Lessons Learned #052: The Chemistry of Fear.

Mission Creep: “a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment.”

I was being sent into kinetic, non-permissive Iraq to circulate through the Camps, COPs (combat outposts) and FOBs (forward operating bases) teaching my Combat Profiling techniques to US troops operating outside the wire.

Before leaving for this “pump” I was approached by members of the DoD (department of defense) to assess the G-BOSS system while I was in-country. Raytheon created the Ground-Based Operational Surveillance System or G-BOSS as a force protection multiplier at the request of the US Department of Defense.

US ground forces were being killed predominantly by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) during that time and that necessitated a new, long range portable surveillance system to combat emplacers. The G-BOSS was trailer mounted and came with an 80 foot or 107-foot tower. I had seen them all over Iraq, normally sticking up over the HESCO barriers at a combat outpost. The first applications of G-BOSS I witnessed were blimps floating above our temporary bases.

G-BOSS was outfitted with a ThermoVision 3000 camera (cool name, sounds like something you would hear on the home shopping network or an infomercial), a Star SAFIRE IIIFP (laser rangefinder) and an MSTAR (target acquisitioning radar with GPS global positioning system). It created a persistent surveillance system with high resolution day and night cameras that also had the ability to record video feeds directly from each camera.

What the DoD (and of course Raytheon) wanted was to be able to say that G-BOSS also increased “situational awareness.” This became evident after I returned from my trips forward and after making my reports the marketing information and on-line declarations began adding, “The G-BOSS enhances situational awareness by allowing personnel to monitor activities in the vicinity of the military installation…” and, “The Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity conducted operational tests on the G-BOSS to employ it in relation to situational awareness”. 

Before I left, I sought out G-BOSS training on Camp Pendleton. The course was being taught by former Colonel and United States Military Academy grad from West Point Lee Wakefield. Lee and his partner took me through operating and troubleshooting the G-BOSS. In exchange I had Will Atkinson (callsign Teacher) and Arcadia CEO Shelly Williams teach some Combat Hunter skills to the Marines and US Army Soldiers attending Lee’s courses.

I was hopping from camp to camp teaching when, one night, the unit I was training had their Sergeant Major (SGM) meet link up with me. He told me three things. First, he told me about a ‘Shaboob’. What he meant was a Haboob (an incredible, menacing sandstorm) that was blowing in fast. He said the Shaboob would cover the camp in the next few hours.

 

Second in line he told me about the ‘accident’ that had occurred in front of the COP. The COP in which we stood was partially an old khalat with ancient stone walls, part sandbag and a lot of piled brick, block, HESCO and wire forming a perimeter. I forget the names, now. Ripper, Casino, Shark base, Liberty all of the outposts have cool names but are in essence all reinforced bunkers smack dab in the middle of the shit, minimally manned but armed to the teeth.

The accident of which the SGM spoke occurred when a US Abrams tank took evasive action to avoid an RPG (Rocket) attack and swerved, driving its massive composite armor lined frame over a 1980’s Volkswagen Golf occupied by four locals killing them all.

The accident was only a few hours old and the local population bolstered by the insurgents were already surrounding the walls, yelling and throwing items.

The third and final item, literally the last time I spoke to this Marine, he mentioned that I should go to the armory and draw out more ammo as it was likely we would “be overrun tonight.”

I had been scared before, but this combat vet and his ‘matter of fact’ delivery really did a number on me. A civilian outside the wire on a mission to train now possible going to be killed or captured when the compound is overrun during a ‘(S)haboob’. 

As I walked around contemplating my last will and testament, I decided to take my up-armored-ass, dump pouches filled with topped off magazines, and shuffle over to where the G-BOSS was located. If I lived, I would be able to give a unique report to the USMC about the effectiveness of a G-BOSS during a haboob.

The young lance corporal manning the G-BOSS was gazing intently into the screens. He also had one of the cameras on some sort of pre-programmed ‘loop’ where it would scan near and far, low then high and return to a new spot and “rinse and repeat”.

On the autonomous scan camera, I saw an interesting meeting take place outside of a taxi (I assumed it was a taxi based on the unique middle eastern taxi color scheme). While most taxis had drivers that were interested in getting their fares to and from locations, this driver was using the driver’s door as a stable platform with which to balance his arms and the binoculars he was holding which were directed at our COP. Interesting and a fatal mistake as the current ROE (Rules Of Engagement) frowned on likely hostiles with optics. 

The camera continued to pan away from the taxi. I asked the LCPL if he could stop the camera and go back. He was at first incredulous, having no idea who I was to make such a request. My civilian clothes covered by an issued PPE (personal protective equipment) body bunker and weapon threw him.

He complied, and I asked if he could go to the ThermoVision sight. He again complied. I asked him to zoom and soon we were recording a group of 5 men that had arrived in a taxi-style vehicle. Each was armed, one had optics and another had a shoulder holster and was communicating on a radio. This video feed became probable cause to “contact” this likely team of hostiles neutralizing one threat that evening – well before it materialized.

I didn’t have time to be scared after that. We were soon surrounded by more Marines, each pointing and yelling at the screens asking to zoom in on this or that – turning it in to an impromptu game of ‘Where’s Waldo?’

I cannot tell you how excited the Marines were to use the G-BOSS once they had experienced finding bad guys and bomb emplaces while deployed. There were many G-BOSS success stories after that and the experience proved again that training changes behavior!

The Virtual Battle Space.

Founded in Australia in 2001, Bohemia Interactive is a huge software company that offers simulation training. Using high fidelity game technology, Bohemia created the Virtual Battle Space or VBS early in the war on terror. Because I was traveling CONUS and OCONUS to support Combat Hunter I was additionally tasked that while on US bases I would audit how and when VBS was being utilized.   

The goal of VBS was to create a realistic multi-domain, training universe which – when played by pre-deployment soldiers and marines – would “enhance warfighter readiness.

The first time I saw VBS 1 was at the SIM Center on board Camp Pendleton, California a year or two before the FITE-JCTD. I was introduced to it by Marine William Travis Jones III who gave me a down and dirt on how VBS worked and then proceeded to show me how his character (avatar) in the game was riding a motorcycle through the virtual world with a German shepherd seated on the rear-rack. Jonesy was armed with a Russian SVD and stopped at an airfield and jumped into a Russian Mil Mi-24 HIND helicopter gunship.

Jonesy had his character fly the helo across the landscape and begin to shoot up every building and vehicle in sight. I asked what the purpose of this training exercise was and I got a perplexed look.

My point was that the system was being underutilized – literally to play a shooting game – rather than exploited to train Marines how to spot IEDs, identify their emplacers and predict their locations.

Over the next few hours, I was able to learn how to use the simple, amazing VBS architecture to create uber-realistic operations where I could preplan OPFOR (Opposing Forces) emplacing various IEDs and VBIEDs (vehicle borne improvised explosive devices) meant to destroy the approaching US and Coalition forces.

The level of fidelity was amazing, I was able to create urban masking and use camouflage to cover IEDs, emplacing them in locations where – if the US or Coalition forces were trained in Combat Hunter – they were sure to be located Left-of-Bang and defeated.

Jonesy and I enlisted his squad and each were assigned to computer consoles playing either the US and Coalition force soldiers or the OPFOR Red Cell. I was now able to see how important a training tool VBS could be. What it needed was robust, reality-based scenarios to challenge the user.

After that initial exposure I checked the VBS suites at a dozen bases CONUS and another twenty or more OCONUS. Each time my first reaction was surprise when I saw the local E6 running things with a room full of pristine unoccupied computers act out the ‘motorcycle to the Russian gunship’ free play scenario.

I learned fast that the system was amazing but it came without specific directions and mentoring for exactly HOW to best employ it. That changed as I taught the Marines how to use the VBS to create realistic training scenarios with which to challenge their fellow Marines.

VBS had another essential ‘component’, the ability to create a sense of confidence that the war against the IEDs was winnable. In the work up for Iraq and Afghanistan, training was changing behavior.

The Geography of fear.

When I was a kid, I soon noticed that all of my contemporaries had uncles, aunts and various grandparents. My family was different. We had a few distant relatives overseas and I was limited to my Aunt and Uncle who lived in East Detroit. I was often a lunch guest at their home. Sometimes an overnight guest. They were simple folks and didn’t have a lot of money. The house was always clean. There was a spare bedroom on the main floor of the 800 square foot house. There was also a bed in the basement. I slept there.

The basement was vast and spartan. The light switch was a string that I could barely reach attached to a lone bulb at the bottom of the stairs. The bed sat at the furthers corner of the basement. The distance from the stairs to the bed seemed like a mile. I was so scared to sleep in the basement overnight that I fashioned an arsenal of ‘weapons’ to defend myself and then spread them around the basement floor like land mines to protect me as I slept.

My Uncle Paul worked for Sears as a washer and dryer repairman for over 30 years. Each week his shirts and pants were delivered from the Sears dry cleaners. Sears like almost every profession back then had their employees wear work uniforms. It wasn’t unusual to see various service employees wearing uniforms. From a gas station attendant to the baggers at the local A&P uniforms were everywhere.

Inside of my Uncle’s pressed shirts was a piece of cardboard that had one white, shiny side and one darker unfinished side. These rectangles became my canvas. I would sit at a folding table in the ‘den’ feverishly coloring and cutting out knives, brass knuckles – literally all manner of edged weapons, then hammers and clubs and other impact weapons, and then, finally, I would make handguns from revolvers to semiautomatic pistols – I still have the skill today to draw a variety of weapons that look very realistic and are remarkably to scale.

Creating my 2-dimensional cardboard weapons cache was serious business. I would plan a defense and begin to scatter pairs and groups of weapons in a semicircle around the bed. If I had to defend against the unknown demons that came after lights out, I would never run low on defensive weapons.    

Once the lights went out the sounds of the basement were magnified to frightening proportions if only inside of my head. The old furnace clicking on, first the gas would come on, then the pilot and finally the fuel would ignite and there would be a flash in the dark followed by the loud sounds of combustion. The ductwork would soon expand creating pops and clicks and snaps that I mistook for footsteps of the creatures closing in on me. The anxiety level was incredible!

C’mon in. The waters fine.

Sanibel Island was one of the location shoots for Day of the Dead, Romero’s 1985 classic. Huge fan of all things Dead. Shelly and I got invited down to Sanibel and Captiva by a friend of a friend. We were all coppers and the resort on Sanibel was owned by a retired Detroit cop and his wife.

They offered a weekend for Shelly and I and the kids for an unbeatable price, and Shelly and the clan and I were headed down for Bruno and Nellie Wygonik’s belated anniversary and Bruno’s 90th birthday.

I was surf fishing in the morning while Shelly and the kids were beach combing for shells. On Sanibel and Captiva there are GANGS of old people who are very protective about their beach, their shells and specifically their horseshoe crabs. Don’t believe me? Same is true today and they will fight you for your shells. Surf fishing was new to me but I love all sorts of fishing so I figured how hard could it be?

I waded out and caught a fish. I waded out further and caught a bigger fish. Soon, I was at nipple-height in the surf and each time a wave came in it lifted me up off the sandy bottom and carried me in, then out a little further each time.

Fearing that I was going to lose my favorite fishing briar-pipe (I thought I looked cool, I am certain upon reflection that I looked like a perfect douche) and some gear out of my re-purposed tactical vest, I decided to turn around and start walking back in to the beach.

Just as I noted the large crowd of people on the beach watching me, a huge, black, shiny dorsal fin blocked the sun from the sky and disappeared below the surf.

Seconds later, before fear gripped my chest and forced fresh air from my lungs, another dorsal fin, this one so close that the unseen shark below the water’s surface actually pushed my legs out from under me. Now surrounded by briar-hungry sharks, I dropped my hat, pipe, rod, reel – anything that was unattached – and fled for shore as fast as my feet would carry me.

Have you ever tried to run in the water?

No matter how hard you try, your speed is set and slow. I had never seen so many sharks (actually, up until this fear inducing spectacle, I had never seen a shark outside of the Detroit Zoo exhibit).

I could barely see the folks on the beach cheering for me to survive through my tear-filled eyes. I was sweating and freezing and yelling and crying. I had already imagined going through the rest of my life happy to have only lost an arm or a leg to the onslaught that was surely going to overwhelm me before I made it to safety.

I finally crashed onto the hot sand of the beach. I could hear the cheers of the geriatric crowd that had formed around me – gathered to watch the porpoises play in the water.

A dozen of them.

Straight from the experts; you can tell the difference between a shark and a porpoise in the water by watching how they move their tails and whether you see a second fin.

Dolphins have wide horizontal tails which move up and down while sharks have tall vertical tails which move from side to side. Because dolphins have below the surface pectoral fins, if you see a second fin, it’s a shark. I never recovered my surf fishing gear (or my surf fishing pride) regarding and I have never returned to Sanibel Island.

The chemistry of fear.

Fear is nothing more that the anticipation of imminent danger. The expectation that you might be injured or killed by likely (known, suspected or unseen but expected) threats. There are more self-defense warning pathways into the brain than any other sensor track.

First the sound, smell, or sight activates your distant early warning system (your nervous system) which activates the thalamus and your amygdalae which in turn activate glutamate to “dump” and run its course through the body in a fraction of a nanosecond.

Glutamate is the anion (the negatively charged ion) of glutamic acid. As electrochemical neurotransmitters go, glutamate is the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in humans and certainly the most prevalent in the vertebrate nervous system.

Excitatory neurotransmitters carry urgent chemical “messages” between nerve cells (neurons) to control our blood pressure, breathing and increased heart rate necessary to respond to fear and related emergencies.

These messages work both ways. Your brain warns you of something you should fear by sending out excitatory neuros and you sense something scary in your environment and your brain produces the ‘excitators’ to prepare you to fight, flee or freeze.

