T Nation

The Tactical Life


For the past several days, I have thought about starting a new thread entitled “The Tactical Life”. This was brought about when I posted a comment in the “Bad Ideas” thread about the Connecticut SWAT Competitions. I realized for the past two years, I have been using Robert A’s thread as a catch all and dumping ground for my tactical views and various rants on a myriad of subjects. Robert A created “Bad Ideas” to talk about the stupid shit in the martial arts and tactical world. Let’s keep it that way to honor him.

This purpose of this thread is discuss all thing tactical, from throwing a good left hook to CQB, from tomahawks to tommy guns, from concealed carry to long range shooting, from knives to archery, from MMA to boxing, from CrossFit to SOF training, in other words ,anything from the martial and tactical world. I am interested in all types of training, so please, come aboard and discuss your art, your physical training, your weapons, your experiences. Give us a review of the equipment you carry, the way you train, your weapons and accessory selections. What works for you and what doesn’t?

Finally, I only write about my personal experiences. I don’t believe the tactical world has any room for theory, either it works or it doesn’t. I am going to start posting a “thought for the day”, whenever I am not outside the wire working, but, I will also be quoting trainers and instructors whom I feel are among the best. Their training philosophy closely matches my own personal experiences. You may not agree with them, they may not match your experiences, so, lets discuss. There are a lot of scam artists in my world, guys and gals who buy 5.11.clothes and declare themselves “operators’, when in reality they never, ever, saw a muzzle flash.

These are the men whose work I follow, and I have had the privilege to train with three of them: Pat McNamara, Mike Pannone, Ken Hackathorn, Aaron Barruga, Larry Vickers, Jeff Gonzlaes, and Daryl Holland.

My first post is going to be a blog I wrote for another tactical website that was accepted for publication. Anytime you write something and it gets published, you are open to all types of criticism, don’t write if you can’t take it. I had about 60 comments on the article and about 85% was positive, the rest basically said I was a paranoid freak. Well, if I am, I earned my paranoia by experience, so, I am good with it. If you have the time, read the article and let me know if you think I went over the line of reason.

To quote Batman730: “Tactical athletes have no off season”

Let’s start.


With the summer season in full swing there is going to be more family travel, vacations, and domestic/international travel. For most on T-nation situational awareness is second nature, but, there may be some new members or lurkers who are just starting to learn. I hope some of these thoughts will help someone plan out their response to a terrorist attack or active shooter situation. I am not an expert and always willing to learn, these are just some things I have learned from working in the Middle East and Afghanistan for the past 11 years.

Note: I am going to use the word “spouse” to incorporate all relationships. “Families” can mean any group of individuals you are responsible for.

Know who you are with: It is one thing to attend a social gathering, go to a ballgame, or peruse the malls with individuals who are trained for violence (Military, LEO, PSD, Corporate Security) and quite another to be with people who only have experienced violence through video games. Realize they will have no situational awareness, nor, the training to help you survive an attack. Realize that developing even a simple tactical plan will be met with skepticism and any attempt to make them understand will probably be futile. Do the best you can, but, have your own plan for survival, do not let well-meaning individuals comprise your strategy. On the other spectrum, being with someone who is trained and especially armed is a real bonus and simple plans can be made driving to the venue. Just establish who will do what, who is the driver, who is the primary shooter, who is responsible for hunting exit locations, while the other or others provide protection, etc.

Yourself: Being alone during an attack and your response will basically come down to the fight or flight reflex. IMHO, what you will do, will be based on your psychological mindset, your training, your experience with violence, your profession. Be honest with yourself and your abilities to combat violence, experience has taught me that most men have a tendency to overestimate their combat abilities and usually just die on the scene. I don’t know what yours are, but, decide what you are going to do, before you arrive at the venue. In the middle of the attack is no time to be making the decision.

Family: Unless you are trapped and facing death, this decision is already made for you. You must get your family off the “X” and out of the primary attack zone. There should be no attempt at heroics when the ones you love are counting on you to provide leadership: know what you are going to do, where to take the family, etc. Often, terrorists on a major attack will place shooters at the main exits and kill as many as they can as they run out. Know where all the exits are, take the time to drive or walk around your venue, learn where the exit doors are, where the service entrances are, where the security kiosks or police substations are, where the exit roads are, where are the bottlenecks that a VBIED could be parked.

