Jeff in Afghanistan on: The Combat/Survival Mindset

I have been a soldier, police officer, and am now working overseas as a security contractor in Afghanistan. I’ve attended and given a great deal of firearms related training, and over the past few years I’ve started to see a serious deficiency in typical law enforcement and self defense training. The United States is a country filled with people who live lives mostly untouched by serious violence. That fact is a good thing, and is a testament to our country, but it handicaps us in the way we train ourselves and our warriors, particularly our police. I want to cut directly to the main issue I see. In my experience most shooters who practice with any frequency have decent basic skills. I see quite a few who are very good shots and have some basic tactical skills. Americans have access to good firearms and equipment, as do American police officers. However, I believe most self defense minded people, and indeed most police officers, are trained to fail by their departments, their instructors, and their society.

Most police departments require officers to qualify quarterly, and many departments are moving toward realistic shooting and away from static paper punching. The department I worked for offered different holsters for officers, and if officers wanted to change, they had to practice with the holster and demonstrate at the range that they could smoothly draw and make accurate shots very quickly. Technically most of the officers were decent and some were quite skilled with their equipment. Many fired their weapons on a weekly basis and dry fired daily to keep skills sharp.

Where the department and society in general let them down was in mental preparation. If an officer is involved in a shooting, the officer is immediately put on suspension while the incident is investigated. Most of the time, though admittedly not all, the suspension creates a pall around the officer. Counselors are brought in and the officer is typically required to attend. The legal environment is such that officers live in fear of the almost certain law suit that will follow the shooting. If the officer has done everything right, the chances of losing an actual trial in front of a jury are small, but officers know the agency/city or county my settle for a lesser amount to put the issue away. City managers would rather write a smaller check and settle with the wounded or dead criminal’s family than suffer the small percentage chance of suffering a multi-million dollar judgment in court. This scenario assumes the officer survived the shooting, or more accurately, applied all his training to the situation, made the right decisions, and used his skill with his weapons to defend his life or the life of another. Many other officers lose their lives because the doubts and fears we train into them cause them to hesitate at the critical moment and lose the encounter.

We have in effect trained our officers to fail. This applies to citizens training for self defense as well, because much of the training taken by citizens is at the same schools police officers use. Indeed, at the local level, many of our police officer run side businesses and train locals in basic skills so they can qualify for concealed carry permits.
The fact that an officer is immediately removed from duty after a shooting, investigated while the media has a field day and his department offers non-committal statements until they see which way the legal/public opinion wind is blowing pounds the idea in the officer’s mind that he has done something wrong or heinous. The officer is taught that defending himself, doing the job he was hired to do, is bad. He is also taught that he should feel quite remorseful after the action, and due to that remorse require counseling. Those facts are also observed by his fellow officers. These activities set the officer up for a difficult future.

I understand the legal ramifications for a department and I know why officers are given days off after a critical incident such as a shooting. What I am arguing against is the passive and shameful mindset that accompanies a shooting. When an officer survives a shooting by employing his skills, he should be rewarded not taught to feel shame and fear of legal reprisal.
Likewise, a citizen who defends his family from an intruder at 3 a.m. has done a heroic thing, not something to be ashamed of. If you disagree with my stance here, ask yourself what you would say to a family member who shot an intruder: Would it be, “Oh my goodness, that is terrible, you must feel awful” or would it be, “Congratulations, your kids and family are safe and you did the right thing.” If you read this website, you might be one of the rare people to offer encouragement, but you also know what the majority of people would say.

My Experience
In my current position I face more violence than I did as a soldier or a police officer. I also face a less complicated legal environment, though I do occupy a gray area in terms of use of force in this country, and therefore have to worry about losing my job or suffering prosecution in local courts. I have been in several shootings here, some that would best be described as small battles. A few times I have been in one, and then in another later in the day. I am not given time off, counseling, or therapy, nor do I need it. The actions I have taken were proper and I do not lose a wink of sleep over it. Speaking to my police friends brought home these problems for me, because I heard repeated statements such as, “How do you deal with it, that must be very tough…etc.”

The work can be difficult, but I was hired because I am an armed professional, and I should not fall to pieces the first time I am required to demonstrate that professionalism. If I had fallen apart, my employer would have been right to fire me. I don’t suffer any mental anguish over my work, because I am a professional, understand my environment, and act properly. These lessons may seem far removed from your situation, but if you carry or own a weapon for protection, your outlook should be the same as mine. It does no good to survive a shooting, and then crumble afterward.

Societal Issues
Our society will not admit that it is proper to defend yourself or your family at the current time due to several factors in my opinion, but that does not make the desire to defend yourself and your family any less worthwhile or heroic. The United States has had an increasing standard of living for many years, and many people are generations removed from genuine life threatening hardship. This has resulted in a mental and physical softening of the general population. They have never been faced with life and death choices and cannot truly conceive that others have. It is also a fact that it takes large amounts of money to own media outlets and most people who have enough money to own or hold high positions in such media outlets reside in major cities. They live in a world even more insulated than most other Americans (already an insulated group as a whole), and they present their view of the world in their newspaper or on their television channel. Thus Americans see a skewed view of life in the media. I am not broaching the “liberal bias” issue here, simply saying that most of the people who own major media share certain life experiences and tend to represent those in the media. Those life experiences are not consistent with the way the majority of Americans live.

Issues You Should Consider
If you are involved in a shooting, whether as a police officer or a citizen, you should consider a few ideas. Be confident in yourself and your actions, but do not make broad statements to friends, the media, or peers until the legal situation is resolved. Don’t wear offensive or tasteless clothing (such as, “The only good criminal is a dead criminal,” or “Gun control means shooting with two hands”) either before or after the incident. While these things may seem funny, you will be tried in the court of public opinion as well as a court of law, and both may be done concurrently at times. You should not want your actions to appear lighthearted or frivolous about what you have done. The confidence you should have is not the kind to trumpet on a t-shirt or bumper sticker. You have protected yourself and/or your family and you should be proud and confident, but not to the point of your own detriment.
If you are a police officer, attend any training and or counseling your department requires. But do so with an air of quiet confidence, not shame or fear. If your department gives you several days off after the incident, don’t sit home and brood about the incident. Take your spouse and children out of town for a few days to a place you will all enjoy. Go to dinner and be your normal self. You will instill confidence in them by your actions, and they will learn valuable lessons about self defense and dignity from you. Conduct yourself as properly as you did during the incident, and be happy, because you are still alive and able to enjoy the ones you love.

We all have a right to a decent, safe life. When some thug tries to steal that right from us or someone we love, and we shoot him, we have not done a bad act, he has. We cannot change our society as a whole, at least not quickly, but we can change how we feel and view our own actions. Be proud of yourself and your decision to be responsible for your own life and continue holding your head high if you are forced to use your firearm to defend yourself or your family.