Seeking Engagement at all Costs

The only way to win against active shooters.

dog flying seeking engagement

Make no mistake, we are at war here on U.S. soil. We are engaged in a battle against active shooters.

There’s been a lot of attention on the recent failures of Uvalde. The mistakes made there highlight the single most important criteria for winning any battle. That is grit – the willingness to run headlong into the action, however dangerous.

History has proven this time and again. As one example of many, in the Battle of Marathon, September 490 BCE, 20,000 Persian troops landed on Greek soil.

The Greeks were unprepared and able to only rally a force of 10,000. The two armies met in Marathon, outside Athens. General Miltiades ordered his Greek soldiers to form a line equal to that of the Persians and to charge, maintaining the line, at a full run. It worked and although the midline was weakened, the Greeks won, and the Persians retreated. The Greek soldiers were protecting their homeland and loved ones. Their motivation to fight was fueled by their instinct to protect their families and neighbors. That emotional component can make all the difference.

On the other hand, today much of the training that security guards and law enforcement officers tasked with response receive is mostly technical. Curriculum covers weapons handling, all the gear, and how to shoot with precision. Most officer range training is static. Yet a real time event can be pure chaos moving through obstacles, unknowns, innocent bystanders and of course, all while people are shooting at you.

In technical training, officers are graded on how close a spread they manage on a target. But being able to shoot a tight pattern on a silhouette is not the right criteria for judging if someone is the right person for the task at hand. It may be that officers in Uvalde had great shooting scores. That wasn’t their failure. Alas, whether through individual choice or by obeying superior’s orders, they did not engage.

In Israel, there is a term to describe how a security or law enforcement officer is expected to aggressively fight as if they are singularly responsible for the outcome, an outcome that can only go one way – to win. Lochem Bohded לוחם בודד  translates to Single Fighter Concept. In armies around the globe, and certainly amongst the U.S. Marines we’ve encountered, the concept is fully engrained. It’s a soldier’s responsibility to run towards the fire and they are drilled over and again to charge ahead. Act now, think later. The willingness to risk your life for others is a calling and requires a particular psychological and emotional state of mind.

Not to make light of a very challenging and scary subject, our office mascot Max is a handsome but quite small dog. When a large, burly delivery man shows up at the door, Max immediately is barking furiously as he runs directly at the guy. Max doesn’t think about his own safety, he only knows that it’s his job, his duty to save his colleagues from dangerous strangers with packages and he’s on it. He has heart and courage. Humans of course also have these traits but in the case of security work, the instinct needs to be trained, honed and conditioned.

Ocean lifeguards don’t think about water conditions they just jump in. Firefighters step into precarious burning buildings. It’s frightening and life-threatening but that’s the job and it does not come naturally to everyone. In Israel, security officers in training hear the message to act fast and forcefully. The concept for security officers is the same as for soldiers. They are drilled to:

  • Run at full speed towards the action without hesitation.
  • The mindset is to win win win at all costs.
  • Put the attacker on the defensive and do not let up, apply relentless pressure.
  • Draw fire away from the target so the attacker is forced to fight the officer, not the innocents.
  • No more bullets? Start throwing things.
  • Tend to the wounded only after the battle is won.

It’s hard to measure or predict someone’s ability to perform in this way. How many among us really know how we would act should the time come? However, we are able to condition the response, emphasize the duty that comes from the heart, talk about the need for an aggressive stance, simulate it. Active shooter training needs to go beyond tactics.

In 2015, a Palestinian terrorist attacked a group of people at a bus stop in Jerusalem, first with a vehicle and then with a large axe. As you can see in the video below, a security guard from a nearby bank is relentless. He does not stop engaging. His shooting technique is far from accurate and his physique not athletic. But his willingness to not let go, win and protect is what stopped the attack and saved lives.

Obviously, it’s extremely important to proactively prevent shootings from taking place. That’s a priority. But once a shooter has breached their target, they have the advantage of surprise and their entire attack be it at a school or cinema or grocery store, may be over in minutes. Being prepared to counter the attack efficiently and aggressively is critically important if we are to win this war.

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