Spouse and Children: As much as I would like to assume your spouse is highly trained (man or woman) the odds are they are not, so, it is up to you to develop a basic plan. Have a quiet, serious talk and go over some basic strategy, Outline the need to be situationally aware, inform them what can happen and stress they are also responsible for helping survive an attack. I know it’s common for families to go shopping and split up, each going to their own preferred venue, but, during holiday vacations, that is a major tactical mistake. You don’t want to have some family member on one end of the venue and you on the other. Stay together, stay close.

If you have children with you, one of you must be the primary protector, it is simply too distracting to watch the kids and watch for an attack at the same time. Having small children is a dynamic all its own, I know. I once was part of a team that was providing security for an executive and his family below the border and trying to run with a screaming 4 year old under your arm and returning fire with one hand is for the movies. Decide who carries the child and who looks for exits, who will take point and who will not.
Your spouse must recognize the threat and be able to function in a terrifying situation. Teach basic commands in a loud voice. Examples like: Get the kids! Get tommy! Grab my belt!, Run to the back of the hotel!, etc. Simple commands, they work, because they are simple. Have a daily schedule and stick to it. Know the places you want to visit, go there, do what you need to do and then leave. Try to arrange for visits during non-peak times. When the venue first opens at 1000 is much safer than 1900, remember terrorists use the maxim amount of destruction for the maximum amount of media coverage. I occasionally have to go to the Afghan government palace and I don’t go there after 1400, which is prime hit time here.

Attack Dynamics: Talk to your spouse about a possible attack and the ramifications of being caught up in the situation. The noise will be loud, especially if they detonate a bomb first to soften up the guards/resistance or create mass panic which leads to easy targets. Try to make your spouse understand that people will be screaming and dying, and, if they have never experienced this type of violence, will probably go catatonic. This is a natural reaction that you must stop immediately, either by verbal commands or simply slapping the shit out of them.

You must get off the kill zone, you must survive or the kids will die. Try to convey how bad the panic will be and stress how important it is to follow your pre discussed plan and how you need to hyper focus on leaving by a safe exit, even to the point of running by people crying for help. You and the spouse have a family and nothing else matters. Harsh, I know, but there is a reason we leave a wounded member in a door way, it’s because we have to kill the threat, or, others will die. There is a reason you are leaving, so your family will live.

Vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED): Almost all major attacks start with some type of VBIED, especially if the goal is major venue. I have been around them for the past 11 years and I am totally paranoid about vehicles. I have certain rules about parking lots around large retail outlets and sporting venues. I always park far away from the main entrance, yes, your family will bitch about the extra walking, but, car bombs are not placed where they do the least damage. Would you rather have your family walk a little or park close to an entrance and die from an explosion? Remember, terrorists don’t park anywhere except where they can kill the most and if the car is not rigged, when they exit the vehicle they are already shooting. I would think you would rather see that from a distance.

If it can be avoided, I never walk between parked vehicles, especially in front of large venues. In fact, I will often circle a parking lot just to avoid being between parking lanes. Humans are creatures of habit and terrorists know this, they know you will walk to shortest distance to the market or entrance to a venue. One terrorist with a pair of binoculars and a cell phone can detonate a car bomb at any time. Don’t be stupid and lazy, take the long way around, if possible.

Vehicles: Thou any vehicle can be used as a VBIED, I am paranoid about certain vehicles: Toyota Camrys, brown or gray in color and made in the 1990’s (the all-time favorite), small white pickup trucks, like the Hillux and especially avoid large garbage and cement mixer trucks, which can carry enough explosives to level a small mountain. I was in the wrong place when they blew the T-walls surrounding the old Baghdad hotel using a large garbage truck, outside static security died instantly and then the ground forces moved in. You see any of these vehicles parked near an entrance to a venue or driving toward one, stay the hell away until they prove what they are.

Motorcycles: a quick word about motorcycles. In Baghdad, Kabul, and Islamabad, I have had experiences with terrorists using motorcycles to drive up to a vehicle and detonate a bomb carried in a backpack or pull up in front of some café, Embassy entrances, military checkpoints, etc. and either detonate or open fire with an AK. It makes me extremely twitchy to have some biker in the U.S. pull up in the lane next to me, and never trust someone who pulls a motorcycle up to a venue entrance wearing a backpack or a large coat, never know if they are there to detonate. Vacate the area until their intentions are known.

