The Cause

Somewhere there is a TRUE BELIEVER that is Training to kill you. He is training with minimum food or water, in austere conditions day and night. The only thing clean on him is his weapon. He doesn’t worry about what workouts to do—his rucksack weighs what it weighs and he runs until the enemy stops chasing him. The TRUE BELIEVER doesn’t care how hard it is; he either wins or dies. He doesn’t go home at 1700; he is home. He only knows the “CAUSE”. 

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David Burnell March 09, 2017 Add a comment 2 tags (show)

Color Code of Mental Awareness & Combat Mindset

The most important means of surviving a lethal confrontation, according to Cooper, is neither the weapon nor the martial skills. The primary tool is the combat mindset, set forth in his book, Principles of Personal Defense. In the chapter on awareness, Cooper presents an adaptation of the Marine Corps system to differentiate states of readiness:

The color code, as originally introduced by Jeff Cooper, had nothing to do with tactical situations or alertness levels, but rather with one's state of mind. As taught by Cooper, it relates to the degree of peril you are willing to do something about and which allows you to move from one level of mindset to another to enable you to properly handle a given situation. Cooper didn't claim to have invented anything in particular with the color code, but he was apparently the first to use it as an indication of mental state.

* White - Unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty, your reaction will probably be "Oh my God! This can't be happening to me."

* Yellow - Relaxed alert. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that "today could be the day I may have to defend myself." You are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that you are prepared to defend yourself, if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and realize that "I may have to SHOOT today." You don't have to be armed in this state, but if you are armed you should be in Condition Yellow. You should always be in Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among people you don't know. You can remain in Yellow for long periods, as long as you are able to "Watch your six." (In aviation 12 o'clock refers to the direction in front of the aircraft's nose. Six o'clock is the blind spot behind the pilot.) In Yellow, you are "taking in" surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner, like a continuous 360 degree radar sweep. As Cooper put it, "I might have to shoot."

* Orange - Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has gotten your attention. Your radar has picked up a specific alert. You shift your primary focus to determine if there is a threat (but you do not drop your six). Your mindset shifts to "I may have to shoot HIM today," focusing on the specific target which has caused the escalation in alert status. In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger: "If that goblin does 'x', I will need to stop him." Your pistol usually remains holstered in this state. Staying in Orange can be a bit of a mental strain, but you can stay in it for as long as you need to. If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow.

* Red - Condition Red is fight. Your mental trigger (established back in Condition Orange) has been tripped. If "X" happens I will shoot that person.

The USMC also uses "Condition Black" as actively engaged in combat, as do some of Cooper's successors, but Cooper always felt this was an unnecessary step and not in keeping with the mindset definition of the color code since it is a state of action.

In short, the Color Code helps you "think" in a fight. As the level of danger increases, your willingness to take certain actions increases. If you ever do go to Condition Red, the decision to use lethal force has already been made (your "mental trigger" has been tripped).

The following are some of Cooper's additional comments on the subject.

"Considering the principles of personal defense, we have long since come up with the Color Code. This has met with surprising success in debriefings throughout the world. The Color Code, as we preach it, runs white, yellow, orange, and red, and is a means of setting one’s mind into the proper condition when exercising lethal violence, and is not as easy as I had thought at first.

There is a problem in that some students insist upon confusing the appropriate color with the amount of danger evident in the situation. As I have long taught, you are not in any color state because of the specific amount of danger you may be in, but rather in a mental state which enables you to take a difficult psychological step."Now, however, the government has gone into this and is handing out color codes nationwide based upon the apparent nature of a peril. It has always been difficult to teach the Gunsite Color Code, and now it is more so.

We cannot say that the government’s ideas about colors are wrong, but that they are different from what we have long taught here."The problem is this: your combat mind-set is not dictated by the amount of danger to which you are exposed at the time. Your combat mind-set is properly dictated by the state of mind you think appropriate to the situation. You may be in deadly danger at all times, regardless of what the Defense Department tells you. The color code which influences you does depend upon the willingness you have to jump a psychological barrier against taking irrevocable action. That decision is less hard to make since the jihadis have already made it."

"In White you are unprepared and unready to take lethal action. If you are attacked in White you will probably die unless your adversary is totally inept.

In Yellow you bring yourself to the understanding that your life may be in danger and that you may have to do something about it.

In Orange you have determined upon a specific adversary and are prepared to take action which may result in his death, but you are not in a lethal mode.

In Red you are in a lethal mode and will shoot if circumstances warrant."

about Lt. Colonel Cooper

Born John Dean Cooper, but known to his friends as "Jeff", Cooper was a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who served in both World War II and the Korean War resigning his commission in 1956.[citation needed] He received a bachelor's degree in political science from Stanford University and, in the mid-1960s, a master's degree in history from the University of California, Riverside.

In 1976, Cooper founded the American Pistol Institute (API) in Paulden, Arizona (later the Gunsite Training Center). Cooper also began teaching shotgun and rifle classes to law enforcement and military personnel as well as civilians and did on-site training for individuals and groups around the Free World. He sold the firm in 1992 but continued living on the Paulden ranch. He was known for his advocacy of large caliber handguns, especially the Colt 1911 and the .45 ACP cartridge.

