Ambushed at 18:00.

So, here we are at the Hale Koa Hotel, a 4-star hotel halfway down Kalia Road in Honolulu, Hawaii. The lady at the desk is being as nice as she can telling us that there are no reservations for our party of 6. She suggests that we check with the person at our agency that made the reservations.

That would be easy if it wasn’t after 18:00 hours on a Friday with a San Diego based company where no employee ever works past noon on a Friday (remarkably and hilariously nicknamed the ‘Aloha Friday’ of California).  

The only ‘emergency’ telephone line we were given is for bona fide emergencies (which the parent company would argue that this situation didn’t qualify) AND the emergency number is manned from Monday through Friday, 0900-1700 hours. Clearly, emergencies should occur between these hours.

If you call the emergency number after those times or days you are directed to call a cell phone number (the “Duty”) who will do two things when you call, (1) hate you forever for bothering them with no matter what your bona fide emergency, and (2) push your emergency to such a low priority that it will be handled by the normal Monday through Friday crew anyway.

I’ll give you an example…

Hammer takes a blow.

The first time I had to use the emergency number was to call our DC office from Okinawa. It wasn’t just a weekend, it was a holiday weekend and our subject matter expert callsign “Hammer” was in custody, arrested for a weapons offense at Naha Airport in Okinawa waiting to catch his flight to Narita Airport in Japan.

‘In custody’ means under arrest and might be no major thing in the states. An Okinawan jail is a distinction with a difference. Think ‘Midnight Express’ sans the whimsy. I was told to head to Naha and figure things out.

What I found out was that the Okinawan security agents had located a single, expended 5.56 mm blank shell casing deep within Hammer’s otherwise empty camel back container – so far down (and lost so long ago) that it was only detectable when the security agents cut through the lining of Hammer’s gear to poke around.

What occurred next was nothing short of an international incident.

I had to coordinate calls from D.C. to Tokyo to Naha calling off the dogs metaphorically, however there were guard AND attack dogs present, and beg Okinawan customs to allow Hammer to get on the next flight out of Okinawa as long as he would apologize and agree never to return.

He didn’t mind missing his flight, he did however ask not to be sent back to Okinawa!

As I negotiated with Okinawan authorities one thing became absolutely clear, Hammer would get his wish about never returning to Okinawa, Or Japan for that matter!

Checking for live or expended ammo

They agreed to let him leave but because of one forgotten, “No brass, no ammo” inspection slip up, Hammer was forever banned from returning to the islands. Our unit was training a Marine Scout unit and elements from a MARSOC unit on Camp Schwab

Training on board Schwab leads to a camel back containing expended brass!

Sleeping with Hawaiian royalty.

Because of our hosting company’s oversight, we had to settle for accommodations at a hotel I’ll call the Royal Grove across the street from the Honolulu Zoo.

I can tell you this; I couldn’t open my room door fully as if I did it would impact with the ice or soda machines which the other tenants use with equal zeal, causing sleep to elude me. If I knelt on my bed and held my arms out to my sides, I could touch two walls, then execute a 45 degree turn and touch the other wall and the door.

I don’t know what was worse, dealing with the smells and sounds of the Honolulu Zoo or the nightly assault on our eyes and ears from the deafening explosions created by the fireworks displays to entertain the tourists.

We weren’t tourists, not by a long shot. We were back in Honolulu on  what others referred to as a “working vacation” because of the exotic locals we visited. No one mentions that in the dozen times I’ve been to Hawaii none were what anyone would consider a vacation.

Further, the schedule of traveling daily to Camp Bellows before dawn and returning after dusk (just before 19:45 hours) meant that we arrived at our hotel just in time to get assailed every twenty-four hours by the nightly fireworks.

It was now less than 3 hours before we would have to drive to the spartan training area near Bellows Air Station. No one really felt like sleeping, so we conducted a rehearsal and chalk talk of the morning’s events in the stuffy ‘day room’ at the end of the hall. Every once in a while, our rehearsal was interrupted when a half-drunk tenant wandered into the dayroom to use the ‘joint use’ microwave located on a card table there.