Weapons and Equipment: Do not engage the attackers even if you are armed, unless you are simply trapped and going to die anyways. You will probably be armed with a handgun and they simply don’t match up against AK’s or similar style weapons. A major assault will not be made with .22’s, so, you will be severely out gunned. And for those of you carrying, carry at least two extra magazines. Don’t bitch about your comfort, just remember, AK’S have 30 round magazines, you don’t. Use your weapon to fight for an EXIT or fight to allow your family time to escape, not for offense. What you chose to carry is of course your decision and based on what laws your state has on the books.IMHO, always carry a small powerful belt flashlight, knife (legal length) and a cigarette lighter. Trying to find a way out for your family during a power outage, smoke, or garage tunnels is hell without a light. The knife has many uses and the lighter has abilities to create all sorts of problems.

Harsh Reality: You need to discuss with your spouse the reality that your family may be close to a suicide bomber when they detonate. You will either live or die. If you live, you will have severe disorientation for several minutes and your hearing will be completely screwed. If possible, do not make any moves until your hearing clears (if it does) and wait until the dizziness fades enough for you to try to make a rational decision on which way to flee. Where there is one bomber, there are usually two. Talk to your spouse, acknowledge that one of you will probably die and the other one has the responsibilities to get the kids or themselves out. If they cannot handle this truth, then you have a real problem.

International: I have spent the past 11 years working, training, and living in various countries in the Middle East and South West/ Central Asia. These are a few things I have learned and they apply generally to every country I worked in, including 6 in Europe. There are situations you must try to avoid at all costs: large crowds in the street, lines of people in the markets, whether the area is Shiite or Sunni, police or military checkpoints (prime targets). Always have reliable communications (I prefer two cell phones with different carriers), transportation, and in a perfect world, a backup team or direct communications with a Quick Reaction Force and if authorized, weapons.

International Travel: This is where everyone is most vulnerable. Know the airport schematics the best you can (usually maps on walls), arrive at least 3 hours early, get through customs and then walk the terminal noting the exits, bathrooms, and checkpoints. Does it have multiple levels? If so, spend time in the upper levels watching the crowds entering, because, if an attack occurs, it will usually happen on the ground floor. Locate airport security, identify if they are local police or military. Do they have roving patrols or fixed stations? If they are killed can you operate their weapons for your own survival? Visualize an attack and then decide what you are going to do to survive. What cover do you have? Where are the exits? Have a plan, no matter how simple, develop a combat mindset and focus on surviving.

Bombs: Avoid lingering around the “food court” at all times, if a mass of people are sleeping along the walls of the terminal (especially Kuwait International, Queen Alia, and Benazir Bhutto), simply walk on by. Watch everyone carefully, especially if they are carrying large amounts of luggage in boxes or other types of roped wrapped packages (nearly everyone in a third world country).Try to arrive early enough to avoids waiting several hours to check in, this has happened to me several times after late flights and waiting with several hundred people on the GROUND FLOOR of a terminal, surrounded by massive amounts of luggage is not a good situation. Most security entering the ground floor is shit, usually consisting of unarmed cops trying to direct traffic. If this happens to you, spend your time scanning the front entrance as much as possible, have a plan, no matter how simple. There is no shame in jumping past a ticket agent and crawling through the luggage conveyor belt if someone opens up with an AK behind you.

The most stupid things I see when I travel:

THE USE OF ELECTRONICS: For God’s sake, get those buds out of your ears and eyes away from that screen. How in hell can you hear gunshots, people yelling, rockets or mortars whistling in with music blasting? Example: Last Thursday I was starting my first leg back to Kabul and was waiting on a flight in the Atlanta International Airport when the alarm system went off (multiple rows of white lights) and a loud saying over and over (airport emergency, everyone remain in place). The first thing I thought was an active shooter, so, I had already made my plan and started for an emergency door. I looked around and numerous people were sitting in their chairs, eyes and ears slaving to the electronic hand God. Unbelievable.

