The Fine Art of getting your ass kicked (and what it can teach you)

Bendigo Strange
March 4th, 2023
Near Sunset

The Christmas Party

There are no free passes when it comes to working in the field of executive protection. The hours are long, your Principals (the person you are tasked with protecting) tend to be personality types that are problematic. You can be berated by society for not only a misdeed but, I perceived misdeed. The media is always quick to label “the bodyguard” as the aggressor. Often doing so without consideration to the fact that you were jet lagged, had not slept more than four hours over the last 35, or that before the “innocent victim” was knocked to the ground he walked up and sucker punched you when no one was looking. Everyone after all is more interested in the aggressive response and not the provocation. It is often a terribly boring job, with long hours on your feet, trying to stay alert and ready while your back is on fire.

None of this of course was on my mind on the night that follows. I was fresh and young at 25 years old, and had landed into the role of being an outside contractor to a Fortune 500 Executive who was also the scion to an American family dynasty, ten years my senior. He had sought out his own protection agent outside of the in-house corporate security team that reported to his Machiavellian father and the CEO of the billion dollar empire. I was at that point in my career that I was highly trained, and lightly experienced, leaving me at times feeling extremely overjoyed or overwhelmed.

After we had ridden up the service elevator from the hotel’s service garage the doors we, my Principal, his literal model girlfriend, his executive assistant, his girlfriend and myself, walked through the kitchen area and out onto the plush carpet of the lavish ball room. The Christmas party, while technically a corporate party, was also a private corporate party for the division of the company that my Principal oversaw and also those invited members of society. As such, there were no in-house corporate security guys invited. Just myself and two off duty metro police officers outside to handle traffic, and any “exterior problems”. Thus security for the black tie event was…me. So backed into a small dark corner, drinking coffee from a cup and saucer, in my tuxedo, shoulder holster, and leather soled shoes I stood. Watching.

The party was not, “the work” party, but instead was what in a different era would have been referred to as “the social event of the season”. Not just because of the who’s in attendance but, also because of the where. The hotel itself had once been a place where Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin performed, where every President of the U.S. had stayed from FDR to Reagan. Then it fell into disrepair and time passed it by. Then just a year prior it was completely renovated and modernized where needed, but the developers wanted to focus on the art deco heart of the hotel and return it to the glory it once was. In doing so, everything one would desire for a black-tie event was achieved. It was to be a spectacular evening, but as my Principal had explained on the ride up, “I know you have your job to do, but remember to keep it low key. These are all our people, it’s a fun easy night. If I need you I’ll give you ‘the look’. We’ll probably head out around ten.” Three months on the job and already placed into a few uncomfortable situations he and I were still learning to navigate the relationship between Principal and Protector. Ten could mean, 10pm and home or 10pm and then the night would end around 4am.

It was in fact, as the evening went on, a quiet affair. Once the guests had arrived snow had begun falling, so I made my way outside to find the two cops. They stood under the hotel awning bitching about the weather, smoking and watching traffic. “Hey guys” I said coming out. One looked old enough to be my father, and the other an uncle. They gave me that nod that said “how in the hell did this baby faced kid land this job?”, they didn’t hide it either but gave me the “hey” and the upward nod. “Did you guys eat yet?”, “Nobody said anything about us eating.” the older of the two said, “well it looks like everything is quiet and I’m under order to get you both fed, Unless steak and lobster doesn’t interest you?”, “Are you serious?” I was in fact serious. From the Man himself to make sure that the cops were taken care of, and that is what I intended to do. Ten minutes later they were parked at a table set with linen and silverware inside of a stairwell landing along with their own waiter, asking me repeatedly if I was sure about this. I insisted I was and went back out into the ballroom and made my way to where I could watch both the front door and a large swath of the event through a set of double doors. The lights were going down, and a band that had a then current top ten hit on the radio took stage, with the lead singer miking up and saying “Goood evening”, followed by the crowd cheering.

About three songs later “Chris” came out. I know he was named Chris because as he entered my orbit, red faced, tie askew with his girlfriend trying to scream-whisper “CHRIS!… CHRIS!” and grab ahold of his sleeve to get him to stop. Apparently Chris was having none of it, while simultaneously having had “all if it”. Meaning the open bar.

He was mad and storming around the mostly empty lobby pointing his finger at her, with her crying and begging him to please calm down, this was her work event and he was embarrassing her. I walked over and closed the double doors to the event in order to give her the dignity of not having two hundred of her co-workers watch the scene unfold. Turning around, I heard “Chris” say “WHO the FUCK IS HE!”, pointing at the dapper young bodyguard. “Chris please don’t. He is with Corporate Security. He’s my Boss’ bodyguard.” This earned a snort from Chris and he decided to start in on me. “Chris. Let me get you a cab, your evening here is over.”, “Fuck you asshole. I don’t work for you,”, “That is true, but this is my event and I am telling you that your evening is over.” The girlfriend was now sobbing, and Chris started saying something about how this happens everywhere they went , and I bet it did. “Chris…” I said in a firm voice and was met with “Fucking look at me again and I will beat the shit out of you Mr. Bodyguard.” I could feel my nostrils flare a bit and my brain began whirring up defensive variables. He had me outweighed by thirty pounds and was probably a full inch shorter. He also was barely standing upright because he was so drunk. “No Chris. You won’t.” We were now locked in on each other, and Chris suddenly started walking back and forth and trash talking before saying “FUCK YOU BOTH!” and stormed off into another part of the hotel, with the Girlfriend apologizing and chasing after him.

