In our modern world, where a trip to a U.S. border town or an overseas assignment can quickly degrade into a kidnapping, robbery or assault, what can be done to avoid circumstances that place a person in greater danger? If those situations do arise, can techniques be learned to improve one’s chance of survival? ITI’s (International Training Incorporated) answer is yes, and they have spent over 20 years preparing civilians, military, law enforcement and government contractors not only to avoid problems, but to adapt and prevail.
The first element to successful situational awareness begins at the most basic level: Where do you live, work and travel on a daily basis? Attacks, whether street crimes or organized terrorist plots, follow a general pattern. The perpetrators choose their target from several possible victims, and then a vulnerable location to attack. Before an attack begins, the best defense is to be a hard target and to avoid locations or routes where you are vulnerable. As Ryan Lutz, former Air Force anti-terror specialist and current ITI instructor points out, “Travel is neutral territory. Choosing good, safe routes with known alternates is critical to complicating things for the bad guys.”
Once safe routes have been established, it is critical to familiarize yourself with the surroundings and get an intuitive feel for what is “normal.” Lutz encourages individuals to develop an awareness for people doing things out of the ordinary, such as sitting in front of a book or newspaper but never reading it, or someone wearing clothing out of place or season that might conceal a weapon. While most of us will never evolve to the Jason Bourne level of knowing the bad guy keeps his loaded pistol in the refrigerator behind the milk, the fundamentals of basic awareness and safe habits always apply. Remember, sometimes the difference in being a victim or someone who is passed over lies in being just a slightly harder target than the next guy. Appear alert and aware, and do your best to actually be that way.
Despite your best efforts at route planning, you are on the road and have become a target. What can you do to avoid becoming a casualty, or a victim wearing a blindfold and holding yesterday’s newspaper for a low-quality ransom video? ITI teaches a series of techniques at their Dilley, Texas, facility on over three miles of high-speed track using a variety of vehicles.
ITI begins its driving course with a block of basic high-speed, hard surface handling instruction. Its vehicles are set up such that the instructor can switch between conventional and ABS (anti-lock brake) systems. This distinction is of critical importance for drivers as each system operates uniquely. The interchangeable system allows operators to “feel” as well as learn the differences. Instructor Brian Lutz adds, “Many drivers, unfamiliar with the feel of an ABS system properly engaging, mistake the feedback for a lock up or brake error and respond by letting off the brake at just the critical moment, which is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. We endeavor to teach students to be familiar with both ABS systems as well as the ‘lock up’ threshold for conventional braking systems.”
If “rubbing is racing” then “direct contact is evasive driving.” Students move from solo driving skills to dealing with threat vehicles. ITI teaches the vulnerabilities of various vehicle types and how to deal with them in a threatening situation. Ramming (busting past a stationary vehicle blocking one’s path) and pitting (spinning a threat vehicle off the road at high speed) are taught along with backing drills and the situational applications for each.
After learning the “full contact” fundamentals, ITI moves students on to scenarios that test both the newly acquired skills and decision making under stress. Nicknamed “Junker Town,” ITI has a grid of narrow lanes tightly lined by wrecked cars to simulate narrow city streets and alleys. Students navigate down the streets while the ITI staff ambushes the vehicles from the front, rear or side. The bad guy’s car appears, gunfire is simulated, and all Hell breaks loose. Depending on the scenario, students must back out, ram, or outrun the bad guys in Junker Town and escape to the high-speed track where other vehicles may also join the pursuit forcing students to deal with multiple simultaneous threats. More than just theoretical, ITI reports dozens of “student saves,” where the skills learned at ITI helped past graduates stay alive in the real world. In one recent event, two government agents were operating alone out of an unarmored SUV near Baghdad and recognized they were being followed. When the followers turned into four armed attackers and confronted the agents with AK-47 assault rifles, the driver used the skills acquired just weeks earlier at ITI to evade and drive out of the situation. The passenger, also an ITI graduate, fired through the windshield, just as he had practiced at ITI. They were able to evade capture and return unharmed.
Moving from a high-speed track to off-road training at the Texas facility is a simple as a changing from an Oldsmobile to a Jeep Cherokee. ITI’s adjacent off-road course presents students with sand, rock, slime, mud, water, steep inclines and declines, and whatever else Angus can think up. Sporting an enviable Fu Manchu mustache, Angus Hodgson, a former Army Ranger and 10-year veteran driving instructor takes students through the basics of off-roading by first covering fundamental differences of all wheel drive vehicles and their capabilities. Notable teaching points include:
“D” is not a gear. Use your ability to control the transmission to your advantage.
“Are we really ever off-road?” Develop the ability to utilize all drivable surfaces.
“Tires are the most important part of your vehicle.” Inflate to specs listed in the doorframe, not what is printed on tire.
“No internal combustion engine can hold its breath.” Air intake level is the primary consideration when crossing water.
On the course, Angus points out the difference between operational (avoid all obstacles) and recreational (choose obstacles within your ability) off-road driving. Further, his rule of thumb for operational driving is “go as slow as possible, but as fast as necessary.” But make no mistake, the off-road course at ITI is not a golf cart cruise through the country, it will challenge you. One key adjustment students must make is BTM or brake throttle modulation. BTM is the ability to use both feet to simultaneously control the vehicle and where appropriate, increase the engine’s RPMs and trick the differential into continuing to supply power to the necessary
wheels. The technique is as tricky as it sounds, but through practice in realistic scenarios, it can be mastered. By the end of his period of instruction, I was able to confidently scale inclines I previously never would have attempted.
Overall, the combined instruction made me not only a more capable driver, but importantly, a vastly more self-aware individual, cognizant of the very real constraints of dealing with organized and vehicle-borne threats.