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Situational Awareness with Robert Montgomery

Image 11-7-21 at 9.31 PM

When seconds count and freezing isn’t an option and lives are at stake, how do you prepare to know what to do? Even our bodies have natural reactions. But what can you do to stay calm, level your breathing, and be alert?

Today’s guest is Robert Montgomery. Robert was an operations officer in the CIA for 34 years and served in some of the most dangerous places in the world. He is also a former Marine and the founder of Guardwell Defense. Robert is an author and teaches training courses such as Combat for Women, Improvised Weapons, and Street Smarts for Students and Businesspeople designed to help anyone mitigate and deal with unexpected violence.

Show Notes:

  • [0:53] – Robert shares his background, experience, and how he shifted into training civilians for personal defense.
  • [3:46] – Using security cameras that he can access on his phone, Robert shares the story of seeing people on his property while he was in Afghanistan.
  • [7:29] – Through this experience, Robert realized why his wife was able to stay calm in the moment.
  • [10:13] – Referencing Chris’s website and podcast, Robert explains the common scams that he has seen come up.
  • [11:26] – “If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan properly.” 
  • [12:27] – There is a correlation between your heart rate and ability to control fine motor skills.
  • [14:12] – Controlling your breathing is the key to lowering your heart rate.
  • [16:37] – Practicing breathing in non-stressful situations can help you in the moment.
  • [18:18] – Chris shares a story that connects to the discussion on adrenaline and fear.
  • [19:51] – You cannot be alert all the time. Being hyper alert can lead to PTSD and often does in members of the military.
  • [23:23] – With situational awareness, you have to stay level headed and make decisions quickly.
  • [24:51] – It is okay to “be rude” if you feel uncomfortable.
  • [27:10] – There are many signals you may notice if approached by a predator.
  • [28:13] – A common situation many people find themselves in is walking or jogging outside with headphones on. This affects their awareness.
  • [31:46] – Situational awareness will mitigate many problems.
  • [32:47] – Robert gives some tips on what to do when beginning to travel again, especially overseas.
  • [35:21] – Maintaining a lower profile to lessen your chances to be targeted for crimes as a tourist can be challenging, but Robert gives advice.
  • [36:28] – Edson Tiger offers an excellent online course for training for travel.
  • [38:27] – Paper copies of things are important in case things are lost.
  • [39:54] – Every citizen should learn the basics of first aid.

Thanks for joining us on Easy Prey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and leave a nice review. 

Transcript:

Can you give me a little background about who you are and how you got involved in what you do?

Sure. I joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1985. I retired in 2018. Throughout the vast majority of my career, I served overseas. It was interesting to actually come back and live in the States now for a few years. I was very fortunate in my career to have had some great training over the years. If I may get into this little vignette about why I wrote this book and why I thought it was important, I was getting ready to go to Afghanistan for a year.

Usually, in that assignment, leading up to it, you’re running around, you’re doing million-and-one things. You’ve got to get the wheels ready and make sure the insurance, the bills, the passwords, and God knows what else you’re forgetting. Saying goodbye to people. The agency makes you take some onerous training that you’ve got to take before you go. You’re juggling all these balls in the air.

I had mentioned my son—who at the time, was an army lieutenant—that I wanted to just run a drill at home for my wife and the kids in the unlikely event that there would be, like, a home intrusion-type thing, just something to do before I left. Also, we were down at Costco one day and I bought a couple of Arlo cameras. I didn’t really think we needed them, but I thought, “What the heck,” to make my wife feel better. I put one camera up by the garage and I put one up in our back deck.

About two days before I was supposed to blast off, my son said, “Hey, dad, you’ve got to do this drill.” I’m like, “OK, OK.” We spent about 20 minutes running through the drill. We’re all shooters in this house. It’s like, “OK, where’s the shotgun? Where’s the ammunition? Where’s the pistol? Where are you going to stand? What are we going to do with the kids?”

