Pick Your Battles


Quite a few years ago I was asked to fill in on an executive protection assignment for a mid-level politician. One of the team members was sick and the team needed someone to fill in at the last minute. At the time I was training several guys from the industry and "someone knew someone" who referred me in.  I had worked with these guys a few times before. We got along. Although it wasn't a full time gig for me; I was young, liked the adventure of it and the money was good; so I typically jumped at the chance to make a quick $500 bucks for a nights worth of work.

The assignment was pretty straight forward; take the principal to the event; keep an eye on things; escort him out and take him home. Simple. An easy way to make $500.

The event went without incident until the team I was working with went to escort the principal back to his vehicle. The exit strategy that we had planned was overridden by our principal who decided that he wanted to be more discrete, avoiding the press and fanfare of the front entrance. He wanted to go straight to the vehicle.

The car was parked in a parking ramp adjacent the building. Rather than pulling the car around to pick up our principal, he insisted that we go straight to the car. We suggested that we would rather not handle it this way, among other things, there was a concert being held nearby and we knew that although we were in a reserved area in the parking ramp we would have to go through an area that may be frequented by concert goers and other "unknowns." Although we strongly recommended that we find other means of vacating the premises, the principal insisted on going straight to the car. The team leader reluctantly agreed, so that became our new plan.

There were three of us on the team: The lead, the driver and me. The driver took the front as we wound our way through the building navigating toward the car. I stuck to the principal and the third member trailed slightly behind.

Things were going smoothly as we made it to the parking ramp. The driver moved ahead of the principal and me to open and start the car. We heard noise coming from our right a little down the way. I pick up the pace, moving the principal toward the car. "Smith," noticed the noise too, however rather than providing cover and just making sure that the principal and I got to the car without incident, he ran interference. He decided to engage with the three young guys whose interaction suddenly erupted into a fight.

Upon seeing this, I rushed the principal into the car, opened the door and quickly got him in. This all happened in seconds. I remember looking back toward Smith and telling him to "Come on." I couldn't hear what Smith was saying, but I did see that two of the the guys fighting took off and the one left behind took a swing at Smith.

Bad move I thought... Smith was about 6'3'', weighing a lean 220lbs. He was an Army Vet who saw time in the first war with Iraq, he competed in MMA, was a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and a good Muay Thai boxer. Not to mention he was carrying a sweet Sig Sauer P225 9mm, that I not so secretly coveted.

Smith easily blocked the wild right that came toward his head, but instead of making quick work of things, or disengaging completely, he responded in the way that his hundreds of hours of sport training had conditioned him. After blocking the strike, Smith smoothly entered, grabbing the much smaller man in a center attach Muay Thai clinch.

From my training, I knew what Smith was going to do next: He was going to destroy the kid with a flurry of powerful knees to his mid-secton, followed by an elbow or three, finishing with a circular "rodeo" style head takedown, which uses your opponents head like the horns of a steer. Cowboys use this same twist to render a thousand pound bull helpless as it is thrown to the ground.

I don't know if Smith even really thought about it, he just responded. But the attacker didn't respond like he was expected to. What it looked like to me was that he quickly punched Smith five or six times in the abdomen before breaking free of the grip and running away into the night.

This literally all happened in an instant. I turned my head to the principal, the car began moving forward and Smith was already semi-jogging toward the car. He jumped in and as the words, "what the fuck were you thinking?" left my lips, I noticed that he was sweating like a hog and extremely pale. His mouth was slack jawed and his eyes were quickly becoming vacant.

He was perfectly fine a minute ago, what happened? I quickly thought to myself.

"What's wrong Smith?" I said.

"Are you hurt?"

"I don't feel right," He said.

Hearing this I told him to unbutton his shirt. We didn't see any blood at first, but once he pulled his vest up I could see the blood on his white t-shirt. What we thought was the attacker punching Smith in the ribs turned out to be him getting stabbed.

Once the haze of the situation and adrenaline began to subside, Smith began to chant,
"I can't believe the little fucker stabbed me. I can't believe I got stabbed. I can't believe he did that."

If they would have been in the ring (or cage), Smith would have undoubtedly decimated this guy, but real life isn't sport.

The driver who was familiar with the area was already headed toward the nearest ER, which luckily was only a couple minutes away.  Smith's anger and military experience helped to keep him from going  into shock. We kept pressure on his wounds until we got him to the hospital. It turned out that he got stabbed five times in the torso. Luckily only one of the five wounds nicked his kidney, the others missed his organs and any major arteries. Most of the stab wounds were fairly shallow. It was Smiths lucky night.

After we got Smith help, we took the principal home. He was a little shaken up, but fine. After a couple surgeries, Smith, ended up ok as well.

Although there are a number of lessons here, here's what I thought was the most important:

Pick your battles Wisely

First, not every conflict needs to be resolved, so don't stick your nose somewhere it doesn't belong. In other words, choose your battles wisely. In this situation it wasn't our place to act as security for anyone other than our principal. Even if someone decided to intervene, it could have been done in another way that may have had a different (better) result. There are other things that could have been done to break up the guys who were causing the ruckus, and at the same time protect the principal and ourselves. Smith treated this real engagement like he did a sporting event. He trained for sport type interactions and his tactics reflected this under pressure. Smith and his assailant were playing different "games."  This could've easily cost Smith his life. Don't make this same mistake. Just because things have similarities, it doesn't mean that they are the same. Olympic swimmers and lifeguards both swim, but aside from that, they probably have more differences than similarities.

Although this is an extreme example, be mindful how you pick your battles in your everyday life. If you do choose to engage, pick your tactics carefully and appropriately. Does every decision that your business partner makes on behalf of the company need to be addressed? What decisions can each of you make where you trust the others judgement? Do you have to make your teenager obey every single command or suggestion that you make because you are their parent, or is there some leeway? What is worth putting your foot down on and what can you let go? Could you pull someone over for doing 3 mph over the speed limit?! Should you? It depends on the totality of the situation... You get the idea.

What are you doing to help resolve a situation vs. feed your ego or control freak tendencies? Be strategic, learn to understand what needs to be resolved, what needs to be managed and what can just be ignored. Choose wisely!

Keep going!


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