This fast-acting chemical cocktail creates a reaction in the hypothalamus and in the oldest part of your brain called the periaqueductal gray region which only has two functions, first to jump, second to freeze so as to avoid detection. Your adrenal glands pump cortisol and epinephrine to your limbs and your chest preparing us for the fight of our lives or to run, screaming and kicking to avoid the danger.

So What?

I’m often asked how someone can overcome fear. The answer is that you cannot overcome fear as it is a necessary defense mechanism and largely out of your physical or mental control.

That doesn’t mean you have to be paralyzed by fear. You don’t have to let it own you. Your faith or spirituality can help immensely. Many folks pray for guidance and you can confide your fears in your local spiritual advisor or members of your congregation.

I would advise against taking a page from G. Gordon Liddy and lashing yourself to a tree to learn to cope with a fear of thunder and lightning, or beating to death then eating a rat to overcome your fear of Rodentia – I would say that you can face your fears (and do it incrementally).

Many professionals suggest that you talk it out AND write it out, keeping a journal or diary about those things that scare you or give you anxiety. Most experts also agree that you should research what scares you so that you can understand the reality associated with your fear and the likelihood of whether you are more vulnerable than not to the external source of your fear.

 

 

I would suggest avoiding alcohol to cope with fear. It’ll just leave you drunker with less money and still afraid. Healthy eating habits help as fear is tied to blood sugar.

Finally, exercise and mindfulness are hugely important options.

They will help you deal with the physical and mental stress associated with fear. In the event of a startle response, your physical health can keep you from having a heart attack or passing out and hitting the floor.

More folks have died from falling and hitting their heads than have died from rat attacks and lightning combined.

Train to overcome your fear. Training changes behavior.

  • Greg

Lessons Learned #051: Facts not fear

Yahweh is coming, better look busy!

CVOID 19 is spread is through respiratory droplets produced when infected persons cough or sneeze. The news media, however, will have us believe that world is falling apart and that the virus is rampant and ever present through a number of transmission methodologies.

Even this morning, news outlets were warning of years of massive social upheaval, global disruption and millions of deaths:

 “Coronavirus cases surge”

News alert”

“Breaking story”

“World pushed further and further into crisis while (insert appropriate political party here) do nothing to stop the pandemic”.

I can go back 5 years, 25 years or 50 years and find similar headlines:

Increase in school shootings, hurricanes batter retirement communities across the globe, frequent monster earthquakes wreak havoc in poor areas of South and Central America, the U.S. west has erupted in flames and continues to burn, Volcanic lava pours into streets threatening the lives and homes of local residents.

How can we prepare for disaster and find the strength to endure it?

The answer rests in your Logical Brain.

If you create time and distance from bad news and couple that with physical exercise and mindfulness practice you will overcome this event and future events. Simply put, training changes behavior.

Stress and anxiety harm your mental and physical health.

You’ve no doubt been bombarded with myriad reports of “important symptoms” these past few weeks. Symptoms you must learn, post, and recite in order to detect COVID 19 at its earliest stages. All the while taking steps to distance yourself so as not to affect others. The next sentence screams that coronavirus tests are unavailable or running low.

Stop for just a moment.

I’ll give you a few more symptoms to review, and these you might need to put at or near the top of your list. They might save your life – and your survival rate without considering them will be hundreds of times greater than the likelihood you will succumb to death by the COVID 19 virus.

Stress kills

Headaches, muscle tension, anxiety, sleep disorders, stomach and digestion problems. Once coined ‘Disaster fatigue’, these are symptoms of the emotional toll we each suffer from relentless bouts of bad news.

Bad news heaped upon us by the spurious news media will affect us long after the Coronavirus becomes history. Bad news creates both short- and long-term problems which will first cause each of us increased anxiety and fear and then regress to a point where we no longer care about the crisis and lose motivation to do even the most basic tasks related to physical and mental health.

This can lead to apathy, self-harm, or suicide.

Seemingly endless crises activate the survival locus of the human central nervous system. These indispensable systems are in charge of preparing you for essential action, responses like fighting, fleeing or freezing in place to avoid the impending danger.

Sensationalizing traumatic events only exacerbate existing problems by wearing us down and creating an inability to defend against real future onslaughts of threats or diseases.  

Spin Doctors

Consider the ‘spin’ the news outlets put on these stories.

Reader question: Is it safe for me to order carry out food from a local restaurant?

Likely answer: WHO and the CDC haven’t issued formal guidelines on carry out food, however, there is no evidence to support transmission associated with food. Follow appropriate hygiene guidelines.

Answer given by a major news source:You can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your face. The virus can survive on cardboard and plastic for up to 24 hours and therefore raises concerns about restaurant help interacting with infected customers”.

Note how by simply twisting the incoming and outgoing messages, the news media foments fear. Here’s another.

Question from reader: “What is the point of getting tested for COVID 19 if there is no cure?”

Likely answer: There are many reasons that someone may seek medical care for their symptoms, ruling out COVID 19 saves valuable time so that medical staff can seek out other causes.

Answer given by another major news source: “The biggest problem is we don’t have a quick and reliable test right now. Without that, we have to be smart and ration the testing to those people that need them most”.

 

Again, controlling the message and spreading fear, mistrust, distrust and pandemonium. The next one scared me to my core – not the logical question from a reader – but the “conservative reports” of death and destruction from a source of news I once thought above reproach.

Reader question: “Are there any likely projections to estimate the end of the spread of COVID-19?”

Likely answer: As with all outbreaks, this one will come to an end. A Stanford Nobel laureate who crunched the numbers predicts the outbreak will result in fewer deaths than many experts have predicted. His comment, ‘We’re going to be fine’. Michael Levitt analyzed the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide and correctly calculated that China would get through the worst of its coronavirus outbreak long before many health experts had predicted, he now foresees a similar outcome in the United States and the rest of the world. He ended his report with, “what we need is to control the panic,” he added,

“In the grand scheme of things we are going to be fine.”

Report from a formerly reliable mainstream news agency: Conservative reports from (add the name of your favorite news source) estimates that 23.8 million Americans could contract COVID-19, leaving almost six seriously ill patients for every existing hospital bed. Another analysis finds that America’s trajectory of community spread is trending toward Italy’s, where circumstances are dire. As many as 96 million Americans could be infected. 38 million Americans will need medical care for COVID-19. 160 million to 210 million Americans will be infected by December. Under this forecast, 21 million people would need hospitalization and 200,000 to 1.7 million could die by the end of the year. Leaked documents demonstrate that the coronavirus outbreak could rage until spring 2021. Germanys Chancellor warned that 60% to 70% of her country’s population will eventually become infected.

Sometimes you don’t even need to read the article. Consider the following headline, “A closed border, dashed hopes and a looming disaster”.

Wow, talk about zero opportunity for a happy ending.

“The coronavirus pandemic continues to shut down daily life across the globe”.

Again, cringeworthy headlines acting as clickbait to assail those craving positive social interaction.

I also read an article stating that families were being forced to ‘shelter in place’ with the deceased bodies of their loved ones until this crisis is over. Total falsehood. Total clickbait horseshit.

Paranoia will destroy ya!

I received a text message from a number I don’t know yesterday. 

It purported to be an exchange between a number of fellow texters sharing ‘news’. It began with a message that someone’s cousin knew someone high up in the government that warned that the military is stepping in and an 8-week shelter in place order with Martial Law was coming soon. They said to have toilet paper, batteries and candles because the power grid was sure to fall. The final volley of messages asked those on the list to protect themselves and their families and asked the reader to send the message to everyone they knew.

Soon after that I received two back to back messages from people unknown to me (the down side of having a podcast, website and passing out business cards with your personal information).

I haven’t been communicating much this past week. My state is under full quarantine and people are panicking as resources drop. I have been working with my community to help the local hospital staff and to ensure that the elderly in our community are getting the food they most desperately need. We are struggling, but trying to stay united.

The final from an acquaintance that wanted to know whether I heard the insider information from a credible source high up in the government that another load of 250,000 body bags had been delivered to the secret storage facility below the states Counterterrorism Headquarters.

This exact type of misinformation is responsible for driving susceptible folks to the brink of anarchy. We can and NEED TO control the message. We must hold newspapers and social media responsible. We must insist that they portray FACTS not FEAR.

Instant news, just add conflict.

Denver, Colorado is temperate. The weather is largely beautiful and predictable. People spend a lot of time outside and enjoying all of the recreational activities that Colorado has to offer.

The news outlets in Denver have to sell advertising and they do that through viewer loyalty – therefore – the longest segment of the Denver news concerns the weather.

Any storm in the offing creates an “Alert Day” and numerous reporters scramble to cover every temperature change or shift in the barometric pressure. They sell the weather report by issuing scandalous warnings – hyping that you NEED to know what weather is coming, and you better tune in soon because it is not going to be nice.

That same hype (the word itself taken from hyperbole or the exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally) has been used since January 2020 to promote fear regarding COVID 19.

There is an interesting phenomenon that comes from having ‘instant’ news and the ability to process events occurring thousands of miles away instantaneously.

Despair, hopelessness and fear sell papers and increase the ratings on news shows. Social media technology (how over 65% of adults get their news) can expose a user to countless traumatic events in record time.

It’s a delicate balance and one that upends positive messages like, “Only the infected need to wear masks.” Or, “Essential services will continue to function”. The ‘feel good’ news articles taking a back seat to what your brain assumes is critical survival-oriented information.

The fear these news articles sow, the uncertainty they instill are responsible for shortages in protective masks, gear and preventative safeguards taken off store shelves by record numbers. The preppers, hoarders and ‘stockpilers’ now unknowingly denying these essential items from the ER doctors and nurses treating patients who sorely need them to defend against contracting the virus while serving the public.

People are scared. When they are scared, they buy guns and ammo and horde toilet paper and water bottles, stockpiling for a civil war brought on by the coronavirus that will never come.

So What?

First and foremost, stop feeding the beast by using the term “Social Distance”. Please begin using the term Physical Distance. Social distance stops people from communicating and sews the seeds of hate, fear and discord.

Take care of others.

Endeavor today to write and send a card or letter to your local nursing home. Endorse it generally and offer written messages of hope and your personal support during this event. Don’t add stress, try and remove some of it, replacing the stress with messages of love and hope.

Use your phone for good. Call someone you love and tell them that you love them.Get used to sharing positive messages and motivational thoughts, not passing on messages of fear.

Take care of yourself!

Even in locations where folks are being asked to shelter in place or remain at home, there are no restrictions of hiking, running or a plethora of outdoor activities that will boost your mood and your immune system. Walk your dog, ride your bike or do work in your garden or around your house.

The recommended Physical Distance from WHO and the CDC is maintaining a distance of around 6 feet from other humans.

The other end of the spectrum and just as necessary and meaningful are stress management techniques like physical exercise, goat yoga (Ha!), meditation and mindfulness techniques.

While the intent behind social distancing is sound, the terminology isn’t.

When dealing with folks that are already scared, already in the grips of despair and hopelessness, the last thing you want to suggest is that they avoid SOCIAL contact.

Now, more than ever there are myriad ways for folks to connect electronically without relying on social gatherings of more than 10 people. You don’t have to engage in non-essential travel to meet, encourage and contact folks via social media.

As humans we have a central nervous system and a peripheral nervous system. The CNS (central nervous system) consists of your brain and spinal cord while the PNS (peripheral nervous system) contains the nerves that leave your brain and spinal cord and travel to specific areas of your body.

By allowing yourself to be continually exposed to bad news you are likely causing irreparable harm to your physical and mental well-being by misusing your CNS and PNS.

You need to take time to figure out your personal stress limit, the degree to which you can continue to safely process incoming information without becoming OBE (Overwhelmed By Events or Overcome By Emotion).

Adhere to that limit and offset the damaging, detrimental effects of stress and anxiety by allowing yourself time to decompress and work out (physically or mindfully) to recharge your batteries and renew your resilience.

By giving yourself this ‘Gift of Time and Distance’, you will learn to once again take charge of the messages that you are sending and receiving. You have to learn to set a limit on how much you allow the news media to irritate you and take up essential survival bandwidth that you need for other emergencies.

You can choose what you read. You can choose what you send.

Please take time and remember the real heroes that are putting their lives on the line during this pandemic. The healthcare workers, first responders and law enforcement professionals keeping us safe. Please also hold your local and national news media outlets accountable by encouraging them to spread facts, not fear.

Training changes behavior.

  • Greg

Lessons Learned #050: No such thing as a Hollywood ending.

Playing a game of “Broomball.”

Am I just another nobody like everyone else?

Not me but you get the idea.

When I lived in Marquette, Michigan, whether I was playing hockey or surviving an aggressive, alcohol-fueled inning of broomball (a Northern Michigan University career athletics sport) my call sign was ‘Apocalypse’. My closest friends shortened it to A-pocs. When I asked why I had been thusly tagged, the gang said,

“whenever we were losing, we would put you into the game and there was always a sudden, violent change”.

 

I must admit to a series of violent episodes and anti-social rampages between my 13th birthday and my 17th birthday. Each would have qualified as an event where I intended to commit destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.

These epic brawls were brought on by my inability to express my critical thinking skills and process stress prompted by my hair-trigger rage response. During these incidents, my lack of empathy was rarely unintentional. I look back on those days and I admit that I am not proud of the path of devastation I left behind as evidence of my early teens, yet I own it.

So, today we are going to talk about an apocalypse of sorts. Perhaps not the complete and final destruction of the world as detailed in Revelation (the final book of the New Testament) but a reflection on how we as humans process an event of apocalyptic proportions.

Are they lost in the games they play?

I think I fell in love with Scotland when I was taking part in Joint Warrior. I had taken part in three Bold Quest events for NATO and multiple contributing nations before it and I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in Joint Warrior by some folks I met at Bold Quest.

The Scots were incredible.

We lived as one group in a small fishing town called Kinlochbervie (or K-L-B to us newly minted locals) in Sutherland (the Highland Region of Scotland) just off Cape Wrath. I had spent many a training session in and around Cape Fear in the States, so this Cape Wrath mission seemed destined.