At the time, we had three young ones ages—let’s say at the time—nine, seven, and four, I guess it was. We also had a teenager—17 years old. What are we going to do with him? What’s his role going to be in this type of scenario? We goofed around for about 20 minutes and didn’t take it all that seriously.

Fast forward six months and now I’m in a far-off eastern province in Afghanistan. We had an internet connection. On my Arlo cameras, it gives you a little notification when something moves. Usually, it’s like a deer, a bug, or something like that. I come out of the shower, it’s lunchtime. Came out of the shower, and I noticed there was a motion detection on my phone.

I took a look and it’s 4:30 AM back in Virginia. I see a Caucasian male standing outside my garage door, and I can see he’s using the light from his cell phone to look into my garage. My initial reaction is, “Who the hell is that? Is that my 17-year-old?” Was the initial reaction. After confirming that that was not the case—the way he was dressed, he had a baseball cap, his collar was up, and he had a backpack and gloves. I thought, “Not my son.”

A moment later, I got a second motion detection from the camera in the back and I saw a black male dressed in the exact same manner. He has what looks like a flashlight on a handgun looking into my family room. Now, I live in a beautiful college town where crime is virtually unheard of. At this point, I’m like, “I need to call my wife.”

I called her up. She gets a call from Afghanistan at 4:30 AM. It’s not good news, right? I’m like, “No, no, I’m fine. You’re the one that’s got an issue here. Go look at the cameras. I can see two guys outside.” She looks and she goes, “Yeah, I can see them.” I’m like, “All right, go get the shotgun, load it, tell me when you have it.”

Off she goes and I can hear her, and she is completely calm. I was really proud of the way she did this. I’ll get to that in a second. She goes back, she goes, “I’m having trouble loading it.” I’m like, “Forget the shotgun.” We’d only shot that thing once before I left. I’m like, “Forget the shotgun, go get the Glock, the pistol, rack it one time. Tell me when you have it.”

We had shot that. She had shot that a half dozen times at least, so she was more comfortable. She racked it and she came back. “OK, I got it.” I’m like, “Great. Go down the hall, go stand in the doorway of the kid’s room.” All three little ones slept in the same room. I said, “Grab the teenager on the way. Call 911, speak slowly and clearly.”

Does your family have a plan of what to do in a home invasion?

“If anybody comes up the stairs, shoot him.” She goes, “OK.” Now, my wife is the nicest person in the world. Opposites attract. Literally, before she hits a fly, she will apologize to us. She’s like, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” And then she says, “What?” I’m like, “Why do you say, ‘I’m sorry?’” She’s like, “Well, it wanted to live too.” That’s the type of person she is.

But now, she’s faced with a situation where her children are at risk. Man, she was all about it. I couldn’t believe how calm she was. At that time, I was waiting for her to call me back. I got another motion detection. Now there are two black males on my deck, and I can see them testing each window and the door. I still got the caucasian male out by my garage. I’m going nuts. I’m thinking maybe I could call the local police from where I’m at. I look on the internet how to make an international call to the police or whatever. I made the call and I made the mistake of saying, “Hey, look, I’m in Afghanistan.” And they go, “What, you’re where?” That was a mistake.

After an excruciating, long explanation about that, they said, “OK, I understand. What’s your address?” I gave them the address and they went, “Oh, that’s the jurisdiction of the county police. Wait one minute while we transfer your call.” I’m going nuts by this point. They transferred the call. “What’s your address?” I gave them the address and they went, “Oh, we got officers on the scene.”

“That’s great. Did you catch anybody?” They said, “No, we did not.” What we learned later was the guy out in the garage noticed a camera, which was up to his left. He must have called the others because I saw him come up and grab that camera, and I saw that camera go across the street and get thrown into the bushes, and the police just missed it.

The next day—my wife—now the nerves kicked in and she was really upset. I started thinking, “Why did she perform so well at the moment and it wasn’t until afterward when naturally she felt all the stress and the strain?” As I said earlier, I’ve had the great privilege of having had some fantastic training in the course of my career as an operations officer, but my family has not.