Clothing: First, I am as guilty as anyone because my daily work clothes consist of 5.11.pants and shirts or one piece coveralls in desert brown, in fact, it is about all I own, but, have at least a pair of jeans and some plain tee shirts for international travel. Nothing marks you more as an American than 5.11 style pants and a brown or US camo style backpack in an airport. I can see you in a crowd of 5000 TCN’s and if I can see you, so can an active shooter. I stopped wearing my work clothes last year when Dubai authorities pulled me into secondary because they were looking for an “American mercenary”. Now, I travel with jeans and a North face carry on. In conclusion, never, ever wear a tee shirt with OBL’s face on the front and a “kill them all and let God sort them out on the back”. Seriously, I saw this in the Kuwait International airport and instantly knew who was going to get shot first. Be safe, watch your 6.


I’m in.

I’m just a boring civilian with a little exposure to real violence (attempted mugging, taking a thief into custody, subduing a violent drunk, aggressive panhandlers, 2 guns pulled on me, aggressive dogs).

Very much into situational awareness and force ladder as it applies to civilians so I don’t go to jail: awareness/avoidance/de-escalation/escape/appropriate force.

Interested in learning from you.


Seconded, with some training in situational awareness as it applies to taking care of folks (wildland fire) but very little with violence specifically. Cool thread topic, cool write ups, very informative and much appreciated.


Definitely be following.

About to go for a combat role in the Australian Air Force in a couple months. Been training and trying to get as clued in as possible for the last several years. Keen to hear your musings Idaho.


Thanks for posting! I look forward to this thread. I’m just a firefighter, so I don’t think I’ll have a lot to add, though I do get to see the after effects of a lot of shootings.

I hate to ask but what happened to Robert A? I haven’t seen him post in a while.


Boring? LOL…sounds to me like you need to be giving classes on the different types of crap you may encounter on the street:))


Best of luck to you and try to keep posting. I spent two years in Kandahar and worked with the Aussies on several occasions. Really enjoyed being around them and found their sense of humor the best of all NATO troops, even if half the time I couldn’t understand the slang, which, of course, made them laugh even harder.


There is no such thing “just a firefighter”. When I was working the street, you guys dealt with more shit than I did, especially if you are EMT’s also. It was “just firefighters” who ran into the Twin Towers. I haven’t seen Robert A around in about 2 years now. He posted he was dealing with some personal issues and that was the last I heard of him. I really miss his posts, he brought a wit and humor that was second to none. We have lost a lot of good posters of the last two years. Be safe, watch your 6.


In keeping with the situational awareness issue, I am posting a comment by Mike Pannone:

We are entering a new time and we as good Americans need to act accordingly. The attack in Paris should have been the largest and most recent wake-up calls to the general populace that we are entering a new age with a different threat. This threat not only seeks to but is capable of projecting power in a different manner. It an ideology that says the price of admission and to get “credentialed” all one must do is lash out at the innocent who does not believe in their ideology.

Talk with those in your charge about reactions if there is an attack and agree on it. What is our immediate plan? Who goes where and does what? These decisions will not be arrived at under the tremendous stresses of potential death or grievous bodily injury. Without planning it is just luck and as I have said countless times and is Noner Rule #1 “Good luck is for novices; bad luck is for everyone. Bank on skill, at least you control that.”

In preparation I encourage those who understand the legal and moral ramifications and can legally carry a firearm to do so. Before taking on that responsibility, seek genuinely competent training. Make that CCW a life preserving tool and not an expensive good luck charm. Once that proficiency requirement has been met you have demonstrated your seriousness and should carry everywhere you are legally permitted.

If you don’t already have it seek first-aid training and have medical supplies in your vehicle. This is just the right answer regardless of current threat levels.

Finally, understand that the biggest threat you will face relative to ISIS related terrorism is the “lone wolf” attacker or what I more specifically call the “non-aligned sympathizer” (NAS). That term is exactly what the ideology commands and encourages due to the inability of any security apparatus to effectively monitor them. The reason this is important is that if you just avoid ball games and large populated public venues or the likely “soft targets” understand everyplace you go without a very obvious security presence is a soft target. The NAS can strike anywhere any time because he is only concerned with becoming a name of note in the “cause”. For that reason, we must remain what I call “professionally vigilant” or in layman’s terms acutely aware of our surroundings. Make sure you know what “right” looks like as far as behavior. If someone stands out don’t come unglued and immediately call 911 but look and listen. Try to establish what you are really seeing. Stay alert.


