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Combatives: Think Tactically

Jim Wagner

I walked out of the double doors located at the back of the hotel that led out to the 4-story parking structure. I looked to my left, and then to my right, and I noticed full rows of cars parked directly parked in front of the walls on both sides.

For most Executive Protection missions I’m not generally too worried about car bombs packed with high explosives being a factor, but this time I had had reason to be concerned about such an attack, and I included this observation on my tactical diagram that also included a couple of potential HOSTILE sniper positions I had already marked when I was strolling undetected inside the posh Hilton Hotel; high ground positions I would have selected myself if I were an enemy sniper wanting to “take out” a tier one principal.

When the day of the mission came, I was pleasantly surprised that not only were the parking spots along the wall empty, but no parking at all was allowed on the entire first floor level of the parking structure. That would explain the two special agents I saw standing next to the arm gate when I first drove into the parking structure, and they directed me to the parking spaces at the higher levels where I parked my big Chevy Silverado pick-up truck that barely cleared the hanging clearance bar hanging by two chains from the cement ceiling.

Whether the United States State Department Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) took my advice, or they perceived the same threat as I did, when I turned in my Advance report and tactical diagram the evening before, there was no chance now that the primary principal, or any of the other principals, could be harmed by a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) when the guest elevator stopped at the floor where his Green Room and the banquet hall were located. Concerning the potential HOSTILE sniper positions that I had Photoshopped onto the floor plan of my tactical diagram, along with the “fields of fire” I had indicated by red elongated triangles, those areas had special agents posted at each position, thus denying the enemy of that advantage.

The only possibility left to get at the primary principal that evening was an armed assassination team, and for that concern I continually ran various Red on Blue scenarios through my head all night long to be mentally, emotionally, and physically ready. Thank God nothing bad happened. An attack was never launched on former Director of the CIA and former United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

When I was doing a walk-through for my Advance report, I noticed that several cars were parked along the wall, and on the other side of that wall were the elevators that the principal would be using. This is exactly where I’d place a car bomb if I were a HOSTILE wanting to assassinate a tier one principal. As I stated before, I had good reason to be concerned about this particular mission, a mission I was a team member on, because the Iranian government still had a hit contract out on Secretary Pompeo’s head.

They wanted him dead. The government that continually chanted “Death to America!” for the past 40 years were still angry that the Trump Administration ordered the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, on January 3, 2020, near Baghdad Airport by a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone armed with Hellfire missiles.

Secretary Pompeo, the representative of the United States of America on the day of the attack, asserted that the attack was ordered by President Donald Trump to stop an “imminent attack” on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. It was for this reason, two years after Secretary Pompeo had been out of office, that the United States government still provided a 24/7 protective detail around him at the tune of $2 million a month.

Along with my Advance report that I submitted to the U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), I included a Tactical Diagram of the Area of Operation (AO) where there could be potential problems, which includes likely attack locations.

The event that I just describe at a Southern Californian hotel, took place on November 10, 2022. I had been selected for the team a month earlier to provide overall security for the fund raiser, and to provide Executive Protection (EP) for other tier one and tier two guests that would be there. As far as the U.S. State Department was concerned, anyone on the FRC security detail would be the “second ring” ring of defense.

Apparently, I had gained the trust of the federal team leader halfway through the mission, because for about 10 minutes during the dinner portion of the evening I was the only one from the private security side to be on the “first ring” of defense for Secretary Pompeo as he was dinning with his guests.

The trust had developed early on when I had met their Advance team (a team tasked with the pre-planning stage of a mission that includes a walk-through of the venue), and they knew that I had not only been a former U.S. federal agent myself, but that I had once taught a course for the Diplomatic Security Service. That, and they had vetted everyone on the team beforehand, and so they already knew who was who in the zoo.

Once the special agent, who had been on Secretary Pompeo, came back to his post I was reassigned to protect singer and song writer Steven Curtis Chapman, who was the entertainment after the dinner. When he went up on stage to perform, I was again reassigned, and I finished the rest of the evening protecting former Congresswoman Michele Bachman. She was not without some risk either, because in 2011 she received a death threat from a man who claimed that he desired “to engage in sadomasochistic activities” with her using “a Vietnam era machete.”

Besides making sure that nobody harmed the principals, or the 300+ guests at the fund raiser, I was very happy to learn by the end of the evening that my knowledge and tactical skills, when it came to Executive Protection, were still current at the federal government level. The last time I did bodyguard work for the U.S. government prior to the FRC mission was when I was the Security Forces (SECFOR) team leader of the Special Reaction Team (SRT) at Joint Forces Training Base, California, in 2016 when I was assigned to protect Brigadier General David Baldwin of the California Army National Guard and all federal dignitaries visiting the base.