That made me think that the reason that she did well is that we spent those 20 minutes practicing six months earlier. She had something to revert to when the moment of truth came. Then that got me interested in the idea of, “OK, if we revert to our lowest level of training—I have daughters, and I have my wife, and I want them to be safe.” Clearly, as a CIA officer overseas, there’s plenty of people that would love to behead you, kill you, and whatever.

Families are also vulnerable, and they don’t get that training. Aside from that training, we’ve had this wacky year where there’s civil unrest and whatever, not to mention just day-to-day crime. I started thinking, “Well, OK, what lessons learned could I compile for my wife and family?” That idea turned into a long pontification, which wound up being in the book.

That’s a long-winded answer as to how I got into this as a case officer working overseas, you kind of take things for granted. When I go down to my college town down here, all you have to do is stand there for about 30 seconds and you’ll see a woman jogging by wearing headphones, for example. It drives me crazy, that kind of thing. I address those types of issues in my book.

By the way, I want to say one more thing too. Your website is a fantastic public service. It really is. I’m listening to all the different guests that you’ve had there. Number one, I’m going to be definitely the lowest of the low on that list of distinguished people, but you certainly have done a great public service, I think, with the scams.

When you were talking about the scams, when you’re assigned to an embassy—about once or twice a year, you do embassy duty. That means at night time, usually, it’s a drunk American, somebody gets sick, they get mugged, their passport is lost, or something like that. When I was in Malaysia, I was surprised at how many—I looked at the logbook—calls we would get in the course of a week of Americans, usually lonely people, who were being scammed by somebody they met on the internet. Who was out traveling or working and supposedly they had an accident and they’re at the hospital, but the hospital won’t treat them unless they get the money.

This scam came up again and again and again. It’s heartbreaking to have to tell some of these folks, very nice, well-meaning people, “Oh, my friend is in trouble. I couldn’t reach him, but I sent the money. Can you help me find him?” This kind of thing is really heartbreaking. What you’re doing is a tremendous public service.

Thank you. Same for you. I think what we’re doing is trying to use our experiences to make the world a better place, to use our platforms, to try to save people from those types of things, which is exactly what we’re doing today, as well.

Amen.

In the book—I was reading through a little bit of it. Thank you so much for sending the book. I really like the quote that you put in the inscription for me. I can’t read the last name, from David.

David Hackworth.

David Hackworth. “If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan properly.”

Exactly, absolutely.

I thought about that. I’m like, you’re always thinking like, “I want a fair fight.” If I’m going to be in a fair fight, I don’t really want it to be a fair fight. I want to have the advantage going into that.

That’s exactly right.

I wanted to talk about a couple of things in your book and we’ll work these into situational awareness. The first thing you talk about is fear, knowing it, and not being controlled by it. That seems to me to set the foundation of how you can be situationally aware. Can we talk a little bit about that?

Yeah, absolutely. If we were sitting here nonchalantly drinking coffee and pontificating about things, but if a bomb suddenly went off, our heart rates would go from a resting heart rate of like 80 beats per minute, and it would shoot up in a proverbial heartbeat. We’d be up to like 220 or something like that.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, in his book—I think it was On Killing—did a really interesting study about the correlation between your heart rate, your ability to have fine motor skills, and even your ability to think. The military has come up with the statistics that at about 115-145 beats per minute of your heart is where a soldier executes his duties well. When it starts getting above 145, you start losing your ability to use fine motor skills. Your heart’s beating fast. You probably have been holding your breath, so your breathing is rapid. You may start experiencing tunnel vision.

Police officers, when they get to a scene and within eight seconds, now they’re suddenly in a fight for their lives. They experience tunnel vision. They can experience auditory exclusion, where they can’t hear things other than what the immediate threat is. Once you start getting up into the 200, 220 beats per minute, that’s when the animal brain takes over and it’s blind panic at that point.

