Editor’s Note: Long-time popular commenter 1stMarineJarHead recently returned from a trip to the big city and had some interesting observations about the differences between Urban OPSEC and Situational Awareness versus the same things in more rural settings. His philosophy on flexibility is very similar to my own.
He’s going to be contributing more often – I hope you enjoy his debut post. ~ Daisy
Recently I had the great opportunity to visit with family in a major metropolitan area. This city was their city of birth, so it held great esteem and nostalgia for them.
Packing for a four-day trip with clothing for two people into one suitcase (avoiding those airline baggage fees for two suitcases) just made more financial and economy of space sense. Granted, we stuck out on the train from the airport to the downtown area as obvious tourists. The upside was there were three other people on the same train carriage from the airport with similar suitcases, and as this was the only line from the airport to downtown. So this meant that people with suitcases were not an uncommon sight to see.
I did my best to sit with my back against the bulkhead (wall for you non-Marine/Navy types) to keep all those to the left, front, and right of me. However, that was not always able to be the case (more on that later).
Making our way from the airport to the hotel
An interesting note, seeing as I have been out of the world a spell (5 bonus points to those who can make the name of that pop-culture reference without using a search engine), I noted that on the train, a good 90-95% had their faces buried into their phones, most with some kind of earbuds. IF you did not, that made you the odd one out. And a few people noticed I was not staring into a phone, but looking around. That made me the odd one. This is something to consider when trying to “blend in.” There is an entire article that can be written about how to use your smartphone/tech to SA your immediate area, but that is a different article.
Once off the train and above ground again, the wife and I had to hump it a few blocks to the hotel. Her, with our carry-on (an extra pair of socks and underwear for both, reading material, and a few essentials we needed in case the airline lost our checked luggage), and me with the suitcase.
Within two blocks, luggage in hand, we were obviously tourists and thereby approached (my wife used a few other colorful metaphors [name the pop-culture reference!]) by half a dozen panhandlers. One at least offered helpful directions, albeit right in front of the hotel we were staying at so the point was moot.
After we got to our room and met up with the family, we went out for dinner at a very nice and well-established restaurant within walking distance.
My observation was this: how does one blend into a metropolitan area, when the panhandler looks (and smells) like he has not had clean clothing in several months?
Clothing: Some would say, don’t dress flashy.
Compared to the panhandler, what I wear around the farm could be considered flashy, I.g. a good pair of sturdy boots, a good Carhart jacket or gloves. Those things on the cold winter city streets could go a lot further than a Rolex.
And I saw everything from flashy to panhandlers and everything in between.
Race: Okay, this is a major metropolitan city. Races of all kinds on the train, on the bus, on one city block. Just being you is blending in. At one bus stop, there was a Latino family, a young white lady, and us (me being more brown than white and my very white, short, wife). My wife gave a cigarette and light to the Latino gentleman and chatted with him for a bit. The young white lady turns out to be a school teacher and offered for the Latino children to sit next to her. We got to talking to her later, she has two cute dogs and was helpful with aiding us in navigating the bus system. OPSEC and SA are important, but when the trains and buses are running, the lights are on, most people are still good people.
Crowds: Sometimes it was easy to sit near the exit on the bus or the train. Other times, not going to happen. And to try to insist on having that seat or standing near the exit could draw additional attention to yourself.
Walking on the street, there was no way possible to keep SA at all times. I just don’t have eyeballs in the back of my head. Now, that is where having a second set of eyes (or more, the family) is a great asset. My wife is in the military and totally understands OPSEC and SA (although I did have to remind her, we don’t have the firepower here, the bad guys do in this particular theater).
My father, having grown up in the city, even said to me, “Don’t carry your wallet or phone in your back pocket but in your front or even your interior jacket pocket.”
To which I responded, “Already did, dad!”
Note, he is in his 70s.
So, I think there is a fine balance between OPSEC and SA.
Some may say, “Just don’t go to a major metropolitan area!” To which I say, I wanted to take this opportunity to see my family.
The real take-away I relearned was Semper Gumby or Always Flexible.
Do not get locked into one way of thinking. Adjust as the situation/environment dictates, with your personal security in mind.
1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.
He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.