When I conducted the Advance, and when I was on duty throughout the evening, I was “wargaming,” the civilian expression for it is “think tactically,” which is the mental exercise of constantly asking oneself, “What if?” and coming up with the proper tactical response to each question. Of course, as a warrior I have been doing this throughout my entire tactical career. When I was a police officer heading to a report of a bank robbery in progress, for example, I’d be asking myself a lot of “What ifs?” as I was racing to the location in my police car:

“What if I arrive and the suspect is coming out of the bank armed?” “What if he had just left the bank before I got there? What street would I take if I were in the criminal’s shoes?” “What if the bank robber didn’t exit the bank by the time I arrive, and he has taken hostages inside?” Any good police officer must consider all the possibilities that could happen so that when he or she does arrive on scene they are mentally, emotionally, and physically ready for the most likely scenarios.

It’s no different than a professional athlete thinking of their next several moves ahead of time so they’re able to outmaneuver the opponent when the time comes. Although you, as a martial artist, may not be a soldier on a combat operation, nor a bodyguard on a mission, nor even a cop responding to a hot call in progress, you too must get into the habit of thinking tactically when you’re in a potentially hostile situation; a “hostile situation” can be anything from standing in line at McDonald’s to order your food, sitting in a church service, walking down the street, and you mentally running through attack scenarios most likely to happen, and your possible responses to them.

I constantly tell my security operations and self-defense students, either in-person or in my weekly Live Zoom Training Courses, “THINK TACTICALLY,” because most people don’t. Most people walk around as if inside a protective bubble totally unaware of the threats around them. Then when an attack is suddenly upon them, they don’t have enough reaction time, and are lacking the knowledge and skills to protect themselves.

Let’s use the example of just going from your home to your car to illustrate THINK TACTICALLY. Before you even open your front door and step outside, you should be listening for any suspicious noises on the other side of the door. Then, the moment you open the door you should be thinking, “There could be someone lurking outside on the other side of this door?” Therefore, you look through the peep hole to see if there is someone anyone near the door, and if there isn’t a peep hole in the door you must be ready to immediately retreat into your home if someone rushes up or pounces.

If there is no immediate attack upon opening the door you must check the hard corners just passed the threshold of the door as you step outside. Hard corners is a tactical term, which I first learned when I was on my police department’s SWAT team, meaning the extreme corners immediately to the left and right as you enter a room.

The average person, the non-tactical person, will only look forward when entering or leaving a room, and fail to check the “hard” left or the “hard” right for an ambush. Of course, the whole purpose of getting into the habit of checking the hard corners when entering or leaving a room, like a SWAT officer does when room clearing, is to be ready if a HOSTILE is near the threshold of the door ready to grab you or strike you as you cross it. Of course, even if you do check the hard corners, you must be trained and ready to fight if you are ambushed.

When you start walking to your car you need to scan the path to it, and the area around the car. If you do see someone, or a group of people, you must identify if they are FRIENDLY, NEUTRAL, UNKNOWN or HOSTILE. Obviously, someone crouching behind the car is most likely a HOSTILE.

Yet, that middle aged man, who just happened to drop his grocery bag as you are approaching your car, may seem like a NEUTRAL (someone who seems to belong in the environment), but who in fact is a HOSTILE that is tricking you into helping him pick up some dropped items, and when you least expect it, he then pounces.

Even if you don’t see anyone from Point A to Point B, you want to remain alert, and not be distracted until you are safely inside the car. Distractions include texting while you are walking, listening to your device through earphones, or being busy with something in your hands and not looking up and scanning the area.

As you are walking to your car your car keys must already be in your hand so you can unlock the car door quickly. Of course, if you’re in a rough neighborhood you’ll want your weapon of choice at the ready. You may even want your primary hand on the weapon, and your car keys in your secondary hand (you don’t have a strong hand or a weak hand, as many martial arts schools teach, because words are powerful).

Fumbling around for your weapon at the moment of attack will be too late. As you get close to the car you need to be looking for anyone crouching behind it, shadows moving underneath the car (indicating that someone is on the other side of it), or any signs of a car burglary (car door ajar, broken glass on the ground, items inside scattered about). Such signs means you must have a Plan B.

When getting into your car you must quickly place any items you are carrying where they need to go quickly, and then immediately lock the doors. A lot of people who are carjacked or kidnapped are confronted as they are getting into the vehicle.

The HOSTILE knows that the victim will have their keys in hand, focusing on getting into the car, and no longer paying attention to their surroundings. If you’re not paying attention to your surroundings while you are standing at this fatal funnel, then a HOSTILE can easily be upon you before you know it. Once you are surprised attacked you can be yanked out the vehicle or shoved over onto the passenger seat by the attacker, and he or she then commandeers your vehicle. Therefore, do one last 360-degree scan of the area just before getting into your car. Once inside the car you must immediately lock the doors, which will give you a few extra seconds of reaction time if the HOSTILE tries to get at you by breaking the window with a simple tool or pieces of broken ceramic from a spark plug thrown at the glass, which shatters upon impact.

