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Review: Left of Bang

Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life

Review by Heather Baker, AG & AG Pearland Chapter,

In many classes and workshops we hear about situational awareness. How we need to keep our “head on a swivel,” and “watch your six.” But what exactly does that mean, other than not having your nose buried in your cell phone when you walk out of the grocery store?

Left of Bang explains exactly how to do that, albeit in a military context of “combat profiling.”

In Left of Bang, authors Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley outline the principles of the US Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter program. This program gives soldiers a way to identify and communicate pre-incident indicators. Being able to do this before an attack, or left of bang (as pictured on a linear timeline) can mean life or death in combat. While the authors use the context of combat, they do provide civilian examples at times in the book. At several points I noted how observing villagers in Afghanistan isn’t much different from observing people at the local mall. The framework of this program can definitely apply in many different walks of life.

By reading this book you will learn how to observe the behaviors of others and be able to determine if an individual might be a threat. There are six domains of behavior which the authors cover:

  • Kinesics (body language)
  • Biometrics (physiological reactions to stress)
  • Proxemics (the proximity or movement between people and places)
  • Geographics (environmental awareness)
  • Iconography (symbols)
  • Atmospherics (mood or energy of a situation or place)

Establishing a baseline for these domains, you can choose which anomalies should warrant action. But when do you act? What triggers action? The authors insist that action must be taken when three or more indicators are observed.

The framework of this program gives you language to describe why something “doesn’t feel right” or that “gut feeling” that something is off. This language helps if action needs to be escalated to authorities.

We don’t always have the gift of time to observe and evaluate a situation to establish a baseline in these six domains. And our soldiers didn’t always have that luxury either. The authors give three questions to help you check surroundings, recognize anomalies, and make decisions faster.

  • First, what is going on here?
  • Second, what would cause someone to stand out and why?
  • Third, what would I do about it?

I very much enjoyed reading Left of Bang. It could seem repetitive at times when the authors covered the same topic in many areas,but that can also help the reader absorb the information in different contexts. And while it’s written in military context, the authors use language the average civilian would understand. You will have to take the combat examples and translate them into your everyday life.

With that said, I have found myself looking at other people in a different way, whether at the grocery store or walking on the trails around my home. Not in a bad way, but in a more attentive way. I’m at the point where I’ve established a baseline for my normal routines and locations. Now I’m looking more for the anomalies which would shift me from a yellow to orange level of alertness. Along with that awareness, I am thinking more about what action I’m willing to take and when.

I highly recommend this book, and have already passed my copy to many others to read it as well. Left of Bang is available in paperback, audiobook and ebook through local and online bookstores.

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