Colion Noir, NRA News commentator and host of NRATV’s “NOIR,” sponsored by Mossberg, is one of the most recognizable faces of modern-day gun culture. The practicing attorney spent an afternoon with NRA Carry Guard Lead Instructor and veteran Green Beret Jeff Houston to discuss the mindset and realities of being prepared for any situation that may arise. Part 1 of the conversation is on the following pages, Part 2 will be in the winter issue of NRA Carry Guard.
COLION NOIR We’ve taken a course together, but I never really knew the extent of your military background. I know it on the top-floor level, but from a more intimate level of understanding, what was your career like in the military?
JEFF HOUSTON It really gave me the foundation for almost everything that I do today. I was U.S. Army Special Forces, so I was a Green Beret with 10th Special Forces group. And that gave me not only the firearms foundation for all the firearms instruction that I do today, but also gave me the ability to really hone my personal protection and situational awareness skills.
CN What are the more distinctive characteristics of being a Green Beret versus other special units of the military? Because I know for a lot of people, it just kind of runs together.
JH The Special Operations community is definitely different from the conventional military that people are most familiar with. We usually operate in smaller elements. Specifically, an ODA—which is a Special Forces team, Operational Detachment Alpha—operates a full team of 12 guys. And we have a wide variety of missions and skill sets that we specialize in—everything from direct action, counterterrorism, foreign internal defense, surveillance, reconnaissance and more.
We have a very broad spectrum of abilities that we are trained in, and some of those that transfer over to what I do today are things like training to perform plainclothes operations. I was trained to interact and communicate more with people in hostile environments, but under a plainclothes setting if you will.
We always want the ability to blend in—physically, clothing-wise, ethnicities, language-wise. Every Green Beret learns another language. We all have the ability to communicate, at least in some fashion, in a foreign language. And that’s just one thing that separates us. We have different gear because of our budgets. We get different training. We get more advanced levels of training. We’re always going to schools, whether it’s a driving school, a shooting school or an intelligence school.
Military Vs. Civilian
CN The inner ninja warrior in me thinks ‘strike back.’ But it’s interesting how much a lot of what you’re saying kind of parallels being a civilian. Because you’re mimicking a civilian who’s not really a civilian.
JH Right. You’re almost trying to play the part of a civilian, but you should be and you are this highly trained professional who is kind of blending into the environment. But the reality of it is that you’ve been trained in how to recognize threats early and how to respond to threats. And essentially, if you’re in a room at a meeting, you’ve got to know how to get out of there very quickly or deal with everybody else in the room because your life very well may depend on that.
CN It seems like to me if you’re in uniform and you’re dealing with a situation, the dynamics are totally different versus when you’re in civilian clothing. When you’re in uniform, it’s kind of like discretion isn’t really that important, so you can walk down the street with your M4 or whatever it is you’re carrying and carry as much ammo as you want versus being in a situation where you’re more covert. And I’m pretty sure you’re not running around with an M4 slung around your neck.
JH There certainly are times where there are guys wearing civilian clothes with an M4 around their neck, but they’re obviously not trying to hide. They might just not want people to know that they’re U.S. military, right? So we might be doing a protection gig for a diplomat and it could be military guys—it could be a Green Beret, could be a Delta guy, could be a SEAL—doing a plainclothes protection operation. In that case, we just simply don’t want people knowing or understanding exactly who we are.
But I think what you’re more getting at is if we are out doing a meet with somebody performing surveillance detection routes. In that case, we’re limited. If we’re meeting somebody at a coffee shop in a foreign country, we are obviously limited on what we can wear, what we can carry, the weaponry that we’re using. So oftentimes, we’re just rolling concealed handguns.
It’s going to depend, but it’s always going to be at least a handgun with a few extra magazines. Also, a knife and some radio communications. And then usually you have access to more firepower close by. So if you can just fight out to your vehicle, inside of your vehicle you’re going to have a rifle, more of a primary gun that you can do more destruction with if you need to. So you always want that ability to fight to that next level of weapon.
