Situational Awareness: Put the Damn Phone Away and Pay Attention! - ITS Tactical
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Situational Awareness: Put the Damn Phone Away and Pay Attention!

By Jeff Gonzales

NYC Cell Phone by Flickr User FaceMe

Every day brings on new adventures and today I’ll share a few I had on a recent trip to New York City. In particular, some have forced me to rethink and change my perspective on a couple things. Being in New York, my armament was obviously different. As a result, my situational awareness was off the charts.

Complacency. Who Me?

The bad news is that this trip really got me asking why I’m not always completely in tune with my surroundings. The best answer is simply, complacency. One of my personal takeaways is that staying on my toes and not getting flatfooted is paramount, but more on that later.

Travel Realities

After landing in New York, I immediately did a site survey of our training area, which is where I’d be spending my time at. Because of this, I wound up getting to the hotel pretty late on the first night to check in. This is when I realized that the hotel has offsite parking, requiring me to cover several blocks early in the morning to get to my vehicle and again late at night after parking to return to the hotel. The directions were pretty easy, but the ground I’d be covering on foot was in an unfamiliar area.

A while back I wrote an article called Hard vs. Soft Target, where I mentioned that situational awareness isn’t a combat mentality, it’s an everyday mentality. This philosophy was put to great use while on this trip, where I adopted the hard target stance.

How can you apply some of these lessons to your everyday life?

Take a Message

First off, start by putting the damn phone away. In fact, go one step further and disable the ringer or put it on silent. In other words, pay attention! You need to keep your focus on the terrain in front of you in an effort to pick up on pre-incident indicators. These indicators can range from subtle to pretty damn obvious. You actually want to be distracted, you want your attention to be diverted. In this case, your attention is diverted because something was out of the ordinary and is a possible threat.

One of These Just Don’t Belong

Even in a place you haven’t been before, there are recognizable patterns and it’s important to pay attention to those patterns. Once you can see these at play, then you’ll notice when something doesn’t fall into the pattern (the deviation) and that it deserves your full attention. A great application of this is the “tactical pause.” Take a moment and acclimate within your surroundings; look, listen and feel. I know it sounds a bit odd, but trust me it works.

This was a habit ingrained into me as a young Frogman after our insertions, in an effort to get in sync with the terrain. You want to notice people, places and potential danger areas well in advance, then develop a plan on how to deal with them.

Contingencies, For Real

It goes without saying that you want to keep your head up, study your route and have a plan. Something that radically changed my perspective came from thinking about possible contingencies. Two of the big ones are whether to stand and fight or escape. Both required physical exertion (and lots of it) and at the time, my gear selection sucked.

I’ve been carrying a courier-style bag as my carry-on now for several years. At first I really liked it but I hadn’t ever thought of needing to fight with it or run with it, both of which would’ve been major fails on this trip. There wasn’t much I could do about it on the trip, but I’ve since remedied the situation with an Arc’teryx Blade travel system pack. I love the new pack and while I haven’t had to fight or run, it’s a sleek and low-profile package that wears incredibly well. Putting all of my gear on my back totally frees my hands, or more importantly allows me to carry improvised weapons discreetly. I know that seems pretty obvious, now.

Situational Awareness

Being distracted is pretty easy for most guys and it can have negative outcomes for sure. However, if you can tune your ability to be distracted towards danger, you’ll soon develop a solid early-warning system. Think about patterns, even in the hustle and bustle of a major metropolitan area. Also know that when you see a disruption in the pattern, you need to pay attention and start developing a plan.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Jeff Gonzales was a decorated and respected US Navy SEAL, serving as an operator and trainer who participated in numerous combat operations throughout the world. He now uses his modern warfare expertise as President of Trident Concepts, LLC., a battle proven company specializing in weapons, tactics and techniques to meet the evolving threat. Bringing the same high-intensity mindset, operational success and lessons learned from NSW to their training programs, TRICON has been recognized as an industry leader by various federal, state and local units. Organizations interested in training with TRICON can call 928-925-7038 or visit for more information.

Title photo © faceme

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