A recently viewed film transported me psychologically back to that little town in Scotland but let me give you some context first…

I don’t know if the Vine entertainment network is still around. It was a place to post videos. Many personalities got a tremendous boost after being featured on Vine. Trends that started elsewhere blew up after being posted on Vine.

There was also an air of insider baseball to the site. Sometimes you had to know about a trend or get ‘read in’ to the joke, gag or tribute.

On the morning of 05 May 2015, Vine featured a channel where actor Ryan Gosling posted a video of him pouring cereal into a bowl, adding milk, giving a salute to the camera and then going on to enjoy his breakfast.

Those “in on” the tribute knew that Gosling was commemorating the 02 May 2015 death of young Scottish filmmaker Ryan McHenry.

 

Trapped in a moment, ready to fly.

In 2011, Ryan McHenry had received a Best Director nomination in the short film category for Zombie Musical. McHenry’s film related a student named Anna who, while on the way to school one day, had to contend with more than just the travails of any normal high school kid. Her day forced her to navigate the challenges of a recent zombie epidemic. The film was a critical success leading the British Academy of Scotland New Talent Awards to recognize McHenry with a nomination as well.

As a social media gimmick, Ryan McHenry created a series in 2013 called Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal. Armed with short film clips of Ryan Gosling and a bowl of cereal, McHenry timed his vids so that each time he tried to feed Gosling some cereal, Gosling would turn away just before the spoon met the screen appearing as though Gosling was refusing McHenry’s offer.

Hundreds of thousands of viewers would tune in to see whether Gosling would eat his cereal, creating an internet sensation of sorts.

Sooner or later it ends in goodbye.

Sadly, in 2015, this smart, fun new Scottish talent died after a short bout with brain cancer.

Just a couple of days before he died, Ryan McHenry tweeted to his fans,

Yesterday was my 10,000th day alive on this Earth and not one of you got me a card or anything”.

Deadpan to the end. Gone, but certainly not forgotten.

Sarah Swire acted in and choreographed the film.

For many of us, Ryan will live on forever whenever we see the 2017 film Anna and the Apocalypse.  Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry adapted Ryan’s Zombie Musical into a full-length feature film musical. Scored by Roddy hart and Tommy Reilly and choreographed by my new fave crush Sarah Swire, Anna and the Apocalypse was released after McHenry’s death.

John McPhail (another Scot) directed for Ryan and did an incredible job of making us care about the residents of Little Haven, Scotland.   

 

 Now before I get hate mail from you, take a moment and hear the songs, see the film and then READ the dialogue and scripting. When you are done and you have a true appreciation of the magnitude of the caper compared against the budget, understand that Sarah Swire choreographed each scene, dance and musical number.

If you’ve ever been in film (hell, to film school) you can understand how hard it is to be an actor. Then add the complexity of choreography, and finish with the idea that Swire is singing and dancing in almost every number. Perhaps now you’ll understand why Swire is my current crush. Hats off, ma’am and get thee to my podcast. You would be a welcome guest.

Sadly, St. Stephen’s High School in Inverclyde, Scotland, the school that starred as the central location of the film was torn down in 2019, so no future pilgrimage there. In an ironic twist of fate, the same fate befell the old farmhouse from George Romero’s classic opening bid, his 1968 horror classic.

Good news, though – with all of our trips to Pennsylvania, we are poised to visit the infamous graveyard from the opening of Night of the Living Dead. It’s located through a tree-lined route on Franklin Road. Just drive about a half an hour north of Pittsburgh to Evans City on Route 68 and follow the signs.

There’s more to me and I know I must break away.

On to the ‘So What?’ If you have ever had the occasion to walk through your neighborhood’s “Haunted house” on Halloween night or perhaps watch a really scary horror film with your sweetie on a ‘dark and stormy night’ – you will have had the chance to exhibit all of the same physiological responses that you would feel if you actually encountered an axe swinging lunatic on the street.

That level of arousal is ‘cognitively close enough’ in both instances to give you an idea of what sheer terror in a real encounter would feel like.

Of course, the electrochemical responses you would experience would be slightly less during the film than in the mock-haunted house, and the mock-haunted house would be slightly less than that felt during a real-life al life, although the peaks would be similar (for example; the startle responses would be virtually identical during all three).

Would I call it TRAINING for the real event? No. It falls into the category of education but falls short of actual training.

Please allow me to explain.

Because your senses were heightened by the experience, it’s likely that you will retain the chemical effects from the event (whether film or being chased by a real axe murderer) and you will be hyperalert for a period immediately after the incident. If you had a coach, instructor or mentor during that period and you discussed your performance and that of an expert model, then made corrections and ‘went back in’ to correct your earlier performance, then, arguably it could be considered an experiential learning environment, in other words, learning through the reflection on the experience.

Based on that logic, it is then just as likely to assume that certain humans will have a form of post-incident stress associated with and tied to similar external arousal for some time to come. So, why doesn’t that work for the Corona Virus?

Garbage in, garbage out.

The recent mass hysteria regarding COVID19 (the coronavirus) was fueled by conspiracy theorists then propagated by the yellow journalists who typify today’s mainstream news media.

Real fear spreads through society when an actual virus that could and might kill you is actually present in your immediate environment. That’s vastly different than the fear experienced when you read a great novel by Max Brooks about a dystopian future or surviving a ZOMPOC, the zombie apocalypse.

While there is some fear and a larger amount of titillation experienced in watching horror films with zombies, in your heart of hearts or more specifically your ‘brain of brains’ is quite certain that he likelihood of exposure to a zombie is quite low. That’s not the case when you’re in the mall or on a plane and someone around you sneezes or coughs.

That fear – the fear that comes from understanding that you just got douched with the flu, a common cold or maybe COVID19 frightens you immensely and then the fact that you can’t watch the news without seeing stories about the spread of the coronavirus then frightens you to your core.

Exacerbating that feeling that it just might happen is the fact that your neighbors are spreading gossip, the local hardware store is price-gouging (the Purell is gone, the soap is gone – what were these folks doing BEFORE coronavirus? – and your local mall or theater is virtually empty, these facts are enough to spin what should be a tempered, measured response into a total apocalyptic event.

We are spoiled. Perhaps too spoiled.

Our lines of communication, ability to use electricity, natural gas, our access to clean water and a seemingly never-ending access to a variety of raw or cooked food on a 24-hour bases have softened us up. Not just softened us for a ZOMPOC, but for something as simple as a high-threat virus.

We don’t have soft-skill defenses against criminals, why would you expect that your neighbor or work counterpart understands that washing hands isn’t just an acceptable alternative to transmitting diseases, but literally essential to our survival as a species?

When the shortages start (whether inflated by fear or actually experienced because of a no-shit event) you will see the true measure of society. All for one and one for all quickly turns to ‘every he, him, his’ for themselves. We can fix that with education and TRAINING.

What we cannot fix is the fact that certain people seek out the challenge posed by threats and fear – they get a kick out of it – and therefore may want to repeat that fear sensation much the same as kids who get in line over and over to ride the roller coaster at your local amusement park.

Even though that very different sensation falls short of an apocalypse it shares the same chemical lure.

The primary role of your electrochemical neurotransmitters is to create reward sensations to promote essential survival behaviors. Run-Hide-Fight are just as essential as Eat-Drink-Have Sex. The problem is that some of use mere mortals are more sensitive to certain neuroreceptors and that means we actually crave the rush (for example the immediate on-boarding of cortisol and dopamine) that come from bad behaviors.

For example, binge eating. The same electrochemical neurotransmitters that urge us to make love or fight create the same neural reactions that drive the need to excel at a 5k marathon or binge-eat to offset our recent rejection and the ensuing sadness. 

Aggression is an essential trait to the survival of many species. Including humans. Because these same neurotransmitters (and the exact type and amount of each released) convey information to their neighboring neurons prompting them to act or remain dormant, the sensations are undistinguishable and the resultant cravings and rewards are identical.

I’ll delve back into the link between dopamine and cortisol in future episodes, suffice it to say that dopamine is the likely culprit to both binge eating virtually all ‘binge pathology’ that links our mood, anxiety, personality, and therefore impacts our critical decision-making skills and abilities.

I once saw a video of a group of chimpanzees encountering a snake on a trail. The startle effect was unmistakable, causing an atmospheric shift. The monks then went crazy, vocalizing and using anything they could find to strike out at the snake, working together feverishly to attack and ultimately kill the snake. None ran. All protected the other.

In this specific instance, there was no freeze or flee (common, limbic oriented survival actions) merely the fight brought on perhaps by the startle reflex and a primal sense of fear associated with one of the chimps most formidable enemies.

It’s hard to hide when the truth inside rises up like a tidal wave.

While a little anxiety can be exhilarating, too much can trigger a panic attack. Most panic attacks are brought on by sudden, exaggerated fear. You can feel as though you are losing control, sweating uncontrollably, shaking with a nauseated feeling. Finding it hard to catch your breath.

I remember my first panic attack. I thought I was dying; I was afraid and felt more scared in the moment than compared to any weapon-toting lunatic I had ever faced. I remember looking up my symptoms in web MD and finding out while frightening, the attacks weren’t dangerous. Easy to reflect on that now.

Remember that something as simple as watching the news can trigger panic or anxiety. Just like mirror neurons can artificially cause those around you to mimic your emotional stance, too much bad news can create a situation where prolonged exposure can destroy your sympathy, making it virtually impossible to empathize with the plight of others.

In closing, please remember Ryan McHenry fondly by seeing Anna and the Apocalypse. I’m trying to get my niece Brigid to turn it into a musical stage-play at her school in Grosse Pointe. Also remember the incredible actors Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming and of course Sarah Swire.

Use their bravery, cunning and resolve vicariously to motivate yourself to prepare for COVID19 or whatever next virus challenges us. Turn the dystopian or apocalyptic future the news wants you to feel that is inevitable into an opportunity to grow through training.

After all, training changes behavior.

  • Greg

Lessons Learned #049: Suppressed Recall.

 

Mobtown.

My friend Eric Collyer was leaving the inner Baltimore harbor. He hopped on the “2” heading south across the Patapsco River, using Hanover street.

Glen Burnie, Maryland

He had recently changed gyms and was now returning home from the new one in Baltimore Harbor.

Collyer usually relies on his rote memory to navigate the roads for 20 or so minutes to get home as the route south to Glen Burnie was uneventful.

Today something was different.

There was a stiff wind coming from south to north, pushing across the factories that dotted the shores of Masonville Cove. One of these companies is Vulcan Materials, and the huge facility was cognitively close enough to the massive concrete processing plant in Al Karmah, Iraq to give Collyer a bout of the shakes.

Eric Collyer hardly ever calls and he rarely texts. When you get a message from him, it’s important enough to stop and listen.

He pulled over on a Baltimore street to talk as I pulled up a chair at RMW (Rogue Manor West) in Colorado to listen.

Time Machine.

Back in the day, Al-Karmah Iraq was the most violent city on the face of the planet. Fallujah was bad, but Fallujah had walls. Walls that restricted movement. ‘Karmah’ was porous.

Marines fighting in Al Karmah

So much so that terrorists and their weapons and bombs could move in and out of the city unmolested. This allowed Karmah to become a FOB (Forward Operating Base) of sorts for Al Qaeda’s attack against US and Coalition forces in Fallujah and Al Jolan.

The Al Jolan district is ten minutes north of downtown Fallujah and leaves an impression on you. The masses of people, seemingly endless market place huts and tents and the surrounding densely packed subdivision became a recruiting boon for AQI.

AQI intentionally confused The Jolan Heights north of Fallujah with the Golan Heights 600 miles west in the Levant. Al Qaedists used the ruse to import fighters worldwide to battle the US forces. Al Qaeda claimed that loyal recruits would be able to “face off with the Jews” to liberate “Golan”.

The Golan Heights were once located in the south of Syria. Israel changed that map in 1967 and the area is still a point of contention with anti-Semitic nations and forces.  

How kinetic was this area of Anbar Province? I would ask Subject Matter Expert named “Teflon.”

Call Sign Teflon.

“Teflon” was US Marine Corps Liutenant Colonel and he practically lived in the Middle East. He had been on the ground in and around Al Anbar in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Teflon’s unit (2nd Batallion/7th Marine Regiment) and his Coalition counterparts had an extraordinary amount of combat experience in the Fallujah area and an area in the Al Anbar Province known as “The Corridor.”

Teflon was “Mattis trained” and perhaps the perfect Marine for operations in the Levant. No Marine knows more about Karmah, Fallujah, Zaidon or Saqlawiyah than Teflon.

Teflon had been the G3 for the 1st MARDIV during the first and second battles of Fallujah. After that he was the boss of 2/7 deployed in and around Fallujah from July 2005 to January 2006 and again from January to August 2007.

During his tenure, Teflon’s unit had many run ins with the AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq). In discussing the problembefore the Anbar Awakening, Teflon commented on the magnitude of the problem to an interviewer from the Institute for Defense Analysis:

“Before July 4, we had had over 100 real fights. I’m not talking about somebody throwing a round down range, or a random mortar, we had 100 direct contacts with enemy forces both 20th Rev and Al Qaeda”.

Later in that interview, Teflon related a story about the desperation of Al Qaeda in Iraq and their brutal tactics. AQI had conducted a raid during which they kidnapped and then murdered a local 12-year-old boy with ties to the Zobai tribe. Al Qaeda had attempted to create an environment on non-reconciliation by slaughtering the boy publicly and then hanging him to bleed out in a public place for all to see.

Al Qaeda drew a line in the sand with this heinous act – threatening AQI fighters who thought they could just leave the insurgency and return to a normal life with their Zobai tribal family.

Karmah was key terrain.