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David Burnell February 16, 2017 Add a comment 1 tags (show)

Escaping an Attack from the Back

These tips are FREE and provided by OPSGEAR® The Gear Superstore!

OPSGEAR® provided FREE training for military and police in close quarters and urban warfare from 2002-2012.

These tips are not intended to be used as offensive techniques but STRICTLY as defensive measures to BREAK CONTACT with an aggressor. This is not a simple liability statement, it is a statement of getting OUT of trouble and surviving an assault!

Don't forget our commercial Defensive Tactics DVD Available NOW

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David Burnell February 16, 2017 Add a comment 1 tags (show)


According to the dictionary a hero is: a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

For me this word has a few meanings that may relate to the official definition, but more importantly to me identifies a few actual faces.

I have personally been on hundreds of 911 trauma calls where lives hung in the balance off cliffs, open water, frozen lakes and burning structures. I am reminded of one of my very best friends from the Dive Rescue team and our annual “Ice Diving” certification. We were required annually to perform two under the ice dives and stay on the bottom for 10-15 minutes to maintain certification. Certified to do what you may ask? Certified to go under an ice shelf where the dead and dying are waiting to be brought home to family and loved ones. Certified to reach deep into an abyss alone as a single diver tethered on a line that is all that separates you in a zero visibility “black water” environment from the warmth and safety of the surface and natural air.

My good buddy and fellow diver would perform his annual dives with great courage and faith that if anything happened I would be there for him. He was right. Beyond that thought though is where the correlation to the word “Hero” comes in to me. My buddy did not like the water much. He performed his dives to do good and to make a difference because he believed then and still does now as a Captain in a full time fire department that saving lives is a worthy risk and comes before personal comfort or safety. Seeing him go into the water year after year in every environment from swift water to under the ice taught me the word hero in a more direct and less glamorous way. Doing the hard thing when no one else is present for a noble cause is being a hero in my book. Performing dangerous missions in training or under real word conditions when you are scared is being a hero. As a Public Safety Scuba Instructor I witnessed this humble behavior for many years and on many actual recovery calls. Never during these events did anyone in my circle use the word hero to define themselves... In fact tradition is that if you are caught in the news paper or singled out on TV you may be responsible to by drinks, shakes or dinner for ALL those who were on the call. This was just another way of keeping everyone in the mindset that a “Team” is more powerful than the individual. Nevertheless these men and women in my book were and are defined as true heroes.

Another humble and simple example is the voice of a four year old child to a veteran mother “you're the hero mom”. When ever I think of this or contemplate the context of those speaking and hearing it I get a little teary eyed. The little girl is right that her mother is a hero in every sense of the word. Risking it all, committed while aware of the danger and bold to speak out the things she believes in.

Often the “Hero” will deflect the attention. Some may think this is casual banter and perhaps superficial humility. To me it is the fact that if one acknowledges the hero word, they deny all the other critical participants that were present during the mission, operation, rescue or recovery. Perhaps they just do not want to buy a round of shakes for the team :) either way the dead in many cases are truly the heroes because they voted with their life and the vote was cashed in.

As I write this at my desk and in the company of many real bona fide heroes I can’t help but reflect on my long time buddy and fellow instructor in the Urban Warfare Center® “Bravo.” He was recognized for valor in Afghanistan at 12,000 feet while he and one other soldier assaulted a fixed mortar position and a bunker successfully. A-10 warthogs had attempted gun runs to suppress the threats, but because of the terrain and conditions they could not deliver their guns or bombs. A-10 pilots of all aviators are never unwilling to drop bombs... this place was hardcore. It finally took an old fashion assault of two guys with courage breathing heavy at altitude to unseat the mortar and the bunker. This kind of hero will say “I was just doing my job.” In fact as I spoke briefly with Bravo today thats exactly what he said.

Doing one's “job” is fine when you work at a lumber yard, restaurant or bakery. But when you carry a weapon in hostile terrain “doing your job” means killing, saving or anything else required to get you and the others home. It is by its very nature “above and beyond.”

While I sat in the basement of his parents a year or so after he came back from a very violent tour of Afghanistan I learned that he had not told his parents about his medal with a “V” for valor. I explained to them that he had been formally recognized for his contribution in a remote region of the world and he should tell them the story. Truth be told he did. He of course left out some of the more weighty parts of it as only another warrior would understand the complexities of taking lives to save them.

My father would leave our home in a little city outside of Los Angeles every day for 24 years and strap on his gun and leather to fight an ever increasing wave of crime as a policeman with LAPD. I witnessed this day in and day out knowing that he risked his life each time. This reality was brought home any time a graduating classmate or a partner of his were killed in the line of duty.

My dad is one of the most humble and simple men you will ever meet. He would never call attention to himself, especially if it was implied that he was a “hero.” He caught the number one bad guy on the top ten list in the 1960s and was given a bottle of champaign that sat on our shelf for 25 years. He saved lives and dealt justice to the bad guys. He is one of many of my personal heroes.

Heroes come in every color, shape, size, gender and walk of life. It can be the civilian who decides not to sit idly by and let someone else be victimized. It can be a kid saving another kid from drowning. The true mark of a hero is the person who has a steep and deep value system and lives a life based on liberty, involvement and protection of those very rights at the cost of popularity, safety, fortune and even life.

