Hostile Environment Training In The English Countryside

View from my hotel room at the estate near Kent, England, where we trained for hostile situations.

View from my hotel room at the estate near Kent, England, where we trained for hostile situations.

So I’m back from a six-day trip to London and its outer regions, where I was sent for a hostile environment training course, which is something tailored for journalists who cover riots, natural disasters and war zones as well as non-profit employees who work in the same kind of areas. All my company’s foreign correspondents go through this, and usually every three years, to make sure our skills are fresh. It’s run by former British military people (the Brits seem to have cornered the market on hostile situation prep courses). They can authentically say things like, “I trained Peshmerga in 1991 and the new guard is really watered down.”

The training goes for varying lengths, but I was taking a ‘refresher’ which lasted three 12-hour days.

These courses cover everything from first aid (they do not let you leave without being able to quickly tie a tourniquet), to how to spot land mines, prepare risk assessments, handle sketchy checkpoints (where people are often fleeced or kidnapped), protect yourself under small arms fire or more serious stuff, like rocket-propelled grenades, avoid injuries while covering riotous protests and, of course, how to try and negotiate yourself out of a kidnapping/hostage situation. All this while doing your job, so the exercises also have you try and conduct interviews and record footage while you’re avoiding risk.

That time we made a makeshift stretcher with five of our coats.

That time we made a makeshift stretcher with five of our coats.

SAMPLE LESSON: “ISIS isn’t big into ciggies, so maybe have chocolates on you instead.”

To prepare you, the training team have bands of actors and real life scenarios (even a fake country with rebel factions and such) who are often catastrophically bleeding or disemboweled or stuck underneath actual vehicles or other assorted horrific situations so that you can practice your training.

SAMPLE LESSON: “There’s a certain amount of holes in your body and your objective is to come back without any additional holes.”

On the final day we simulated a convoy going into a rebel-held area of a fake country and ran into all sorts of intense situations. My four-man team hit a low point when we went running into a field of land mines because well, we didn’t really check. Gah! Learning experience.

SAMPLE LESSON: “Judge the right time and tactic to be extorted.”

The class is full of war correspondents and other assorted badasses. So hands do go up when a trainer asks, “Who was in Benghazi? Anyone do Tripoli? Remember when kids fired RPGs into the sky?”

Between the hands-on exercises are lectures from the military guys. One of them was Scottish and another, Irish. I could understand about 60% of what the Scot was saying, and about 75% of the Irish guy. Even the Liverpool accent was tough for me though, let’s be honest. This is some vocab I had to pickup along the way:

Boot: Car trunk
Bonnet: Hood
432 (I think?): Scottish emergency number

A sketchy checkpoint.

A sketchy checkpoint.

In addition, now I know how shrapnel flies up in an arc (hence the reason to get down really low if you can’t find cover), our first aid kids come with EXTRA packing gauze for those wounds where there’s an open cavity you need to pack and a special “Stump Dressing” for missing limbs.

I recommend this course, not only for the practical lessons but also because mine was in the most beautiful setting for a course like this. Apparently we did exercises where the Canadians trained for D-Day. And the band of classmates is going to be inevitably interesting, because, otherwise they wouldn’t be in this course. Afterwards you’ll know answers questions like “Can I elevate a stump?” and “How do I tourniquet myself?”

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Quick Jaunt to London Town

If you're thinking, ew, you put your shoe by your fish plank, I'd remind you that I was already committed to eating greasy fried fish off a piece of butcher paper.

If you’re thinking, ew, you put your shoe by your fish plank, I’d remind you that I was already committed to eating greasy fried fish off a piece of butcher paper.

Back from four days in London. Too bad I only hung in England and didn’t get over to Wales, cause my real obsession this year has been on the Welshmen Michael Sheen and Matthew Rhys. Sheen is the star of Masters of Sex, which I somehow worked into my talk at a London Wearables and UX Design conference on Tuesday. This is what mad crushes do to a person. And I am crushing all the time.

I didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee and I hit a lot of the touristy things before. Notably, the time I went to London at age 18 with six of my best pals from high school. I still feel horrible about our folly of indiscriminate youth while there: Clearly under the influence, we got on the tube and started chanting USA! USA! USA! to a crowd of irritated Brits. I am so, so, so sorry, England.

This time in London, I: enjoyed drinks and much catching up with my rival for 8th grade student council president, Billy Simpson, who now lives in London. Wandered the British Museum. Took a walk around Bloomsbury and Covent Gardens. Ate a fried fish plank as big as my size 9 shoe. Stopped by to see the Government Digital Service office, a cabinet level agency in the UK that’s revolutionizing government there by making it “digital by default.” Lunched and toured the BBC HQ with the intrepid Ari Shapiro, my colleague at NPR and our London correspondent. Met one of my Twitter pals in person and talked over drinks. Went the wrong way on a bus one morning, almost missing my talk at the wearables event. Made it just in the nick of time. Got purposely lost in a lovely bookstore called Foyles. Drank lots of iced tea with too little ice, because the Brits think we Americans are crazy to be so fixated on ice. Never got rained on. Really enjoyed myself.

Thanks, London, and sorry again about that embarrassing USA chanting incident so many years ago.

 

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