Karmah allowed insurgents to continue attacks on Baghdad as well as US and coalition forces. The insurgents operating in Karmah were largely responsible for direct support to Al Qaeda during the Second Battle of Fallujah, channeling medical aid, bombs and small arms into Fallujah. Al Karmah finally fell during The Awakening when the Tribes decided it would be easier to survive alongside Teflon and the US and Coalition forces than it would be to live under the brutal control of the insurgency.    

Just before Collyer (call sign Blackheart) arrived in Karmah, a 2005 VBIED (car bomb) attack at an OP (Observation Post) injured a group of Marines from 2/2, followed later by an IED attack on the vics coming in and out of 1/4 controlled Camp Donnica.

While Blackheart was on the ground, the US and Coalition forces tried to establish a police station in Karmah, it was attacked so many times that the Iraqi Police (IP) abandoned it. 2/2 took over the battered IP station turning it into a makeshift OP.

Early on, one Marine was shot and killed by an insurgent sniper and a full-on firefight ensued.

For 10 straight minutes a large group of insurgents descended on a squad of weapons platoon Marines pouring in fire small arms and RPGs. The Marines bravely and adeptly held off the much larger force until the arrival of a Marine QRF quick reaction force from another OP.

He’s a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

Blackheart’s heart is two sizes too small.

He and his USMC Scout Sniper team were working within and among the Iraqi Army and IP trying to quell the violence and pacify the wild west atmosphere of Al-Karmah.The insurgents picked up their game to counter the swell, increasing IED attacks and using complex ambushes and mortar attacks on the patrols in the area. Coming out of Camp Donnica meant dodging bullets, bombs and mortars with increasing regularity and accuracy.

Blackheart and the Marines around him were moving down a street when they took direct small arms fire. His team returned fire and Collyer dove to the closest cover, a dirt berm paralleling the street.    

As Blackheart Collyer returned fire, he noted something hard kept poking into his chest and ribs. When the firefight ended, Blackheart had a chance to move to one side and observe the item that had been prodding him.

Blackheart seated on the left.

It was an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) made from a military UXO (unexploded ordnance) 155mm artillery shell. The triggering mechanism was hanging out, dislodged when the gigantic, shaved-ape known as Blackheart plopped down on it with his massive, sculpted Baltimore physique.

Speaking of Baltimore, that brings me back to Blackheart driving home from his new gym.

Memory & Emotion Links.

The northerly wind blew the smell of processing plants, sulfur, chemicals and manufacturing into Collyer’s olfactory receptors and the similarity to the combination of smells on that day at that time magically (logically, chemically) sent him back to that berm in Al Karmah.

Collyer told me;

“When I saw that artillery shell it scared the shit out of me. Then AND now. I’m sitting here shaking. Everything flooded back at once. My brain had locked that memory so fucking deep that I never thought about it again, until now.”

He also added,

What an atmospheric, I need a new set of panties.”

I reminded Collyer of my patent pending idea that ALL underwear should be brown. Saves a lot of time!

Karmah resisted pacification even after Blackheart’s unit rotated out.

In 2008 a body bomber killed the 2/3 CO LTC Max Galeai. The same suicide attack killed Marine Captain Philip Dykeman and Corporal Marcus Preudhomme. The Mayor of Karmah, 20 sheiks, and two interpreters were also killed.

So What?

This morning, Shelly and I did a training session for election workers. A short, intense training opportunity one of many we have done for the same group over the past months to make them safer, smarter, and harder to kill.

This morning’s central topics were detecting pre-event indications of violence or danger at the polls by determining Urban Masking and Social Camouflage.

Simply, something that a person DOES to conceal themselves, their identity or a hidden weapon would qualify as Urban Masking.

Something that a person SAYS to remain hidden, to ‘hide in plain sight’, would qualify as Social Camouflage.

The culprit who killed Max Galeai, Phil Dykeman and Marcus Preudhomme (as well as a large number of Iraqi citizens) was dressed as an Iraqi Policeman. He gained ACCESS because of his Urban Masking and then detonated himself during the Shura.

The bomb that Blackheart was laying on during the firefight in Karmah had been concealed in a rice bag, covered with dirt and garbage to ‘Mask’ it – to hide the fact that a piece of unexploded ordnance had been turned into a lethal, victim initiated ‘land mine’.

Recall is flighty.

Witnesses (especially eye-witnesses) are faulty because memory itself is fragile.

Humans recall events not as a motion picture, with film rolling and a streaming video of the memory flooding back to you in its entirety, but as chunks. Colors, ideas, smells, partial thoughts and images which congeal and form based on the time of day, what you ate, how much sleep you had, your neurochemicals and subtle environmental influences that inspire or detract from the validity of your recall.

In Blackhearts’ recollection, the file folder which contained his run in with the Karmah IED contained the chemical smell associated with the explosive charge packed into the arty nose-cone. The manufactured detonator intended to kill Eric and his team.

That chemical smell was cognitively close enough to the heavy industrial smells that morning along Hanover street to dust off that repressed memory and create a strong enough recall, a “memory and emotion link” that was so robust that Blackheart had a physical and emotional reaction to it 14 years later.

Had he kept driving, he could have been a threat to himself or others on the road.

PTSD.

Post traumatic stress affects each of us in its own way.

Collyer and I were soon laughing on the phone, recalling other capers we had been involved in and swearing that those experiences almost killed us.

A benefit of training is that it allows you to revisit those risky, dangerous situations again, now with a winning strategy.

Just knowing that with your newly minted knowledge, skills, attitudes, aptitudes and abilities that you could “turn back time” and if given another chance, modify the outcomes of a situation in a positive manner gives you strength.

Training should allow for non-kinetic outcomes as well as tragic ones for poor decisions. A central theme among training and trainers must be that GOOD TRAINING changes behaviors. It can clear up foggy parts of memories, allow for a mental and psychological ‘do-over’ in many cases.

Your brain doesn’t know or fully understand the difference between fantasy and reality (Consider masturbation because I am) so you can use GOOD TRAINING to fill in gaps, reshape memories and turn a tragic, haunting reminder into a path to resilience.

A scary memory that taught you a utile lesson.

Don’t let your PTSD, sad or bad experiences to ruin your life. Rather revel in the fact that your brain is so powerful that it can act as a time machine, transporting you back to a dirty side street in the Middle East 14 years prior.

Its okay to be scared sometimes. It’s actually healthy.

Collyer’s fine now, he’s looking for another gym though, perhaps one SOUTH of Glen Burnie!

Training changes behavior.

  • Greg

Lessons Learned #048: The Sketch Book.

Portmanteau.

I love using and saying words that are both fun and descriptive.

This morning I’ll start with portmanteau; (which is also a piece of luggage but in this context is) a made-up word where the user combines the sounds of two other words to form a new word with a similar definition. A common one is Motor Hotel becomes MOTEL.

 

I often get asked whether human behavior pattern recognition and analysis (HBPR&A) can be used to ‘profile’ the author of an email or a voice on a cell phone message.

The simple answer is that given enough information you can profile anything!

Remember the two parts of HBPR&A; first is the Pattern Recognition, second is the Analysis applied to that recognition. In other words, just like a fingerprint or a strand of DNA, your human behavior can identify you from any other human being.

Emoticons.

The word emoticon is a portmanteau. It is the ‘mash up’ of emotion and icon. Early work in emoticons (from the early 1980s) were merely combinations of keyboard strokes on a computer that appeared to be a wink or smile if you looked at them just right.  

Humans are prone to personifying objects, items and animals. We tend to attribute human characteristics to non-humans and items to make sense of situations occurring around us. The more abstract or nuanced the relationship, the more we want to think of that item or animal governed by a sense of moral decency or driven by evil intent, not merely the causal effect of happenstance.

Aesop did it with animals and a moral. You do it with the weather, the storm blowing in from Bradbury’s novel; “Something wicked this way comes” is a good example. You believing that there is a “black cloud” hanging over your head is another.  

The emoji is a logical extension of an emoticon and dates back much further than you think.

Do you use Emoticons or Emojis?

The pictorial representations of human emotions came after the typographical art instances appearing in 1981. The most common were happiness, sadness and indifference. Remember that these symbolic representations were necessary when communicating in the short, often misunderstood messages that are text based and therefor lack nuanced body language and facial transmissions of intent or emotion.

I go the opposite way. Anyone that routinely receives a text message from me knows that I pick my emojis completely at random and if, luckily, they form an emotion or message above and beyond that intended by my words, all the better.

Because emojis appear without definitions, its largely up to the user and receiver to determine the context and relevance. For me, the snowflake emoji indicates the snow that falls seemingly eternally on Rogue Manor West. To a member of the Cali Cartel, maybe it means cocaine.  

A well thought out emoji may help ease a situation or convey flirtation. Some studies show that the use of emoticons or emojis convey a positive effect on personal interactions. This is likely due to the fun, additional ‘human behavior’ information and paralanguage content being conveyed to add emotional rigor to your email or text message.

The science.

Perhaps more importantly, when you use emojis, both you and the receiver of your message are activating the same parts of the brain which react when they observe the emotions transmitted by a real human face.

The role of a Lessons Learned is to take time to pore over past incidents in order to make your mental file folders more robust. To allow you to use that assembled data for future recall to better inform your future decisions.

Sometimes Lessons Learned are about successes, sometimes about failures. Sometimes you have to dig through the data to determine the relevance of the difference.

The absence of science.  

I haven’t “cracked the code” on Hollywood. Perhaps there isn’t one.

In the days before Valentine’s Day, I like to set the mood by watching certain films with Shelly. For example; “Love, Actually.” Shelly laughs, I cry, we eat snacks and go to bed. Another fave, “Notting Hill.” If you can get past the ridiculously slow pace and the fact that Hugh Grant doesn’t actually have lines of dialogue, merely pregnant pauses and ‘hmms’ and ‘emms’ that come across as introspective, shy and somehow sexy.

Later, while watching; “Four Weddings and a Funeral” it hit me. These movies are formulas. Human finds other human. Human falls in love. Humans are separated by events. Humans keep crossing paths, love builds, drama builds, expectations build until the climax where these romance-challenged humans end up together.

Notting Hill and Four Weddings are virtually the same film and Hugh Grant is the protagonist of each.

The Oscar Weiner.

The choice of Joaquin Phoenix as best actor was a Hollywood choice not a normal human being choice. It was conscience not science. It was a kudo from other actors and film makers not from cinema lovers like you and me.

Phoenix got the role because he was (1) controversial, and (2) cheap. His career is dotted with choices of playing characters precariously balanced of the edge of sanity, dangerous me suffering from mental illness and significant internal confusion and conflict.

American short story writer Washington Irving (Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hollow etc.) coined the term Gotham. He originally used it in his story, “The wise men of Gotham” regarding characters and situations in the very real English village. Soon after writing the story, Irving made it well known that he intended the parallel with the behavior of those he had witnessed in New York City.

One of Irving’s characters ‘Diedrich Knickerbocker’ and the Harman Jansen family name (Dutch settlers from the early 1600’s) were important enough that the ‘Knicks’ name is forever linked to Gotham City.

 

By the time that ‘Batman’ was en vogue, everyone knew that Gotham meant and referred to New York City.

The Joker character is meant to be frightening and unpredictable. Phoenix may have been the perfect choice for Joker as his career was in shambles and his performance art often borders on ‘crazy’.

Hollywood liked the fact that Phoenix beat himself up, abused his body and lost an unhealthy amount of weight. What those sacrifices may have added to the characterization paled in comparison to the dedication demonstrated to other Hollywood actors.

In other words, that transformation alone certainly didn’t endear The Joker to the viewing audience who already came to the theater with a general idea of the character.

What I saw on the screen was a three-time Oscar nominee re-playing his roles as Johnny Cash, the emperor from Gladiator and finally as Freddy Quell in ‘The Master’. Misguided, angry, dangerous men with obvious mental illness and sadomasochistic tendencies.

In fact, Phoenix’s mannerisms, manner of speech and behavior patterns were the same in each of those films as well as his appearance on Late Night with David Letterman in 2009, his cop role in Inherent Vice and again as ‘Joe’ the hitman in, “You Were Never Really Here.”

A year after his Late-Night appearance, Phoenix came out with ‘I’m still here.’

This move was not unlike those performed recently by the “Bad Corey,” Corey Feldman. Feldman was waning, so in the span of a year he started a band, came out with a story regarding being the victim of sexual and a litany of other scripted “news” stories to put him back in the game (at least momentarily).

This happened recently with Ricki Lake. Lake has had an impressive career that waned in the past dozen years. So, this year she has appeared on the ‘D’ and ‘E’ celebrity vehicle ‘The Masked Singer’, then on television to share her personal story of female celebrity hair loss.

I’m still here” was touted as a mockumentary. Phoenix referred to his retirement as if he chose to leave Hollywood behind rather than the industry and those who pay for films were actually the deciding factor. Remember that his “I quit acting” stunt was only to get himself noticed again. The film sucked but Phoenix got the last laugh.

My favorite was when Phoenix took the facts that his performances were horrible, his films crappy and his roles derivative and spun them during an interview with The New York Times Style Magazine.

The interviewer called Phoenix out and he replied that the failure of his most recent film and his (almost 2 year) absence from films and Hollywood were his choices and allowed him to, “be bold in my decisions instead of being safe.” Ha.

A certain segment of folks will go to the theater to watch films about any character related to the Batman series, no matter who or how bad the actor portrayals. Todd Phillips‘ portrayal of The Joker was a different animal altogether. The film made over a billion dollars as of this writing, and garnered Phoenix a best actor Oscar.

Does that mean it was a good film? A good performance?

If you want to see evidence that Phoenix wasn’t ACTING merely mimicking the previous performances of other actors, please go out and see 1982’s The King of Comedy. In this Scorsese dark debacle, Robert De Niro is performing Phoenix’s portrayal of The Joker.

