A couple weeks ago, the New York Times published an article that highlighted the path an Afghan Soldier took to go from a solider and partner of Americans, to the perpetrator of another Green-on-Blue insider attack. The first five articles in this series talked about proactive steps and observations that Marines, Soldiers and civilian contractors can make while deployed, but those articles leave out one significant factor.
In combat if something feels wrong, it is wrong.
While deployed, the stakes for a member of our military are so high that they cannot afford the risk associated with second-guessing themselves. Our limbic system – the unconscious part of our brain that is focused on ensuring our survival – has evolved to help us survive the predators we have faced throughout history and isn’t something that should be ignored. As humans, we have a way of misunderstanding or mislabeling the way our brain is telling us there is something wrong. Whether we call it a hunch, a gut feeling, or a woman’s intuition, these are the indicators that your body has begun preparing for the fight or flight response.
What is really happening when a person gets that “gut feeling” is that information comes in from one or all of your senses and most of that information will get sent straight to your limbic system for processing. Your amygdala (what focuses your attention) and hippocampus (what coordinates memory storage) bounce this information off of each other to determine if what you perceive could be harmful to you at an incredibly high rate of speed. What this means is that your brain is unconsciously looking for patterns that are important to your safety before you are even consciously aware of it. If the answer is yes, that something is wrong and requires action, your body will begin preparing for fight or flight before this information has been transferred to your pre-frontal cortex and conscious awareness.
This is where your intuition comes from and allows you to make snap judgments based on these patterns. It is why experience soldiers, Marines and police officers are considered more survivable in combat than their novice peers, because they have a larger “database” of experiences for their limbic system to compare the current situation to.
Many people naturally observe situations from the big picture initially and then make their way down to the fine details. We see the forest first and than make our way down to the trees. Think about that fact using the domains: we start with an assessment about the Atmospherics for an area, than transition to Geographics, than look at the groups of people and than finally focus our attention on individual people. We execute this process quickly and unconsciously when entering a new area so that we can make sense of our surroundings as a whole before focusing our attention on the details.
The point is that deployed members of our military can believe in their “gut” when it alerts them to something being off. Don’t fight the instinct to heighten your level of alertness and awareness. Confidently investigate every single thing that doesn’t make sense or that causes you to feel uneasy, because the cost for incorrectly assuming that everything is safe or normal is far too high. I recommend Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear if you want to learn more about how dangerous denying this instinct can be.
If you are a younger or less experienced Marine or Soldier, don’t feel that these instinctual observations are outside of the realm of possibility for you. That is why this site is here, because by learning to observe specific nonverbal cues and analyze human behavior in systematic manner, you can attain this level of experience in a relatively short amount of time. Take a look through our Development Pipelineto structure the way you progress through the site, the topics and the path to expertise.
(This series of posts has been edited and expanded upon in the ebook)