To all those “heroes” who read this article I (we) at OPSGEAR® say THANK YOU and may God Bless and keep you always safe. To all those who cannot read this and are forever gone, we think of you and salute you this day.


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David Burnell February 16, 2017 Add a comment 1 tags (show)


OPSGEAR® Presents:

United States Air Force TACP

 (pronounced TAC-P), is usually a team of two or more United States Air Force Tactical Air Controllers sometimes including an Air Liaison Officer (a qualified aviator), which is assigned to a U.S. Army combat maneuver unit, either conventional or special operational, to advise ground commanders on the best use of air power, establish and maintain command and control communications, control air traffic, act as an inter-service liaison, control naval gunfire, and provide precision terminal attack guidance of U.S. and coalition close air support and other air-to-ground aircraft.

Along with being assigned to all conventional Army combat units, TACP airmen are also attached to Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Army Rangers, as well as Joint Special Operations Command units and multi-national Special Operations task forces, primarily as communications experts and precision airstrike controllers.

In addition, TACP members can be assigned to AFSOC Special Tactics Squadrons to train Air Force Combat Controllers, traditionally responsible for austere airfield Air Traffic Control, in the tactics, techniques, and procedures of Close Air Support control.

Enlisted members are known as ROMADs (formerly "Radio Operator, Maintainer & Driver," from their time as assistants to officer-only Forward Air Controllers. The acronym is now widely accepted as standing for "Recon, Observe, Mark & Destroy" in reflection of the modern role of the TAC).

TACP members wear black berets, with a distinctive Red, Blue, and Green cloth flash and silver crest, as seen to the right. Air Liaison Officers are authorized to wear the black beret, flash, and rank while assigned to a TACP unit, but not at any other point in their career.

Contrary to old doctrine, TACP FAC's, now called "JTAC's", are enlisted men that provide Close Air Support. Only a few officers were grandfathered into the FAC program; those few are the only officers remaining capable of providing Close Air Support.


The Forward Air Control mission dates back to World War II. Unfortunately information from that time period is sketchy. During Korea and Vietnam the Ground FAC mission came unto its own. During the Vietnam conflict, the role of the Forward Air Controller was redefined. Not always were they flying low over the jungle looking for targets.

Now they were on the ground, attached to ground maneuver units (The Army, Grunts, Foot Sloggers, Crunchies .. take your pick). Their mode of transport was the M-151 Ford jeep with a heavy communications pallet in place of the back seats. To keep this radio equipment in good working order a maintenance tech, a Radio Repairman was assigned to the "MRC-108 System". This ROMAD (Radio Operator, Maintainer And Driver, an enlisted guy usually an E2 or E3) was to assist a FAC (an officer, usually a Lieutenant or Captain) in getting around the country and more or less stay out of harms way in order to call in air strikes in support of the Unit that was under fire.

During the early years of this mission, the personnel who did it were not chosen because they were Gung-ho or highly motivated. It was their turn. Pure and simple. Some of the enlisted ROMADs made a name for themselves and others were just faces in the crowd.

A ROMAD is an Air Force enlisted man (no females or officers in this career field) assigned to an Army maneuver unit. Here's how it works. The US Air Force assigns ROMADs to the TACP (Tactical Air Control Party Flight). Our mission is to advise, assist, and control air assets in support of the US Army, usually in close proximity to friendly troops. In fact, the ROMADs primary mission is CAS (Close Air Support). ROMADs will move forward with a Scout or COLT team, locate and mark the target, and 'control' the CAS aircraft on the target.

Once you pass the psychological evaluation and initial PT test, you're off to Hurlburt Field, Florida for 14 weeks of fun in the sun (and mud). Here you will learn all of the basics of being a 1C4x1. You will learn a little about how the Army works and how to interact with them on an operational basis. Extensive training is given on a wide variety of communications equipment, including portable radios, and the GRC-206 communications pallet. Without communications, a ROMAD is useless. You will spend a few days on the range at Eglin Air Force Base learning field skills such as: navigation (day/night, individual/group, foot/vehicle), site selection, camouflage, evasion, and the fine art of The Road March. As well as, working at each stage of a Close Air Support mission.


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David Burnell February 13, 2017 Add a comment 1 tags (show)

British Special Air Service (SAS)

The Special Air Service (SAS) was created by David Stirling in 1941. Conceived as a desert raiding force, the Regiment inserted behind German lines in Northern Africa, carrying out sabotage missions and wreaking havoc along Rommel's supply lines.
The British Army's special forces unit, the 22nd Special Air Service regiment. Roles include Counter-Terrorism and reconnaissance. The SAS is one of the most renowned and respected special forces organizations in the world.

Selection Phase 1 - Endurance

The first phase of selection is known as the endurance or 'the hills' stage. This is the endurance portion of selection and not only tests a candidate's physical fitness, but also their mental stamina. To pass this phase, a high level of determination and self-reliance is vital.

The hills stage lasts 3 weeks and takes place in the Brecon Beacons and Black Hills of South Wales. Candidates have to carry an ever-increasingly-heavy bergen over a series of long timed hikes, navigating between checkpoints. No encouragement or criticism is provided by the supervising staff at the checkpoints. SAS Directing Staff (DS) are fully-badged members of the regiment and leave each candidate to their own devices. This can be a marked contrast from the selectee's experience in their parent units. They would be used to their instructors shouting constant instructions at them, along with encouragement and abuse. The demands of life in a special forces unit require each member to be self-motivated.