Thought for the day:

What is your training mindset today? Skills? Physical ? Mental? What are you doing to improve? Read below and see how you compare.

“Somewhere a True Believer is training to kill you. He is training with minimal food or water, in austere conditions, training day and night. The only thing clean on him is his weapon and he made his web gear. He doesn’t worry about what workout to do – his ruck weighs what it weighs, his runs end when the enemy stops chasing him. This True Believer is not concerned about ‘how hard it is;’ he knows either he wins or dies. He doesn’t go home at 17:00, he is home. He knows only The Cause.”


It’s easy to stay alert and have professional vigilance when you are thinking about it. For people that haven’t got the mindset ‘stuck in’ yet, it can be very easy to get caught up in the emotions, drama and pace of a shopping centre or airport or clubs etc.

It took many months of conscious vigilance and constant reading and mental cues to get into the routine of noting exits, scanning public and being generally more aware.

I found what helped me was every night focusing on learning about bug out bags, prepping, self defence etc. By learning these skills and thinking about it throughout the day, it slowly becomes 2nd nature.

I have a long way to go but it gives me peace of mind to have back up plans.


Thanks! I’m glad that Robert A is probably ok, at least as far as we know.

Yes I am also an EMT, and I carry some basic medical equipment with me in my truck. Been thinking about getting a fanny pack to carry a few dressings, etc. I wouldn’t worry about how it looks, but it would draw too much attention, and I prefer to remain low key.

I have traveled recently with a few dressings in my bag and TSA gets a little weird, when they’re paying attention enough to spot them.


thought id join the crowd in this thread. i have experienced kidnapping and torture as a civilian. i survived. maybe it took a dozen miracles to keep me alive because i wasnt ready to deal with such situations, and i am still not ready and i cannot rule out that it will happen again to me or my family.

i am mostly doing strength training and punching the heavy bag to prepare myself for combat. i have tried various martial arts but i thought martial arts made me crippled and injured and for time to time it often made me more vulnerable to attacks. input on what and how to train would be appreciated.


I can’t stand gun shop commandos/stolen valor. I didn’t want to come off that way. I haven’t experienced anything like combat or merc scenarios.

I was just a wrestler from the sticks in my first semester at college and some guy walks up to me in broad daylight and punches me in the left eye and tries to steal my stuff. Luckily I had been punched in my fat head many times in school so I just reacted by throwing the guy to the ground.

I never saw that guy coming, I was oblivious. Now I have a bubble, everyone in it is a suspect lol.

While we’re on tactical mindset. My favorite cliches:

Be professional and courteous to everyone, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

If you look like food you will be eaten.

Hands kill. Have faith in the Lord, everyone else let me see your hands.


I doubt Robert A ever minded the hijack, but I’m totally on board with this thread. Let the knowledge bombs drop Brother.

Question: your thoughts on models and carry options/positions for a fixed blade for on duty LE? My external soft body armour carrier has faux molle on it and I was contemplating strapping something in kydex onto my support side well back almost under my arm (retention).

I carry a fair size tacti-cool folder clipped in my strong side pocket (not super ninja, I know, but convenient) on duty (iwb appendix off duty) but like the idea of having a fixed blade readily on hand as well.

Of course there are retention concerns etc, but I feel like if I get shot/stabbed/sprayed/beaten with any of my own kit I screwed up pretty badly to begin with.



If you able to, I would be interested in knowing the details. What country are you in? Were you are target for a specific reason? Tactics of the snatch team? weapons? Were you found by an assualt team or released? I understand how personal this is, so, if you dont feel like it, its fine. Just glad you made it back.[quote=“bonoboschimp, post:14, topic:232312”]

i am mostly doing strength training and punching the heavy bag to prepare myself for combat. i have tried various martial arts but i thought martial arts made me crippled and injured and for time to time it often made me more vulnerable to attacks

Dont really follow you here. If martial arts training lead to injuries or you not learning anything or regressing from what you knew, then you had worthless instructors. Try to explain this a little more.


Just make sure your agency will allow you to carry a fixed blade and cover you in the lawsuit. I carried a Gerber Ghoststrike fixed blade deluxe attached to the support hand side of my vest, under the left arm. The blade is light, fairly easy to conceal, and will not break the bank. Mine has held up well, but, for heavy duty work, I rely either on a Marine K-Bar or my old Glock blade. BTW, they are hard to sharpen, but, the knife Glock makes is as tough as their pistols.

