It has been 20 years since I taught my last Wilderness Survival course in the mountains of Southern California, but on April 2nd and 3rd I got another crack at it. And, let me tell you, it was fun.
Last year when I was in Italy teaching my Reality-Based Personal Protection Level 1 courses my Director for Italy, Fabrizio Capucci, found out that in my past I had taught a few wilderness survival courses and asked me if I would be willing to teach one in Northern Italy in 2011. I had had some recent survival training with my military police unit back home, and two years ago was a student in a wilderness survival course taught by German Special Forces instructors in Bavaria, Germany and so I felt like I was up on my skills. Plus two of my favorite cable television shows are Les Stroud's Survivorman and Bear Grylls' Man vs. Wild.
It all started back in 1987 when I joined the Saddleback Search & Rescue Team. It was a civilian SSR team that worked closely with local law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange County. While in the unit I had the opportunity to attend a S.E.R.E. (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) course taught by two United States Navy S.E.R.E. instructors. The S.E.R.E. program is taught to Naval and Marine aviators how to survive off of the land in the event that they are shot down over enemy territory until they are rescued. Not only do they learn how to build shelters, eat bugs, find water, and survive the elements, but they also learn how to evade enemy forces trying to find them. My training was only half of the Navy's program - the survival portion. The Evasion and Escape part was not needed for my organization.
For the year that I was with Saddleback Search & Rescue I had the opportunity to go on a joint training mission with the Riverside Sheriff's Department Search & Rescue Team. It was with them that I really got into the technical aspects of rope work: equipment care, knot tying, rappelling, and victim mountain rescue. Rope work is a vital part of survival skills.
I was like a duck in water, and I loved learning: making fire, setting traps, skinning and eating a rabbit, filtering muddy water, the whole works. I liked learning the survival thing so much that in 1989 and 1990 I taught a few wilderness survival courses to my martial arts students; the beginning of the Jim Wagner Modern Fighting Methods, which would become The Academie of Fighting Arts, which would later become the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system known today.
My courses were a big success and I learned even more by teaching the subject. Teaching a subject forces you to learn more about a subject. I did most of my training up near Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. Up there I had a little bit of everything: mountains, meadows, a nearby lake, creeks, and cold nights.
A few years later on May 30, 1995 I had my own training organization called Hike Stalk Shoot (a sniper term and a training company owned by me and three other SWAT police officers).The course that I helped organized was called Sniper/Countersniper Mountain Operations in Escondido, California and we were fortunate enough to have Lieutenant Feet of the Norwegian Army Commandos as a guest instructor. He was a cold weather combat and survival expert, and I learned much from him for surviving in extreme cold weather conditions.
When I was a member of the Costa Mesa Police SWAT team I participated in joint training mission with the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team doing elevator shaft rappelling in an abandoned hotel. Again, more rope work. I also had a lot of rope training with the U.S. Marines and U.S. Army Special Forces. I was very comfortable with my climbing skills, rappelling skills, anchor points, but in no way ever considered myself an expert. Compared to my some of my military instructors I felt like an amateur. Not only did some of these skills come in handy teaching wilderness survival courses later on, but it also started my curiosity in urban rescue methods.
In 2000 I left full-time police work and became a Reserve deputy sheriff with the Orange County Sheriff's Department.Originally I was assigned to the Search & Rescue Reserve Unit, which only lasted a couple of months, because it wasn't long until Sergeant Willie Moreno snatched me up and made me a team leader of the newly formed Dignitary Protection Unit (DPU). For the two months or so that I was with the SRRU I managed to learn quite a few things about rescues and medical procedures in wilderness areas. I also had the opportunity to do a little rope work.
Although I knew the fundamentals of land navigation from my early days in Search & Rescue I really didn't get deep into it until a few years ago when I had to start teaching United States Army National Guard and Army Reserve units map reading and land navigation. I never expected to be teaching the subject until Sergeant Griggs left our military police unit and my Sergeant First Class, the senior NCO over me, said to me, "Sergeant Wagner, you are now our Land Nav guy." Since then I have taught several units how to read military maps, locate targets, call in an artillery or air strikes, how to use a lensatic compass, how to pace distances and use Ranger beads, and other related disciplines.
Fabrizio asked me if I wanted to teach a wilderness survival course I jumped at
the chance, "Yes, I can do it."
When I told
some of my friends back home that I'd be teaching a wilderness survival course
in Italy they all said, "There is wilderness in Italy?" Apparently everyone
imagines the cute little boats on the water in Venice, the hustle and bustle of
Rome, and the sun drenched vineyards of Tuscany, but picturing a wilderness is
not one of them. However, contrary to popular belief, Italy does have forests,
mountains, and some rugged sea coasts. In fact, once you get way up in Northern
Italy you are in the Alps, and that God's country. For us we had a great forest
to train in.
On the first
morning my students met up at a rallying point. While we were still in
civilization Fabrizio and I searched everyone's backpacks and did a pat down of
their body; with their consent, of course. Like good cops we were searching for
contraband, and we found plenty of it; trail mix, candy bars, protein bars, and
all kinds of goodies. We wrapped them up in a separate bag and said to each
owner, "You get these back when we return tomorrow." Nobody was allowed any
food. I wanted them to know what real hunger felt like, and that has been my
experience on every wilderness survival course - hunger.
taught my students, two of them in military units, how to read maps, tell time
by the sun, and how to use a compass. I assigned everyone "Battle Buddies," (like the United States Army)
guard duty/fire watch hours, and then we then walked into the forest not to
come out 30 hours later.
Once we were
in nature I taught everyone how to pace out 100 meters. I didn't have Ranger
beads to give everyone, so I had them collect small rocks for their pockets.
Each small rock is 100 meters, and each larger rock in a different pocket is 1
kilometer. The outdated maps we had were in 500 meter grids, which worked out
just fine. Once everyone had their pace-count down I sent each team out, one by
one, to find the first rendezvous point on the land navigation course, with
specific instructions on what to do if lost. This advice proved valuable since
one team did get lost and we had to send Fabrizio out to rescue them.
first team that found the rendezvous point I took one of them and had him hide
50 meters away out of sight. I then applied stage make-up to his left leg to
make it look like he had a nasty protruding bone from his shin. Once everyone
showed up to the rendezvous point, and no rest for the team that had been lost
for an hour and a half, I took everyone to my victim moaning on the ground. "You have one of your team members with a broken leg. You need to transport him
to the next location. Start now!"
everyone started to get busy making an improvised stretcher and deciding who
was going to do what. Then five minutes later I yelled out, "Whoa, whoa! Stop!
Aren't you forgetting something?"
Vezzali translated my words into Italian. Then a few of them asked, "What did
we forget?" I replied, "How about treating the victimís wound?"
been so caught up in the transportation aspect of the mission that they forgot
the obvious. Doctor Patrizia Vitri felt a bit embarrassed, being a surgeon and
all, but she too had been caught up in the excitement of making and improvised
stretcher. Needless to say, a few of the Wilderness Survival students applied
the new Israeli field dressing I supplied them with, applied direct pressure,
and started treating for shock. The rest of them found some long sticks and ran
the poles through the sleeves of a couple jackets and rather sturdy stretcher.
Working together they got the victim onto the stretcher and had the relief
carriers on stand-by. Then they all started to move deeper into the forest as
One we got
to Base Camp I assigned each team a category, and within each category were
several responsibilities: Fire Making, Water Procurement, Food Procurement and
Preparation, and Tool Making. However, before each team set out to fulfill
their survival responsibilities each two-person team had to construct their own
shelter. I gave them two-hours to complete this task, and everybody di d it
within time. Since Fabrizio and I had to supervise we had no time to build a "natural shelter."
photographs in this article tell the rest of the story. We all had a great
time, and we all grew from the experience, and I know that everyone left the
forest appreciating city life a whole lot more.
Back to Bodyguard Work
I had just come back from teaching in Europe and the next day my First Sergeant called me asking me if I was available to work a dignitary protection detail on April 9th. When I said to him, "Yes, of course," and I was committed to the mission he gave me the details: our military police unit was to supplement the Governor's personal protection detail, run by the California Highway Patrol (our State police), as well as provide protection for two U.S. Army colonels who would be meeting with State of California Governor Jerry Brown. There would be two teams. The first team run by the First Sergeant was an undercover element and the second team, assigned to me, was a uniformed element (the number of personnel for each team is withheld in this article).
Early in the morning I ran the uniformed protection team through bodyguard techniques. Once I received my briefing and passed on the information to my soldiers we did an advance on the meeting area. An hour later our two colonels showed up along with their supportive staff. After our priniciples (a standard bodyguard term for the people to be protected) met with a major general the Governor arrived and the mission went down without any incidents. The Governor had lunch, met with the military staff, gave a speech at the event, and then left.
The last time I did government bodyguard work was when I was the Team Leader for the Orange County Sheriff's Department Dignitary Protection Unit (DPU) from 2000 to 2002. After that I went into the United States Federal Air Marshal Service and into the world of counterterrorism. However, since 2002 I've done several private bodyguard gigs including protecting actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at their Malibu home, a party for the Golden Globes Awards, surveillance on a man for one of the television networks, and in my civilian Crime Survival course that I teach I include some basic bodyguard techniques and training methods. So, to be a Team Leader once again on a government assignment nine years later felt pretty darn good, and I got right back into the mindset that the job demands.
Guys Night Out
After teaching in Europe for a few weeks and a military dignitary protection detail I was ready for a few days of rest and relaxation. Shawn Black (my good friend and former partner with the United States Federal Air Marshal Service) invited me to a baseball game. On April 12th the Los Angeles Angels and the Cleveland Indians were playing, and Shawn had some good seats right off the foul line of left field. We had the traditional hot dog and Coca Cola and cheered out team to victory. The Angels beat the Indians by two home runs. The Angels are celebrating 50 years in baseball; the all American game.
Trying To Keep Our Soldiers Alive
75% of our soldiers killed in Afghanistan by Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in or on roads and foot paths. On April 15th I was assigned to teach 34 U.S. Army Reserve soldiers how to detect, mark, and cordon off the area where IEDs are locate in a Military Operations Urban Terrain (MOUT) facility in Southern California.
In 2010 I went to many government courses on IEDs and terrorism, and as such my unit has had me in a teaching role. With expert advice from Army personnel who deal with foreign IEDs overseas I have fabricated my own inert realistic looking IEDs for training.
Although I've had to teach soldiers many courses over the past six years (Combatives, Land Navigation, and Warrior Tasks) I feel like this course is one of the most important in my contribution to the war effort, and I pray that it helps keep my students from getting injured or killed. HOOAH!
Copyright Jim Wagner 2003 - 2021 All rights reserved.