Becoming Situationally Aware
CN You said you’re always learning—did you take any courses or classes where it specifically pertained to situational awareness?
JH You do work more on surveillance detection and having to blend in or recognizing threats in a civilian environment. There are schools that we attend that do teach us more about that. And then specifically, like country to country, you’re always going to get country briefings.
CN Do you find that some of the things have just become instinctual and that you do them without even realizing it?
JH Things do become ingrained and a little bit instinctual. But at the same time, I definitely learned that your habits do die—it is a skill set that is perishable. And I really recognized that, it probably was six or eight months after I got out of the Army. I went to Home Depot one day and went in and grabbed a couple of things and went out and got in my vehicle. And something just kind of came over me and I was like, totally out of it. I just went into a store, walked around the store, grabbed a couple items, checked out, got back to my vehicle and I really couldn’t recall how many people I even interacted with. Or what were the cars around me in the parking lot. And it just kind of hit me that everything that I took for granted is no longer being ingrained in me because I’m not really practicing it on a daily basis.
So that was kind of an eye-opener for me at that point to say this is perishable. Like, I need to re-familiarize myself with the basics of this and train my mind to do its job. And it’s also a balance, though, because, if you’re fully switched on all the time, it is exhausting.
It’s a balance between being prepared and comfortable versus being paranoid and always looking around darting around. Because you don’t want to look out of place, you want to just blend in. It’s convenient to not be aware. It’s convenient to not look around you. It’s convenient to be able to be on your phone all the time.
CN I think there’s a certain advantage with being in a hostile environment and having to be situationally aware, because literally at any moment there’s a higher percentage of something going wrong really quickly. Versus now, you know what I mean? I drove here, I’m on my Bluetooth talking to my friend and you get accustomed to nothing ever happening.
JH Right, but stuff does happen. We do get accustomed to things not happening, whereas if we’re in an operational environment, we are more switched on because there’s definitely a higher threat of something happening. There’s definitely ways that people can counter that, too. If you’re pulling up to a stoplight and you’re stopped, run through a mental exercise. Literally visualize something bad happening.
What if a car pulls up next to me and the passenger starts to open his door ... what would I do? Just run through scenarios like that in your head and that will help people train their mind more often to be aware of those things just by running through these little mental exercises in your head.
CN Have you found yourself in pretty dicey situations where things were fine and then it just deteriorated?
JH There’s always situations that don’t go according to plan, that cause you to have to react, your training to kick in. It’s really going to be scary for someone who has never been through something like that or never gone through the training to prepare for something like that because most people are just going to freeze.
It might be like, okay, I know I’m having to walk to my car at 2:30 in the morning. I know it’s the only car in the parking lot because I’m the last person to leave work. Even if they know this could be dicey, most people are still not going to react exactly how they think that they should react because they just simply don’t have the repetitions—the mental repetitions, the physical repetitions—of reacting to something like that.
CN I think a lot of us, we like to think that we’ll become tactical Rain Man in a situation, right? Just instinctively this primal nature will kick in and we just become awesome. The thing for me as a civilian who’s never experienced, at least on an apex level, dealing with a threat or something like that, I’ve had moments that caused me to question my ability to deal with something if it did actually hit that apex point. And the one thing for me is assessing the reality for what it is and then acting on it.
I had a friend of mine, he was driving and he witnessed a shootout at a gas station. And one thing he told me specifically was that it took him a second to process what was happening ... he was kind of just looking and then it hit him. And he was like okay, where’s my gun? Do I have my gun on me? He’s like, I just got sucked in for a second. It was like, is this happening right now? And then it started to process.
