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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are You a Sheepdog, Protector or Watchdog?

By David "Jager" Burnell  

Do you sleep well at night? Are you hyper vigilant? Do you notice things that most people just ignore such as the guy with the baggy coat down to the knees, or the discoloration of the dirt on the road implying recent disruption? If you answered yes to any of these questions most likely you have been or are in a hostile environment. If not, you are gifted with the tendencies of being a protector or perhaps a predator.

In recent conversations with several of my buddies that have been wounded in or heavily involved in direct action, I have been reminded so tenderly of the sacrifice of so many. Why does one go into danger to help others in combat, rescue or in a violent confrontation to help a stranger on the street? What is the core reason these people decide to act while others decide to protest? The psychologist might have lengthy definitions and profiles for the act itself or perhaps the personality traits likely to do this, but for me I have come to understand that there are a few constants in this diverse group of people.

The first common trait is that all of these people are children of extreme adversity. Perhaps they had a strong parent or grew up in a hostile environment. During and after the youth filled crisis they made a conscious decision to be good or bad. This seems to be independent of money or wealth, but does lend itself to the humble of heart and the broken in spirit.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I was selected as the Chief of Armed Security to protect a 100 plus medial personnel. With over 300,000 people killed and 1.5 million injured the already impoverished nation was in a complete multi-crisis. While working with my small team of protectors to cover vast terrain, diverse missions and complex needs I saw first hand the challenge of providing security while balancing humanitarian needs.

A badge or beret does not in itself provide the courage, fortitude or backbone to do the hard deed. Removing evil or oppression can be complex for some and simple math for others. Over my lifetime I have developed a simple process for determining the use of and escalation of force in a threat based environment. This model can work in combat but normally the “Rules of Engagement (ROE)” will dictate the response. When women or children are introduced into the battle space the complexity even with good ROE escalates and this model can then help. The model is based on one's personal value system or moral code. In order to determine this you have to ask yourself, “at what point will I inflict pain or death on another person?” Is my wallet or the attempt to take it from me worth killing that assailant? Is my child's life or the virtue of my lady enough to cause me to act? Will I act on behalf of my team members? The moral code or value system model makes the decision tree simpler and easier to do the math of violence when called upon because we can most of the time live with the drivers and residual effects. These considerations need to be done before we enter the battle space, and not during, where possible. As we ponder and consider what our response might be to a lethal threat we are then better prepared to shorten our pause response under an attack and take measured action. Clearly there is no school like an actual confrontation to teach you what you are willing to do, when and why. Training can help you look inside yourself and how you perform in the decision tree under pressure, but nothing replaces experience.

With this consideration now look at the sheepdog who watches the flock. Why would you help a complete stranger under life-risking circumstances? Where has your value system or moral code been affected? If it is an assault on a woman are you more likely to get involved rather than breaking up a fight with two gang bangers? The person who does this with or without the badge, beret or mission is the true sheepdog and protector of the flock. Beyond the willingness to intervene... the ones willing to inflict pain or death in order to stop, prevent or restore peace is in my heart the true sheepdog.
My opinion is that the moral courage to act spontaneously is bred into our souls at many stages and levels throughout life. It begins with a simple recognition that you have the traits of a watchdog. Then the truth will be found in the actions, activities and path. The will to become a protector, in any form, and then after becoming one with the courage to act, is reserved for a very small portion of our population. It is reserved for the person who has through life's experiences in conflict and a deep study of self become completely willing to give life and limb to the victim who is, most of the time, a complete stranger.

As I have talked with my veteran friends, performed missions and stayed awake myself reflecting on my experiences and the ever present conflicts in society and around the world, I extend my arms to embrace the fallen, wounded or active protector. The price is extreme, the missions are real and can come at any time and any place. Are you ready to act for yourself or a stranger to do good? Have you assessed your moral code or value system? Are you mission ready?

Evil is real, good can be rare and the courage to become, act and then teach others is priceless. The world is in constant need of these men and women to stand post and do the deed.