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We’ve all done it. We see the news about the latest rape, robbery, or mass shooting and say to ourselves, “Yeah, I could have stopped it.” It’s easy to fantasize about saving the day, about being the hero. But could you do it in real life? What does it actually take to put your life on the line to defend an innocent life or a whole group of them? Byron Rodgers knows what it takes — and he wants others to, as well. A combat vet and now a bodyguard to wealthy folks and individuals who need protection, Rodgers recently founded and hosted the inaugural Protector Symposium, a conference for security experts, law enforcement, and civilians interested in learning how to better protect themselves and those around them.
Above: The Protector Symposium also drew additional industry notables such as Christian West with AS Solution (above right) and Elijah Shaw, “bodyguard to the stars” (below left).
“I’m very aware of the reality that the civilian on the scene of an attack is the first line of defense,” Rodgers said of recent stabbings, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks around the world. “I wanted to do something to contribute to that civilian demographic, to educate them about violence and make them more accountable, and to help keep these injuries and death counts low.”
Rodgers had contemplated how he could teach the largest number of people in a wide range of skillsets. He toyed with the idea of hosting a seminar at the range, but logistics and safety would limit that to a few dozen students at a time. So he shifted to a Protector Symposium format, where we could reach a much larger volume of people the quickest.
“I looked at what really takes place when danger happens,” said Rodgers, who was twice deployed to Iraq as a U.S. Marine infantryman, and now runs Bravo Research Group, a small boutique security company. “And I thought, Who are three speakers I can expose people to who will literally make them effective protectors — just from a presentation?”
His answer was a two-day Protector Symposium featuring three world-renowned subject-matter experts (SMEs): former U.S. Marine and situational awareness expert Yousef Badou, former Mexican counter-narcotic officer and anti-abduction instructor Ed Calderon, and former U.S. Army Delta operator Mike Pannone. Though the speakers had varying skillsets and came from vastly different backgrounds, a pattern emerged from their presentations, with the trio independently touching upon three things all protectors should work on.
Yousef Badou (above), former U.S. Marine and situational awareness expert, and Mike Pannone (below), former U.S. Army Delta operator, were among the speakers at the Protector Symposium.
Despite having such disparate experiences, the three lecturers named (in different ways) one thing as the most important trait any bodyguard, soldier, peace officer, or prepared individual should have: a predator’s mindset.
For many years, Badou was a trainer in the U.S. Marine Corps’ (now defunct) Combat Hunter program, which helped warfighters develop a more tactically cunning mindset by integrating tracking, profiling, and observation skills. He now applies that type of enhanced situational awareness as the founder and owner of Emergence Disrupt, a company that provides security training to large organizations like schools, corporations, and music festivals.
Badou emphasized thinking like a predator and proactively looking for potential prey in your surroundings because “thinking like a bad guy makes you a better good guy.”
Likewise, Calderon spoke about studying real-life criminality so you can spot evildoers and escape from them. Calderon witnessed the devastation wrought by the rapes, murders, and kidnappings committed by the drug cartels, first as a kid growing up along the northern border of Mexico and later as a counter-narcotics police officer.
He advocated having what he called an “adversarial mindset” — constantly thinking about how criminals are thinking about things.
“You wanna know who the nightmare-scenario guy is?” said Calderon, a RECOIL OFFGRID contributor who travels North America conducting escapology seminars and providing security consulting. “Someone who’s failed a bunch of times but who’s learned from each of those failures and is still at it. That’s a nightmare guy I wouldn’t want to face and who I want to be. That’s what I aim for and what I prepare for.”
Above: Former Mexican counter-narcotic officer and anti-abduction instructor Ed Calderon.
Not surprisingly for a former special operator, Pannone has adopted the grayman mindset. He tries to blend in wherever he goes but is prepared to respond aggressively if forced to defend himself or others.
Pannone also emphasized that, if you carry a concealed gun, it should inform everything you do. He said that at the start of your day you should do a few dry-fires before loading and holstering your gun, reminding yourself that you have a tool capable of extinguishing life.
“The covert mindset is a lifestyle thing,” said Pannone, who also helped stand up the Federal Air Marshal Service’s training program. “If this is the way I dress, I need to make sure my accessories match so that I don’t look odd. I want to dress and conduct myself in a manner that doesn’t look like I’m armed.”
Having that mindset can work in reverse, as well: If you know how to blend in, you’ll also know how to spot people who stand out.
“We all profile in one way or another; that’s how we survive,” Pannone said. “We’ve made ‘profiling’ a pejorative word because some people have misused it. If someone walks in and they’re dressed completely wrong for that situation, their demeanor is wrong, now you have to look at them and ask, ‘Why does this person look aloof? Why are they wearing clothing that’s inappropriate?’”
Above: Badou demonstrating nonverbal cues.
The second most common topic amongst the SMEs was sound tactics, “soft skills” used in the right context at the right time.
Calderon underscored the importance of social engineering as a tactic to safeguard yourself, your loved ones, or your client in sketchy situations. For example, he once turned a hotel parking lot attendant in Mexico into a lookout by giving him a flashlight — a gift that only cost the former cop a few bucks but won him a grateful ally, who would later report any suspicious activity during Calderon’s hotel stay.