The endurance phase culminates with 'the long drag', a 40 mile trek carrying a 55lb bergen, that must be completed in under 24 hours.

Selection Phase 2 - Jungle Training

Those who have passed stage 1 have to then pass jungle training. Training takes place in Belize, in the heart of deep jungles. Candidates learn the basics of surviving and patrolling in the harsh conditions. SAS jungle patrols have to live for weeks behind enemy lines, in 4 man patrols, living on rations. Jungle training weeds out those who can't handle the discipline required to keep themselves and their kit in good condition whilst on long range patrol in difficult conditions. Again, there is a mental component being tested, not just a physical. Special Forces teams need men who can work under relentless pressure, in horrendous environments for weeks on end, without a lifeline back to home base.

Selection Phase 3 - Escape & Evasion & Tactical Questioning (TQ)

The small number of candidates who have made it through endurance and jungle training now enter the final phase of selection. The likelihood of a special operation going wrong behind enemy lines is quite high, given the risks involved. The SAS want soldiers who have the wherewithal and spirit required to escape and evade capture and resist interrogation.

For the escape and evasion (E&E) portion of the course, the candidates are given brief instructions on appropriate techniques. This may include talks from former POWs or special forces soldiers who have been in E&E situations in the real world.

Next, the candidates are let loose in the countryside, wearing World War 2 vintage coats with instructions to make their way to a series of waypoints without being captured by the hunter force of other soldiers. This portion lasts for 3 days after which, captured or not, all candidates report for TQ.

Tactical Questioning (TQ) tests the prospective SAS men's ability to resist interrogation. They are treated roughly by their interrogators, often made to stand in 'stress positions' for hours at a time, while disorientating white noise is blasted at them. When their turn for questioning comes, they must only answer with the so-called 'big 4' (name, rank, serial number and date of birth). All other questions must be answered with 'I'm sorry but I cannot answer that question.' Failure to do so results in failing the course. The questioners will use all sorts of tricks to try and get a reaction from the candidates. They may act friendly and try to get their subjects chatting; or they stand inches away from their subjects and scream unfavourable remarks about the sexual habits of their mothers. Female interrogators may laugh at the size of their subject's manhood. Of course, a real interrogation would be a lot more harsh and the subject would not know that they get to leave alive when it's all over. That said, days of interrogations and enduring the stress positions and white noise break down a man's sense of time and reality. The SAS are looking for men who can withstand such treatment long enough so that the effects of revealing any operational information they might have can be lessoned by HQ.

After all that...

The small number of men who make it through selection receive the coveted beige beret with the distinctive winged dagger insignia. As a newly badged member of the Special Air Service they can feel justly proud. They are not out of the woods, however, as they are now effectively on probation. As brand new members of the regiment, they will be watched closely by the DS as they enter continuation training. Many SAS soldiers are RTU'd (returned to unit) during training.

Counter-Terrorism Training

One squadron (A,B,D or G) is designated for counter-terrorism (CT) duties. The role is rotated through the squadrons every 6 months. After getting up to speed with CT techniques, the active squadron splits into two sections. One carries out training at the various SAS training facilities and is on standby for immediate response to a terrorist incident. The other takes part in exercises and is on 24 hour warning to respond.
The Killing House

The SAS do much of their CT training in a specially constructed house at SAS Headquarters, called the 'Killing House'. Featuring movable partitions, rubber-coated walls to absorb live rounds and extractor fans to clear out the gun fumes, the killing house can be configured to emulate various scenarios. The Killing House is used to hone the SAS trooper's Close Quarter Battle (CQB) skills. CQB techniques are practised over and over until the various drills become second nature. Room entry techniques are perfected. The SAS troopers will learn how to deploy stun grenades, tear gas, door and wall breaching explosives, shotguns loaded with hinge-busting Hattan rounds - all designed to give the assault teams the edge in siege busting operations. Once the CT teams have developed the disciplines required, they will begin to train with live ammunition. Members of the assault teams will take turns at playing hostages whilst their colleagues burst into the room. firing live rounds into targets sometimes very close to them. The Killing House is wired with cctv cameras so the assaults can be watched back and analysed.

The Killing House is also used by the Counter Revolutionary Wing to train for various close protection scenarios.
Building Assaults

When they need to practise getting into buildings, the SAS will use specially built buildings on which to play. Training includes :

  • Abseiling (rappelling) down buildings and from helicopters
  • Gaining access via ladders
  • Creating access holes into the side of buildings using explosives

    The SAS use a multi-story building nicknamed 'the Embassy' to practise assaults. On at least one occasion, the SAS have practised assaults on condemned buildings, including blocks of flats.
    Tubular Assaults

    Terrorists have been known to take hostages aboard trains, buses and coaches. The SAS train constantly in assaulting such targets. SAS training facilities include a stretch of railway tracks complete with railway carriages for which to practise storming hijacked trains.