Closing my eyes, shaking my head, and exhaling I figured I should go find those two cops and we would get him off the property, pour him into a cab and let the night go on with no one the wiser if possible. The stairwell where the cops were parked was at the very back of the ballroom, and I was at the front and needed to use to bathroom first.

In old school fashion, the restrooms were down two flights of elegant stairs, and entering the Men’s Room it was like stepping back in time. The art deco style of the 1920s was not missed in the restroom, and it was as big as the roaring 20s had been. There were a dozen or so porcelain urinals that went to the floor and as many stalls. It was also blissfully empty and as quiet as a tomb. I had a few minutes to myself before the fracas that was Chris would occur. The Galco shoulder holster where my Kahr 9mm was stowed, balanced out against the two spare magazines under the other arm, and while I had planned on wearing my 1911 that evening, I opted at the last minute for the smaller gun. While I couldn’t wait to take it off at the end of the night, at the moment the weight wasn’t bad. An Emerson Elishewitz Stryker rode in my waistband, and I had opted to leave the ASP baton and a backup .22 pistol at home that evening. The lack of a belt on the tuxedo pants having made the decision for me.

In the last moments of my time in front of one of the urinals, I heard the bathroom door open and a guy entered, zipping up I suddenly felt the rush of movement across the marble floor. Before I could turn my head around, my body was smashed against the urinal and my ribs catching the top. The shove then turned into a fierce grip on my arms and I was quite literally flung across the floor, tripping over myself as my feet scrambled to catch up with the unexpected momentum. Fifteen feet later I managed to almost self-arrest before slamming into the opposite tiled wall. One leg behind me, knee on the ground, and my left foot trying to find enough purchase between the slick floor and my leather soled shoes. Chris had arrived.

Not waiting for me to stand, he rushed covering the short distance before my brain could formulate anything beyond putting my left shoulder forward and lowering my head just as he came in. Thrusting my body upward with the idea that I would throw him over me, the lack of decent footing and the incoming power instead resulted in a redirection of him. In layman’s terms I managed to trip Chris with my entire body in a crouch. He bounced off the wall, and then landed back on top of me. Chris managed to snake his left arm over my left shoulder, trying to get me in a drunken choke hold, while I was fighting to stand up. I did not want to be on the ground. I wanted to fight him on my feet. Chris sensed this, and began clawing at my leg with his right hand to pull me off balance, which was unnecessary as I was doing just fine in falling down without his assistance. Slick floors, slick soled shoes and a two hundred plus pound man on what felt like various parts of my body was making this simple feat impossible. As he pulled back I leaned hard forward while trying to get both feet parallel to one another, thinking that I would either get to my feet with him on my back, or I could roll forward with or without him connected to me. If I could get to my feet, I could end this. Then he let go of my leg and starting throwing sloppy punches at my back. They were short hits and lacked any real power, but he kept targeting the same spot. If he decided to punch me in the back of my skull or the base of my neck this whole thing would go from bad to worse. It was at this point that my perspective changed. Now it was understood that I was losing, and why. My focus had not been on fighting my attacker, but rather fighting to get on my feet, and my inner voice kicked in very clearly “Fight it here. The floor is too slick”. With the priorities now in place, I pushed and rolled my weight backward attempting to stay curled in a ball while laying on top of him. My intent was to center as much of my weight on his chest as I could making it difficult for him to breath, but more importantly both hands were free to find whatever assailable target of opportunity there was.

It came in the form of his left index finger. Using what part of my left hand that I could I pulled hard down on the arm around me, and then used my right hand to peel the index finger upward, and then wrapping my entire hand around it I began bending it the wrong direction, for a split second hesitating. The voice in my head simply said “break it” and I did. There was a howl of pain. I cranked the finger around in a semi-circle and a slew of words flew from his mouth as the left arm now desperately tried to recoil backward like a snake back into a hole. Following the arm I rolled to my left, not to stand up but rather allow my right elbow better access to his face. I began delivering short and largely under powered blows to his eye socket, but they were landing with greater effect than I thought as he was now actively trying to get out from under me and away.

Free from his grip I got to my feet, bent over and gasping for breath. Chris rolled onto his hands and knees and brought his left hand up to his eye, the index finger bent in very unnatural ways. I looked down at his right hand, palm flat against the marble floor and stomped it in four or five quick successions with the heel of my dress shoe, my only dress shoe, because apparently the other one had come off. I heard a voice behind me yell “OOOOOOH” as if they were watching a boxing match. I turned around quickly to see the older of the two cops standing by the sinks. “How long have you been standing there?” I asked, trying to find my other shoe and my composure, “long enough to have my doubts about your ability to fight, but you turned it around. That was some dirty street fighting shit kid.”

I felt…off. There had been this bizarre whirlwind of blurred violence and now it was over and it felt like a tornado rolled over me. “It’s okay, we found his girlfriend upstairs crying and we split up to find him. I saw him walk in the bathroom as I came down the stairs. He straight up assaulted you.“, “Gee thanks, you could have stepped in and gave me a hand.” The cop had his cuffs out and began putting them on Chris as he sat on the floor not looking so great. He then said something to me that stuck with me ever since. “Yeah I could have, but I gotta be honest, you uh look a little ‘green’, you needed this fight, probably more than you know. You work this gig alone right?” Nodding, and feeling kind of like a fraud, I wondered if I was in a business that I was not as capable to be in as I wanted to be, “Hey at least you won. he interjected, as if he could read my thoughts. “I gotta be honest. I feel like I barely won, to the point I’m not sure I did.”. “Kid let me tell you something, that is exactly what winning a shit kicking contest feel like.”