De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin and Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck are identical for all intents and purposes. Both are delusional, both are stand up comedians. Both are preparing for appearances on late night talk shows by having past episodes of the talk show playing on a television while their characters ‘rehearse’ in person in their living rooms.

Perhaps you need more proof.

I suggest renting Taxi Driver, yet another Scorsese flick where De Niro’s Travis Bickle is a dangerous character riding the jagged edge of mental illness. Bickle’s rehearsal, “Are you talking to me?” and Phoenix’s preparation to commit suicide on “The Murray Franklin Show” are virtually identical. Oh, and De Niro plays Franklin in The Joker.

This demented gene pool is only possible in Hollywood where the DNA circles the drain constantly infecting the next film and the one after that that are pushed out of the fetid Hollywood hills assembly line.

Pupkin’s warning to his “viewers” could be the fade out to The Joker. De Niro says, “Tomorrow you’ll know I wasn’t kidding and you’ll all think I’m crazy. But I figure it this way: better to be king for a night, than a schmuck for a lifetime.”

Before I extol the virtues of The Joker, let me throw one more barb at Phoenix. When asked by an interviewer about his portrayal of Joker and the controversy his portrayal caused, Phoenix remarked:

I could care less, I don’t really think that much about what people think. Who cares, who cares? My approach to every movie is the same. What I’m interested in is the filmmaker and the idea of the character.

The inbreeding shant end until Hollywood stops patting each other on the back and returns to the formula of making films for we in the audience rather that derivative, repetitive films designed merely to make money.

The accolades.

I will tell you this. I saw The Joker while on a flight from Dallas to Philadelphia.

My poor, dated iPad certainly wasn’t the perfect media for transmitting such a vast, dark, brooding film, but then again it wasn’t actually an action film. It was more of a stage play featuring one mans further descent into madness. That part of the show truly appealed to me.

When Phoenix portrayed the inner struggles associated with mental illness I connected with his character.

When the mounting desperation (although contrived for the ‘cartoon’ element of the film) reached critical mass I cried when Joker cried. I (like many of you) have had bouts of depression where you didn’t know whether you should cry from the situation at hand or laugh at the irony.

When Joker handles his pistol, his actions, reservations and emotions are palpable. I believed him and them. Discard the tenet that society made Joker a villain, he was a broken human and his mental illness came spilling out of the cracks in his armor. The stress fractures of his human performance.

So What?

I highly recommend that you and a loved one or trusted friend watch The Joker together.

Anyone experiencing PTSD will no doubt revisit a full range of powerful emotions. Anyone experiencing mental illness may be able to relate with specific feelings of exasperation during the film. Either of these eventualities may help prompt a discussion. Dialogue is much better than acting out.

There are a dozen points within the film where you can hit pause, rewind or just complete watching the film then reflect on the emotions you experienced (due to your brain chemistry, mirror neurons and the association you made with the characters emotions exhibited on screen).

These experiences will create teachable moments. Moments of reflection and introspection perhaps not possible without Joaquin’s performance. I suggest that you use the film to promote mental health training, resilience and education. Maybe Hollywood can have a positive impact on your training after all.

Training changes behavior!

  • Greg

Lessons Learned #047: My art. My cat.

Another trip, another crappy hotel.

I wish that the online or website postings for hotels were more accurate. The best ‘glamour shot’ photos of the facilities are on the cover page. They never show the aging process that affects us and everything around us. Entropy.

It’s reminiscent of the photos of Ann Landers or Dear Abby that adorned their advice columns back in the day. I confess that reading advice columns was a guilty pleasure of mine growing up. These sarcastic biddies did offer some sage advice, but what drew me to the columns as a young kid were the taboo topics they sometimes tackled.

In the 1940’s, Ruth Crowley was a pioneer of advice columns. She actually created the ‘Ann Landers’ persona. When she left the Chicago Sun-Times in the mid 1950’s the column was taken over by writer Esther ‘Eppie’ Lederer. The column ran for 56 years and the photo of ‘Ann’ never changed.

Esther and Pauline

Esther Pauline’s twin sister was Pauline Esther Phillips (now Lederer). Pauline Esther wrote an advice column under the pen name Abigail Van Buren. Remarkably, she and those who took over her column after her retirement continued to use the old, black and white outdated photo of the ‘Abigail Van Buren’ persona we came to know and love.

I was thinking of the old advice column photos as I mentally reconciled the photos on the hotel website that showed the spanking new gym. Comparing them now to the dated equipment and run-down room in which I actually ran. Three things came to mind at the same time.

What your hotel gym really looks like.

The first was that there should be some sort of truth in advertising laws. Perhaps something as simple as a requirement to put the date the photo was taken somewhere on the actual photo. Next, that a true ‘run mix’ should be a finely mastered work of art or the ‘shuffle’ function will make your workout miserable. Finally, I made a new friend. As I ran, the adorable black, brown and white cat stood watch outside the massive glass door-walls leading out to the pool deck.

He (or she) stood just inside the trees that surrounded the deck. The pool was closed, covered, and had accumulated errant trash. The water on the cover was frozen in places. January in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

Let’s get to the run mix. I’ve already shared with the loyal readers that the shuffle function on any piece of electronic equipment leaves a lot to be desired. It’s repetitive and predictable and stretches the definition of the word ‘shuffle’ to its very limits.

There are certain songs that you can run to, songs that allow you to really let loose and get into a pace that get’s you sweating. For example; Candy’s Room by Springsteen. Underappreciated, a love song that starts fast and only gains momentum. The only problem – it’s too short. Therefore, you have to back it up with a number of similarly upbeat songs or you will lose your pace and have to rebuild your workout intensity. RUSH, AC/DC, Tupac, various Motown artists – so many to choose from that have a beat you can dance to and run to!

I had a ‘bad shuffle’ moment while the cat watched, silently amused.

I was coming off the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” (from the E.N.D., the band’s fifth album). I was just over three miles into my run and at my current pace I would finish my six-mile target in just over an hour. Shabby – but it was a late night and now an early morning. I’ll get to that momentarily.

I ran right into Alicia Keys’ song; “No one.” If I wouldn’t have ‘slammed on the brakes’ mentally I probably would have careened off into the glass door walls forever scarring the cat and marring the gym. Alicia Keys is an incredible talent out of Hell’s Kitchen, New York who started her career at age 12. Keys had five Grammy’s by 2020 and an additional four Grammy’s a year later. Here she was now keeping the timing of a funeral dirge singing;

“No one, no one, no one can get in the way of what I’m feeling. No one, no one, no one, can get in the way of what I feel for you, you, you. Can get in the way of what I feel for you. When the rain is pouring down and my heart is hurting, you will always be around, this I know for certain. You and me together through the days and nights, I don’t worry cause everything’s gonna be alright.”

And now it wasn’t just the songs tempo that threw me for a loop. Listening intently, I was certain that Alicia said that her “Art” was “Urting.” Listen for yourself. I don’t know what language nuance she was going for, but it was hugely distracting. I can barely hold together running, reading and listening to music. Now, I was showing off for the cat trying to keep my run pace within the machine’s suggested range and here were a number of weird events coalescing to further unnerve me. 

When you travel a lot, you encounter situations at hotels that are memorable simply because you frequent hotels more than the average person. Further, because travel is fatigue inducing, sometimes you aren’t in your right mind when you encounter these situations.

I’ll give you an example. My dear friend Shon Clemons and I drove 23 hours straight from Detroit to Avon, Colorado so I could test for the open Chief of Police position there. We arrived in a small town called Edwards, Colorado and – too exhausted to continue – decided we would sleep for a few hours, shower and then make our first meeting. Shon was along to support me and take responsibility for half the driving, an absolute necessity when driving non-stop for long distances.

The hotel was brand new and the rates were discounted for Veterans and Law Enforcement so we got a great rate and the double discount whammy. It was probably 02:30 in the morning when we checked in.

We entered the elevator, pressed “2”, and the doors closed. That was it. Doors closed, no motion – nothing. Shon and I took turns pressing every button we could find. Nothing. I used (for the first time in my life) the telephone on the elevator which immediately connected me with the local fire department rather than the front desk.

The fire department must have alternately called the front desk attendant who was now outside the elevator yelling in to us. Directing us to press the “open” arrow buttons. That didn’t work. We could hear the sirens coming. The lobby outside our closed doors was soon a bee hive of activity. Shon and I were exhausted and now embarrassed.

Virtually at the same time, Shon and I got the idea to pull on the doors, he to the left and me to the right and voilà, the doors slid open. There we stood – face to face with 20 firefighters in their bunker gear and a flushed hotel clerk. They fumed; we took the stairs.

 

After a while you think you’ve seen it all. In Dallas last week I was having coffee in the hotel cafeteria at 06:00. I was surrounded by working folks, all dressed for road construction work. They were talking quietly to each other and waiting for the breakfast meal to be served. That service didn’t open until 06:30. There was a big screen television set on the news. The story that came up concerned a Dallas police officer who had been arrested overnight for assaulting the person he arrested. The officer had escalated to using a TASER on the arrestee, and after review it was found that that level of force was deemed excessive by his own agency, hence the arrest.

To me, this was a “Lose-Lose” story. The coppers get a public relations ‘black eye’, the officer’s career is ruined, the suspect was arrested but now the city will pay for the unnecessary, excessive use of force that was being alleged and perhaps next time the suspect is confronted by police he may act out violently to an officer that won’t expect it, and finally the community lost an element of trust with its own police force. Lose lose.

As the story played out, one of the working men sitting in the lobby stood up, pointed at the screen and started laughing loudly. It didn’t appear as though he was acting, it seemed a genuine display of gut busting laughter replete with pointing, shaking and holding his hand over his mouth. Everyone in the lobby was now uncomfortable.

That’s called an incongruent signal. The emotion doesn’t match the situation and many times can indicate a break with reality, a lack of empathy and sometime mental illness.

After the weird vibe, the cafeteria cleared out and only laughing guy was left to greet the breakfast crew. I feared that was an incident that set the tone for my day, I was flying from Dallas to Philadelphia a few hours later.

I suggest that anyone who flies a lot take part in the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry programs. Even when they are bad, they are good. The advantage of time and ease of getting through security adds up over time and anything that can ease the anxiety associated with air travel seems worth the extra money you’ll need to spend every few years.

Still thinking about the guy in the hotel lobby, my attention was drawn to a fellow traveler just across from me in the line to go through the metal detector. My HBPR&A training kicked in and I immediately sensed that he and his female partner (friend, wife, business partner) were engaged in a smoldering argument. She was doing everything to avoid his gaze, he oriented away from her but was still ‘lecturing’ her, pointing in the air, his body becoming rigid each time he “told” her what she was doing wrong.

The man had to go through the metal detector three times, he kept touching the side when he would turn to address her with his “and another thing” attitude.

The TSA agents around him were losing their senses of humor and asked him to got into the full-body scanner. He refused. Now things were about to get interesting. I have a photo I have been asked not to share.

The Atmospherics around the man changed. The TSA agents from other lines began to orient towards him. The man had placed his bag on the conveyer belt, his female accomplice was already retrieving hers, when his bag was chosen for a random check.

This was the last straw, the simple, legal request proved too much for this certain traveler. He walked through the metal detector and grabbed his bag. He was surrounded by TSA in an instant and they were very professional, telling the man in simple words what he needed to do.

An alarm went off and in seconds, local law enforcement swooped in and the man and his bag were gone. Just that fast. Like the kids that got ‘broomed’ from the Willy Wonka tour for being jerks, this guy was disappeared and I never saw him or his luggage again as I moved for my gate. I did see his companion roll her eyes and just walk to her gate. That’s indicative that she’s likely seen this man’s behavior before.

This wasn’t to be the end of the mayhem that was to be my long travel day. Marren and I arrived in Philadelphia at 22:30 hours, and by the time we got our luggage and rental car, we didn’t get to our hotel in New Jersey until after 01:00 in the morning.

Yes, even at 01:00 in the morning there was a line at the check in desk at the hotel. The man in front of us kept giving the female clerk a different credit card to check in, and over and over she would say that the card was declined and ask the man for another card. Sometimes she would say, “Nope, this one is no good either, it says contact your bank.” Other times, just “Nope, try again.” This operation went on for half an hour.

I felt for the man checking in – unless of course he was trying to pull a scam. I appreciated the fact that the counterperson was being attentive to the man even though the situation wasn’t improving. Finally, the man’s traveling companion pulled out a credit card and they were off to their rooms. Time now 01:35 hours.

Next in line was a female wearing shower shoes and pajamas. She seemed dirty and unkempt -like she had been living on the streets – and was trying the old, “Would you take a two-party out of state check with no ID?” scam. She told the counter person that her friends that rented the room had left, but said that it was okay for her to keep the room for two more days and put it on their credit card. Now her dilemma was that her room key didn’t work. The great thing was that the counterperson caught on immediately and said, “Yeah, no.”

This answer incensed the young lady in pajamas. The counterperson asked her for identification, the female guest pulled out her room key and ID card and slammed it on the counter. Time now 01:43 hours. The counterperson acted perfectly, she verbally deescalated the situation and advised the female guest that the procedures wouldn’t allow her to extend the room – but that she and the hotel were willing to allow the woman to stay until morning as it was “the middle of the night.” Not happy but at least placated, the female left and went outside to smoke.

Now it was our turn. We checked in at 01:45 hours. No “Thanks for being a member” BS, just here are your room keys and, oh-by the way, breakfast is an additional 10 dollars each day.

Once we were checked in Brian and I headed out to our rental sled to recover our bags. I mentioned casually to Brian that it was actually colder in Dallas the night before than it was in New Jersey today.

The female who was dressed inappropriately for out of doors, who was now smoking while contemplating her room payment dilemma, engaged me in conversation. “Dallas. Ha. I been to Dallas.”