I’m not a physician or anything close to that. But if you can understand the physical effects and the psychological effects of fear, then hopefully, when it happens to you, you can understand that, if this is what’s happening to me, this is what I need to do to lower my heart rate. Chances are, you, me, and your listeners are doing this right now as we’re breathing. If you think about breathing, every endeavor that we do—whether it’s martial arts, tennis, that godforsaken game of golf, swimming, yoga, or meditation, it’s all about breathing.

Probably you’ve experienced this—everybody has at some point—where they come upon an accident. You get out of that car to go help and, immediately, you can feel your heart rate going up. “What am I going to see in the car?” If you see other people who are now paralyzed from what they’ve seen in the accident, all they can do is moan and lament what’s happened and not do anything. If you understand that, then understand that breathing, controlling your breath, taking two or three-count breaths in, hold it for two or three counts, breathe out two or three counts.

Again, Dave Grossman and Loren Christensen coined the phrase combat breathing. That’s simply all it is. It’s just breathe in, breathe out. That immediately starts to lower after a couple of cycles—your heart rate. Hopefully, you can get out of that animal brain and bring it down to a level where you can make a decision. That’s the other aspect of this.

Take 3 deep breaths to calm down…

When something happens, something happens, and immediately, we enter this decision loop. At first, it’s like disbelief, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Followed by, “What should I do?” And followed finally by, hopefully, action. If we look at some of the poor victims of 9/11 who were stuck in the towers, they never got out of that second one: “What should I do?”

“I’ll just sit here and wait. The fire department will take care of it. It’s not as bad as I think it is. I just will ignore it and hope that it won’t happen.” This is the human psychology, I think, of fear. If you understand that that exists, then you stand a chance of working through it and getting to that decision more quickly.

I have a question about combat breathing. Is this the sort of thing by practicing it in non-stressful situations like, “OK, three deep breaths, calm down, inhale in.” Do you build that muscle memory of that behavior and being able to execute it when you’re in a more stressful situation?

I think you’re absolutely right, but it’s not necessary. As long as you know the concept, understand that concept, and can draw upon that concept, when you’re startled, I think it’ll be fine. It’s just getting over that startle. Getting out of that, oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening to me.

There was an interesting story I heard as a young trainee about an Egyptian general. He was marked for assassination. He was driving his car, and a vehicle came up in front of him, blocked his path, and another one came up behind him. In the vehicle in front, two guys got out with AK-47s. They walked up to the general’s car and just shot, shot, shot, shot, shot, shot.

In the end, one of them takes a Molotov cocktail, throws it in the car, and finishes the job. Afterward, with the autopsy, they discovered that not a single bullet had pierced his body, but he died from the fight. What’s interesting about that is that’s an extreme example of, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Then he got stuck on, “What should I do?” and never got out of it. At that point, combat breathing probably is not going to help so much at that point, but knowing to hit the accelerator might have made a difference.

I know there was a news story. This was probably 20, 25 years ago near me. There’s a road crossing railroad tracks. In this particular area, the traffic would often back up such that there’s a street light. You’re not supposed to stop on the tracks, but occasionally, someone would stop on the tracks while they’re waiting for the light to turn.

A train was coming, the gates came down, and there was a woman in her car. Even though she was clearly panicking and honking, and people were telling her to “Get out of your car, get out of your car.” But she stayed in her car and ultimately was hit and killed by the train.

Because she didn’t want to crash through the gate, right?

Or someone was right in front of her, but that thought process of, “What do I do? Get out of the car.”

Unfortunately, there’s example after example of that kind of thing. I think just awareness of it can increase your chances of living through the day. It’ll make the difference between being above dirt or six feet under.

You’ve talked about awareness. What are the things that we should be aware of when we’re at home, out and about, traveling?

This whole thing about situational awareness has really taken off in the last couple of years. I started seeing more and more of it, which is a good thing. From a case officer’s point of view, you want to be situationally aware simply for doing your job, which is to collect information for the US government and to protect the person that’s giving you that information. From a citizen’s point of view, it really is the same thing.