Two decades later in this politically correct utopia we live in, you may cringe at the thought of that foot stomp to the hand. I do not. The problem when you are being assaulted is that you have no way of knowing what the intent is of the attacker. Did Chris see me and have the intent on beating me to death? Or beating me and then taking my gun from me to shoot me, walk up to his girlfriend and kill her? Had I not been able to break his finger and open the choke hold I was going to transition to my knife, plant it in his right leg and unzip about five inches of his thigh. You are not under a moral obligation to “fight fair” because someone who has never been there thinks you should. Had I been a woman and Chris found me alone and did all of those same things your mindset would be completely different. There would be no objections to the actions I took, nor the actions I almost took. The stomp to the hand was more because there was no certainty that the barrage was over. I had not been on my feet for more than a few seconds when the action was undertaken. Chris may have been down, but there was no indication it was over. In an instant he could have been up and back on. A broken dominant hand was going to make that far more difficult. One also has to wonder if there wasn’t some “karmic justice” there for him.

Chris lived rent free in my head for a good long time after that. In some bad ways and in some good ways. On paper everything I had done to prevail had proven successful, which was saying something given the fact I was having to get creative at an exponential rate. In the reality of my head I was bothered by how fast it happened and how he had caught me off guard. To this day I will use a stall if given the opportunity, part of it from a sense of practicality of having a gun on my hip. But get blindsided standing at a urinal and you find some mental barrier to standing in a stall with the door closed and latched.

The fact that my feet went out from under me so quickly essentially ended my relationship with leather soled dress shoes. That weekend I went and purchased a pair of black Bates combat boots that could carry a polish and paired them with my suits. In the summer I wore tan desert boots and modeled my attire that was akin to professional Banana Republic 1980s. To this day, I wear boots, and tennis shoes aside, I have two pairs of street shoes. Neither of them with leather soles.

I also started carrying a second handgun on my ankle. I rotated between a Beretta Bobcat, that eventually “disappeared” in Central America and a North American Arms .22 Minimag, stuffed into a generalized nylon ankle holster from a gun show. They were the backup guns that I had, because at 25 years old…that is what I had. A few months later I picked up a lightly used Smith & Wesson 442 Airweight Snub nose.

The altercation pushed me into a spot where I chose to break a law in my state that has since been repealed. A leather handled lead sap, brass knuckles, or an ASP baton lived in my back pocket. I would go on to use both on various occasions, but if you were to ask me which I ultimately preferred it was the sap. A few years back Mike Barranti, of Barranti Leather, and I collaborated on a leather coin purse called “the Life Changer” because ten dollars in quarters can do more than feed the parking meter.

Above all of those, the ability to fight dirtier and being in better physical shape became paramount. Because even if there is a cop in the room, you are going to be on your own.

Some lessons are hard won.

A shot to the face

The Case of a Knife Wielding Attacker and a .22 Beretta Bobcat

Bendigo Strange
December 27th, 2022
Mid Afternoon

The last time I had spoken with the Client was more than ten years ago. At that time she had been promoted to CEO of the steel manufacturing firm, after my work had uncovered the former CEO had “mishandled” not only company funds, but a couple of interns. Prior to my departure she had asked me for a recommendation on a “pocket pistol”. She had a Glock 17 or 19, and while she liked it fine, it was not functional to her needs. She had explained that most of her work required her to travel, mostly by car but about twice a month air transit was involved and she wanted something “smaller and easier to travel with”. During the course of our conversation she made a rather foreboding prediction without realizing it at the time.

Her concern mainly was walking either from her car into the hotel or from whatever steak restaurant was across the parking lot from the hotel. Simply stated she wanted to be able to stick her hand on a pistol in a jacket pocket as she walked. Having survived being stalked by a man she met from an on-line dating service, which had led to the Glock, she never felt comfortable unarmed and alone in the world. After weighing the pros and cons I showed up for our last meeting with my Beretta Bobcat chambered in .22LR “that is exactly what I want!” she explained, then added “my brother told me no .22s though.” Ignoring the comment for the most part I explained that unlike her Glock, a .22 pocket gun came with some hard and fast rules that had to be adhered to. Keep it clean. Wipe it and the magazines down so that they are free of lint and small debris. No dry firing. Only shoot CCI Stingers or Mini Mags. Nothing else. She then, in her text message to me last month reminded me of something else I had said. “Don’t fuck around about it. If someone tries to attack you, shoot them in the mouth.”

The simple fact was this was in essence the advice Lewis Seacamp, the man behind the once notoriously hard to come by Seacamp .32 pocket pistol had given when asked why it didn’t have any sights. “Sights? Stick it in their face and pull the trigger!” To which end, I did encourage her to look at the Beretta Tomcat in .32 ACP over the .22 Bobcat. People in the end make their own decisions and live by them.

Last year she had been on a business trip. The weather had been cold and dark as she walked back from a nearby restaurant to the hotel, the hour later than she would have liked, but a business meeting had gone well into the early evening, thus dinner ended up being right before closing time at the restaurant. As she crossed the two parking lots she noted to herself of the man’s presence as he dropped in behind her walking into the hotel lobby. Once inside she admitted that she for the most part mentally dismissed him “as safe” because he to had entered the hotel and was likely a guest just like her.

As she walked to the the first floor room, something she had not been happy about, she heard “something” behind her. Turning she saw the man roughly six feet behind her raising a hunting knife. She screamed, while at the same moment walking backward and shoving her hand into her coat pocket and drawing the Beretta Bobcat. She said all she really saw was his face, specifically his mouth and the advice from more than a decade earlier played out in the next half second. She fired once, sending a lone .22 Stinger into the attacker’s mouth. She then recounted that “After I shot the first time I thought he ducked when I fired and I was getting ready to shoot again, because I thought he was crouching down. It was then I realized he was laying on the floor.” Running to her room, she locked herself inside. After a few moments she called 911 only to learn that local law enforcement was already on the way.