Not unlike the incongruent signal that I had witnessed hours earlier in the Dallas hotel, this signal was consistent with humans who learn to pull cons and talk fast to get their way. The term “con man” comes from the definition of Confidence Man – someone who scams or tricks someone by first gaining their trust and then persuading them to believe a lie in order to gain an advantage (normally a monetary advantage). Even if she was nervous, her actions didn’t fit the profile of a female who needed help or guidance, rather one that was used to talking her way in and out of trouble.

We grabbed our luggage, bid her and the counterperson good night and headed off to our respective rooms. A few hours later I was awake, groggy and headed for the gym, the same gym where I began this story. The same gym with the happy, attentive cat.

Just before hitting the gym I stopped by the front desk to inquire about laundry. The man at the desk said, “We have a laundry but it takes quarters and we don’t carry quarters.” As I walked away, almost in passing he said, “Oh, and detergent, we don’t have detergent.”

Clearly the Street Gods were going to make my trip memorable whether I wanted their help or not. Approaching my time now, and before I shower and head off to our first meeting in Princeton.

So What?

Travel is fatigue producing. Create a schedule before go. Stick to your schedule. Drink lots of water and stay on a workout schedule even if its hard. The results will be worth the effort. Eat well. Take the time to plan out meals and snacks so you don’t have to rely on hotel food or fast food. Your body will thank you. Get some sleep – you are no good to anyone groggy, stressed and angry.

Computers don’t know or understand you. They predict times to the next gate at an airport based on algorithms and other mathematical calculations and odds. The connections are tighter than ever and you will be left behind even if your luggage makes it on the flight – or vice versa. Check and re-check your itinerary to ensure you’ve allowed enough time to make your connections without having to sprint.  

The person behind the counter isn’t your enemy. Treat them with respect. Treat them as you would expect to be treated. They don’t control the weather; they aren’t responsible for your flight cancellation or the flight being overbooked or the plane configuration changing. Someone is – just not them. Ease up and THINK through the situation. If you have a plan and a back-up plan (contingencies for each eventuality) then you will likely make it to your destination with less anxiety.

Ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” before you do or say something in public. Specifically, in a public place where people panic about incongruent signals and aggressive behavior. Feel free to swap the word ‘Jesus’ for ‘My Mom’ or ‘My Dad’, literally any smart person whose advice you respect. Generally, The Gift of Time and Distance it takes you to consider the perspective of a sage advisor will be long enough for you to reconsider what you are doing, saying or how you are acting.

Leave your aggressive posturing and social commentary on your social media site, it’s not fair or nice for you to impact others with your rhetoric, scams or anger outbursts. We don’t need your hate speech and I don’t need you to add fear to my already dismal day.

Finally, be observant of your immediate surrounding. Predict explanatory storylines for situations you may encounter while gassing up your rental vehicle, checking in to the hotel or going out to dinner. Think of things to say that will end or deescalate a tense situation BEFORE you get into such a situation.

The best advice I can give you is that training changes behavior so get some training. Training in HBPR&A will help you navigate the rough spots in your daily life or your travel life and greatly reduce your anxiety.

One more thing. When I finished my run, I went over to the door wall to tap and, I guess, to ‘thank’ the cat for being such a good run-partner. For keeping me moto.

What I thought was a cat was actually a wooden stake driven into the ground to hold up a young tree.

The stake had accumulated garbage and bags and paper – and now looked more like a wooden stake with trash rather than my little run partner. Now my Art is Urtin. It sucks getting old! Safe travels.

 

 

Training changes behavior.

  • Greg

Lessons Learned #046: Poacher takes the shot.

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

Lessons Learned #045: Ooley-Gong Actual

In Hungary they’re called the ‘Carpathian Boar’ or Sus Scofa Attila.

We landed at the Ferenc Liszt Airport in Budapest, Hungary. The airport named after composer and performer Franz Liszt. Budapest, Hungary’s largest and most populace city, is a gem spread across both sides of the Danube. I was lucky enough to have spent time in Budapest on a previous trip. My favorite memories were the art, architecture, food, and of course, the people.

Hungary or ‘Magyarország’ is home to 10 million people, became a democratic parliamentary republic in 1989, and joined the European Union in 2004. Most claim descendance from the Huns or from the Magyars.

Huns were the nomads who traveled across Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe from the fourth through the sixth centuries. Magyars were the tribes originally from the Urals who migrated down and settled in and around the Danube

When I was working in Iraq, I would sometimes encounter the proud Bedouin. The Bedouin people are a nomadic tribe that move across the deserts that define the Levant, north Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

When I was working in Afghanistan, I was lucky enough to meet the Kuchi, a tribe of Pashtun nomads who lived off the land while moving scraggly livestock through the barren Afghan outback.

 

In Hungary, I met the Romani. The Hungarian Special Forces with whom I was travelling referred to them as Gypsies.There was no love lost between these Hungarian soldiers and the Romani. A better description would be a wanderer or traveler. The Romani have been a part of the Hungarian social landscape for hundreds of years.

The Roma (the common local term for the Romani) don’t like being referred to as Gypsies. They feel that they are wrongly associated with the stereotype that they are lazy pickpockets who live on through their thievery. Those referred to as gypsies have been vilified justly or unjustly in the press, literature and film for centuries. They band together and have their children stealing from your bags as the parents aggressively beg from and distract you all the while.

Romani suffer from separation and segregation. Many of the Romani are dirt poor. Some live by their wits, sometimes outside the law.

The area we were operating in within Hungary had been inhabited for a thousand years by Huns, Slavs, Avars, Celts, Romans and Germanic tribes. The stunning beauty of Hungary isn’t the only reason they came and stayed. Hungary’s rich resources and geothermal caves and lakes draw over 15 million international tourists each year.

I developed my love for Hungarian food from my infamous Uncle Paul’s side of the family. Potatoes paprikás krumpli, lecsó peppers, and of course, endless varieties of goulash were available every day for lunch, all I had to do was walk home from school.

Uncle Paul’s family name derived from their mother’s lineage before she emigrated from Bulgaria. She was ‘Bogdan’, therefore as the Matriarch the family became known as the ‘Bogdani’ and later Bodany.

Once on the ground in Hungary I found that you couldn’t swing a dead cat without encountering a Zoltan, Attila or Bela and without one of the special operations soldiers (men and women) claiming to be a descendent of Grand Prince Árpád, Vlad the Impaler or Atilla the Hun himself.

I even encountered a soldier that stated that his family was the actual inspiration for the Dracula stories, not Vlad Dracul. I never learned whether his claim was true, I steered clear of him the entire trip.

At the base where the training was to occur, we met two Romani running a small enclosed, coffee concession. It wasn’t bigger than a phone booth and was mobile so they could move their works to a new location if the business dried up. Their version of a large coffee was no bigger than a dixie cup and the consistency was more Espresso than a normal bean.

They jokingly introduced themselves to me as ‘Uday’ and ‘Qusay’ (I never learned their real names, so the nicknames stuck) and I introduced them to the concept of a “Double Double.” Not the milk and sugar infused American variant, rather the newly invented Hungarian Hybrid where I bought a cup in town and demonstrated how to put four of their shot glasses into one cup for me three times a day.

How I got here.

During one of my vacation trips to Afghanistan I had met Imre Schmidt, current NCOIC of International Affairs for NATO C-IED ‘train the trainer’ courses located in Belgium. Imre was a true practitioner, locating and clearing IEDs to save the lives of US and Coalition forces. Imre understood my work in HBPR&A and used those techniques to find the emplacers, not just the IEDs.

Remarkably, Imre knew Martin Woolley, whom I had first met in Bydgoszcz, Poland during a training event. Martin was the Deputy Leader HQ SACT’s (Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation) CIEF Integrated Product Team. Both Imre and Martin knew General Gabor Lorincz, and so they drug Gabor into one of my briefings against his will. The rest is history.

General Gabor Lorincz, current Commander of Hungary’s 25th Mechanized Brigade said that Hungary would be the first coalition force in Europe to host an HBPR&A course, and he was as good as his word.

Martin Woolley had envisioned the Weapons Intelligence Team (WIT) as being groups of highly trained operators who knew how to collect and exploit evidence left by IED builders and emplacers. NATO learned early that to attack the IED, you couldn’t just target the emplacers. You needed a skilled team trained to gather intelligence in order to defeat the device and attack the networks that recruited, supported and financed the operations. Martin drew up the plans, found funding streams and then ran the first WIT training course. When he saw the brief for HBPR&A he did two things, (1) he quit his job and came to work for HBPR&A and, (2) he endeavored to create the first advanced situational awareness course in European history.

Once Martin gained support, he, Imre and Gabor worked hard to bring special operators from 13 nations together to attend our one-of-a-kind course, first ever course based on my original training concept.

I remember giving Gabor a list of the equipment I would need to carry out the KSA³’s (knowledge, skills, aptitudes, attitudes and abilities) of the course. The list included a request for 35 rubber or de-milled AK style rifles or their equivalent. Gabor looked at me with interest. “What are these for?” He asked. I explained that various role players would be acting as security teams or insurgents and we wanted them to be seen with realistic weapons from varying distances. Gabor answered, “Come with me.

We walked across the compound and came to a grassy stretch replete with bunkers that from above would have looked like any other football or soccer field. Gabor led me down to the massive wood and steel doors (reminiscent of my image of Dracula’s castle keep) and opened one side. Inside there were racks of the most well-maintained AK-47’s, 74’s and AKMs that I had ever seen in my life. Hundreds of weapons per rack, 20 racks to a bunker.

Gabor said, “We don’t play with toys.”

He was similarly motivated when it came to our request for smoke and explosives simulators. To this day, that practical application range in Hungary was the closest to real combat of any range we have created. Clearly the most realistic, perhaps the most dangerous!

I always need time in the morning to clear my head before a training course.

Hungary was no different. Sleep is overrated, so I decided to be up before the dawn each day, take a jog-walk around the vast compound and then meet Uday and Qusay for a ‘Heart Starter Special’ Double Double coffee.

There was no weight room or gym like you might find in a hotel. The rooms were spartan, they were low ceilinged and made of thick, poured concrete with gasoline fired heaters that likely hadn’t worked since the beginning of the cold war.

While the Hungarians took over the base and made it their own, the Russian Army architecture and construction methods were frequent and obvious.

The property that surrounded the base made it seem as there had been a number of heliports and aircraft landing zones. The patterns seemed familiar but the land hadn’t been maintained for many years. Each day I went further out on my longer runs.

On this particular morning I was far enough out that the sun had begun to rise and there was a low hanging fog clinging close to the ground. I remember thinking how silly I was not to have my camera or shoe-phone with me as I wanted to capture the amazing beauty that was unfolding around me.

It was then that I saw the Carpathian Boar mom with her two kids. Her jet black back was as high as my shoulders. Her tusks were evident as she rooted the ground, digging up fresh roots for her babies. She moved like a rhino through the brush. My guess is that the boar weighed in around 800 to a thousand pounds. I know horses and I know elk, I’ve dressed my share of wild animals, and that guess is probably pretty close to spot on.

I also knew from previous encounters with other species that a wild animal would fiercely protect its young if it felt that I was a threat.

I stopped, my heart raced and instantly I was red hot on this cold, damp morning.

I train people to be prepared for every eventuality and I had found myself less than 25 yards away from a dangerous, wild boar without a weapon or a plan.

I backtracked and began to create field expedient weapons as I went. I was McGuyver-ing it, pulling a plan out of my prison wallet and I moved backwards like a ninja. A rock here, a stick there, soon I had taken pieces of a rusted metal T-post fence rail, some discarded sections of World War Two era barbed wire and a brick and fashioned a basic impact weapon.

The boar never looked up, never stopped rooting and ruminating. The baby pigs squealed with joy each time mom turned over a new piece of dark soil, perhaps their playfulness had distracted mom and saved me from a grisly death!

“My Bad.”

The breakfast in the Hungarian mess hall that morning was a gruel made of beets and room temperature milk. The accompanying ‘dessert’ was sour cherry soup. The overall theme of the meal looked like a victim of a rocket attack and got me thinking.

How many times had I worried HOW I would die?

I didn’t worry about dying, that didn’t scare me. Rather, I worried about the manner of death that I would face and whether it would be incongruent with the way that I lived my life.

For example, teaching situational awareness and then being eaten alive by a feral hog on a morning run seemed like a horrible footnote for my life. Took me immediately back to that story about the ‘Bear whisperer’ guy who got killed and eaten on film. Yikes.

A few years before this incident, my Personal Security Detachment lead ‘Jonesy’ and I were investigating a possible VBIED outside of Habbaniya, Iraq in Al-Anbar. One of the Marines behind me was covering us with an M240 as we moved to a position of cover. For whatever reason he was screwing with the tripod mount and let loose with an ND (negligent discharge) burst of M118 7.62×51mm FMJ AP that almost cut me in half. The Marine’s answer was a wave and a, “My bad!

We found the VBIED, it didn’t hurt or kill anyone, but my own security detail almost ‘smoke checked’ me (by accident?). That would have made the news.

I felt the same when I was in Afghanistan my second time.

The Taliban staged an early morning attack and had made it onto the FOB. Alarms were sounding and people were scurrying as the outgoing and incoming projectiles fought for dominance. The noise and smoke obscured rational thinking. My team was safely ensconced at the International D-Fac (dining facility) enjoying a hearty breakfast between explosions.

I had passed on breakfast and like an idiot I was alone between the ‘cans’ (housing area) and the classroom (a makeshift classroom on the upper floor of Kandahar Airfield).

I found that I wasn’t worried about being killed, I worried about the obituary: “Human behavior expert’ killed by fellow humans during attack he didn’t predict.”

Back as a cop on the road, I had an incident where a guy stepping out of a recently car-jacked vehicle wanted to stop me from arresting him and fired a handgun at me so closely that I still remember the lands and grooves of the barrel and the blue light that came from the muzzle. In a nanosecond both of us passed each other, clearly surprised that I was still alive, unscathed – the bullet somehow missing my Botticelli inspired physique.