What you first need to understand is that you cannot be alert all the time. This is what leads to PTSD from soldiers in combat where they are hyper-alert. In a combat zone, they come back and they can’t relax. That impacts their sleep, that impacts their relationships with people, that impacts on decision making, and it snowballs out.

You cannot be hyper-vigilant all the time, and that’s great. What you do need to understand is when to be hyper-vigilant and when not to be hyper-vigilant. For the average citizen, when I’m sitting in my house, obviously, this is my safe space aside from the story I told you earlier, but I did fantasize for months about them coming back when I was home. I will say that. I’m almost over that fantasy now.

Understand that when you’re in a house, “OK, you can relax.” When you go out in the street, when I open the door, I just look a little bit more than I would otherwise. I live in a beautiful neighborhood. I don’t really expect issues here, but my situational awareness just goes up a little bit. I get into my car. Here’s something I picked up actually from a British friend of mine who was a counterpart of mine.

He talks about the two feet in, two feet out rule for cars, which is a great one. If you get into your car and you plant both feet on the ground, that forces you to look out as you sit back into your car, two feet in. When you get out of your car, you put two feet out, which forces you again to be facing out, and that gives you an opportunity to just see anything that’s there.

All right, you get in your car, driving to wherever. From a CIA point of view, you’d be looking for anything suspicious. Anybody that wants to kill you, they’re going to do it by the house or by your work, all this kind of thing. But for the average citizen, thank God, we don’t have to worry about IEDs, bombs, or this kind of thing. What you can do is be alert to what’s happening around you.

Especially when you get to a stop sign, this is where bad things happen—at a traffic light, at a stop sign. There are a bazillion examples of this on YouTube of people being robbed in various parts of the world at stoplights and stop signs. OK, if you know that, all right, so you’re going to be a little bit more vigilant. I always leave at least a car length between my car and the car in front of me. Because if I have to use my very convenient battering ram—my three-ton vehicle or four-ton vehicle, I have no problem with that.

All you’ve got to do is point towards the wheel well of the car in front of you or behind you, put the front all the way to the pedal to the metal there, all the way down, accelerate through. All our driving lives we’re taught, don’t hit something, don’t hit anybody. Maybe that was part of the woman’s incapacitation at the railroad track. “Oh, I can’t go through that gate.” Yeah, you can go through the gate. Yeah, you can crash into that car.

Even to the point of some places, when I worked in Southeast Asia quite a bit, if you put a car length between you and a car there, it’ll immediately fill up like mosquitoes under a poncho with people on motorbikes. I have to decide in my mind if I’m going to get shot at or somebody’s going to come up and try to kill me while I’m waiting there—what am I going to do? Am I going to not try to force my way out? I am going to try to force my way out, hopefully not crunching a bunch of people on the way.

Chances are, if something happens, crowds have an amazing awareness of understanding what’s happening, and a lot of those people are going to be getting out to dodge as it’s happening. Sometimes, all we need is those split seconds, tenths of a second, to see what’s happening to make a decision.

All right, back to situational awareness. If I’m on foot, I go out to a city domestic travel. I’m in my hotel room, I’m pretty safe and happy there. I open the door, now things start to change a little bit. I just start to pay a little bit of attention. If I see people, look at their hands—not in a paranoid way, but just in a commonsensical way. I go down into the lobby—certainly, when I get on the elevator, I pay attention to who’s getting on the elevator.

I’m just going to sidetrack for a moment here, but how many women in your life do you know, daughters, friends, or wives who don’t want to be rude? When the elevator door opens, they see somebody on that elevator and they’re like, “I don’t want to be rude. It’s probably nothing. I’ll just get on.” I’m like, “No, be rude. If that door opens and you see a guy standing there and you don’t like the way he looks, that’s OK, be rude.” Step on his ego a little bit, no problem. Better safe than sorry.