The question of course is what befell her attacker. He was not killed by the shot, but only by a fraction of an inch. The bullet narrowly missed intersecting with the brain stem. Instead the little .22 hollow point diverged upward and into his brain that caused such extensive damage that he was left in a vegetative state, unlikely to ever recover again. She was not arrested, and the local chief of police insisted she be relocated to another hotel, and that she could do any follow up interviews via video conference back in her home state with her attorney. Her pistol was kept for evidentiary purposes.

I did ask her, what mistakes she felt like she made prior to the attempt on her life, and what mistakes she DID make after. Her self-critique leading up to the encounter would be what one would expect. Despite knowing he had walked in behind her, once he was inside she never looked behind her again. She also wondered whether or not he had targeted her earlier in the evening and waited for her to walk back from the restaurant. I felt, based on a lifetime of experience, that he most likely had.

As for her actions afterward. She noted that she immediately had tunnel vision, and said she had since worried over two things. One, that she never looked around to see if there was another attacker. Two, that she might have shot someone who could have run up to help her. Something, I think we should all make note of. Not simply from her position, but also should any of us ever encounter such a circumstance as a by stander to be ready to communicate with the victim from a distance, and perhaps even from behind cover, lest we catch a wayward round. She then added that after shooting him in the face, she ran down the hall, opened her door, shut the door, and locked herself in the bathroom. Her finger either caressing the trigger, or it resting inside the trigger guard, until she came to her senses at which point she snicked on the small safety, effectively putting the gun in Condition One (cocked and locked).

As to whether or not she bought another Beretta Bobcat? Quite simply she bought a Smith & Wesson 351 PD chambered in 22 Magnum. Not because it was a revolver, or that the 22 Magnum had more power and velocity in achieving superior terminal ballistics over the .22 LR, but because the gun shop where the Bobcat had been purchased originally did not have one in stock and she liked the 351 PD “well enough”.

There is a lesson to be learned there, one that would send the advertising department of any gun manufacturer into apoplectic shock.

The .22 has long been criticized as being woefully underpowered for personal defense, and while such criticism is understood, it can be misplaced. I possess around a dozen personal accounts of a .22 pistol being used successfully to stop an attack. In one very bizarre instance, I inadvertently met a taxi cab driver who used a .22 Magnum Hi Standard derringer back in the 90s to stop a car jacking/robbery. By happenstance two or three years later, after his release from prison I met the carjacker himself, who had been shot in the throat. One side a small circular scar on the other, a rosette of tissue damage from the bullet’s exit. Having the opportunity to talk at length with him was interesting to say the least.

In my years of studying, documenting and carrying the .22 pistol (saving my life on two occasions), the lethality of the cartridge rely on a few things to go right. Erratic travel once it enters the body, but also bullet deformation and/or expansion in the case of a hollow point. Yet there seems to be a third element in play. The little bullet must not leave the body, though I suspect this is more effect than cause. I have long contended that while it is a less than idea cartridge the biggest hesitation it has ever given me in it’s use would be a misfire. Though this issue is largely associated with bulk ammo I have never experience one with CCI’s Stingers or MiniMags. Nor have I ever experienced on in .22 Magnum. Your mileage may vary.

Perhaps what is to be examined from her experience, is that she is not a “gun person”, she doesn’t involve herself in the trappings of the tactical culture. Didn’t find the nearest Jiu Jitsu mat, nor does she have any interest in any of it. She owns two guns. The original Glock 9mm that is likely twenty years old, and the Smith & Wesson 351 PD that replaced her Beretta Bobcat. She goes to the range about four times a year. Because after all her job is to be the CEO of a corporation. Not a “warrior”.

When asked if she had any personal issues with shooting the attacker her response was something noteworthy in an age of self-incrimination, “The police officer showed me the knife he was carrying, and I think about that. I think about what would have happened to me had I not had a gun, had I not shot him. I don’t think about what he brought onto himself. Frankly, I’m glad, because that could have been any other woman walking down that hall to her own murder. Instead he got me.”

Despite the attack, the knife, the shot-heard-down-the-hallway, perhaps the one true thing that haunts her the most was the fact her hotel room had been on the first floor. Something she had objected to due to her personal security concerns regarding first floor windows. Yet, she confided had the room been on another floor she would have likely ended up alone on the elevator with her attacker.

The Sun Tsu quote “advantage and disadvantage are interdependent upon one another” coming to mind.

It is easy to dismiss her circumstance as a one-off in a world of besieged by product endorsed expertise and dogmatic adherents who have come to fetishize equipment. One, however would be hard pressed to say that Mordechai Rahamim got “lucky” in 1969 at Zurich International Airport.

The former Client bears a unique place in the world of personal defense against a sea of internet and social media influencing experts. Because unlike 95% of them, she has actually shot someone to defend herself, and did so with the smallest viable cartridge.

The Passing of Will Hatch

Bendigo Strange
November 27th, 2022
Late Afternoon

By all accounts Will Hatch should have been the one to call and, tell me that my oldest friend Will Hatch had died unexpectedly.

He did not. Instead that task befell to his brother, who the last time we spoke was in 2004.

Further accounting would have led even a less than astute observer to note that based on a rather extensive case history and odds placed, death would have found me first. The near miss of a head on collision with a drunk driver, as a five year old on the front seat arm rest of my parent’s 1977 Buick LeSabre (some of us having come through childhood without a seat belt let alone a child seat). Struck by an yellow AMC Gremlin as I crossed the road to catch the bus in middle school, that sent me over a petrified woman’s windshield and rolling down the street, with nothing more than a bruise on my left leg. A pretty severe car accident between my Junior and Senior years of High School that wiped out part of my childhood memories for a long time, followed by a near drowning a year later.

