Back when I was taking Kempo my sensei would talk to me about “flipping the switch.” He explained that we needed to be really nice, calm, peaceful people in our normal daily lives. But, when danger threatened our safety, or especially our family, we had to be able to “flip the switch” and get physical.
He, a gentle but deadly man, was the perfect example of that. He was this really mild-mannered guy. If you saw him on the street he is very unimposing. He is very soft spoken and just a really nice guy. But, with his numerous black belts he could kick butt like a professional.
When I took my SDC class last September I had that driven home to me in spades. There were numerous times during that three days that I saw the switched being flipped in myself and others. Kelly was probably the most obvious example of it. I will just leave it at that about Kelly.
Now, what the heck does “flipping the switch” mean?
Some of you probably already know, some may not. But let me give you my take on what it means. I will do it somewhat long-winded but for a reason. Hang in there with me.
I was on a fire in northern California about 5 years ago. We were in the Forks of the Salmon area. This fire was huge, raging, and just this real beast of a fire. I was assigned the Division directly in its path. We had two missions; 1) keep from burning down the homes in the area, 2) keep it from jumping the river. Fortunately we had about 7 days to prepare for its arrival.
Everything was in-place about 24 hours a head of time, we were as ready as could be. I had some very savvy firefighters and leaders working for me; one Hotshot crew, one regular crew, a Task Force of engines, etc. I felt comfortable with the resources I had, plus we had plenty of helicopter support if it came to it. I felt confident about the situation.
Let me digress for a minute. In the office I am pretty much a typical government worker. I don’t do a whole lot of work compared to the private sector and I am a stickler for paperwork. The paperwork, documentation, has to be 100% right. Why? Because my guys will get sideways with the auditors if the paperwork isn’t right. I would easily be seen as somewhat of a pain to work for, but I am really loyal to my guys.
When I get on a fire I get very laid back. I joke a whole lot, make fun of people as a means to get people relaxed and lower the natural stress levels that go with fighting wildland fires. I don’t get twisted around the axle but I run a pretty tight ship in many respects. That keeps folks safe.
Now, when the crap hits the fan I change again, I am all business. I get serious, the joking stops for the most part, and I get very efficient in my conversations. In other words…I don’t waste words and I am very clear in what I say. No one is ever in doubt with my leader’s intent.
When it gets hairy, I can prioritize everything coming at me, just as fast as it comes at me. There are situational updates, equipment and personnel status information, fire behavior info, current and predicted weather information, aircraft status updates, and much more. And then there are my forces who want to receive direction or get permission to take actions. Then there are all the requests for resources and updates on water supplies, etc. It can get hectic.
But, as I said, I can prioritize everything coming in and going out. I don’t get rattled.
Well, this fire comes over the mountain at us as we expected it to. We started our tactical burnout along the only road in/out of the area to rob the fire of fuel. I only had one concern, if the fire hit us during the peak burning period (2pm – 5pm) there was a high likelihood that the fire would indeed jump the river. If it did, the fire would run about 20 more miles till it hit the next defendable road burning 60,000 more acres of marketable timber and wilderness area. That was not acceptable.
The fire hit us at 3pm, worst possible time. The fire behavior was more extreme that it had been since we had been there. We held the fire from the homes safely but the fire spotted across the river. I watched the ember as it settled on the opposite shore. It started running up the other side of the mountain as fast as a man could walk. We were in trouble.
I had a contingency plan, plus a back-up plan. I started sending my forces across the river that I held in reserve for just such a possibility. And then kicked in my back-up plan as well. I called for every available helicopter in the area, the bigger the helicopter the better. About 60 seconds of conversation with air attack coordinator got 6 ships headed my way.
The fire was also now jeopardizing the only access road in/out of the area. We were getting our butts handed to us. In addition to everything else I had a trainee assigned to me. Early on I asked him if he wanted to handle this. He looked at me with that “Really?” look on his face. He replied “no!” I asked him to monitor the frequency that I had my ground forces on while I stayed on the air frequency directing the helicopters and coordinating with air attack plane flying 5000’ above us who was feeding me tactical information.
For the next four hours I ran this all out assault against the roaring wildfire. I was constantly talking to all of the aircraft. My trainee would receive information from the ground forces and pass it on to me between my conversations with the aircraft. And then there would be the tactical decisions and aircraft observation information to pass on to the ground forces. I had to make multiple resource requests to Ground Support, update superiors, etc. Finally, we had stopped the river jumping spot fire, didn’t damage a home, didn’t let the road get compromised, and didn’t hurt anyone. It was over, we went back to “ops normal.”
At that point my trainee turned to me and ask, “How do you do it?” I wasn’t sure of the question and asked him to explain. “How do you keep track of everything, give everyone orders, and not fall apart?”
I didn’t have the perfect answer for him but I told him I had been doing this for 25 years and had lots of experience in these situations. He told me, ”I’m done, I can never do this.” We talked personally for the next couple of hours. The point I really stressed to him was the concept of “Flipping the switch.”
Who I was during the fight was not the normal me. Even working in the office is not the normal me. In many ways the closest to being the normal me was my reference to being on a fire and joking around. But that is only when there is no intense “fight” in progress.