You get out to the street, now my awareness is going to go up a little bit more if I’m on a city street. When I walk by alleys, I’m not going to be hugging the wall so that I’m closest to the alley, I’m going to be stepping out a little bit. If I see people standing around, I’m not going to be politically correct and worry about profiling. If I see a guy standing there, a couple of guys standing with hoodies on doing nothing in particular at the entrance to the subway, that’s going to catch my attention. If I’m at the ATM and somebody comes in, clearly that’s going to catch my attention.

That’s not the time to be politically correct or to worry about hurting somebody’s feelings. Really, that’s generations, our ancestors have survived being eaten by the saber-toothed tiger because they listened to these little feelings that they had of danger signals. We’ve lost that in society. We’re worried about how people feel and not hurting their feelings. I’m going to say you’ve got to walk around and be an impolite idiot, of course.

What I’m simply saying is listen to the little signals that you get. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, it should, and listen to that. If you’re a woman or a man and somebody comes up to you in your car as you’re getting in and they say, “Hey, man, you got the time?” Who doesn’t have access to time these days in this day and age? Immediately, you should be thinking something’s up.

If you are walking and you hear a quickening of footsteps behind you, turn around and look. If you see on security cameras how people get attacked in this kind of thing, it happens very often from behind. In the last few paces, the bad guy will run up. He will put his body weight into hitting the person from behind. We hear the quickening of paces, turn around and look.

If you’re a woman and some guy is insistent on helping you with your packages or whatever, that’s a sign. Predators love the hunt. They understand that people are reluctant to say no or appear rude. They also understand that in order to do what they want to do, they need to be within arm’s length of their victim. All these types of ploys: “Do you have a cigarette?” “What time is it?” “Let me help you with that.” All these should raise your antenna to be ready to fight for your life. I would contend that sometimes just a little bit of forethought can make all the difference.

All right, we continue our journey. Jogging women—I alluded to this earlier. I can go downtown here in my little beautiful town and probably eight out of 10 women that I see jogging will have headphones. I read about a case of a woman hiking the Appalachian Trail last summer, and much to her surprise, a bear came running out and literally knocked her over and continued running down the path.

Lord only knows what that bear was running for. It literally knocked her down. It turns out that she didn’t hear it because she was wearing headphones out in the wild. She’s lucky she didn’t become part of the food chain that day. All that points to situational awareness. There’s nothing really spectacular about it, sneaky, or extremely cool. It’s just simple awareness.

When my son went to a city college, I remember we walked together and I said, “Come on, we’re going to walk from your apartment,” which was off-campus down to the campus. As we walked, I would point things out. I say, “You see the bum over there? I just don’t like the way he’s standing there. Let’s cross the street. We’re not any less of a man or nothing like that. We’re just being cautious enough to avoid a situation.”

We went block by block that way. It’s interesting to me that he always remembers that. To me, it was just a routine. It wasn’t an exciting kind of walk. He remembers that and appreciates that. That’s something that I do with all my kids, and I think it’s important. Now, I’m just losing my train of thought here. That’s situational awareness. There’s nothing mysterious about it. It’s not a big CIA secret. It’s nothing more than being aware of when you should be alert and relaxing when you can.

That reminds me of the time my wife and I were up in San Francisco. We were heading from our hotel to some restaurant. We’re going to walk it. As we’re walking, we’re getting further from the restaurant, and like, “OK, the quality of the neighborhood is getting a little lower. The people milling around on the corners a little bit more.”

We get to this one intersection and there are quite a few people. It’s 2:00 PM. “There shouldn’t be this many people just milling around. This seems odd.” At one point, I hear someone in the neighborhood shout something. About half the people in the street go running away. About a minute later, a police car comes and I’m like, “OK, we’re not walking back this way.”

The pity of that is San Francisco is such a fantastic city.