By my twenties the wheels had come off “the near death express”. A career path that began doing Executive Protection there would be a couple of gunfights, a shooting, almost gutted in a night club. Then to save whatever was left of myself from corporate America I evolved into something closer to being either a Fixer or a Swiss Army Knife. I’ve never really found the right word for it, but the whatever needed done title came with a lot of perks, and at times more near misses. There was getting myself stranded on a cliff face in Colorado. Hunted by killers in Central America during the critical extraction of a Client (this included rolling yet again another vehicle). The list never seemed to stall out.

Yet the last time Will Hatch and I had lunch he remarked in his dry sarcastic tone as we walked through the door of the bar and grill “You know every time I see you I’m surprised you’re not dead.” Will sold insurance at his Dad’s insurance agency and, had a wife and three boys.

I did not sell insurance.

We all expect, or rather hope I think, that our deaths will have purpose. Meaning. A restful goodbye as loved ones keep vigil at the bedside of your advanced years. A nearly successful gunfight. Asleep while under the stars, next to the low burning coals of a campfire you quietly transition from this life to the next. We don’t desire the unexpected car crash from driver who couldn’t put the phone away, or the drink down. Or to die alone in the dark.

In all of the years we fished off the beaches of the Gulf I didn’t think of Will’s death. I certainly thought of my own, and I know he thought of it as well. After the near fatal car accident I had suffered, he would just look at me sometimes, as we walked off the beach at night. Both of us glad not to have been attacked by a shark as we stood knee deep of pitch black warm Gulf of Mexico water, daring the other to go one step further. “I’m glad you’re not dead. I’d have to carry all of these fish myself.”

It wasn’t the mountain, nor the surf that came for Will Hatch. No rockslide or undertow, not even a Hammerhead, which I would have liked better. Instead he suffered, what his brother described when he called me that last Saturday of October as “a massive heart attack”. His wife having found him around 3 in the morning, dead on his knees, slumped against the couch. A video game controller in his hand.

Whether this image haunts me or reminds me, I am not sure which. Perhaps both, and maybe that is what God intends for Will’s death to mean to me. I think of him as I hop off the tailgate of the truck, feeling my knees wanting to betray me despite maintaining a solid level of physical fitness for over two decades.

Will Hatch did not. He died in a way no man ever should. Out of shape, having spent the last three plus decades enslaved to the unnatural illumination and electrical artifice of what happened on screen, so that he could escape his wife. His sons having never been given the memories of waking up to the morning chill of the Sawtooths, or the Bighorns in June. No failed fly fishing trips. No yell of “shark on!” from the back of the boat. No cresting the near summit of a mountain to look into the blue of an alpine lake. Will Hatch, died poorly and this haunts me, but perhaps it is having to come to terms with how he lived haunts me more.

“Don’t put too many layers on. We want to walk in cold.” I say to Utilivu while pulling my .30-06 from the rifle case. “If you want to stay warm, walk in cold” she repeats back to me. “Watch your muzzle okay.” pointing to her 10/22 , “I will. I won’t forget last year.”. She refers to when I had to yell at her for sweeping me with the muzzle of her rifle. Nothing I wanted to do, the rifle wasn’t even loaded, but you know as a father some lessons have to be taught harder than others. Even if they hurt feelings. Closing the tailgate I think of Will Hatch and wonder what he would have given, as he felt the last moments of his life leave him, to have one more chilly Sunday morning, to be outside…not alone in the dark of his living room.

Deciding to hunt somewhere else than the previous day, we see a small stand of pines in the middle of the field and make for it. “Hey” I whisper-call to the kid “What do you think this is” using the toe of my boot to point towards a track left in the middle of the mud. Her eyes widen “Is…is that a bear track!?”, “It most certainly is. First one I have ever seen outside of the Rockies. How about that! You know what that is? That is a success story about how conservation works.” Her enthusiasm being a little different at twelve years old, “When do I get my own pistol? Preferably one that can stop a bear?”

We slip into the stand of pines, finding a dirt floor scattered with dead branches. Setting our packs and rifles aside we hunker down. I watch the wheels turning inside her head as she scans the dirt, as if to make an safety assessment . Pulling my knife from the sheath and, sinking it into the soft earth I dig out a small depression. Her face brightens against the cold November and she starts collecting sticks to build a fire and says “Oh man I was hoping we could.”

Settling back against the knurled pine, feeling the small hints of warmth coming off the fire touch your legs, while mixing with the scent of the pines, your chances of filling the deer tag are now lower today than they would have been. You look at this pre-teen girl who loyally follows you on all of these campaigns into the wild places, knowing that filling the tag is important, but somethings are more important.

On being a “Gray” man

Bendigo Strange
As Evening sets in
August 11th, 2022

Whether familiar with the term “Gray Man”or not, were you to conduct the briefest of internet searches one would be met with a definition that goes something akin to this. “A person who can blend in to any environment who does not draw attention for the right or wrong reasons, does not appear neither prey nor threat, while possessing the skills capable of handling any circumstance thrown at them”. If it reads to you like something out of spy fiction, that is because largely it is. Suddenly websites, articles, and social media posts became voracious in their push for the adaptation of one becoming a “gray man”, and for some reason there was always pictures that included wearing a hoodie pulled up, and low over the face. Followed with pictures of whatever micro compact 9mm pistol is the rage, a flashlight, tactical folding blade, and a newer nylon backpack that was just like the older tactical packs only no Velcro or MOLLE panels on the outside.

