The stalled-out cars, my dead phone, no lights, and a crashing plane...
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The little voice in the back of your mind has always worried that this day would come, and it ﬁnally has. As you glance back at the city skyline burning in your wake, you hear the gunshots, blood-curdling screams, and smashing of glass. You wonder nervously if your family is safe, as you egress from this dying metropolis. All the gear and food you've stored, all the hours spent training and improving, and here you are — hundreds of miles away from your hometown and your family, on a business trip with a group of people you barely know.
You pass an abandoned police car, painfully glancing inside at the empty riﬂe rack. The sounds of gunﬁre grow closer, and your group picks up the pace. People are going feral, primitive. The menacing armed men you spied back there seem to be done with their current victims, and now they're hunting the people in tailored suits and $500 loafers who seem utterly defenseless: you and your colleagues.
OK, so this scenario is fictional. But it's not entirely unrealistic. Whether it's caused by civil unrest, a terrorist attack, an invading foreign army, or a natural disaster, society can go sideways really fast. That's why we jumped when we got an industry-exclusive invite to participate in 88 Tactical's SERE (survive, evade, resist, and escape) Level 1 Course. Based in Nebraska, this elite training organization provides instruction to civilians, law enforcement, and military personnel on a whole range of survival knowledge, from women's self-defense and carrying a concealed weapon to bushcraft and tactical medicine. The two-day class made us feel that, should the aforementioned human-prey situation strike, we could not only survive it, but also make it home in one piece.
So, we've absorbed the loads of information, tactics, and experience from the 88 Tactical class and distilled it here, into the top five lessons learned. Read on to find out.
In the corporate world, there are good leaders and there are bad leaders. The difference is that during a crisis or in a post-crisis world, the latter could get you killed — whether through negligence or straight incompetence. So it goes without saying that it's vitally important that you pick the right member to assume the role. It's wise to avoid those who are overeager to take the helm, and odds are the best pick will be the member who's already universally respected. This person will need to keep everyone on track, issue responsibilities and tasks, and hold everyone accountable for their actions.
That's why the assigning of leaders is one of the ﬁrst tasks 88 Tactical gives to students in its SERE class, and it will affect the remainder of the training. This decision falls on the group to pick the alpha dog. But that doesn't necessarily mean that he or she has to be a tyrant. If a leader's style is too heavy handed, members of the group might mutiny or fracture off on their own. Many collective decisions and plans can be made in an open forum, with all contributing to the subject. This is a smart way to make everyone feel appreciated and part of the new family. It also results in a stronger plan, one which everyone believes and is invested in. However, in the end, it should be the appointed leader who assigns tasks and has the ﬁnal say. This is the burden of leadership, and they will be held accountable for their actions the same as the rest of your group.
As in the military, or in certain sports, it's all about “the team.” It becomes your own micro-culture, with an evolving set of unique customs and values. It has been said that as humans, our values are shaped by our environment. When a person is exposed to a new environment, their values change accordingly to that setting. If your Prius-and-Frappuccino world has turned into the end of the days, expect your perspective on things to change. They'll change to coincide with those of your entire group, or you'll leave. Group absolution is a timeless aspect of being human, so don't be surprised when you realize how primitive things become.
You aren't going to sleep, and if you do it's going to get you killed. This is a fact that many soldiers already know, but it's an important lesson that runs the entire length of the 88 Tactical course. In a survival situation, it's likely that you'll end up on foot, otherwise you would simply drive yourself out of danger in the ﬁrst place. All the energy expended hiking will leave you spent at the end of the day, but that doesn't mean you get to punch out when the sun sets.
Historically, many armies have attacked at night or close to dawn. This hasn't changed, as some of America's top commandos continue to use this proven tactic to gain an upper hand.
You will need to have your group post a nightlong watch, which rotates so everyone gets some rest. Maintaining security at all times is critical. Having a nice big tent and comfy sleeping bag seems nice, but kicking your boots off and crawling into the bag is a great way to get your throat slit in your slumber. If there are men actively hunting you who wish to visit harm upon you, why would you switch off your defenses as darkness descends? You simply cannot, and having your lookout fall asleep while on watch can be a death sentence to the entire group.
The cadre at 88 Tactical teaches their students how to construct simple, effective shelters that can be erected and torn down in a few minutes. The use of tarp shelters allows for a lightweight, versatile, and effective means of making camp. In an emergency, they can be cut down and stowed on the run or abandoned completely.
We all want to smite the bad guys and bring them a little payback. However tempting this might be, avoiding conflict is your best bet. Tangling with mixed bands of looters, marauders, and violent gangs is how you'll lose people in your group.
When someone gets hurt, where will you take them? When there are no more ambulances, hospitals, or doctors to be found, you'll be limited to what's in your medical bag or ﬁrst-aid kit. Fighting for resources or in self-defense will likely result in severe trauma, which might be otherwise survivable in times of normalcy. But without modern medicine, many injuries will likely prove fatal here in the “after.” That's not to say that primitive medicine can't work if you have the knowledge and supplies, but we all want to avoid Civil-War-era medicine at all costs. Having a med kit, and knowing how to use it, is as important as having a ﬁrearm.