Once safely inside your car, with all the doors locked, immediately start the engine, and put it in the right gear, even if you don’t plan on driving right away. If the engine is running, and your right foot is on the brake, you can always put the vehicle in motion if you are suddenly attacked at this point. Just driving a short distance out of the HOT ZONE will get you away from the HOSTILE and give you a few more seconds to make your next move. However, if the engine is off while you’re sitting in your car, and you’re occupied tending to other matters, you may not be able to start the car in time at the moment of attack, and you are now stuck in the HOT ZONE, which another term for it is KILL ZONE.

Provided there is not an incident prior to putting the car in motion, when you start driving you should have your wrap-around ballistic glasses somewhere within reach (and if you are in law enforcement, a military combat operator, on an Executive Protection detail, or private security, you should always have a pair on when inside a vehicle). If you are wearing prescription glasses or sunglasses as you’re driving, then those serve as your protection for your eyes.

If you are going to take pistol or rifle rounds through your front windshield, or objects are going to be thrown at the side windows, then eye protection will save your eyes from shards of glass. Fragments resulting from bullet or object impact are call “spall.” If you can’t see, you are not going to fight effectively or you may not have the ability to escape the HOT ZONE.

Here I am behind former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann protecting her from any possible threats or embarrassment. I made sure that nobody came up on stage to talk to her, and after her speech she talked to people who came up to the front of the stage. I am scanning the area for any suspicious persons, items, or events.

In your car there should be a well-stocked first aid trauma kit; not only for possible violence that may occur during the trip, but traffic accidents are all too common. A fire extinguisher needs to be within easy reach. If you are driving through a metropolitan area, or a high-risk area (such as a military base or downtown area where a riot is taking place) then you ought to have a chemical decontamination kit (for dealing with contamination from lethal chemical weapons used by terrorists or police irritant chemical agents use to control rioters). Such a kit is nothing more than a big jug of water, some dish washing soap, and a large scrub brush for washing cars.

A GO-BAG with emergency supplies is always an essential piece of equipment to always have in your car (containing leather work gloves, military 550 cord, chemical light sticks, drinking water, protein bars, travel size toilet paper, emergency blanket, etc.). It takes pre-planning to stock it with the necessary materials, and it requires familiarity with everything in it to quickly access the needed item(s) in an emergency.

As you are driving to your destination you need to make sure, through purpose-driven periodic glances at your rear-view mirror, that a HOSTILE is not following you (also known in Executive Protection speak as “a tail”).

A skilled HOSTILE who is tailing you is not going to be right on your rear bumper tail gating you, but he or she will be four to five cars back to avoid suspicion. Here is some quick advice that everyone who has been taught counter-surveillance knows. If someone takes the same turn as you TAKE NOTE OF IT. If someone takes the same two turns as you START OBSERVING THEM. If someone takes the same three turns with you then THEY ARE FOLLOWING YOU.

The example I used, from your front door to your car, was just one example when it comes to THINK TACTICALLY, but just imagine if you had to do an Advance like I did at the hotel before Secretary Pompeo was scheduled to arrive there.

There are an incredible number of details to take in consideration: “What if power is cut?” “What if a chemical agent is used? Do I have a pocket smoke hood for myself and my principal on me?” “What happens if there is a communication blackout sometime during the mission?” “What happens if the bad guys are waiting in front of the hospital when I bring my wounded principal there?” which is a common tactic of terrorists.

Based upon your reality (and I use that term because I introduced the term “reality-based” to the civilian martial arts community, through Black Belt Magazine over 20 years ago, to exclude traditional-based and sport-based martial arts when it comes to self-defense) you may not ever have to protect a tier one principal in your entire life, but you may want to do your own rudimentary “Advance” to protect yourself or others at an important upcoming business meeting, or even for your next vacation; especially in an area where crime is on the rise.

Granted, a personal visit to various venues in advance may not be possible, but even the professionals do a lot of Internet searches to get as much information as they can before a mission. If you do nothing more than find out where the nearest walk-in medical clinic, hospital, police station, and fire station are located in your Area of Operations (AO), then that’s more than what 99% of the population doesn’t do.

Taking it a step further, if you’re going to be in a foreign country your Advance, physically or virtually, must have the locations of a few FRIENDLY embassies and consulates. That’s because if any HOSTILES that are after you know your nationality, the last place you want to go to is your own country’s embassy or consulate where a surveillance team is going to intercept you. You’ll also want a couple alternative routes, indicated on a paper map or on your phone, to the places you are going to visit or stay at. Plus, prior to going on the trip you should give a family member or friend, not going on the trip with you, your itinerary.

Should you not show up somewhere on that itinerary, they can report it to the authorities immediately. Doing all of this puts you in the category of more-than-just-an-amateur when it comes to an Advance. Coupled the Advance with good techniques and tactics you’ve learned in your reality-based training, such as tactically going from your front door to your car, then you’re closer to the professional level when it comes to THINK TACTICALLY.


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