They weren’t the only near misses and likely won’t be the last. Those types of situations ground you. They really make you think about what impact or legacy you are going to leave on the world. I never wanted fame, but I did and do want to leave a legacy of serving man and womankind.

While driving out to the location of the future Hungarian MOUT range that same morning a few funny things happened. One of the soldiers had an iPad open. None of us had connectivity yet somehow this special operator was able to get service.

When his computer booted up, it resumed playing the loudest most enthusiastic ‘Triple X” porn site available on Hungarian broadband, the soundtrack of which was now echoing in the little Mercedes Benz G-class jeep we were traveling in.

The embarrassment was palpable.

The leader of the convoy was also the TC of our vehicle, he suggested in Hungarian that we pull over for a lunch break on the side of the road as that would also give him an opportunity to ‘discuss’ the incident with the offending soldier.

Our lunch that day and for the next few weeks consisted of a beet or turnip, one carrot, a chunk of Mangalica (the good kind of wild boar). Each evening we had a round green can that contained chunks of vegetable and chunks of meat, leftover Russian “MRE” meals ready to eat, now decades old.

We arrived at the abandoned village that would soon be our practical application training grounds. The wood and supplies had already been dropped off as had been the tents and other necessities. The plan was to actually BUILD a MOUT site (military operations in urbanized terrain-style training village) on this very spot with sweat equity and the combined handiwork of the Hungarian Special Forces soldiers and my fellow Instructors.

It wouldn’t be the first time we did something this grand, we built a MOUT town from the ground up on board Fort Bliss when no such observation and surveillance range existed.  

The Hungarian MOUT town took us almost a week of hot days, cold nights and backbreaking labor, but the results were amazing. There was no power, so all of our construction was using ancient methods and hand tools. Once completed, we had a number of Observations Posts at different heights arranged from 600 meters to over a thousand meters from the ‘village’ we created. We had a city center, shops and other observable details that would help make the training cognitively real.

Those soldiers who had been carpenters and sandbag fillers now became set dressers and began their training as either villagers, security members, insurgents or terrorists. Call Sign ‘Hammer’ made the mistake of referring to the insurgent team recruiters as a ‘group of Hooligans’. The name stuck.

During the next few weeks whenever we heard their call signs on the insurgent net we would laugh; “Ooley-Gong One this is Ooley-Gong Seven” and so on. Whenever I am in contact with any member of that travel team, I remind them of the incredible ‘Ooley Gong’ role players and we all share good memories.

The students who attended the course came from all over Europe. They were all Tier One Operators from their coalition force nations. Each received expert instruction first in a seminar-style environment, then outside on the compound property for part task training and then for the last week, out on the range under the stars conducting HBPR&A training on the new site we designed and built.

The after-action reviews were stellar. I still think fondly of that excursion, the great training we were able to share and the hospitality of Gabor, Imre and the Hungarian Defence Forces soldiers and support personnel.

We did have a couple of run-ins with feral hogs during that final week. The Ooley Gong’s took range security very seriously and used pyrotechnics to move the pigs out of our training area and back into the dense woods that surrounded the couple of miles of village and surrounding area that we had fashioned out of the forest.

And like I mentioned at the beginning, I got to meet a couple of the Romani. These few who were insistent on living up to the negative stereotypes.

When I headed out of the TOC tactical operations center just before BMNT begin morning nautical twilight headed to one of the observation posts, I found myself hurrying so I would have time to get up massive, crudely fashioned wood ladder they had built. I didn’t want the students to see me struggle. I didn’t want to be out of breath when they arrived.

A more accurate representation would be a wooden staircase fashioned out of Norway spruce and silver fir, all created by hand and the handiwork of the Hungarian Special Forces team. The stairs were massive and solid.

When I got to the OP, I encountered a problem. The stringers were still in place, but all the treads, steps and risers were missing from the gigantic stairs. I used my flashlight to look for clues and followed a trail of wood pieces and large gutter-spike style nails strewn through the tall grass.

I heard them just as I came upon them. The truck engine sputtering to life and a team of Roma throwing the last pieces of wood into an old, beat up Csepel Autógyár and subsequently peeling away through the dense forest, the passengers hanging on for dear life and yelling, “fuss, menj, menj!” I didn’t need a translator to tell me they were cuing the driver to hit the gas and flee the scene of the recent theft.

So What?

The more fidelity you put into a memory, the longer that memory will last uncorrupted. The idea that your memory will forever escape corruption is a pipedream. We have yet to evolve to that level of consciousness.

Capture those memories by reading, writing, saying, seeing them and perhaps most of all SHARING them. Use cameras and yellow pads and tell your story whenever someone gives you the opportunity. Storytelling works and its one of the oldest, best ways of conveying skills during training.

 

Training changes behavior.

 

  • Greg

Lessons Learned #044: Walking your talk.

I got the idea for this Lessons Learned during a brief hog hunt discussion with my neighbor Lany while I was plowing the snow at Rogue Manor West.

Best neighbor in the world.

Lany had just returned from a bow hunting excursion in Texas with his two sons. While speaking in an animated fashion about the hunt and their group success, Lany explained that there had been a mandatory ‘survival’ training session prior to the hunt.

During the pre-brief, the guides discussed the dangers and gave a demonstration regarding safe behavior around the hogs. Paying attention, he was told, could save your life.

One example was learning to turn your legs (and your femoral artery) away from the hog by modifying your stance. In that manner, even if the hog continues to charge at you even after you stick it with an arrow, the feral pigs’ massive tusks won’t cut you and you won’t bleed out and die rendering your hunting trip an unscheduled bucket list completion.

Lany’s son Chase scored his feral hog first.

Lany told me that the same man that gave them their Texas version of a Daily Security and Intel Brief was with Chase, and as they were tracking the feral beast through the thick terrain in near dark conditions, the man guiding got down on all fours and crawled through the underbrush headfirst looking for blood and other signs of the injured hog.

Lany said he asked the guy, “Aren’t you afraid of getting injured?” to which the guide replied:

I guess I’ve been doing this a long time. I know the risks.

Patterns abound.

I got a question from a reader regarding Lessons Learned #043: Get the picture?  The reader wanted more examples of my insistence that you can use human behavior profiling to pattern and profile Hollywood films.

To “E.J. in Teaneck, New Jersey;” Take a look at the films of Guillermo del Toro.

I’ll offer just The Shape of Water, Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth. Now, look at the ‘monsters’ and creatures in those films. Del Toro’s ‘vision’ is carried out throughout his work and influences his current, past and future works. His creatures are as good as fingerprints to a profiler. Perhaps you noticed the similarity in these two films.

Roger Spottiswoode Directed ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, a 1997 Bond flick. He later declined to direct the 1999 Bond film, ‘The World is Not Enough’ so he could direct ‘The Sixth Day’ with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When Spottiswoode left the Bond franchise, he took his signature moves with him. For example, the antagonist in The Sixth Day is killed when a helicopter pitches forward in flight and the rotor blades decimate him. The same stunt using a different type of helo occurs in Spottiswoode’s Tomorrow Never Dies.

If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic films, try on Waterworld and the Postman, both Kevin Costner films.

I met Kevin at a local’s bar located at West Beaver Creek and Highway 6 back in the day. He was fun and funny – more intriguing in person than in his films. Both of these films are take-offs of Mad Max and each other.  

On the same skip-day from school I watched a Philip Marlowe film (The Big Sleep) and a Sam Spade film (The Maltese Falcon) and had to do a comic double-take.

Humphrey Bogart starred as the lead character in both, and forever created the mental image of the hardnosed gumshoe whenever I though of film noire. Even when I read Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novels in the future, I saw Bogey as the lead.

That carried over even after I fell in love with Elmore Leonard novels.

Coincidences are what we call PATTERNS that emerge due to human behavior biases.

In the late 1970’s, Hollywood released ‘Dracula’, ‘Nosferatu the Vampyre’, and ‘Love at First Bite’. Three separate films all based on Bram Stoker’s character ‘Dracula’. Coincidence? Nope. I guarantee there was some investigative frippery at the studios where one got word that the other was making a vampire film and they raced to get a film out in time to trump the others.

That was repeated to a chilling degree when just a few years later when ‘An American Werewolf in London’, ‘Wolfen’ and ‘The Howling’ became our summer film offerings. Again, more espionage than coincidence, I think.

From a purely predictive analysis standpoint, I could use these few examples forwards or backwards to either determine the likely films to be released this fall or which producer and director made the film I’m watching based on the character foibles or the creature effects.

I’ll give you a final example, then its time for you to do your homework.

As recently as the 2018 – 2019 film release period Hollywood gave us three virtually identical films; The Silence, A Quiet Place and Bird Box. All films had situations where the antagonist, here creatures, used their vastly evolved senses to detect their human prey.

 

From Hollywood to Hassfurt / Hofheim. 

I recently received feedback on the Arcadia site regarding the Ramstein und Rammstein Lessons Learned I wrote. Protecting security through non-attribution, this is the ‘gist’ of the email.

Re: Arcadia Training; I spread the Lessons Learned; Volume #040: Ramstein und Rammstein post around the V-OPs community, and the responses were very positive. To quote a Tech Sergeant who knew Airman Cuddeback personally;

That was written so well, I felt like he had met Cuddy. It was so hard to read at first just because that is something that hits home incredibly hard. I miss that kid something awful.

The email included a ‘shout out’ to Human Behavior Pattern Recognition and Analysis training; “If we can train our Airmen to know what to look for and always to avoid these tragic situations then we absolutely should.”

The social impact of Arcadia Cognerati and our HBPR&A training is proven time and time again.

From Frankfurt to Fort Worth.

While hard to categorize, Arcadia Cognerati is primarily a training realm company. We consult on infrastructure hardening, and handle some protection issues for executives, dignitaries, their families and organizations, but we are masters at HBPR&A training.

We received an email this month from a family in Texas. They had planned on a 2-week vacation abroad and enlisted our aid in preparing their itinerary. Further, we contracted to conduct a pre-trip safety and security training webinar via a social media. Their response to the training post-trip was telling.

“We loved every aspect of Arcadia’s presentation. It was a ton of information, but it didn’t feel like drinking out of a fire hydrant.” 

“…the overall feel and optics of the presentation was so helpful for (my family) to start thinking about safety and situational awareness. Thinking ahead. I cannot overstate that enough.”

“Just being in a room in which a presentation of this nature took place has dramatically changed how my family thinks about these situations.”

While the family acknowledged that they didn’t follow all of the considerations or recommendations we made, they stated that, “what we did use was super helpful.”

They went on to say that our suggestions including preparing rally points, having a plan for each day and discussing it beforehand, our tips on transportation, standing or lingering in certain areas and event mapping were ‘huge’ for their destination but useful, “even for everyday life.”

The family added; “Just discussing the training points that Arcadia gave us each day got our heads in a better place from an overall Safety / Awareness perspective. We used it throughout the day, every day, whether walking around to our big stadium events or shopping, it was something that brought us a sense of peace.”

The family added a bunch of accolades which I won’t include as they will assist in attribution, but I will add their final thoughts regarding the Arcadia Training they received; “your training continued the narrative of my family thinking and acting on the Safety and Awareness elements throughout our trip. We can’t thank you enough.  We have told dozens of friends about (the Arcadia training).

So What?

There is a huge difference between “Knowing the risks” and heeding the warnings. Many people “talk the talk”, but few ever WALK their talk.

My neighbor Lany illustrates the potential danger of Hog Tusks

Feral pigs move in large groups called Sounders. Estimates are that there are about 2 million feral hogs in Texas. Experts estimate that 6 million of them in at least 39 states, and they are “rapidly expanding,” according to the Agriculture Department.

The ancestors of these hogs were introduced in North America by Spanish conquistadors who brought them over from Europe. Since then they have been cutting a swatch across our nation, causing about 1.5 billion dollars in damage each year according to the US Department of Agriculture. We’re not talking Timon and Pumbaa here; these pigs are aggressive and can be dangerous. At their current breeding rate, hunters would have to kill 70 percent of the total population of feral hogs to prevent their continued expansion.

Knowing where to hunt is one key element of your pre-hunt preparation. Choosing a state like Texas will increase the likelihood that you encounter feral hogs. It is the state with the largest feral hog population and hog season is open year-round. Apparently, you can spotlight at night as long as you inform the local game warden first.

This bit of knowledge is essential as feral hogs have adapted to being hunted by becoming nocturnal and only feeding or ruminating at night.

Traps attached to feeders are providing results. In Ohio, one such trap caught 30 feral hogs at one time. These are referred to as TTPs. Tactics, techniques and procedures. They are just like ‘fingerprints’ in the sense that they are the clues that feral hogs leave behind. These are the types of clues that will help you locate anything you wish to find. For this exercise, let’s stick to feral hogs.

Hogs wallow. That means that they use watering holes, dig around in the watering holes to create mud and hunker down in an effort to cool themselves. Looking for these watering holes can help narrow down your search area. Those clues qualify as Heuristics, Geographics, Proxemics and Biometrics.

Hogs Root. Rooting is where a feral pig uses their tough snout to dig into vegetation and soil to find food. This is probably the most recognizable clue that you are on the feral hog’s track. In addition to being transfer evidence, these cues qualify as Heuristics and Atmospherics.

And, speaking of tracks, the pigs hoof leaves a track that while resembling a deer track is generally much deeper, wider and more round. Again, transfer evidence, but linked to Heuristics, Geographics, Proxemics, Biometrics and Atmospherics.

You can choose to bait them (an offer they can’t refuse), lure them with pre-recorded sounds (a predator call for example, or a piglet in distress). And, like Lany warned earlier, hogs charge – so you have to either keep a safe distance or cover and be prepared to protect your vital areas if you are attacked. 

If you have trepidations about hunting feral hogs form the ground, my dear friend Butch is involved each year with a ‘Pork-o-pocalypse’ style feral hog hunt while flying in helicopters and using automatic weapons as the killing instruments.

