Fire Teams: Lessons learned from a 'night out' with a Marine

By Mike Hogan, Special Contributor to Police1
With an introduction by Gary T. Klugiewicz

Police interaction with veterans has become a hot topic. Veterans coming back from past and recent conflicts can exhibit the traumatic effects of their experiences. Post Traumatic Stress can impact these veterans and how they respond to police contacts. Their past training combined with their current emotional state can create a very dangerous adversary. When dealing with veterans it is important to remember that they have been trained to work as a fire team. When approached by others they are making decisions on whether that person(s) is a member of their fire team or an enemy combative.

Here, Mike Hogan recounts an event that happened to him. Although this event dealt with security officers and not police officers, the incident could have happened to someone in law enforcement. Remember, veterans have been trained to “serve and protect” just as you have. Whenever possible, use this knowledge to build bridges in order to join their fire team and not be labeled an enemy combatant.

Their — and your — safety is at stake.
— Gary Klugiewicz

Joe and the Security Guys
The first week I got out of the Marines I started school. I quickly made friends with a guy named Joe. Joe was enrolled in the criminal justice program, and was on his way to becoming a police officer. At 6’3’” and 240 pounds, this former body builder with a 3.9 GPA would have been a great cop. However, in 2002 things were heating up in the world. War was inevitable. Joe heard his calling and joined the Marines.

During his second tour in Iraq, Joe served as a Scout Sniper. One night, Joe and his team were ambushed during a patrol. An explosion followed by gunfire had killed everyone except Joe and one other. Joe, badly wounded, heroically carried his fellow Marine to safety under fire. They managed to escape through an alley and commandeer a civilian car.

Joe spent the next four months in Germany recovering from life threatening injuries. Once he recovered he returned home. It had been a while since I had seen my best friend. I was excited to hear he was driving up to see me at my university. When he arrived, I saw the same Joe. Matured, but the same good-hearted guy I knew.

That night, we did the only logical thing two Marines would do for a reunion — we went to the bar. Our version of a debrief. We had some serious conversations, laughed about good times and generally had fun. Around that time a guy shoulder checked Joe out of nowhere. Joe turned to him and said “sorry bro” and continued to talk to me. The guy shot back at Joe with some comment, obviously fishing for a fight. Joe didn’t bite (mostly because the guy was half of Joe’s size and posed no threat).

Little did we know that guy was the head of security for the bar (off duty). He rallied up his security entourage and returned to our location. The next thing we know we are literally surrounded by five security officers. They stood there in bladed off stances while the off duty guy proceeded to ask us, “Do you have a problem now!?”

The situation was about to get dangerous.

While I was asking security what exactly was going on I noticed Joe move out of the corner of my eye. His right hand was slipping up to his pocket and touching his issued Benchmade auto folder. Realizing what was happening I did the first thing that came to my mind. I hugged Joe with my left arm, pinning his right hand to his waist. I pretended I was far more intoxicated than I was, and started laughing.

I said, “Hey guys! This is my best friend Joe Smith. He is a genuine war hero who just got back from Iraq this week. Let me buy everyone here a round of drinks in honor of his service to all of us!”

Luckily that changed the tension enough for them to just say no and ask us to leave. I was fully aware that Joe was still in combat mode and never let go of him. I told Joe that we should go back to my place and call some friends over. The security team finally opened their circle and let us pass. It wasn’t until we got home that I realized fully what could have happened. It took me an hour for my adrenaline to dump.

I never really talked to Joe about that night, but I thought about it a lot. I thought about how this upstanding citizen — a patriot and war hero — could have quickly become a felon.

Why? How could this have happened? More importantly, how could it have been avoided? The answer lies in the military mindset. Identify and destroy all threats — protect your team at all costs.

Lessons Learned
What lessons can be learned from this? First, we have to understand and respect the mindset of our service men and women when they come home. We have to understand that they are the good guys (granted there are bad apples in every group). They have just been immersed in extraordinary situations for extended periods of time. They have been in survival mode. Not knowing what is or is not a threat. When they come home, that mindset doesn’t just switch off.

Second, we have to know that by in large, these are the men and women who have gone towards danger in the face of death. In our case at the bar, WE would have been the ones who closed width and destroyed the enemy if a threat arose. If an armed man came into the bar threatening its patrons, I can guarantee that we would have been the ones addressing that threat. As stupid (or as brave) as that may be, there is a dark side to that mentality: sometimes, the biggest threats are the good guys.

Our situation at the local bar was a perfect example. Instead of being on our side, the security guys became the biggest threat to our team (at least in Joe’s mind). What did they do to provoke this? For one they surrounded us, instantly initiating Joe’s fight-or-flight trigger. Since we were surrounded, flight was out of the question. Two, they took combative stances against us. In this case it was a bladed off interview stance. Lastly, they presented us with threats. Not a chance to explain.

There are other things that compounded the situation. One of them was me. While I was able to deescalate the situation, I believe that I was the cause for Joe’s escalation of force (putting his hand on his knife). I believe that if Joe was by himself he would have behaved differently. It would have either been a fist fight, or he would have left. However, since I was there he saw it as his duty to protect me, no matter what. I was his team. The other is a bit more obvious, alcohol. Alcohol as we all know is shown to decrease inhibitions and increase depression. This in many cases can turn into aggression.

Fortunately for everyone, I am the only one who knows how bad that night could have gone. I honestly don’t think Joe ever gave that night a second thought. He continues to serve our country to this day. Keep this story in mind the next time you have to deal with a veteran. We want to be the good guys.

Note: In no way do I agree or condone Joe’s actions that night. This is merely my attempt to understand why things happened.

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