Since my shirts had velcro instead of zippers or buttons, I was able to get to the knife, not, fast, but not slow either, just adequate. I carried a Benchmark folder in the same way you do, still do, but, I dont have to worry about concealment now, so, my fixed blade is attached to my plate carrier.

Some more blades:


Thought for the day_:

“Humiliation is a thing never forgotten”

What personal experience do you use to commit to training? What happen in your life that made you decide to become a survivor and not a victim? What do you use when you are tired of life, that one thing that forces you to go and train? I am not talking about a bad night’s sleep or you just don’t “feel it”.

I am talking about coming back from a 4 day assignment with hardly any sleep, or, pulling a double shift in a patrol car during a demonstration, or, being on duty for 14 hours in some south side Chicago hospital as the gunshot victims roll in, or fighting a fire in the dead of winter with ice frozen on everything you touch?

It takes a desire to never be placed in that past experience again.

For me its three things:

  • Losing two brothers in the Twin Towers attack. I will always train so I will be a better, stronger, faster, and harder to kill today, than I was yesterday. There is some terrorist asshole out there now training, but, so am I. Bring it.

  • I will never forget the hot July night when a asshole high to the max on PCP nearly beat me to death and would have if backup hadn’t arrived. The 5 days I spent in the hospital, having a male nurse hold my dick while I pissed blood is something I will never forget. Never have both your wrists and one arm broken at the same time. I have never, ever, felt so humiliated.

  • The first time I was able to attend the Wounded Warrior Games, I was humbled by the sheer courage displayed by the men and women completing with missing limbs. How were they mentally able to overcome the obstacle of facing life in a wheelchair? One leg? One arm? My physical conditioning and what little martial skills I have are the bedrock of my personality, to lose it all would test me to the core. I will never use any excuse except work, or severe injury not to work out, in fact, I have worked out two days after surgery, it wasn’t much, a few sets of arm curls, but, I wasn’t facing a wheelchair, so, I had no room to whine.

What drives you?


If you able to, I would be interested in knowing the details. What country are you in? Were you are target for a specific reason? Tactics of the snatch team? weapons? Were you found by an assualt team or released? I understand how personal this is, so, if you dont feel like it, its fine. Just glad you made it back.

short story: sweden, 1986 i was 18, 2 persons began spreading false bizarre rumours about me. they accused me of starting fires, raping kids, wreckless driving and even espionage. and literally thousands of idiots that i never even met before joined them. eventually the rumours reached some really bad people involved in organised crime. the criminals got some very rich people to pay them to kidnap me and torture me so that i would confess to my crimes. well, i hadnt done anything so i couldnt confess to anything so the torture kept on. many things they did i can only remember small fragments of. but they did throw me of airplane at high altitude and a parachute soldier would pick me up before i hit ground, they also drowned me until i passed out, and suffocated me using plastic bags and gas, i also got shot in my head from long distance using some weak gun, the bullet hit was really painful but my head didnt crack and i didnt pass out, dont know really what they used. for many years i was harassed and kidnapped at several occasions. i tryend talk to the police but my memories were too fragmented and the situation too bisarre for me to describe. at some points i think some police were actually involved with the bad side. today i am very angry at all those who have contributed to my living hell.

despite this i have managed to carry through eduation, work and form a family. i suffer from bad health which i attribute to living under severe stress many years due to the events. i have so far chosen not to carry out a vengeance because i believe that would be like opening pandoras box and i wont do that to my wife and children. i will however do what i can to be a hard target if they try and attack me again. i dont want to say bring it because the likelyhood that i might not survive, but ill try and surprise my aggressors and send a couple of them to hell earlier than they expected.

Dont really follow you here. If martial arts training lead to injuries or you not learning anything or regressing from what you knew, then you had worthless instructors. Try to explain this a little more.

i trained karate, kick boxing, filipino boxing. i got injuries from the training, foremost my feet and hands, but i learned some stuff. i thought i do some martial arts again. the scenario i foresee is multiple possibly armed aggressors in a planned attack where there will be little opportunity for me to escape. i think that if the situation evolves into grappling than i will be smoked no matter how good of a grappler i may be.