No doubt, covert operatives from any nation are taught to hone these skills to avoid detection in a very real world. And while you may automatically think of the Agency or MI6, there are a host of nations, both friendly and animus alike who employ a small number of individuals to work in specific areas of the world. Their main tasks can be to develop assets (spies), conduct reconnaissance on military installations, power grids, water supplies, response times to natural or man made disasters, locate sufficient landing areas for water craft, or aircraft, and most frequently act as saboteurs. For the individuals who are employed to conduct covert intelligence operations the ability to blend into whatever society and go unnoticed is quite literally a matter of life or death.

To anyone on the outside of the personal defense culture looking in, this no doubt was a head scratcher. Isn’t this just ditching your (enter favorite veteran t-shirt company name), and wearing clothes from the mall, Target, or what have you?

The “Gray Man” bandwagon was/is simply neotactical fashion, to replace what was once the all black “ninja wear” of the late 80s and 90s, to the Coyote, FDE (Flat Dark Earth), and sand fashion of the first decade plus of the twenty-first century. Kuhls for a while was the brand you wore to blend in, because they sold them at those high end alpine shops, till everyone wore them to gun school. So those had to go. Next came retailers hawking their obvious tactical gear for your life and vehicle, while calling it “gray man”. Leaving the inside of your truck looking like a police cruiser

The irony being, many of these retailers have touted their “veteran owned” status as if to allude to the fact they were all covert operators, when in reality they did their combat tours quite literally in uniform, with regulation hair cuts devoid of facial hair. A veteran owned company, a special forces operator does not make. Point being, that many of the retailers of such goods, had ideas to sell to the burgeoning market, while not actually having any practical work experience behind it.

When I was in my twenties, I was hired by a law firm in the heart of downtown to identify a stalker that was harassing a young attractive paralegal of one of the firm’s partners. By the time I was brought on board her stalker was sending unwanted and bizarre gifts to work, and phone calls were made to her direct line. One has to reach back in time and understand that the internet was not what it is now, and there were not surveillance cameras on every street corner and office building. For the first few days, I put on a suit and tie and followed about a block behind her, running a counter foot surveillance from public parking, noting the contingent of local homeless people in the area during her five to six block walk. Before sunrise the next morning I was seated on a piece of cardboard near the office high rise entrance, unshaven, wearing intentionally modified clothing. Around 9:30 that morning two of the local homeless guys walked over to where I sat, the older of the two waving his palm down indicating for me not to standup, then he sat down. “You too clean and you walk too rigid, like you on guard. Everybody smell the cop on you.”, I mimicked offense and said “I sir, am no cop.” An hour later they had given me strict pointers on how to carry myself, most importantly stop looking defiant. No one is going to give a handout to someone they thought was going to harm them, or to quote my friend “you got a killer look on your face. Relax.” In the process of the tutoring I received, gained a network of spies along four streets. Her stalker it would turn out, was a guy who was older and married and worked in a building three blocks in the opposite direction. They passed each other every morning. Where I was looking for someone following behind her, I figured out he was following ahead of her, every morning walking in her direction only to pass her. Clearly early on he had followed her at some point to find her vehicle, but where they passed one another on the street he could stop, take a few sips of coffee and watch her walk into her office a block away.

Adopting the “vagrant” method would be one I would go on to use and develop for the next twenty years. Rarely is the method the linchpin to the solution, but rather a way to pick up puzzle pieces, along the way. For a week one summer I stood near a highway overpass with an obligatory “homeless vet” and “God Bless anything helps” sign just to ID a vehicle a target drove, and which direction on the highway they got on. This in turned allowed me to set up a vehicle surveillance the following week. Slow methodical work. I also made just under $300 in the course of a week standing there.

I thought about all of this late last week when I needed to adopt a modified vagrant, slightly meth-head appearance to delve into an on going Client circumstance. In this instance a foray into a various bits of rural American towns that are off the main arteries of the interstate highway system. Where there are unlicensed, hidden in plain sight strip clubs, bars and even casinos. Some are out of the way, others hidden behind the glass of old strip mall store fronts. Where you watch the old guy in a wheel chair, who lost his leg to diabetes, do a bump of coke with a hooker. Meth is usually the choice, so the presence of cocaine takes you back a bit. Small town America can not shake the devastating effect of drug culture.

Walking past them on the sidewalk you enter into the storefront and joke to yourself “light on the store and heavy on the front”, pay the door guy the five dollar fee and he slides you over a “membership card” and a pen. “Keep this on you while you are here. You can come and go until close as long as you present the card. I have to wand you for weapons and have you lift up your shirt”. The last part kind of surprises you because they didn’t do that the last time. The wand lights up and makes it wurgurbeep sound as it passes over your crotch and then right pocket. “What’s in your pockets?” So you pull out three quarters, a bic lighter and a Swiss Army Knife, and shoot him a raised eyebrow. He scoffs and says “yeah a pen knife is the least of my worries dad”. You kind of feel that one, but at the same time understand that his dismissal at your not quite twenty years age gap works to your advantage. So you slide them back in your pocket, while realizing that he made the mistake of assuming the well worn Smith & Wesson J frame .38 and Otanashi Noh Ken tactical folder riding in your crotch holster was the brass zipper on your frayed and stained cargo shorts. “Gotta let me look through your bag too,” At first you wonder if bringing the manatee colored Umlindi Pack from Hill People Gear is a mistake, especially since you didn’t cut the HPG tag off. He leans down and unzips the top and says “hey there aren’t needles in here are there? I don’t care if you got ‘em I just don’t want to get stuck.”, “nah man just clothes and shit”. He does a cursory poke through the bag, pulls the water bottle from the side pouch and gives it a quick sniff to make sure you’re not bringing in booze, because after all, the illegal “gentleman’s” club wants you to buy theirs. BYOB this is not. He hands the pack back, as you make out the butt of his pistol. Yup, a full size Hi-Point in a black nylon velcro tabbed holster, worn cross draw none the less. Despite his thirty pounds and two inches (and twenty years junior), you feel relatively sure that if need be you could walk out of here with it. Then just for fun you say “Whoa! You guys are serious. I was in here back in the winter and I don’t remember anyone packing a 9 caliber hand cannon.” The flat face look wins another quick dismissive toned response “9mm. There’s no such thing as a 9 caliber pistol, and that plywood on the door was from some guys trying to rob us back in June. Shot the door out as they left.”