But then, I think about it and I worry about stuff like that because, for instance, let’s say someone comes in now with a gun and just starts shooting. I feel like, for me, because I’ve never encountered anything like that before, it’s going to be completely foreign. And I’m just going to sit here, I’m going to be like, oh s*#@, this is happening for real. And then it might be too late. So what, realistically, do you think we could do to kind of shorten that time period between internalizing the reality of a situation and then being able to act on it?
JH The best thing you can do to shorten that gap is just to run your mind through these scenarios—I don’t want to say constantly, but all the time. Like, when you came in here and sat down today, before you’ve been here for five minutes, just think through in your head ... visualize somebody coming in that door. Visualize gunfire starting to happen. Visualize, okay, there’s roughly 25 people in the restaurant, most of them are up front. You know that there’s an exit point over here in the rear of the restaurant. And just run through in your mind if that were to happen—and as you’re running through the “if,” you’re actually picturing it actually unfold in your mind. And then, when it does happen, I think that it’s just going to be a little bit less of a surprise because you’ve already exposed your mind to that possibility. Whereas if you haven’t run your mind through that exercise, then it’s just something totally foreign.
So really, it’s just that mental rep. Realizing that it could happen as opposed to just being one of those persons who are just, like, ‘yeah, we live in a safe place.’
CN When we took the course with NRA Carry Guard and we did the scenario-based training, one of the things that I remember saying was, “maybe the way I have my firearm situated in my car is not the most efficient,” because when the adrenaline starts jumping, the path to get there needs to be as easy as possible with the minimal amount of thinking. Because before, the way I have it situated, I didn’t realize how much thinking went into being able to retrieve it and do what I needed to do.
JH And how much time is passing, yeah.
CN I’d say about a month or two ago I was dealing with a kind of a road rage incident where I had an individual who was aggressively following me. I did something that pissed him off, I don’t know. But he was aggressively following me to the point where, I mean, he was hopping curbs to get to me. All I remember is that I had thought through that mindset before about a situation possibly happening like that. It didn’t happen perfectly, but I remember very vividly the things I stumbled over and the things that just came to me. Because they just came to me, but they really didn’t just come to me. I was able to not have to think about them because I’d thought about them beforehand.
JH Nice, exactly. You’d already been through those mental repetitions.
CN Exactly. And the one thing that I went through was the idea of getting on the phone and calling the cops and letting them know what was going on.
CN I don’t think I would have done that prior to the training I’ve had. To be honest with you, I think it was the NRA Carry Guard training. And I know it sounds like a shameless plug, but it was dead on. When I was watching people go through the scenario and then them picking up the phone and calling the cops—because a lot of them were car-based scenarios—I thought, pick up the phone, call the cops so that someone’s aware of what’s going on and it doesn’t look like it was two people in mutual combat.
JH That’s incredible and it’s great to hear that. That’s why we plugged that into the curriculum—scenario-based training is so critical for people to get exposed to. And we hear constantly from people who are put through scenario-based training how valuable it is. It opened up my eyes.
It’s going to put you in a totally different situation than you’ve likely experienced before. And they’re going to walk away from that and usually their mind is blown. Their heart rate shot up. It forced them to do things they don’t even recall exactly how they reacted. So it’s really cool that we’re putting people through that type of training in the NRA Carry Guard program. And it’s cool that it’s already benefited someone like you, you know?
CN It’s amazing how things change when your adrenaline is jumping. Things change substantially.
JH You fall to your level of training, you do not rise to the occasion. And you’ve heard us say that before in the training course, you’re going to drop down to your natural level that’s truly ingrained in you. You spend a lot of time on the range and spend a lot of time around firearms, so that part of it is going to come more naturally to you. And unfortunately, there’s just some stuff that you can’t rehearse all the time. That’s why those mental reps are sometimes the only thing we can do. Just thinking through it will save you time. And time can be your life.
You've just made it through the single most traumatic event of your life—how you handle yourself now will have consequences that will resonate for years.
So you’ve decided to carry concealed. Maybe you have carried concealed for some time but still wonder if you’re prepared enough to act in defense of life.