Navy Seal Lessons Part 1

This is part one in a series of business posts about things I learned as I was taking a series of defensive shooting classes with a Navy Seal. This is business oriented, and less about life using only a mobile phone for work. So if this isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to skip these posts.

It was around 4 in the morning, February 18th, 2018 and my ex-wife started pushing me, waking me up, saying, “Someone is trying to get in.” Being someone who’d worked in Infosec for well over 20 years at that point and put a number of baddies in jail, I had received my fair share of death threats (some credible, most not). Purely as a defensive measure, I’d had firearms in the house for the better part of my career. So being jostled awake my instinct was to go for the 12ga shotgun under the bed and go meet the unknown with deadly force.

Buck naked, I stood up and went to the back door, I began a shouting match with the would-be adversary who was aggressively trying to get into my house.  He was yelling at me, and belligerent. It was in that moment that I realized that I was squeezing the shotgun so hard under stress that I couldn’t depress the slide-release to rack a round into the chamber. I had, for all intents and purposes, a giant club in my hands. I had probably put 1,000 rounds through that shotgun but had never trained under stress and never thought about how strong/dexterous my thumb would have to be to push that little button that I had pushed so many times before without an issue. No matter how much I tried and knowing full well what the problem was, I couldn’t relax my arms enough to allow my right thumb to press in the tiny button by the trigger to allow me rack a round.

So I told my ex-wife to grab my pistol, which I used when I was traveling (when a shotgun just isn’t stealthy/compact enough). Still buck naked and without my contacts on, I was finally at least armed with something that I could operate under stress. At this point the strange man in my back yard backed off and was no longer immediately at the door, so I opened the door a crack and make it incredibly clear that I was armed.  He backed off further, still yelling profanities at me. Without my contacts on, I couldn’t make out anything more than a shape, build, height and stance. I gave him to the count of ten to get out of my yard – which was really a delaying tactic to allow myself some time to get some clothes and my contacts on.

I closed and locked the door, went into the closet while my ex-wife called the 911. I quickly threw on some clothes and my contacts, and headed outside again (a terrible move by the way – I shouldn’t have gone outside, but I wasn’t thinking clearly).  I headed outside, and after a few seconds of searching I found the would-be home invader stuck in a 12’x12’x6′ shrub in the back of my yard. He was attempting to climb out of the yard but he was so drunk/high that he couldn’t.

So using my outside-voice and every curse word I could come up with, I made it very clear that he wasn’t going to be allowed to jump the fence into my neighbor’s yard (who happened to have two very young little girls living there – can you imagine?).  I ended up “coaxing” the man out of the bush using my rather aggressive form of speaking. Try to picture my 4AM coax-a-would-be-home-invader out of a bush at gunpoint voice. He complied begrudgingly and I got a decent look at him for the very first time. He was wearing a nice white button down shirt, black slacks, nice shoes and he looked clean cut.  This wasn’t some run-of-the-mill home-invader, this is just someone who’s drunk/high and belligerent.

Even still, he was so out of it, I couldn’t tell if he was actually a threat, because he was acting so erratic. So I got him to kneel on all fours, but he didn’t want lie all the way on the ground – presumably because he didn’t want his nice white shirt to be smeared all over my dirty back yard, I’m guessing.  So I proceeded to hold him, at gun-point for what felt like an eternity.  He began to reach for his back pocket at one point… My mind went crazy… did he have a pistol? A knife? He wouldn’t get all the way on the ground, so was this a pending attack? There really was no way of knowing, so I used some more very loud verbal commands to let him know he was risking his life by reaching for whatever it was he was reaching for.  He claimed it was his cell phone and that his buddies were calling.

That was a relief, and plausible, but he was still cussing me out, even with a pistol pointed at him – idiot. He was doing everything wrong and made it extremely difficult for me to assess his level of threat. It was at this point that I realized I wasn’t sure if I had the safety enabled on my pistol, or not. To make matters worse, I also wasn’t 100% sure if I had racked a round into the chamber or not. Surely I had… I must have. I had practiced doing that countless times and it was so ingrained in me I definitely must have.  But did I?  I simply wasn’t 100% sure, and the last thing I wanted to do was mess with the pistol, trying to debug what state it was in. Talk about destroying your credibility with the adversary, who at this point believed that he was in danger.

