash pocket for keys and sunglasses; elastic at the wrist once wet, stays wet for long time, unlike the rest of the jacket.
Things that *might* not rock: Long term durability under hard use is an area I have questions about. Light and fast is important, but durability — as in lasting a long time — is also important, especially when you pay the premium for an Arc’Teryx product. I polled some friends about how it stood up to hard use on rock, on firing ranges, and daily wear by military and police — none of them had owned the jacket for more than a year and even with daily wear they were careful with it. So the jury’s still out.
Despite my quibbles and some minor quality control issues with the stitching on the inside pocket, I have to rate this jacket as a big time keeper. The versatility, the superior thermal efficiency and packability make it a must-have for travel and everyday wear.
It normally retails for $220. Between 24 August – 3 September you can get it at REI for $149.99 (sometimes less). http://www.rei.com/product/787706/arcteryx-atom-lt-hoodie-jacket-mens
I recently had several fascinating discussions with the top Program Managers in cognitive neuroscience at DARPA. It came as no surprise, to me anyway, that cognitive neuroscience and, specifically, enhancing neurological and cognitive performance in war-fighters, is a top priority in current military research.
It’s gratifying to me — after 25 years of applying and embedding cognitive neuroscience concepts and principles into training for professionals who go in harm’s way — to see the serious attention (as measured in dollars and human resources) given to addressing the “mental platform” of war-fighters and combat athletes.
Most of the questions that come to me are variants on “What is neural-based training?” People who have trained with me are probably grinning as they read this, as they know much how I dislike talking (or writing) about a skill when there’s an opportunity to actually *do* or train a skill.
Neural-based training for the mental platform doesn’t require a range, cool guy clothing or high-speed weapons; you can train constantly throughout your daily interactions by adding a level of attention, knowledge, and skill to your inherent attributes. You can significantly increase your performance in whatever skill set you want to improve in a very short period of time.
Neural-based training is training designed to work with the way your neurology and cognitive processes develop naturally. It’s training designed to make it easy for you to learn the way your brain most wants to learn, in the way that’s simplest for your brain to learn.
I like to use the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle. When you learned to ride a bike, did you get a Powerpoint presentation on the theory of the bicycle, memorize the nomenclature, familiarize yourself with the operating characteristics, get tested on the principles of bicycle riding? Or did you get on the bike, and with or without technical enhancement (training wheels, for instance) just start doing the skill, first roughly approximating it, then gaining skill and experience through the application of the skill in a real-world environment (starting in the driveway, then moving to the sidewalk, then out into the street…) and then moving through the various level of skill acquisition to the point where the skill is deeply embedded at an other-than-conscious level, where you can ride a bike, carry on a conversation, watch the street, even text?
For those who learn skills that *must* be used under immediate-onset-threat-to-life stress, which approach embeds skills in such a fashion as to be more usable more quickly in the end-use environment?
I’ve found — in my opinion, based on my research and experience over 25 years — that it’s the latter.
The second approach requires the instructor to take a position as a facilitator/coach/co-learner (not as the fount of all knowing and knowledge) and requires the *student* to take ownership of her/his own learning process.
It’s as much a philosophy of learning as it is an art and practical science. Many instructors have a significant ego investment in being an “instructor” — as such, they don’t want to give up that position and step aside at some point and let the student be responsible for his/her learning process. That requires letting go, and trusting in the process and the student. There’s inherent risk in any training that involves preparing people for dangerous work under stress; at some point, those trainees will be out on their own making decisions and taking action under stress. So doesn’t it make sense to give them that experience as early on in the learning process as you safely can?
That requires an evaluation of what constitutes “safe” and a determination as to when someone is ready. That requires instructors who can facilitate learning and coach as well as “stand and deliver” — and who are mature and capable enough to be able to step aside and let adult learners take charge of their learning at an appropriate place in the training flow.
This is nothing new in the field of accelerated learning as applied in elementary education; but it was radical beyond belief 25 years ago in law enforcement and military training. I’m happy to see this approach finally getting serious scientific attention from the war-fighters leading the research into this for the military.
Interesting, yes? I find it so. So stay tuned for more specific tips, techniques and drills adapted from my body of work for application in dangerous professions.
I just realized I haven’t posted for a week and a half. All three of you who actually follow this blog, thanks for your patience! I’ve come in off a three month road trip. One thing I worked on while on the road is a series of posts I’ll be putting up on John Robb’s blog Resilient Communities; I’ll also continue posting some of those here along with other random miscellany.
Upcoming posts will include:
Gear reviews: Ares Gear Gun Belt, Raven Concealment Holsters, Kelty MAP 3500 back pack, Salomon Fastpacker boots, Bio-Lite stove (also over on John Robb’s blog), Ken Brock Badger (custom knife), etc.
Resilience: What is a resilient community? How to build the social structure that underpins true resilience. Lightweight emergency bag and inexpensive preparation advice for families on budgets.
Interviews: Karl Sokol, master gunsmith to the special operations gunfighters; John “Lofty” Wiseman, survival master and legendary special operator on the difference between law enforcement and military special operations; John Robb on “Why Resilient Community?” and so on…
Writing: Snippets from the upcoming WYLDE novel and some short story experiments.
Training: More neural-based exercises and some insights into how human performance and cognitive neuroscience are being integrated into the most cutting edge training programs for the tip of the spear gunfighters.
Random thoughts: Whatever I think of after I’ve had coffee.
Thanks for reading; stick around, the show will get going sooner than later now that I’m back….
Last week the international special operations community lost a respected member. Last week I lost a friend. Rich Smith was my friend and today I remember and honor him.
I first met Rich in 2006, at an invitation-only training event I presented in the UK. I knew Rich by reputation, as he’d trained with my long-time friend Dennis Martin, and he worked closely with my brother-from-another-mother Clint Oosthuizen, the lead CQB instructor for the South African Police Service.
Rich was the oldest student in the class, same age as me, and just a few years younger than Dennis. Despite his age he dominated much younger and fitter operators throughout the training. Tough, quiet, and fierce when he switched on, he was — in a word — formidable.
We talked a lot while we were there in the UK, and that was the beginning of a long-distance friendship that continued via Skype and e-mail.
Rich began his special operations career as a very young man in Rhodesia. He was an operator with the Rhodesian SAS, and later worked with other special operations units. More recently he did several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan working on contract for various organizations.
He was a warrior. He was a man who lived and breathed the warrior’s ethos. Deeply intelligent and well read, he enjoyed hashing out training concepts and theory and putting them to the test in the real world.
He was humble. Modest to a fault. He never spoke of his A-List military lineage or his deep body of experience, but was always willing to share the expertise he’d developed over a lifetime. Rich walked the walk and never talked. His experience shone out of everything he did – at least to the trained eye.
He was a gentleman. An Old School gentleman who embodied in everything he did the heritage of English, Rhodesian, and South African manhood.
Rich and I were working together on a training project and I’d planned to meet up with him in Sierra Leone or South Africa, at his base in Durban, later this year. I may make that trip and visit his resting place. Rich believed in the Old Religion of Odin/Wotan, and practiced the Warrior’s Path. In his belief, warriors received a special place in the Hall of Valhalla, a seat earned by their Service in going in harm’s way on behalf of others — their family, their clan, their tribe, their community, their country. Their friends.
Rich spent his entire life in Service, taking lives and saving lives, and he’s earned his seat of honor in the Warrior’s Hall.
May you rest well, my friend, and may you always be honored in accordance with all that you have earned.
Rest well, my friend.