  • Aircraft Assaults

    The SAS train for assaulting hijacked aircraft using a mock up of a passnger airliner at the training ground at Pontrilas, Herefordshire (see image below). The Killing House can also be configured to emulate the interior of airliners. Frequent exercises involving real-world aircraft (usually provided by British Airways) take place, complete with role-playing terrorists and hostages.

    Counter-Terrorism Exercises

    Training in the killing house and in aircraft mock-ups can only do so much. The SAS frequently stage full-scale counter-terrorism exercises. These often include all the players that would be present in the real thing - police, politicians, negotiators, actors playing terrorists and hostages and, of course, the SAS. Such exercises are designed to simulate as closely as possible the environment of a real incident so all the elements can be tested, procedures refined and lines of communications established. As with real-life, the SAS may find themselves sitting around for days whilst the civilian authorities attempt to peacefully resolve the situation. Patience is a skill that all SAS troopers have to learn.

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    David Burnell January 25, 2017 Add a comment 1 tags (show)

    Home Defense Shotgun Tips & Tricks

    These tips are FREE and provided by OPSGEAR® The Gear Superstore!

    OPSGEAR® provided FREE training for military and police in close quarters and urban warfare from 2002-2012.

    These tips are not intended to be used as offensive techniques but STRICTLY as defensive measures to BREAK CONTACT with an aggressor. This is not a simple liability statement, it is a statement of getting OUT of trouble and surviving an assault!

    Don't forget our commercial Defensive Tactics DVD Available NOW


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    David Burnell January 25, 2017 Add a comment 1 tags (show)

    Type I Malfunction Drill Presented by OPSGEAR®

    These tips are FREE and provided by OPSGEAR® The Gear Superstore!

    OPSGEAR® provided FREE training for military and police in close quarters and urban warfare from 2002-2012.

    These tips are not intended to be used as offensive techniques but STRICTLY as defensive measures to BREAK CONTACT with an aggressor. This is not a simple liability statement, it is a statement of getting OUT of trouble and surviving an assault!

    Don't forget our commercial Defensive Tactics DVD Available NOW

    Full article →

    David Burnell June 10, 2016 Add a comment 1 tags (show)

    Water Storage and Hydration Preparedness TIPS

    Your hydration needs are below:
    • One gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation.
    • Children, nursing mothers and sick people may need more water.
    • A medical emergency might require additional water.
    • If you live in a warm weather climate more water may be necessary. In very hot temperatures, water needs can double.
    • Keep at least a three-day supply of water per person.
    • If you need to purify water heat until a rolling boil - let cool and drink.
    NOTE: Alcohol and Caffeine do not provide appropriate hydration.

    It is recommended you purchase commercially bottled water, in order to prepare the safest and most reliable emergency water supply. Keep bottled water in its original container and do not open until you need to use it. Observe the expiration or “use by” date. Store in cool, dark place.

    NOTE: Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water.Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.

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    David Burnell March 29, 2015 Add a comment 1 tags (show)

    OPSGEAR was there - Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

    I went to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami to help the people of Japan. I packed my gear, steadied my feet and bought a plane ticket and simply went to Tokyo in an attempt to help. The 747 wide body flight to Tokyo was virtually empty and there was lots of time to think and rest before the mission would become a gritty reality.

    On March 11, 2011, the northeast coast of Japan was struck by a magnitude 9 earthquake, the strongest quake on record in Japan. The quake was followed by a record 500 foot high tsunami which devastated the northern coast of Japan and destroyed several nuclear reactors. Loss of life was estimated to be over 20,000. I had spent the previous January in Haiti, after the massive quake, as a volunteer in charge of the security of 120 doctors, nurses and translators. The devastation was remarkable, and my role was one of a protector instead of a rescuer. The death toll there was over 300,000 but the damage was about 20%. The north coast of Japan would be in most areas total devastation. The small towns along the coast completely disappeared.

    When I first heard of this new disaster, it was unbelievable to me that there was another epic event like Haiti in such a short period of time. It, like Haiti, was unprecedented in recorded history. Complicating the disaster were the five damaged nuclear power plants all located in the one coastal area called Fukushima. These reactors began to melt down and spew out radiation the likes of which are still not completely known or acknowledged.

    After the world news and reporting of this enormous event, I had a dream. As I slept in my warm and comfortable bed, in my very safe community, my eyes were opened and I saw the disaster in vivid detail. I could see the carnage and the bodies being swept in and out with the tide. I could hear and see so clearly the women of Japan and their lamentation. I saw them weep with their hands over their faces and covering their mouths. I saw them cry deeply, but with a dignity reserved only for the Japanese culture.

    Witnessing this dream/reality broke my heart and, as I awoke to the reality of my personal comfort and peace, I knew I needed to get my gear and go to Japan; however, I also realized I did not really want to go. It was dangerous, would be expensive and the radiation had possible long term effects that I was aware based on my time serving in Europe during the Cold War. In fact, I expressed my concerns many times to my closest friends. Nevertheless the dream was a reality to me and I knew personally and deeply that I needed to be there for some reason.  In the end, I would go and do whatever I could, for as long as I could to ease the suffering of these people.