You have to understand that bad things can happen to everyone, and that needs to be planned for. A careless slip of a knife in camp, a bad fall down a ravine, or a gunshot wound to the thigh can threaten your life instantly. The medical aspect of the SERE course is one of the most important lessons many of the students walk away with. Paired with the ﬁrearms portion of the class, this is often the ﬁrst exposure many have to administering care under ﬁre and handling triage.
Indecision, arguing, or simple lack of action will anchor you and your team when things need to be moving along. Sitting around the camp talking about getting food doesn't actually put it in your belly, but not discussing the plan in full detail so all members understand it is foolish. Rushing into a situation can get you killed, but so can avoiding all risk. Everything you do, or fail to do, can get you killed.
But by making well thought-out decisions, this risk can be mitigated signiﬁcantly. This is where your good leaders will excel, and individual skills will shine. (See lesson 1.)
Remember that all your teammates have skillsets that are unique to their old jobs and lifestyles, and this is a huge advantage to the group. If you have a mechanical engineer in your ranks, have him take the lead on building a protective structure or rope bridge. If you have an ER nurse, he will have insight on building a medical plan that others will not. Lastly, just because a guy hangs drywall for a living now doesn't mean he forgot everything he learned during his yearlong deployment to Afghanistan in the National Guard.
Take all of this in, share perspectives, and formulate good, simple, and easy-to-execute plans. Make your subject-matter experts the “project managers” of their specialty. Use this knowledge and experience to the fullest advantage, and incorporate it into all of your plans.
Speaking of plans, there is one lesson you are guaranteed to learn at the 88 Tactical's SERE class that will resound for the rest of your life. It's a universal truth that many simply refuse to acknowledge: A plan is just a list of things that aren't going to happen.
People are creatures of habit. We like clear-cut plans, schedules, and routines. Without the safety of this structure, people will lose faith in society extremely fast. Disorder and chaos won't be far behind. The ability to think, problem solve, and act under pressure are important — and equally hard to teach. As Darwin showed us, adaptation to whatever is thrown at you will likely be the key to your survival. Fortunately for us, our ancestors knew how to adapt. After all, we're still walking the earth.
Understand that things are not going to go as planned, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take the time to craft them, or create your own order. If you lose a member of your group to a kidnapping, what will you do? If it was a particularly unpopular member of the group, well that's one thing…but what if it's the most loved and trusted? The resolve of the team should require your group to do the best they can to recover him. Maybe the new strategy is to trade supplies with the captors and use verbal jiu-jitsu. Or maybe an early morning surprise raid is the best option. You might not know until it happens, and the plan will have to be changed on the move.
Once you come to terms with this, it will only help you. You need to learn to be as ﬂuid as water and as hard as rock.
The best tool you can give yourself for a crisis is knowledge, and that's exactly what the 88 Tactical's SERE Level 1 Course can give you. You earn this knowledge through a series of challenging tasks and missions, and because they are earned through difﬁculty, they'll likely stick in your memory for years to come.
The class is set up to challenge the students mentally and physically, just as a real-life scenario would. The difference is that by attending courses such as this you can actually learn in a relatively safe environment some very important skills, such as bushcraft, rope work, small-unit tactics, and team building. Don't be surprised if you walk away with a few new lifelong friends from attending the class. It's an amazingly empowering thing to do things you never thought you could, while being forged into a solid, cohesive team of trusted friends.
When the unthinkable happens, no one rises to the occasion — you are reduced to your level of training and preparedness. Similarly, a crisis doesn't make heroes or cowards of people; it simply reveals their true nature. The more a person reﬁnes their character and skill ahead of time, the more likely they are to survive.
As a law-enforcement vet with more than 14 years of experience, Shea Degan founded 88 Tactical in 2010 after seeing a need for highly adaptive training courses taught by experts with real-life experience using the latest technology on state-of-the-art facilities.
In a short five years or so, Degan's attracted an impressive and diverse collection of instructors, from current Army Special Forces to former Navy SEALs. He and his team believe in having the right person for the right job, and for this reason the SERE Level 1 Course has many skills being taught by Terry Barney. He's an accomplished SERE and bushcraft instructor, with his experience dating back to his days in the military. A former U.S. Air Force survival instructor, Terry Barney taught hundreds of DOD personnel before moving on to do the same in the private sector with 88 Tactical. His love of the outdoors led him to become a respected backcountry guide with both pack and paddle, as well as volunteer his time as winter camping instructor for the Boy Scouts of America.
Barney has spent decades honing his diverse skillsets, and his knowledge and humorous approach to teaching made him a favorite of many who attended the course we took. His big brother/mentor approach to instruction brings a humble vibe to a man who has mastered high angle rope rescue, rescue diving, emergency medicine as a paramedic, and a whole slew of other dirty, dangerous jobs.
In 2010, Barney opened the Midwest School of Bushcraft. He has traveled to many parts of the country and has trained hundreds of people. He has a popular YouTube channel (under the username “IA Woodsman”) and is an integral part of 88 Tactical's instructor cadre.
You know that go-bag you've meticulously stuffed full of expensive gear? Leave it at home. Sometimes less is more, especially when rucking the wooded hills of Nebraska. Many students will bring 40 pounds or more of kit to the course, most of which remains dead weight that the instructors will happily let you carry. So, what do you need to be successful in a changing environment of urban chaos to wooded danger? Check out the list below for a starting point: