Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Military vs. Civilian Survival

I’m sometimes asked about the difference between the kind of survival techniques that are taught in the military and the survival techniques that are taught to civilians.

Is there any crossover?

Does anything that is taught in the military apply in a civilian survival situation?

If you’re not in the military, is there anything useful to be gained by studying military survival manuals?

My training as a Special Forces soldier naturally included the concepts of survival in a combat zone. And my life since getting out of the military has been immersed primarily in civilian survival issues. So I feel qualified to speak about both sides of the story.

As might be expected, there are some huge differences between military and civilian survival issues. The very core concepts are, in some respects, 180-degrees apart. We'll take a look at those in a minute.

But there is also some crossover. Fundamental issues of shelter, food, water, and fire are quite similar. But that's where it stops. There's a lot more to military survival training that has virtually no application in a non-combat situation.

Let’s take a brief look at the core concepts of military survival training.

In military survival training, there is an assumption that you are probably either behind enemy lines or at least within close proximity to the enemy. You need to execute what is known as a survival, escape and evasion plan, so the enemy doesn’t capture you or kill you.

In a combat zone, you might hide during the day and move during the night when you are least likely to be detected. You avoid high-traffic trails, roads, and gathering places. If you must come out into the open, you disguise your appearance and behavior to blend in with the local population.

You exercise noise and light discipline. That means you're as silent as possible, you avoid using a flashlight, and you avoid building a fire and creating smoke or light that will call attention to your position.

You might be forced into a situation where you have to kill someone to keep from being discovered or taken by the enemy.

There’s also an assumption that you are in what we might consider an “exotic” location. That could be jungle, mountain, desert, arctic, or maybe at sea or along a coastline. But the presumption is that you’re not close to home in familiar surroundings, so you might have to deal with exotic wildlife that can be a danger to you, and you also need to know how to use or avoid unfamiliar vegetation that grows in the area.

There's a lot more to it than what can be covered here, but this is enough to illustrate the point.

Okay, so let’s take a look at civilian survival training.

In a non-military survival situation, the assumption is that you are either lost or injured or stranded without the means to protect yourself against the elements — rain, snow, wind, heat or cold.

You’re greatest needs are for shelter, water, food, fire, signaling, and perhaps medical attention. You need to be able to figure out which of these needs is the highest priority, depending upon what’s going on around you.

After you satisfy your basic survival needs, your greatest desire is to let someone know where you are and that you’re in trouble and need them to come and rescue you.

You don't move at night. You establish a camp as close to a trail or clearing as possible, where you can be seen by rescuers. You stay put and make constant improvements to the camp. You do everything during daylight hours, and hunker down at night to avoid getting lost or causing injury to yourself.

You live noisy and bright. Use smoke by day and light by night to call attention to your position, so search teams can find you. Use bright, shiny items to attract attention, bang things together to make noise, whistle, sing, shout. You get the picture.

You don’t need to hide from an enemy — you need to hide from the harmful elements. You don’t need to worry about killing anybody, you only need to worry about keeping yourself alive.

Can you see the difference?

Still, there are some fundamental crossover techniques from military to civilian survival.
  • How to improvise shelter, using natural resources.
  • How to purify drinking water.
  • How to handle medical emergencies.
  • How to set improvised traps to capture food.
  • How to signal for help.

So, to answer the question about the value of studying military survival manuals, I would say “Yes” those can be important sources of information. But you have to sort through all the rest of the stuff that doesn’t apply to you because you don’t happen to be deep in the jungles of some foreign land.

Here’s what I advise — learn from every possible source. Practice techniques until they become second nature. Apply whatever fits your situation.

The more you know, the less you fear.

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