I also realized that my point of aim was way way off. I was so cold (it was about a 40 degree difference between my bed and the back-yard) and I was so tense that my muscles had contracted and the muzzle of my pistol was pointed way to the left. There is no way I would have hit him on the first pull of the trigger.  I might have deafened him and put a hole in my fence but that was about it.  I corrected my aim and made mental note of how stupid this whole situation was, how incredibly poorly trained I was and how bad my home defense setup was.

12 agonizing minutes later, the police arrived. Just imagine what was doing through my head for 12 minutes – and I lived downtown, no more than 8 blocks from a police station at the time. When the police did arrive my ex-wife had the smarts to tell them that I was the guy with the pistol and made sure they could verbally replay to her which one of the two people in the back yard was the good guy – the guy with the pistol – before she would let them into the back yard.  The officers came out, one towards me, and one towards the guy on the ground.  The one that came towards me asked me to lower and drop the pistol and step back – which I did slowly and with my hands in the air.  The other officer took one look at the guy who refused to get all the way on the ground even after receiving verbal commands to do so and proceeded to smear that guy’s nice white shirt through my back yard. So much for that nice white shirt.

In the end, a few days after it was over, I figured out exactly who the guy was (go figure, I’m good at finding everything about people online) it turned out that the guy was a CPA for a prestigious accounting firm and it was just before tax season so he and his buddies flew in to blow off some steam in Austin’s bar district and get super drunk/high. He had had a prior drug conviction and changed his name so that he could more easily get a job, so he was tricky to find, but alas… I’ve got a special set of skills. After the bars closed he had walked back to and jumped the back fence of what he thought was his AirBnB and tried to get into the back door. Imagine his anger and surprise when one of his buddies was holding a pistol to his head… except I wasn’t one of his buddies. The perils of alochol/drugs.

We had an outside chain link fence and an inside privacy fence, so it was easy to get in but very hard to get out. So basically we created a CPA-trap and low and behold, I caught one. CPAs are apparently rampant just before tax season. Really, both of us were lucky that I didn’t shoot – he was doing everything wrong – being non-compliant, rude, aggressive and loud – and I wasn’t well trained enough to know how to deal with the situation at all. The officers told me I was well within my rights to shoot him too (it is Texas after all), but were thankful I didn’t.

That night I wrote down everything that went wrong. How many mistakes had I made, the problems with my setup, my training, and my actions. I needed motion detecting lights in the back yard, I needed a light on my pistol, I needed a striker fire single-action pistol, I needed one with no safety to mess with, I needed sites on my pistol that were visible in low-light, I needed to carry with one in the chamber etc… etc…  There were a lot of issues. Too many to enumerate here.

So problem number one was the equipment. Clearly, this setup wasn’t working. So my buddy, hearing the story, took me out to the Range At Austin which is kinda like the Beverly Hills Gun Club if you’ve ever seen Beverly Hills Cop 2. It’s a beautiful range just a few miles south of downtown Austin. That’s where I met Jeff Gonzales who is the CEO of Trident Concepts and the head of training at the range. He’s a retired Navy Seal (Team 4 – which is South America), and BUDS instructor – his job was to fail Navy Seals for a living, and he’s no joke.

I really just wasn’t sure what to purchase, so I wanted his advice. I proceeded to verbally pour my situation out to Jeff – I think he could tell I was distraught/shaken by the events of the previous night. I got to the point about me being buck naked, and trying to defend my home, and he stopped me and said something that I’ll never forget.

“Firefights are clothing optional.”

I laughed both outwardly and… and I just kept laughing internally. Because how silly is it to worry about what you’re wearing when you’re defending your life (or believe yourself to be in any case). It was such a huge relief to hear that… such sound and simple advice… with such a measure of practicality that I had to stop and really think through it.