Over the years I learned to “flip the switch” from my normal self, or my office self, to the guy in-charge with lives that I am responsible for and a serious mission to accomplish. When that switch flips, I am all business…and I mean all business. I have had more than one person talk to me about how I change. Fortunately, it has always been in a positive light and they expressed appreciation for it.
Now, back to the SDC class. The last day it was all “live fire” training. It was some of the most intense live fire training I’ve ever participated in. Kelly told us it was almost exactly similar to the professional training he had led for years. I believed him.
Now the point is this, there was a former Green Beret guy there running security for our camp. He is an older guy, yes, older than me. I had a not-so-pleasant experience with him a couple years ago. I know he had a poor opinion of me, and I of him.
So we are about 3 hours into our shooter training and we are now required to demonstrate extremely aggressive live fire shooting on the move advancing on our targets. I mean it had to be aggressive, quick, effective, and still be accurate. The volume of fire would be incredible. I was first up. I lit up the freaking range. I mean I went after it and just blew it away. It was the best shooting I had ever done and the most aggressive I had ever been with my weapons. Yes, weapons. The scenario required our AR and transitioning to our secondary. It was a memorable moment for me.
It was such a good run for me that the troublesome Green Beret guy came over to me and gave me a very sincere compliment on how well I did. Yeah, a compliment from a Green Beret…I was honored. Later that day he and I exchanged a “it’s all good” and a handshake, our old issue was behind us.
And it all came from me being able to “flip the switch” that day and go all Rambo on the range.
So what the heck does this have to do with you and prepping for emergencies, disasters, and especially grid-down?
Everything! Yes, I mean that and I mean it very sincerely.
You will face an emergency, a disaster, or God-forbid a grid-down in your lifetime. Actually, I fear we could be close to a grid-down. All that being said, you have to be ready to “flip the switch.” You must be able to put your game face on and focus on surviving. The further you have to flip the switch depends the severity and extent of the incident that you get hit with. If it is a grid-down you better be able and ready to flip all the way.
You may be a joker or very soft-spoken person in normal life. You might be a techno-geek or a book worm. But when the call comes in you have to be able to switch into your family’s leader and make things happen. You have to take charge, you have to make decisions, and you have to be pro-active. Anything else will almost assuredly doom you and your family.
How do you become a switch flipper? Short answer is…train.
The easiest way to explain what I mean would be by example. Pick a day that you are going to the range for some shooter practice. Make the decision that it will be all business that day. You will take your tactical gear, you will do more than simply punch holes, all of your shooting will be active drills. Everything that you do that day will be as if the next moment your family’s lives are in jeopardy and you are the one that must save them. All day you will be “on” and searching for threats, high state of Situational Awareness, and ready for instant action.
If you are exhausted at the end of the day you were successful. Because that is what happens to you mentally and physically…you become exhausted from being “on.”
A few months ago I wrote about an experience I had a couple of years ago with my wife. I want to briefly share that with you again.
It was dark, just before Christmas, we were approaching the doors into Kmart. Three big guys came crashing out the store doors and went to the ground. It was obviously a real-life struggle, they were serious. But in the mix was a toddler.
Normally, unless there was an extenuating circumstance I wouldn’t get involved in such a thing. The toddler was a circumstance that demanded my attention and maybe my intervention. The thought of attempted kidnapping ran through my head.
I immediately gave the code word to my wife. The per-arranged word that designates that there is a threat in the area and I am warning her of it. Mentally I remembered my “press check” done just before I left the house. I touched my side with my elbow to confirm my pistol was there. I did all that while visually sweeping the immediate area for other people or vehicles that might pose a threat. I didn’t spot any. I was taking steps to close the distance to be in the proper range with the struggle, and position myself to have a clear background.
At that point the toddler popped out of the pile, and one man was obviously the focus of the other two. One began to get out handcuffs while the other was looking at the toddler while hold an arm of the man being cuffed. The toddler was crying “daddy” as loud as he could.
Turns out a man, the toddler’s father, had stolen some DVDs and attempted to leave the store. The toddler was his son and was being used to cover his crimes. I backed off, swept the area again to make sure that the thief didn’t have one or more accomplices coming to his aid. There were none. I stood down.
Now here is a great point, the main point…my wife. She had “flipped the switch” as I had done. She was standing about 12’ away from me facing away from the situation, sweeping the area that would be my blind side, and her hand was in her purse on the butt of her pistol. Yes, my wife is a CCW holder and carries.
I was thrilled beyond description!
No only had I flipped the switch but my wife had as well. And she had done it for the sole purpose of protecting my back. I couldn’t have been more proud and grateful.
Why did she know to do this? We had practiced it and discussed different scenarios previously. She said she really hadn’t thought about it, she just started watching my back. Training paid off. We were “fighting” like we had trained.
You need to train like you will fight. Put yourself in training situations where you put your game face on. Then, when the time comes, you will fight like you trained. You will be able to flip the switch and do those things that will ensure the safety of your family.
The need will be there for a leader, for a protector, and you can fill that role.
That, my friend, is your job.
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