"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Active Shooter - Situational Awareness

Several weeks ago I heard a briefing on the new Active Shooter program. The program is designed to help military commanders and members identify and diffuse military personnel who may engage in the kind of traitorous actions like those of Maj Nidal Hasan who shot his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood recently. Years ago another soldier, Sgt Hasan Akbar, threw a grenade into a tent of fellow soldiers. These are certainly tragedies that we should endeavor to prevent.

As I listened to the briefing, however, I was troubled. Like the pamphlet I later picked up on base titled, "Active Shooter: Situational Awareness," the program says that attention should be placed on military personnel who:

1. Have been involuntary discharged or fired from their job
2. Are awaiting disciplinary action such as court-martial
3. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress
4. Made unsolicited comments about violence, firearms or death
5. Have been served with restraining or no-contact orders
6. Are known to be mentally or emotionally unstable
7. Made comments about being disenchanted with the military
8. Display "anti-war" or "anti-military" sentiments

This list troubles me because several of the items seem to invite abuse or are simply irrelevant in my non-expert opinion. It troubles me more because it fails to capture the two most important characteristics that I think highlight potential active shooters, relationship status and extremist religious affiliation. How many active shooters were married? How many were part of an extremist religious group? When I think of a person who is likely to go postal, I think of a lonely insecure man who latches onto a religious ideology that espouses violence but nowhere in the active shooter program are such characteristics cause for attention.

Instead, using the program's list, a man who makes unsolicited comments about firearms, violence, or death requires extra attention. That covers just about any combat soldier, marine, sailor, or airman I know but leaves those with the least knowledge and experience of our profession free from scrutiny. General Patton would be greatly suspect. The list also identifies Post Traumatic Stress. This seems logical and I would hope those qualified to diagnose PTSD would take proper action. Unfortunately, how are soldiers and airman in the trenches to know who has the disorder, assuming such a person hasn't been removed from duty and given a medical discharge? Certainly the average military person isn't qualified to make that diagnosis and they are more likely to associate legitimate stressful combat experience with the disorder, or so it seems to me. This list draws attention to the best of the military who put themselves in harm's way for defense of their country.

The list is also ripe, in my opinion, for abuse against the kind of military reformers our Defense Secretary is calling for. Those who challenge organizations and provide loyal dissent for the good of the service are now to be viewed with suspicion? As Secretary Gates has acknowledged, we must challenge our superiors despite the impact it may have on our careers. Loyal dissent is not an option, it's a requirement. What is a reformer? It's somebody who is disenchanted with the current state of the military or their service or organization and wants to make it better. But such behavior is cause for extra attention according to this new program. Beyond that, the negative impact on career that Secretary Gates warns is necessary for the sake of our service and our country, is also cause for extra attention and scrutiny. Those who are fired, involuntary separated, or are awaiting disciplinary action require extra attention the list says. This list draws attention to the best of the military who put their careers in harm's way for defense of their country.

And what if you display "anti-war" sentiments? While you're damned if you make unsolicited comments about firearms, violence, or death you're also damned if you make comments that are anti-war apparently. I can think of plenty of great soldiers and airman who express the idea that "no soldier likes war" but that they prepare themselves to kill the enemy to preserve the peace. That testimony would ding them twice as a possible murderous traitor for two different and contradictory reasons.

So what does the list show us? It shows us the "safest" person in uniform is one who has never been to combat, has never been so disenchanted with things to risk career to reform an organization or service, has never been disciplined, and has never made comments or expressed sentiments concerning the very nature of their professional obligation. Such a person is safe from any extra attention and suspicion even if they are a lonely adherent to an extremist ideology who is unable to connect in an intimate relationship.

This program may not make us safer, but it stands to prevent the best among us from making our organizations better in defense of our nation. I am disenchanted with this program which, of course, may be cause for extra attention. Unfortunately, I have no doubt I'm getting just that.


  1. At least it's better than the ridiculous US Army memorandum entitled "Indicators that someone might be a terrorist". Indicator number one was something to the effect of, "Advocating or participating in terrorist activities against the US". That's not an indicator, that actually IS terrorism.

  2. Well at least you can't fault the Army for coming up with a legitimate, and perhaps the only, indicator that an American is or may be a terrorist...they advocate or do it. Can we really predict what a person is going to do? Anger is not bad...it's the channels that anger takes that can be bad. I think that Army memo (which I haven't read) may be on to something if it stops right there. Brother thanks for posting here...I don't get many comments and I appreciate yours.

  3. Organizations tend to enforce the status quo and there are two levels of enforcement. What a commander says and does will be treated differently from what a junior officer, enlisted man, worker or underling says or does. Words are not physically harmful in themselves, but woe to the person who speaks the truth about the shortcomings of his company or organization if he's not high up in the hierarchy. It's not just the military. There's some draconian corporate codes of conduct out there that penalize people for "any conduct that is detrimental to the corporation or its image" - a catchall phrase to promote fearful silence and conformity if there ever was one. Why do you think corporations like hiring ex-military? Is it because veterans are trained to conform to the most draconian rules or that they get the job done whether its worth doing or not without question (the industrious stupid) in your later post?

    From a security perspective, it's dumb as well according to Bruce Schneier (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/05/if_you_see_some.html). You are asking amateurs to be front line security personnel and you shouldn't be surprised when you get amateur results. Possibly you are creating fear and stress as a side effect as well, but you are overwhelming your military police tip lines and phones with "noise" and rendering any effective response useless if they are chasing ghosts.

    You could issue arms to everyone as a knee jerk response. The overall body count will go higher. People will become more cautious in what they say and do. Incidents like Hasan's rampage will be a thing of the past, but at what cost?

    So, it's simpler to appear like you are doing something and issue a dumb program on "Awareness". Nothing is fixed, but it makes people feel a little better. Another little bit of security theater for your displeasure and more work for the overworked police as they check out "tips".

  4. Good points jbmoore. I agree much. Where I tend to disagree is the realm of issuing or allowing military personnel on base to carry safed yet loaded weapons. I agree the body count would go up a little bit from accidents but not much I wouldn't think and we could certainly train our force to safely handle weapons just as the police force is trained to handle them, right? I'm not sure this would be a knee jerk response, seems common sense to me and I doubt the cost would be high. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. My Blogger skills are weak from the iPhone. Accidentally deleted your last comment JBMoore. Here is what JBMoore posted:

    "Well, a bottom up approach likely works better than a top down approach for security. The APs would likely be more courteous and respectful to every one since they wouldn't know who is armed or not. Society would certainly be more civil. I hadn't thought of it at the time I wrote the comment, but suicides would likely go up among men due to the availability of a lethal weapon. But you don't need a gun to take your own life if you wish to do so. The USAF had an A-10 pilot commit suicide by controlled flight into terrain ( a mountain ) some years back. He was more creative than most. So, point taken about allowing base personnel to carry holstered weapons. The benefits would likely greatly outweigh the costs."

  6. "" I heard a briefing on the new Active Shooter program. The program is designed to help military commanders and members identify and diffuse military personnel who may engage in the kind of traitorous actions like those.... ""

    Im not surprised the list troubles you; it was probably written by lawyers tasked with providing the military cover when asked what they have in place to prevent these 'lone wolf' shooters. Its not about actually FINDING any of these people beforehand; that would be far too hard, and probably in some ways present a lot of legal problems in itself.

    I'm surprised that "People Named Hasan" wasnt also on the list

    Its possible they were simply translating some of the best practices of the real experts on subjects like this: The US Postal Service.