    The trip would be long and difficult. I would be completely alone, self-reliant, without the benefit of language skills or any formal resources to assist me on this mission. I would be required to, in a foreign land, where everyone was running away, forge a path into Tokyo and then beyond. I would need to get past police and military restrictions, and areas locked down because of looting. I would need to cross the broken rail lines, and forge through the hot radiation zone of Fukushima in order to get up north to the tsunami stricken areas and attempt to make a difference.

    Some have been quick to label these actions as heroic.  While I understand this context, in many ways I disdain the very implication of that word as it relates to me. The reason I react so strongly to this tag is that it implies super human strength or deeds. It implies the impacting in some grand way a single event where life hangs in the balance. It implies miracles coming from a single deed. It signifies to me that normal people cannot do extremely challenging things without expecting an extraordinary outcome or a medal. It, to me, sensationalizes the reality of helping someone which is in the grasp of every single one of us every single day. I am an ordinary man with a diverse background. I perhaps am willing to act where others only think. I am willing to reach out in every way I can to make a difference. This is not to me the mark of a hero, but it is the mark of a man who has been given much, and is in his own feeble way trying to give back. I have for most of my life been trying to lift others where they lay, trying to make a difference for good. This is not complex or dynamic. It is the easiest thing in the world and the metric wherein joy and true happiness if found. It is the mark of my Los Angeles Police Veteran Father and Nearly 30 year Police Veteran brother. It is a child of adversity clinging to the things that may make a difference to those in need.

    I served on a Search and Rescue Team in the Mount Rushmore Area in the 90’s, and had extensive experience in dealing with many types of trauma and technical rescue. Furthermore, I was a Dive Rescue International Public Safety SCUBA Instructor which validated that I had a strong comfort level in water environments. I have over a decade of honorable military service with much of it being unconventional. I am a successful business owner and operate a tactical gear company with a specialized training component for urban fighting. Combine this with being a certified body guard for high risk areas, and I'm a well rounded self-contained asset for a disaster zone.

    After landing in Tokyo and getting my 200 pounds of gear off the plane, I made my way to a hotel and began the process of finding a way up north. Politically, the Japanese government was not allowing anyone to help in the recovery work any longer. The recovery teams from England, Australia and the United States had been asked to leave after a few short days of very hard work. The Japanese Army was going to handle the task on its own. Arriving as these recovery teams were on their way out of the country did not bode well for my hopes to assist in stemming the flow of tears by the women of Japan.

    I did not connect directly with Japanese emergency management channels as I normally would, because I believed that a one man rescue team was not all that appealing to the Japanese Government and, as they were clearly sending the other recovery teams home,  I still wanted a mission. I figured I would be unconventional and get up north and then embed myself into some existing services. In my early focus to establish assets in country I came across a non-profit organization (NGO) doing relief work in the most severely stricken areas. Through a series of phone calls, emails and an iPhone translation tool, I was finally booked in a car going up north to the largest disaster zone, and the end point for the tsunami. My backup plan was a ticket on a bus that only went and returned once a week.  This did not get me to the main disaster area, or link me to an "official" organization that was already plugged in. After many days in pulling every thread of potential, I ended up in a very small car with lots of gear heading past Fukushima and the radiation.

    During my time in Japan, in a single week, we experienced over 100 earthquakes and had various tsunami alerts. The radiation was of serious concern to all in Tokyo, and the U.S. Embassy was asking all U.S. personnel to leaven Japan. I was on my way up north right through the middle of the five reactors melting down. As we travelled we monitored the radiation levels on a hand held meter. The meter we had maxed out at about 50 kilometers from Fukushima, and stayed that way for several hours, and another 50 kilometers north of the reactors. While we traversed Fukushima I felt like I was literally in a microwave oven. I could feel the “baking” and was prayerful that my good intentions would inspire God to avert any long lasting effects of the radiation bath I was taking.

    When I arrived in Sendai, we staged for a day and then started our journey north. The Mexico recovery team called “Los Topos” was coming up from a short rest in Tokyo, and was the last foreign team in Japan doing any recovery work.  They were highly valued and still getting missions. Why they were allowed to stay in Japan when others were leaving is unknown to me, but the NGO they were with had some hefty clout and spoke the language. When the Mexico team meet me, they immediately adopted and titled me “Big Man” and made me a member of their team. They were intrigued by my story of coming alone and bartering my way up to the end point of the tsunami. They said that if I had that much drive to get here, working side by side with them would be easy.  The leader of this group was a grey haired and kind eyed man named Chico. He had done recovery work with his team all over the world to include New York after 9/11, Indonesia and every other major disaster on the globe over the past decade. In a word, they were really good at finding and recovering bodies. They accepted me like one of their own, and we spent the better part of a week together performing the most distasteful of duties in a very forbidding environment. These good people had nothing but small backpacks and the cloths on their backs. They, however, were well equipped with faith and purpose. They were politically savvy with the Japanese and did well in inserting themselves on missions. 

    When they arrived in Sendai they were driving a little white van filled to the top with people and gear. There were two of them on the top of all the gear lying prone just so they could fit. I smiled at this sight, and liked them from that moment because I knew they were unconventional and willing to do hard things in order to make a difference. They scrounged what they needed, were giving and kind to each other and most of all to me. They would literally save me from a structural collapse that crushed my chest over the coming days. I bonded quickly with these simple saints.