So for the next hour while the covert camera on your person records away, you make mental notes on as much as you can. Your head feeling oily and greasy from the dirty, gun-oil stained black bandana that’s tied over your head. The reddish and white tinged spots from where your old favorite “gun shirt” with the skull on front got hit with bleach at some point melds perfectly with the long passed frayed and ripped, knee length cargo shorts and torn up hiking boots. Yet the boots are valuable, as they provide not only solid foot protection but anti-slip traction. You can fight in them (and with them) and run. Just before you leave, you pick up your backpack, head into the bathroom to discover one of the “strippers” providing VIP service to a customer. Passing by he offers you a nod and a fist bump at you while grinning. To not fully acknowledge the bathroom debauchery is two fold, one being moralistic and out of place, so you do. Giving the fist bump over the top of her head and laughing you add “fuckin’ full service” with an unlit Swisher Sweet between your lips. The second social feux pas in not acknowledging his in delicto however, could quickly be seen as a slight, where you could quickly find yourself in a confined space with a lean, aggressive fighter a couple or more decades younger than you, and clearly armed with a truck stop tactical folder. Slipping into the stall you pull the snubnosed .38 and knife from their deep concealment, and into your waistband for faster access should the need arise. No sense in hampering yourself for the 1/8 of a mile walk back to the truck.

The one thing I have found in traversing this type of landscape, is that if a person is not traveling in a vehicle, ie; they are on foot or the ever present bicycle, there is always a backpack present. This works only in your favor.

About three or four years back, I was hired to penetrate the satellite office for a company whose employee was up to no good, and regularly absent from the office where he was the sole occupying force. For two or three weeks straight, both in the middle of the day and evening I would venture into the office building dressed in whatever I chose to wear in order to blend into that landscape of lawyers, insurance agents, and small office rental America. When they decided they were going to terminate his employment they asked if I could go in the night before and obtain all relevant documents and his desktop PC, to which I obliged. After spending the better part of an afternoon going through the office collecting what was needed, I left well after dark with the contents in tow in a roller suitcase, dressed in a Filson Mackinaw jacket, khakis and leather boots, and a messenger bag on my shoulder. Walking out, with the lady across the hall to the elevator bank she asked “how long have you worked in that office?” I laughed, then lied “two years too long.” She simply added “Isn’t that all of us.” As the elevator doors opened she bid me a good evening.

What we term “tactical” gear is not as out of place in American culture as one may be lead to believe. For instance, the retailers TJ Max and Marshals carry on the regular, backpacks, fanny packs and duffel bags in OD Green, Black, knock off camo and Coyote complete with MOLLE panels. Every major hardware store sells one handed, pocket clip knives work knives, and I know a large swath of guys who carry a pocket clipped knife who either don’t own a gun, or are anti-gun. This mythos of a knife in the top of your pocket equates you to carrying a firearm is little more than none sense. Hang around the outside of a truck stop sometime and observe all of the guys looking for handout or rides across the country. Most all of them have a knife and I would venture to guess that less than 5% of them have a firearm. The same could be said of sitting in a sandwich shop, taco or burger joint during the lunch rush. The average blue collar guy (and gal) carry a one handed folder every day. There might be a gun under the seat or in the arm rest, but the majority of laborers aren’t carrying a gun at work. This is America after all.

The “Gray Man” methodology is well intentioned in it’s more honest areas, but we also need to call a spade a spade. Some of this is nothing more than slick marketing, convincing you to spend three hundred dollars on a shirt and pant ensemble to make it look like you spent $150 at Kohls.

In all of my years, which can now be marked by having successfully traversing from one century to another working surveillances, protection details and being situationally present ; there was always one thing that made people stand out of the crowd more than anything. It was and remains how they acted, or carried themselves. The guy who always starts problems in a nightclub, wedding, or social event telegraphs his intentions a half hour or more before the show starts.

Having worked in any myriad of environments both domestically and abroad my clothing never made me “stand out”. Having, at times, a rough edged demeanor certainly did.

All that to say, blending into the landscape from which you live and work around on a daily basis isn’t difficult, its nothing more than common sense. But for the love of God, if you go to Europe, leave the white socks at home.

Be your own Bodyguard?

Is the common internet utterance based in reality?

Bendigo Strange

Near Dark

July 27th, 2022

In China there was once a man who liked pictures of dragons, and his clothing and furnishings were all designed accordingly. His deep affections for dragons was brought to the attention of the dragon god, and one day a real dragon appeared before his window. It was said that he died of fright. He was probably a man who always spoke big words but acted differently when faced with the real thing.” -Yamamoto Tsunetomo

If you have delved even remotely beneath the surface water of the personal defense world that exists on line you have no doubt seen the phrase “be your own bodyguard” buttoned up next to a #.