Still some great neighborhoods. We’re not trying to disparage San Francisco, but it was the sort of thing, as we got further off the beaten path, we started to notice things degrading and we were like, like you were saying, “Let’s walk on this side of the street where there are less people. Let’s go a little further away from suspicious characters hanging out on door stoops and whatnot.”

Good for you. That’s perfect because many people would be inclined to be, “Well, I don’t want to be seen as being judgmental or I’m just imagining it.” Usually, people that are about to face a horrible situation—that “I can’t believe this is happening”—can also get stuck in that. “I can’t believe this is happening” as they’re being stabbed at the ATM. “Why me, why me?”

There’s no answer to that. Now’s not the time to ask, “Why me?” Now’s the time to get to that decision and do something about it. Situational awareness, I think, will mitigate 95% of all issues. You can avoid every kind of problem just by being aware of what’s happening around you.

Is there a set of tips that you have when people are traveling? Hopefully, we’re coming out of COVID here and people are going to shake off their, “I haven’t gone out of my house in two years. I’m going to go to another country, I’m going to go to another state, I’m going to go somewhere I haven’t been before because I just need to get out of dodge.” I think that opens up a lot of opportunities for criminals to take advantage of those people. What should travelers be watching for when they’re traveling?

A couple of things. First of all, I would register with the State Department. God bless the State Department. They’re the most bureaucratic organizations anywhere. Please, my state colleagues, don’t think ill of me for saying that. But they’re really good about one thing: which is when you register with them, if there’s an issue in the country, if there’s unrest, political unrest, demonstrations, or what have you, they’ll contact you.

If the situation goes to hell, they’ll contact you to extract you. Registering with the State Department when you visit someplace is definitely a good idea. The other thing is, now we have two concerns. We got to the terrorism realm, and we’ve got the crime issue. You have to be cognizant of both those things

People who were in Bali in 2002 were not thinking about car bombs when they went out to Paddy’s Pub that night. Traveling overseas, I think, in short, the best advice would be, as an American, to avoid places where foreigners tend to gather or are known to gather. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. If you go to some of the more third-world-type environments, you’re going to want to stay in the Hilton, the Marriott Hotels, or what have you.

Fine, but then, a couple of things. Don’t get rooms on the first or second floor. Don’t go to the dining room at peak hours. People who will want to do harm will generally attack the lobby, the restaurants next to the lobby, and they’ll tend to do it at those peak hours.

You can spot an American a thousand meters away based on the way we dress, oftentimes, sometimes the way we comport ourselves. I’m not saying don’t be yourself, but maybe tone down the Americanisms. How many people overseas do you see wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, just as an example? Zip. But if you see that somewhere, that’s an American. Hawaiian t-shirt, it must be an American—this type of thing.

Trying to maintain a lower profile. Maybe stay at hotels that are not US-owned, if the US is a target. In some places of the world like Indonesia, the Australians are more of a target than Americans, which is almost refreshing having been a target for so many years. I love my Australian colleagues, but they have to contend with that more. The Bali bombing, they were trying to kill Americans, but to them, Australians and Americans all look the same. Must be the same, it doesn’t matter.

Hotels. If you’re a business traveler, and you go to a place like China or Russia, anywhere where there’s an authoritarian government, and you take your computer and your cell phone, you need to assume that your electronics will be compromised. If there’s anything on your computer that you don’t want a host government to know, don’t take it. I’m going to make a plug here.

There’s a UK company that was started by a British Secret Intelligence Service friend of mine called Edson Tiger. They actually have a very extensive online course for travelers, business travelers, and students. Quite extensive. It captures all the little tips and tricks that I learned over the course of a career in one little package. If you have any listeners who are interested in taking something like that, I would highly recommend it.

We’ll make sure to link to it in the show notes. That way, people can find it.

They do a nice job. That’s it in a nutshell. You want to try to blend in; you don’t want to stick out. Americans, we tend to wear backpacks and things like that. If you go to Southeast Asia, everybody wears their backpack in the front. It looks ridiculous, but they do it for a reason—because people will rob them when the backpack is on the back. That would be the main thing.