    We drew a mission at the end point of the Tsunami where the wave entered the town at 500 feet above sea level.  It was the town of Onagawa. I cannot tell you what the official death toll was in this little town that sits at the mouth of two points on the ocean, but I know that on our first day of recovery operations there we were told that four thousand people were still missing from the area. We were also told specifically that most were children and older people.

    It is at this point in the story that things get hard to articulate, especially in writing. With the absence of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell it is simply impossible for me to give you any sense of the environment and scope of the tragedy. Next to an atomic bomb, which kills everything, the tsunami divides families, and some live while others die. All run for safety, but many are unable to get away in time and total destruction is the resulting aftermath of these horrific events.

    During the recovery operations I performed with Los Topos we found parts and pieces of people, toys, photos, lives and everything you can and cannot imagine in deep, thick, fish compressed mud and debris. It was as if I was able to look into the mingled and mangled lives of a people I never met who lived in the most beautiful little enclave of the world until the 3/11 disaster. From Nintendo parts to dead animals, tea sets to little Buddha statues. Dolls and more photos, day after day we looked and searched for remains and souls. This grinding work lasted from sun up to sunset. At the end of the day we were rewarded with a small rice ball with a little fish sauce inside. I ate it and was thankful for it. There was little food up north.

    We stayed in the gymnasium at the top of a mountain that was untouched by the wave and the quake. This mountain housed another nuclear power plant, and it was leaking radiation. We lived next to this reactor, and slept gratefully on the wood floor of the gym in our sleeping bags. On the way up north there was lots of snow, which translated into cold and wet mud on the ground where we would work. My body heat was sapped from me as I would lay under buildings, structures and debris for hours at a time sifting through the world of chaos looking for any sign of life or remains.

    One of the most bittersweet visions of the place were the few children mostly orphans who lived at the gym, also. They would come over to me while I rested and look at me like I was from another planet. They did this most likely because of my 6 foot 3 inch frame, light hair and blue eyes. I got them to laugh allot in the evenings and enjoyed their beautiful faces completely. Then the next morning off to the recovery area under the direction of the Japanese army continue to search and recover.

    Bodies were still being recovered from the mountains surrounding the town as well as the town itself. We averaged 15-20 recoveries throughout the area each day. The white casualty tents at the adjacent high school stadium were full of documented and undocumented bodies. The casualty lists were posted on the wall of the stadium. When the new listed was posted people would flock to the walls to read the newly posted names. Many would openly weep and others would stare into the distance hoping for some news, any news. I spoke to many of the people and expressed love and concern as best I could with the language barrier. It was here that I heard of many dramatic stories in broken English and with some translation.

    One morning, we were gathered on the top of a road that took us on foot to the sea level recovery area, and as we were ready to go down to ground zero, a 7.2 earthquake struck. The locals ran into doorways and stood. Any dignity previously perceived was gone as these people, who had suffered so much ran in fear of a repeat and more death. The earthquake lasted way too long and, to make matters worse, a tsunami alert was issued moments later. Chico considered the alert and decided we would descend to our area of operations with a plan to run to high ground should the tsunami strike. I was not in favor of this plan but said nothing. I was not about to leave my new found friends, and if you worried about every alert you would never get anything done. The bottom line is that this was dangerous work all of the time no matter what you were doing. The alert turned out to be uneventful but the quakes continued throughout the day, and my stay in Japan.

    On the second day we drew a specific mission involving a father. We searched the area for many hours and cleared the entire home which had been uprooted and moved hundreds of yards up into a canyon. I was the first one in the sub section of the house and began to clear the lower portions for bodies and debris. The method is simple but effective. You displace the debris with your body like a gofer displaces dirt as he digs. The people behind you take the debris all the way out as you stabilize the place around you so it does not cave in. At the end you end up with a small tunnel. It was here that I got a face and lung full of freon from a refrigerator as I moved it out of the way to search. My goggles had been pulled down to my neck during the tunneling, but I managed to close my eyes in time to avoid being blinded by the freon gas. I did however need to be evacuated from the confined space to get my breathing back. A little oxygen and I was back in looking for the good folks that were missing. During my time under the house, there would be the occasional aftershock. We did our best to shore up things as we moved from one end to the other, but it is not a perfect science and the environment by its very nature is primitive.

    At one point, I managed to find a back pack in the clutter and had it brought out for identification. When the daughter saw this pack she lost it completely. She and the family cried as I had seen in my dream with their hands over their faces and covering their mouths. This time instead of waking up in a comfortable bed in a safe place in America, I walked over to the daughter and wrapped my long arms around her and said nothing. I just held her while she wept. The back pack was the one the grandfather was wearing when they left him because he refused to run. He said he would be fine, refused to leave his home, and stayed in the basement. Our team never found the man, but two months after I left he was found one mile away from the area we were searching. The water had stripped him naked, but he was in one piece. Closure had come to one family after an extensive and exhaustive search. The dream had become a reality. Another body was found by our team on day three about 20 yards from where we had been working for two days. This man was wedged between two homes smashed together. Protocol for this kind of recovery is that the Japanese army comes in to exhume the body, and do the investigation. This was a small relief to me as I had already filled my quota of body bags in the past.