Fraught with the inevitability of both an ice cold and red-hot burrito, the frayed extension cord operating our PowerPoint projector had dual duty and the circuit breaker kept blowing to signal its adherence to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as it relates to frozen 7-11 burritos.

What can beat a one-dollar microwaved burrito and beach front dining?

The recurring power outages were getting monotonous, so we adjourned and decided to see the beach near here for inspiration. We walked for ten minutes before we could hear and see the waves. In another ten we got to the beach in time to see a group of homeless persons alternately defecating, urinating and washing in the sand and surf as dawn was breaking just over the horizon.

One of our group shined a flashlight on the scene, eager to ensure that we were capturing it correctly and not seeing things. The half-naked homeless folks ran like Morlocks from the light and we took that signal as our hint to leave for Bellows.

If you’ve ever been to Honolulu a number of questions are currently crossing your mind. The first likely being why would we risk driving over 20 miles twice each day to Bellows? The next, why would you drive anywhere in Hawaii on the HI61 if you didn’t have to?

Completely understanding the dilemma means you have to take into account that when a major beltway company hires travel reservation personnel, they many times do it with the lowest bidder in mind. For example, I flew from San Diego to Columbus, Georgia on the red eye to teach at Fort Benning. The travel company arranged for two rental vehicles to be ready just after midnight.

The dilemma?

The travel company made the reservations at the rental company’s Columbus, Ohio location and there were no vehicles available anywhere near our desired location.

Same with the hotel.

The travel agency calculated the distance between the airport and Bellow and came up with Hale Koa as the best location. Because they hadn’t booked anything near Bellows, every room from Kaneohe Bay and for any reasonable distance around it was booked solid.

I will tell you this…

Bellows is underused and the beaches on the ride in and out were amazing (not that we had time to stop, ogle or swim). Films such as Jumanji, Jurassic Park and Point Break were filmed there as was the TV show ‘Lost’.

The beauty of the empty beaches that line the training areas is hard to capture with mere words. Waimanalo beach, Kaneohe and bellows occupy some of the most mind-blowing terrain Hawaii has to offer. I promise myself that one day I’ll return to enjoy them as a tourist.

Each day we had to emplace observation posts around the urban training site. This afforded the Marines we were training The Gift of Time and Distance, set back from which to view the scenarios that were played our and determine the relevance of their observations based on the context of HBPR&A.

Climbing the scrub covered lava rock was no easy task. We soon lost the ability to sense where the ocean was as the trail cut back on itself often. Shelly was point, breaking trail and it was easy enough to locate her as she would let out a loud yelp each time she pushed through the tall pampas grass and the corkscrew leaves which acted as mini-catapults sending waves of banana spiders on Shelly’s face, back and arms.

Daylight come an me wan’ go home.

Banana spiders come with a creepy look and a worse legend. I’m certain that each of you has heard someone relate that each year a farmer ingests a bushel basket of dirt while tilling the fields. That is an urban legend. Equally suspect is the urban legend that banana spiders lay their eggs in banana leaves and the young ones will climb into your folds while you are hiking and drive you nuts as they grow.

Couple that with the fact that every once in a while, Shelly would walk into an opening and surprise a wild boar, one of many wild species that occupy the Hawaiian Islands. These massive hogs were brought to the islands hundreds of years ago by the Polynesians. The origin story has explorer James Cook depositing them during his island-hopping expeditions. Tens of thousands of pigs that destroy millions of dollars of farmland and that can weigh as much as 400 pounds.

Shelly and the three MARSOC Marines she had in tow were now running in various directions trying to elude the massive hog that was grunting and squealing after them.

Between the hogs and spiders, Shelly was in a foul mood.

Once she had established and populated the observation posts on highest points and on the rock ledges over looking the village, she went down to the village to direct the rehearsal of the role players and the training of the Marine the maneuver element.

Shelly met with callsign “Teacher” who was on the ground with “Poacher,” training the role players to act convincingly as either farmers or fisherman, local security agents or cunning insurgents.

Poacher was the newest member of this travel team (referred to in military jargon as an MTT mobile training team). Poach had established his credentials as a decorated veteran in combat, surviving both the first and second battles of Fallujah, Iraq.