Americans should understand that they can always call their local US Embassy when they’re overseas. Again, as the duty officer there, I’ve experienced many times of people losing passports, getting mugged, or even the worst occasions—passing away and then we have to contact the next of kin and this kind of thing. Definitely keep in touch with the US Embassy when you go overseas.

I often heard we should be making sure that we have a paper address for the hotels that we’re staying at, the phone numbers of important things written on paper in our pockets. Because if our cell phone gets stolen, as Americans or probably a lot of people around the world, that’s our lifeline. If we lose that piece of tech, we’re really up the creek without a paddle.

Absolutely, paper copies of your passport as well. One thing that people don’t think about that much—I know I didn’t until I started hitting my ripe old age now—is when you go somewhere, to your benefit, understand if something happens to me, which hospital should I go to? I’ll give you an example.

I was in Riyadh, and it turned out that the best hospital for a foreigner to go to in Riyadh was the German hospital that was there because you’re more likely to be able to interact with doctors who spoke English, they accepted insurance, and this kind of thing. That’s a minor thing, but it’s minor until you need it. I would suggest travelers to investigate that. A lot of times, the US Embassy website can give you information on that.

Those are the things where it doesn’t take a lot of research to do when you’re not in a stressful situation. But if you’re in the moment trying to figure out, “What hospital should I go to?”, the US-centric response is going to be, “Well, I just want to go to the nearest one because I know I’m going to get good care.” That may not be the case when we’re traveling overseas.

Absolutely right. That brings in a whole idea about how I think every citizen should spend a little time learning the basics of first aid so that they can stop a bleed, put on a tourniquet. Sometimes in a lot of places overseas, an ambulance, their only job is to pick you up and drive you to the hospital. Unlike the US where our paramedics are superbly trained to give you that initial care, it doesn’t happen overseas.

Being responsible for yourself, I think, is an important aspect to preparedness for traveling overseas. Maybe having a tourniquet, having some Ace bandages, just taking the time to learn the basics of first aid, I think, is very important.

I was traveling once, and one of the people that we were traveling with—we were traveling overseas—had an allergic reaction. We asked the hotel, “Can you call an ambulance?” The response was, “What’s an ambulance?”

That’s not cool.

I was like, “OK, do you know what a hospital is?” “Uh-huh.” “OK, how do we get to the hospital?” “Taxi.” I’m like, “OK, it’s good to know that.” OK, there isn’t an ambulance service to know what you’re getting and know what plan B is going to be if you can’t get an ambulance right away.

Yeah, that’s for sure. I hope everything turned out OK.

Everything turned out perfectly well. Surprisingly, the cost of everything without insurance was less than what would have been with insurance in the US.

That’s a whole other conversation, isn’t it? Same thing. Malaysia hospitals were very affordable and their rooms were like hotel rooms—three-star, four-star hotel rooms. Really nice. I’m like, “Why can’t that be the case in the US?” That’s a whole different topic, which I know nothing about.

I know nothing about that topic either. If people want to find your book—the title is Seconds to Live or Die: Life-Saving Lessons from a Former CIA Officer. I assume you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, anywhere that paperback books and hardcover books are sold?

Yes, sir. Absolutely. My website as well, I got some here. If they want me to write some pontification on there like I did for you, happy to do it.

Where can people find you online? What’s your website and are you on social media?

Guardwelldefense.com is my website, because a lot of what I do—we’ve talked about situational awareness and that takes care of 95% of issues in life. The other 5% is fighting for your life. That’s been a hobby and interest of mine for many years. The website is geared towards how to fight in the worst 15 seconds of the worst day of your life.

Certainly, Facebook. The same thing—guardwelldefense.com. Instagram, guardwelldefense.com. The usual suspects.

Perfect. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Robert.

Chris, thank you. I really appreciated the opportunity. Again, thank you for the public service that you perform. That’s great.

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