    There are countless other moments that were written to my soul during this week up north, but let me offer just a few that had a lasting effect on me personally. First of all, the scale of the destruction is again impossible to comprehend without seeing it first-hand. I saw phone video the day before I went to Onagawa, and it was shocking. It did not, however, have the impact of seeing it, and touching it like first hand experience did. Little towns were completely swept out to sea. They simply disappeared and all that remained were large piles of timber, mud and things. Cars were on top of five story buildings and the larger buildings were left in skeletal form. Trains were moved up into the mountains and standing on end. I heard story after story from the survivors, and tragedy after tragedy. The stories were nearly all related to people being washed away in front of their loved ones. At some point you have to switch off in order to cope with the scale and be functional.

    One evening after a long day of recovery work, I sat in the entry way to the gym and must have looked the sight. I was alone because I do not speak much Spanish, and even less Japanese. I was staring at the white tents holding the bodies when a young preppy teen came up to me and offered me his rice treat. I had noticed him looking at me for some time, but I could tell he was skittish about making contact. I finally smiled at him and within a few minutes he came over to share his little meal with me. I thanked him profusely, but refused, tapping my tummy, and telling him I was full. He was willing to give this stranger his food because he knew I was there to help. He was in the spirit of giving to a stranger, reaching out to someone else alone and exhausted. His gesture touched my heart, and I wondered what his story was.

    On another occasion while I was up in Sendai waiting for the team to join me go to Onagawa, I was out in front of the apartment building sitting on my gear watching helicopters go overhead by the dozens. A little Japanese woman walked by and saw me with all my gear, and recognized my purpose. She walked up to me bowing again, and again with her white fishing hat on, and a white sanitary mask over her mouth saying, "arigato"-- “thank you” “thank you”-- over and over and over, again. She cried and bowed and repeated the process, draining tears. I gave her a big hug and said “your welcome”. They were so very grateful and gracious the entire time I was in country.

    While in Sendai I ran across two American boys who were in their early twenties, and looking for answers to life. They were curious about me and my mission. They were friends, but approached me individually while I sat on some stairs outside trying to get a signal on my phone. After talking with each of them I realized that they were both searching for self, and felt that running to a disaster zone would help them in their quest to become. I was perceptive to their thoughts and listened carefully. When they were finished speaking, I offered some simple, and pure council to each of them individually. I simply told them, individually, that they needed to go home, and reconcile their lives first. I told them that after they found inner peace their ability to help others would be increased a hundred fold. They asked me if I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and I said yes with a smile. They, too, were members of this same church, and recognized some of my words as familiar. They were here for different reasons, but both were seeking answers in Japan. During our conversations it became clear they did not want to be there, and were concerned about the mission, health and other realistic issues. Their main mission was to council the living, and help restore some hope to the needy, but this is a tall order when you are empty inside, and lacking personal clarity. After we talked a calm spirit prevailed and, I expressed my love for them, and their desire to help. I told them to go home, and resolve to make right, whatever was wrong. To move forward in life with faith and hope, and become a beacon of light so others would be attracted to them. I pleasantly found out, after my journey up north, that they both returned to the States with dignity and purpose. One of them wrote me months after my return, and said he was enlisting in the United States Air Force to become a pararescueman. The other went home and reconciled with family.

    Sometimes, we may be on a mission for the living, and not the dead. Sometimes, we may be risking life and limb, and the noble act is performed in the quiet scenes off camera, and out of the view of the observer or on a set of stairs. More often than not, this has been my experience in doing this kind of work. Rarely is there music and fanfare. Rarely are there acknowledgments, and medals that celebrate valiant deeds. Most of the time, and appropriately so, it is in the quiet of the night or the privacy of a gentle conversation, or deed that yields great things. The most powerful deeds are done through love, and by an honest heart.

    My adventure in Japan was not about recovering the dead of Onagawa as expected. Even though I was there and did that mission. My trip to Japan was about the living. It was about the women needing comfort, and the children needing to laugh. It was about the hug to a grateful stranger, and the embrace of confidence, and hope to wavering young men of the same faith. It was about inspiring noble hearts, and communicating without a common language, and culture. It was about distance and proximity. It was about love, kindness and service. It was about returning with honor derived from a very private experience in a very forbidding landscape. It was about faith and hope and God above.

    Out of the many missions and lessons that have been learned from Haiti to Japan, and beyond. This simple truth remains: You do not need to go to a far off land or disaster to make a difference. Often times the people with the greatest needs are those within our personal reach. It is a spouse, brother or sister. It may be an aging relative or neighbor. It may be the elderly or in firmed struggling to get their mail, and needing a simple hand. We only need the eyes to see the need, the heart that is willing to help, and the courage to act immediately and without pause. Simple and real-time needs are all around us, but most of the time they are within our circle of influence where we stand.

    During my mission in Japan complete strangers wrote me, and said they were praying for my well-being. People of faith, and hope from many backgrounds sent strength and prayer. During my mission in Japan, I traveled thousands of miles alone, saw the dead, lifted the living and returned without a single scratch.

    May each of us this day, and this year resolve to do good in every corner, and in every possible way. May we each lift, love, listen, learn and laugh as we experience the majesty of life.

    David Burnell
    Founder & CEO

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    David Burnell January 06, 2015 7 comments 3 tags (show)