While no doubt the phrase is meant to imply that your personal safety is your responsibility. A statement that many of us certainly agree with, and even a cursory examination of the last few years has brought legions into the fold as first time gun sales have soared through the stratosphere. But as one old sage put it; buying a guitar, a musician doth not make.

In my younger years, when I was being reared into the World’s fifth oldest profession one was taught that a “bodyguard” was a four letter word. A Protection Specialist was an individual who pursued his craft purposefully and that a “bodyguard” was a no neck thug who relied on his sheer physical structure or the bulging handgun underneath a cheap suit to thwart any undesirables. As I ventured forth into the world to protect the lives of more than a few executives and private families, I soon learned that there are more “bodyguards” than professional protectors. The water being wide between the two.

I also quickly came to realize that the average person held no such distinctions between the two, and the bodyguard was to the protection professional as the Marine is to the Soldier. That is to imply that the terms were interchangeable, thus one should not read that as a dig to neither the Marine nor Soldier.

This water became further muddied as the culture of conceal carry arose from it’s humble beginnings to having it’s own celebrity culture. As did the phrase “Be your own bodyguard” when it was borrowed by, then up and country singer, Miranda Lambert who touted that she carried a gun and didn’t have a security detail because, as she said “I’m my own bodyguard”. It spurred a lot of heart swelling among the gun culture and country music fans for very obvious reasons. The statement really said “I’m one of yours”, boots and all.

A journalist I knew at the time asked me what I thought about that and I said “One can be a Country singer or a Bodyguard, but one can not be both”. A year or two later a celebrity type magazine showed her out shopping and crossing the street, “bodyguard” in tow. Because as her star rose, so did the threat level against her personal safety.

The term we know, and that she made somewhat popular, gained traction in an earlier era as Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite and the Modern Technique, touted the phrase after he returned from some foreign locale, where he had trained a presidential guard in the Modern Technique. He stated, in effect, that a bodyguard was in essence a mercenary and that he was paid to be there. Someone with more money and ill intent could pay a higher sum and compromising the integrity of the security structure. Thus declaring “one must be their own bodyguard”. No doubt Cooper saw the potential for a coup in the making through loyalty that is only as strong as the money it is printed on, or ideology adhered to. A lesson Indira Gandhi, the third Prime Minister of India, learned the hard way when she was assassinated by two of her own bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, on October 31st, 1984.

One could suspect that Indira knew something was afoot, and that her life was in danger. During her last speech, given the day before her assassination she said “I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow … I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say, that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it  … Even if I died in the service of the nation, I would be proud of it. Every drop of my blood … will contribute to the growth of this nation and to make it strong and dynamic.”

She was shot over thirty times by both a Sten SMG and a .38 Special revolver. One could argue that this somewhat reinforces the point of “be your own bodyguard” but, one can hardly be the head of state and in charge of one’s own security.

By contrast, famed World War II General turned President of France, Charles de Gaulle was advised by the head of his security early into his presidency that de Gaulle should not attend a state event due to the threat of an possible assassination attempt. De Gaulle simply replied “My job is to be the President of France. Your job is to protect the President of France”. While de Gaulle was famous for his arrogance, he also was not wrong in that instance.

We’ve come to a place in time where someone can simply throw whatever label they choose upon themselves and decree it so. Reason be damned. From a societal standpoint one would not have to venture too far down this line of of thought to recognize the obvious actors, but we have to also look at the more subtle labels as well. Many of the early social media darlings of the tactical world had prior military experience perhaps, but not combat experience. Or they had come to fame for their shooting prowess that stood on it’s own, but they decided they needed to sex it up a bit and allude to a clandestine background that simply never existed, unwillingly to say “I’m simply a gifted marksman, firearms enthusiast and believe in the personal right to self-defense”. The problem became in the Afghanistan and Iraq War era Special Operations warriors caught the most glamour of praise, and thus the borrowed and stolen valor arose.

With the pandemic came the rise of the “expert virologists”. Not just limited to that friend of social media but well into the medical field as well. Doctors from all disciplines were overnight weighing in on the local news channels, relevant experience be damned. So one might see, in a world where men and women who have made a profession in the realm of Executive Protection or being a “Bodyguard” the layman attaching a label to themselves that otherwise does not fit, something of a ding. Worse yet a hashtag to garner a following.

An individual should absolutely take a pro-active approach to their personal safety and their skill set towards personal defense. The world is continually reaffirming the fact that when the feces hits the impeller no one is going to save you, one is going to have to contend with the bad men of the world alone. Prevailing or dying. Thus, given rise to the moniker “be your own bodyguard”, and the prevailing sales of the latest and greatest concealed holsters, lighting fast mag changes and what we’ve come to call the Three T’s. Trauma Training and Tourniquets. All, everyone of the aforementioned are important skills to have, but these are tools in a tool box. However, in the world of Executive Protection having to deploy those skills has historically meant there were failures of the protection personnel leading up to that point. In other words, the skills with a firearm are not a primary skill of executive protection and that, personal security is a different capability than personal defense, while understanding the two are married to one another

So with that in mind, we are going to explore what the essential qualities are for someone in the field of Executive Protection in a series of articles. How that translates into the everyday life of people not employed in the field but concerned about their personal safety, security, and defense.

I will close with this. Do I think that the average person can in fact “be their own bodyguard”? I do not. The role of a Protector is a servants position, in that you are literally in the employment of another person to look after their personal security while they do their job and live everyday life. No one would run with the hashtags “be your own Navy SEAL” or “Be your own Special Forces”, and we all understand why. With that said, I also fully understand the context of which the phrase is implied, and as my mentor drove home to me over and over, you have to be willing to adapt.

So keep an eye out on the Guns, Gear, and Skills page for this new series.