I decided to start going to the range to practice regularly – clearly I needed a lot more practice based on my weak performance. I wanted to learn how to draw my pistol from a holster at the range, but for safety reasons the range requires that you need to take and pass Pistol 2… which is an extremely difficult class, don’t let the name fool you. In fact, I took it twice in in both classes I was the only person I saw who passed it. I’m not what you’d describe as a “gun-nut” but I did feel like if I was going to own and carry a firearm I should get proficient at it.

“In an emergency human instinct is to fight, flight or freeze.”

During his Pistol 2 class, Jeff went over the different types of people. He said that, “In an emergency human instinct is to fight, flight or freeze.” I have always been the fight type. I am the guy who runs into the fire – probably one of the reasons I’ve had operational security roles for a big chunk of my life. I’m not afraid of a hard fight, and find situations where others are in danger to be the time when I excel the most – and the times that I am the most dangerous to the enemy.

Others have different approaches. Some people want to distance themselves from conflict. Others hide in closets and wait for the police to arrive.  There’s nothing inherently wrong or better about any of these, and in fact, in some cases simply avoiding conflict is definitely the smarter choice, so really, it is case dependent. Like it or not, I’m the fighter type, and I head directly towards danger.  But as I learned fighters are also the defenders – the people who keep others safe. They’re the people who are looking for how to help when all hell breaks loose. So if you find yourself in a fighting situation, you had better be extremely good at it.  If you’re a fighter, train like your life, and the lives of the others who you care about depend on it.

Yesterday I stunned myself as I passed Pistol 3 (as advertised it is for “skilled shooters and professionals”). It’s so much unbelievably harder than Pistol 2, which was already incredibly hard, that mentally I gave it a zero percent chance I’d pass going into it. It wasn’t a positive mindset, but I just didn’t want to stress myself out worrying about the outcome. I just decided to have an open mind and learn what I could and maybe I’d just get enough knowledge to pass it the second time around.  But shockingly, I passed on the first attempt (myself and another guy who happened to also be a firearms instructor out of a class of 7 amazing shooters). I sat there listening to Jeff talk and I could barely hear a thing. How on earth did I pass this crazy-hard course on the first try? It must be wrong, I thought, but Jeff doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes. Every point is written down meticulously and he doesn’t let people pass because he likes them (and I’m not even sure he does like me – nor would that necessarily help him teach). I’m still shaking my head, even now as I write this. It’s unbelievable and definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished to this day.

On the drive home, having completed a total of around 60 grueling hours of firearms training by a Navy Seal, I realized much of what Jeff was teaching me wasn’t just about shooting. It was a way of being, a way of thinking. It got me thinking that I should write a bit about it. So this post represents the first in a series of blog posts about how to re-frame some of his Navy Seal/shooting concepts and some of the things I learned along the way into a business context, starting with number 1: “Firefights are clothing optional.”

When I think about business, I think of warring parties. You’re not just fighting against your competitors, you’re also fighting against regulation, adversaries/hackers, bad press, the economy, lazy vendors, difficult partners, choosy customers, internal politics, etc, etc…. It’s brutal!  Some people will flee from organizations/work at any hint of conflict, and some people will freeze in their tracks, paralyzed by choice and fear – hoping someone else will chose for them. It’s often left up to the fighters in a company to win or at minimum to lead others to victory.

When you find yourself in a fight for your very life – when it’s your company or livelihood – you need to pull out all the stops. You need to fight as if it matters, and stop worrying so much about doing it clean/perfect. Sometimes you have to fight with whatever you have in whatever way you’re dressed at a moment’s notice, and if you’re going to victoriously defend your company and/or your livelihood you have to do it with purpose and determination.

The sale may seem impossible for every other company but it may just a matter of doing what the competitors won’t. Your boss may overlook you for promotion until you reach for the absolutely crazy goal and achieve it. It’s not always going to be pretty, and some people may make fun of how you achieved your success, but in the end, if you and your team come out victorious and avoid disaster/hurting the innocent/breaking the law in the process, does it really matter?

This is concludes part one, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Part two can be found here.

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Robert Hansen

Robert is an executive with a smart phone. Trying to tackle the big meaty problem of mobility, in the modern world where content and creativity are requirements of a job well done.