Being the newest member of the team meant that Poach was additionally required to hand write all of the roles and each of the KSA³s (knowledge, skills, attitudes, aptitudes and abilities). Having the team members do this when they were new was a great tool not only to help them appreciate the magnitude of the training we were conducting, but also, having the new instructors read the material, write it, say it and see it – all the while conducting elements of the part task training or the practical applications meant that they would remember these tasks for life.

The Wrath of Kan(eohe).

Poach had taken his assignment to heart. Each of the previous days, Poacher had gone back to the hotel and after reconciling them, he took his handwritten notes and submitted them to Shelly for review.

Shelly would annotate whichever pieces of information were lacking, add her marginal notes, then give them back to Poacher. Poacher would then be required to submit a photocopy to Shelly for her DOR daily observation report records and Poach would keep his original notes for posterity.

On this day, Shelly walked up to Poach to make the exchange they had conducted a half-dozen times before.

Even from OP2 I could see and sense that something was wrong. Shelly was acting in a motherly fashion and Poach was expressing regret – and Teacher was tense. I moved down to see what was wrong, simply out of curiosity as they obviously had the situation well in hand.

Shelly advised me that Poacher had lost his copy of his notes, not the originals. He could always make another copy. What worried Shelly and Teacher was the fact that Poacher had no idea where he might have left his notes – and that information was proprietary.

I had invented every aspect of HBPR&A training, the KSA³s, the Combat Rule of Three’s, the 5 Combat Multipliers – all the ‘secret sauce’ that any other unscrupulous contractor would love to get their hands on.

We couldn’t stop or slow the mission to find the notes now, we hoped that perhaps they were somewhere in his gear or his rental sled. To be honest, we had forgotten entirely of the incident as we pulled up to our one-star hotel that evening.

The minute we parked I knew something was wrong. Spending the majority of your life as a human behavior profiler gives you insight, confidence and competence.

I noted that there were five or six cars parked along the road where parking was prohibited. As we walked into the hotel lobby it was obvious that a number of well-dressed gents were scattered around trying to act as if they belonged to the hotel.

Their outfits and demeanor screamed “Feds.” Shelly came up alongside of me and asked, “What’s with all the suits?” Just then Poacher entered the lobby and the guns came out.

“Freeze, nobody move!”

We were all hands up and serious, the raid team had anxiously awaited our arrival. 

The hotel staff had found Poacher’s hand written notes. They were inside the flap of the hotel’s copy machine. There, the hotelier found scratchy writing on a yellow pad page. Poacher’s notes of the scenario that was to be played out at the MOUT town.

First, he wrote, “kill the police chief.”

Then, “take his vehicle and use it to surprise the cops at the mini-station. Make sure you don’t kill all of them. Leave one alive. Kidnap him and take him to the safe house where you will first torture him, then film his beheading.”

So What?

I cannot underscore how seemingly little things can drive coppers mad.

Finding an expended shell casing in one’s luggage, although a low priority to us and completely accidental, turned some cranks really hard and really fast in Okinawa.

We also learned the hard way that Hawaii’s counter-terrorism teams took their island and the safety of its inhabitants very seriously. While accidental, leaving the “how to” of staging a bloody ambush in a hotel lobby copy machine was a bad move.

Just like in Okinawa, things smoothed out and we were soon on our way.

But there’s a lesson here…

Everything you say, write, or do matters. While your life or job might sometimes seem repetitive or derivative to you, you might accidentally start a roaring fire of fear around you just by saying or writing the wrong thing at the wrong location.

Take time to scrub your notes, shred your maps and documents and think twice about what you are portraying on your computer when you are in public, or the topic of your telephone conversation when you are awaiting the closing of your airplane’s boarding door.

Remember, it’s not just the embarrassment you’ll feel having to defend your actions or statements that is troubling. Add to that the needless cost of activating manpower, creating temporary panic and the likelihood that some overzealous security guard, TSA agent or young police officer might increase their level of violence against you, not considering your behavior was accidental and unintentional.

Mistakes can prove dangerous or deadly!

Training changes behavior.

  • Greg
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