“All of that can be utilized to develop assets out of people you might not want to invite to your house for a barbecue,” he said, “but you could share a cigarette with in some corner and develop a relationship where there’s a mutual benefit.”
While Calderon focused on tactics to use while traveling or being held captive in unfamiliar territory, Pannone’s tactical advice centered on domestic life. For example, when it comes to defending your property, he says the best way to protect your family isn’t too different from military tactics, conceptually speaking: have a strategy (emergency plan), gather your entire element (your family) in a defensible position (a predetermined room), and request reinforcements (call 911).
Above: Pannone addressing the crowd.
“When safeguarding your home, have a spot that everyone knows to go to,” said Pannone, who now runs a tactical training company called CTT Solutions. “Consolidate and fight from there. If everyone’s together, you can figure it out.” As a situational awareness expert, Badou’s tactics leaned toward prevention.
While there’s not enough space in this article to explain them all, Badou’s tactics of recognizing and stopping potential dangers can be summarized by the following formula: baseline + anomaly = decision. That means you should figure out what the norm is in a given environment (establish the baseline), actively search for things out of place (spot the anomaly), then immediately take an appropriate action (evade, engage, de-escalate, fight, etc.).
“This is not going to be a 100-percent solution,” Badou said. “It’s not a silver bullet. But you’ll be right more often than you’ll be wrong if you use these research-based skills.”
The third, but definitely not the least important, commonality amongst the trio of lecturers was training. Whatever their specialty, the SMEs talked about the importance of consistent practice. Pannone follows a firearms training regimen with specific objectives for each session: precision shooting, speed shooting on steel, and speed shooting on paper.
Above: Formal training courses are highly recommended, which you should supplement with your own training regimen. Practicing with friends can be both productive and fun.
He said precision shooting exercises work on all the fundamentals of marksmanship: “If you can’t shoot slow and straight, you sure as hell can’t shoot fast and straight.” Speed shooting on steel gives him immediate feedback and forces him to make up missed shots, while speed shooting on paper allows him to feel what it’s like to work at the fringe of his physical capabilities. Regardless of what type of training it is, Pannone logs every round — hit or miss — of every drill to keep track of his progress.
“You just don’t squirt bullets and think you’re getting somewhere,” he said.
When it comes to training situational awareness, Badou encouraged people to take a formal course like his SAFE (Situational Awareness For Employees) Program since civilians can’t attend the Combat Hunter program. He certainly wished he had before heading to Iraq as a U.S. Marine infantryman.
“I did three really sh**ty tours over there, and some of my friends didn’t come home,” Badou said, “Then I got home and that’s when I got the Combat Hunter training. Everyone around me in class was like, ‘Man, this is awesome training.’ I’m in the back, shaking my head, thinking, where the hell was this three deployments ago?”
But if you can’t take a formal course, you can still improve your observational skills in your everyday life. For example, one mental training exercise you can do, Badou suggested, was to step outside of your home and figure out the best way to burglarize it.
Above: Badou observing an area from a good vantage point where he also naturally fits in.
“Criminals, terrorists — they don’t have some criminal/terrorist Wikipedia where they can Google, ‘How do I do a car-bombing?’ They have to plan it out in their heads and figure it out just like we do. That’s another side of your brain you can train, and if you do, you’ll start seeing some of these pre-threat indicators or criminal behaviors when you’re out on the town.”
A lot of Calderon’s training comes from investigating how low-tech drug cartels operate, resulting not in the typical “sheepdog”-style training but rather “crafty trash panda” practice. He focuses on the basics, including range time with wheelguns (often .22-caliber), forging edged weapons out of everyday objects, and driving in old Ford pickups instead of the latest Jeeps with 35-inch tires.
“I talk about being able to source things that makes sense in austere environments and to train yourself with the bare minimum,” Calderon said. “And then when you get to pick your tools, that’s when you thrive.”
Above: If a member of your family is a bit reluctant to take training, there are often options where they may feel more comfortable, such as this class Pannone taught specifically for women.
As the founder of the Protector Symposium as well as the host of the Executive Protection Lifestyle podcast, Rodgers recommended that perishable skills like shooting should be practiced at least once a week by professionals who go into harm’s way and at least once a month by civilians.
In addition to that, regardless if you’re a protector by trade or by nature, your training should include attending at least two medical classes a year, reading books and research on real-life violence monthly, and staying physically fit weekly (whether by going to the gym or studying martial arts), Rodgers said.
“The solution to the active human threat problem is a more highly educated, capable, and prepared population,” Rodgers said “and, in some cases, a more dangerous population toward bad guys.”
Protector Symposium Sources:
Patrick Vuong is the cofounder of Tiga Tactics (a combatives training and consulting company) and the former head editor of RECOIL OFFGRID magazine. As a self-defense teacher since 1999, he uses his diverse knowledge of fighting methods to close the wide gap between two traditionally separate warriors: martial artists and firearms enthusiasts. He’s an instructor in several systems, including a form of kung-fu called Lai Chung Chuan Fa and the Filipino bladed art of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. For more information, go to tigatactics.com.