Many of the helicopter hunts cost $50,000 per group. Some more. The cheapest one I could find was just under $4000.00 for two hunters. I was surprised that there were over a hundred and fifty companies in Texas alone that offered hunts to decrease the numbers of these pests.

In some instances, you can choose a fully automatic weapon and the guides provide the trophy photos, lodging, ammo and meals. You can have the meat from the younger pigs made into any manner of foods or sell the meat (or donate it) to local charities should you not want to take it with you.

In Butch’s case, all the proceeds go to Veterans and folks that need help. It’s a non-profit.

So, while animal rights activists lament, no matter whether you decide to hunt hogs from a helo, balloon, fixed wing aircraft or on roller skates, you’d be helping ebb the invasive pests costing US farmers and ranchers tens of millions of dollars in damage each year.

But before you go, do your research. Conduct a cost / benefit analysis. Conduct a risk assessment. Look into a packing list based on the advice from Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Rehearse being attacked by a feral hog and practice the First Aid measures to treat yourself before evacuation.

Do your homework. Don’t just talk the talk, learn to Walk your Talk. Oh, and Butch, I’m supposed to ask you to hook Lany and my son Nico up with a helo-hog-hunt. See what you can do!

Training changes behavior.

-Greg

Lessons Learned #043: Get the picture?

BLUF.

BLUF stands for Bottom Line Up Front.

Today’s BLUF is simple. I would speculate that more than 50% of your daily activities are routines. I would say that for many humans, that number is much higher, hovering at perhaps 90% when compared over a longer period of exposure.

These patterns of behavior that you repeat each and every day of your life identify YOU as much as your fingerprints or your DNA. They can be observed, classified, quantified, mimicked and predicted.

So What?

I’ve taken the liberty of putting the ‘What’s in it for me?’ near the beginning this time.

Today’s ‘So what?’ is simple. If you can observe humans in their natural state, you will note PATTERNS of behavior from which you can glean a BASELINE behavior. That behavior baseline can be used to compare or impeach a person’s human behavior during current and future events. An extrapolation of those bits of information and intelligence can then be used to determine the MLCOA or MDCOA of human actors in any environment.

The kid stays in the picture.

Born in 1930, Robert Evans started out as a voice actor doing probably 300 radio shows before his 18th birthday. Not bad for a kid who survived the depression and ended up a famous Hollywood film producer of such incredible hits as Love Story, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Godfather.

Evans’ first brush with real fame came in 1956 when he was ‘discovered’ standing near the pool at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Later in 1956, famed produced Darryl F. Zanuck cast Evans in The Sun Also Rises, the film adaptation of Hemingway’s classic novel. Evans role of Pedro Romero was in limbo. Other actors on the film approached Zanuck and said Evans was too raw, not right for the production. Zanuck, who was not to be trifled with, defended Evans and famously said, “The kid stays in the picture”.

In today’s episode, I’ll demonstrate to you how to use pattern recognition and analysis to determine the NEXT thing your child, spouse, lover, a terrorist or criminal might do. Being able to compare KNOWNs against UNKNOWNs to determine likelihood.

Jumping the shark.

To understand the term, ‘Jumping the shark’, you have to go to Season 5 of the popular sitcom Happy Days.

From memory, write a few facts on a sheet of paper relative the plot of Happy Days. You should be able to. There were 255 half hour episodes over a ten-year span. Basically, the character arc followed high schooler Richie Cunningham navigating the challenges of adolescence with his family and friends. 

Richie was the innocent. The local high school dropout ‘Fonzie’ (played by Henry Winkler) was the tough who turned out to have a heart of gold. The show was responsible for two equally successful spin offs, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy. 

Ron Howard (Richie Cunningham) first played a similar character in the film American Graffiti, which highlighted adolescent angst in 1960’s America. Happy Days, set in 1950’s America, was equally formulaic, yet each week we tuned in to see what dilemma Richie and his gang had to face this time.

Like many television series or movie franchises, rather than sailing into the sunset when the series reached a natural ending point, the producers kept churning out plot lines, each more fantastic than the last, to keep the ratings relevant and to get people to tune in.

One of the final episodes had Fonzie’s character jumping a tank filled with water while wearing water skis. The tank held a man-eating shark.

This ridiculous attempt to keep viewers interested (especially when everything about the episode had NOTHING to do with the plot of the original series) was so irrelevant that nowadays anytime a silly gimmick is used (unsuccessfully) to keep viewers interested when a show or sitcom has run its course. 

When a show runs its course, the showrunners will introduce a sequel or a prequel to keep making money off of the successful pattern. Just ask Muppet Babies, or Baby Yoda.

If you can use this knowledge to predict what will happen with a television series (think Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon), then you can use the same method of predictive analysis to determine the ML or MDCOA of any human, event or vehicle.

The Rock.

We don’t need much to get excited around here during the winter.

In fact, whenever the ‘Message’ icon pops up on our Direct TV, Shelly and I do “Rock Paper Scissors” to determine which of us get to review the message first. 

If we are lucky, and the message is to tell us of an upcoming ‘Free Movie Weekend’, Shelly and I work fast to dump the wear worn Turner Classic Movies already occupying our ‘save’ list in order to clear valuable space for some exciting, snappy new films to record and archive for a future bitter cold yet romance filled Gunnison Movie Night in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Sadly, free movie weekends are filled with horrible reruns, many of which were “headlining” the last free movie weekend. Most of these terrible films went straight to video and never had a theater run (and for good reason).

An example would be Dwayne Johnson’s 2018 film Skyscraper.

Shel and I hadn’t seen it. Minutes into the $300 million dollar film we noted that it was a CGI-laden version of Die Hard meets the Towering Inferno.

Taste test.

Shelly and I have the same tastes in film. Give us Some Like it Hot, The Philadelphia Story, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, What about Bob? and a couple of musicals (Annie, Mamma Mia) and we are set. To be fair, we rarely watch television. When we do, we scan the choices offered and more often than not, they are found to be lacking.

We tried to get into regular television.

We gave five new shows a chance this season. We had to. Our favorite show, The Walking Dead had gone off the rails and now the script choices had strayed so far from the formula we enjoyed that the series no longer held interest for us.

We enjoyed The Blacklist. At least the first couple of seasons.

We tuned in mainly to watch James Spader immerse himself in the lead role. An additional guilty pleasure was being able to see an old friend (Citadel grad and former USMC Captain Bazzel Baz) booting doors and ramming cars with equal aplomb.

Shelly and I binge-watched The Blacklist until it too jumped the shark, the writers are apparently resurrecting old plots from Gilligan’s Island rather than inventing new, more sinister bad guys.

We don’t Hulu or Netflix. We don’t stream. Yet we still experiment with television. Our five choices for the fall 2019 season were; The Unicorn, Stumptown, Carol’s Second Act, Emergence and Evil.

We grudgingly made it through one episode of The Unicorn. We couldn’t identify with any facet of the life experiences being played out during the pilot. Total Hollywood writer fantasy land. Maybe its accurate for LA, but we live in a fly-over state and the values espoused were not our own.

We enjoyed the pacing of the Stumptown pilot. Stumptown is based on the eponymous graphic novels where Dex Parios (if I had a dollar for all the Dex Parios’s I have met over the years) is a damaged human with a litany of ‘secret squirrel’ skills and an equivalent list of ‘baggage’ that every “complicated” Hollywood character possesses.

Cobie Smulders was great in the Dex role, but the plots of the first two episodes were thinner than Steven Seagal’s hair of his Kane series of straight to DVD film.

We had high hopes for Carol’s Second Act as both Shelly and I enjoyed Patricia Heaton in other shows over the years.

In typical Hollywood style, the script called for 61-year-old Heaton to portray just turned 50-year-old Carol Kenney who starts life anew, now as a medical doctor. Pass after episode two.

‘Evil’ started out with a bang. Paralleling the other offerings, a strong female-led a ragtag team of experts (here religious experts sworn to fight Satan and his minions each week tasked with determining whether this ghoul is actually from Hades or merely a bit of undigested ‘Steak-um’ refusing to go softly into that good night. Evil fast became formulaic and uninspired.

Finally, we enjoyed the mystery of ‘Emergence’ until the producers decided that storytelling means the absolute suspension of reality, introducing the competing and conflicting story and character arcs that had both of us scratching our heads. It all felt too familiar. We’d seen it all before.

The question.

Is it that Hollywood scriptwriters and television showrunners have lost their connection with the average human experience and now rely completely on rehashing old stories, series, and films?

The answer is; whenever a formula works – writers stick with it. Sure, they will change a title, a character name, the city in which the action takes place, but they will serve up the shell of the successful show again and again. They choose to rely on the fact that most humans will repeat their VIEWING patterns and behaviors rather than worry about being called out for repetition.

Which patterns work best?

Human Behavior Pattern Recognition & Analysis relies on hard science, soft science and a lot of time observing humans, events and vehicles. The Hollywood version of HBPR&A relies on human behavior-based algorithms that deal with valence. Every Disney character, every popular cartoon character, every Star Wars character that you love is based on a scientific algorithm predicting the emotional valence of that character long before the film is made.

Emotional valence used in film and television is computer generated and based on the physiological and psychological references where ‘emotional attractiveness’ produces a positive reaction from the audience. The corollary is that writers and producers rely on negative emotional valences to create the villains for the most popular shows.

To guarantee a popular episode, the writer, producer or director will insert some emotional polarity.

Polarity is where Hollywood takes an actor or the cast and puts them in extreme situations which are contrary to how you would expect to perceive them. It absolutely challenges how you predicted the proscribed encounter would turn out and that creates drama and conflict.

An example would be Mike Colter’s character David Acosta in Evil.  Acosta is in training to become a Catholic priest working with a skeptical psychologist (Kristen Bouchard portrayed by Katja Herbers) and a no-nonsense Ben Shakir, the technical specialist played by Aasif Mandvi. Like every Scooby Doo episode, the crew investigates the Catholic church’s backlog of unexplained ‘evil’ mysteries.

The emotional polarity here is expressed when Colter’s Acosta is torn between his religious visions and his addiction to hallucinogenic drugs.

Years ago, a team of scientists entered the most popular films and television shows into a computer and the resulting outcomes provided convincing evidence that Hollywood was using algorithms to replicate the character arcs and plots of their successful shows and films.

The revelation came as no surprise to cultural anthropologists and sociologists, those of us who already understood that humans repeated patterns and therefore it would be logical to assume that the trend would carry over to items commonly used by humans. Things such as product loyalty, restaurant choices, the attraction of lovers or friends, the make and model (and color) of the next car you purchase, and so on.

If you can classify film scripts and plots, you can categorize human behavior.

We’ll conduct a Limited Objective Experiment (LOE) together. Rather than spend the next few moments classifying human behavior through the lenses of my Six Domains, attempt to classify films or television shows you love (or hate) by using the ‘lenses’ I have highlighted below.

The Fall.

This character arc or plot device will require the main character to be a bad human (like a sex predator or serial killer) who perhaps begins with the best of intentions then succumbs to a slow, downward spiral. The film Bad Lieutenant epitomizes this classification. Other repetitive plots would include Killing Eve, Sharp Objects, Dexter, Bates Motel, American Horror Story, Mindhunter, Happy Valley and Pennyworth.

Rags to Riches.

We could place Annie, Pretty Woman, Willy Wonka, Slumdog Millionaire, Cinderella and Harry Potter serve as good examples of the age-old Rags to Riches milieu.

Fish out of Water.

If you’ve ever seen Beverly Hills Cop, Big, Little, Back to the Future, or Starman you’ve seen the Fish out of Water genre of storytelling.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the repetitive scripts or plots available, just enough to give you an example of how a behavior ‘lens’ is built. One that can be used when scanning your environment to determine the likelihood of the events which will follow.

You could easily add categories for “I’ve learned my lesson!” (Scrooge), the “Grass is always greener” (Wizard of Oz) and “Misfits as winners” (Weird Science, Real Genius, The Bad News Bears, The Mighty Ducks).

If we were going to create a ‘Misfit film’ or television script offering of our own we would merely need to add a mismatched group including the smelly one, the fat one, the terrible twins, the quiet one (for times sake, just go to Police Academy and cut, copy and paste); and, for the comic foils, we would need the ‘bad guys’, athletes perhaps, who are at the top of their game and won’t let the misfits play in any reindeer games (ah, there’s another one. The story of Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer).

Like a protracted episode of the kids’ cartoon ‘the Wacky Racers’, the nerdy kids will keep trying and the bad guys will keep pulling off dirty tricks until the final act when the misfits come out on top against all odds. Don’t worry if you are losing track, just pick up a copy of Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. A screenplay guidebook written by Blake Snyder that demonstrates down to the minute how to create a television show or film script based on these formulaic recipes.

This isn’t new.

Charles Perrault wrote ‘Le petit Chaperon rouge’ (Little Red Riding Hood) back in 1697. When the brothers Grimm decided to retell the tale, they followed Perrault’s architecture, but added ‘updated elements’ such as the hunter rescuing Red from the wolf and an Aesopian decree that bad behavior precedes bad consequences. Each generation someone will ‘update’ the story to fit the mores and culture of the times. The story will never get old.

In conclusion.

I’ll be the first to tell you that Human Behavior Pattern Recognition & Analysis isn’t new either.

Saying I invented it is pretty heavy handed. Sure, I discovered it. I named it, I was the one that categorized and created an architecture for the Recognition and Analysis phases – but the fact that an understanding of repetitive human behavior can make you more likely to accurately determine future events has been around since the dawn of man.

With the right training you will be able to see and perceive the patterns in any environment in which you find yourself. You will learn how to use that information to compare, deduce, induce, analyze and evaluate what events will likely follow.

Your conclusions will be based on artifacts and evidence raising them to the level of reasonableness.

Training changes behavior.

I trust in nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and autumn garner to the end of time. [Robert Browning]