If a person wanted to learn how to escape a kidnapping, pick double-locked handcuffs, and make a tent out of a cow carcass, where would they go to learn such skills? Well, New Jersey...obviously.
Vincentown, New Jersey is home base for onPoint Tactical, a scout, tracker, and survival school that teaches the wilderness survival skills of Apache Warriors. The courses run about $600 and take place over a number of days, putting students through a variety of force-on-force simulations. The next course to take place in Jersey (they hold them in other cities too) is the Tactical Scout class, and makes note that “students may bring their own paintball gun, or use one of ours.”
OnPoint Tactical is operated by Kevin Reeve, who is also the school’s lead instructor. Kevin has a 12+ year background in working with special ops units, and has provided training for law enforcement, SAR teams, and the US military. He also worked for Apple, doing organizational development and executive coaching for five years. The combination of this experience made him not too psyched to talk to me, and for sure not willing to let me come snoop around their training ground, so I sent out a cryptic call for info on the school’s message board and a lone soul spoke up.
Thomas Russomano completed the July 16-18 Escape and Evade class in Philadelphia, and was willing to have a chat about it.
Vice: Hey Thomas, What made you want to pursue this type of training?
Thomas: I've really been getting into survivalism over the past two years or so. It basically started with a discussion among friends of what would happen if a SHTF event happened in NYC (in our scenario, a dirty bomb). Living in the most densely populated state (NJ) at the crossroads of four major interstate highways leading out of New York, my prospects looked pretty grim. Add to that the current economy, a healthy enthusiasm for anything "tactical," and Neil Strauss' book Emergency, which mentions the OnPoint Urban E&E class, and I was hooked. Additionally, I do a lot of traveling in the third world for work, specifically El Salvador and Haiti. The possibility of being kidnapped in an urban environment is very real in both those places.
What sort of work are you doing in third world countries?
I work for the volunteer office of a local university. Part of my job is leading service trips--groups of about 20 undergrad students--to El Salvador and Haiti.
Do you have any sort of military background, or are you just an enthusiast?
No military background at all.
What was the most difficult part of the training for you?
Specifically, picking double-locked handcuffs behind my back. Handcuffs can be single-locked or double-locked; I can easily pick them both ways with my hands in front or single-locked behind the back, but double-locked behind the back is a tough exercise in patience. It's a little unnerving, because if you're getting handcuffed for real, it will most likely be behind the back, double-locked.
Is it frustrating or comforting to have this skill and know that you will probably never get to apply it?
Comforting, definitely. Part of the survival mentality is accepting that many of the skills I've acquired will hopefully never be used.
Would you be able to get yourself out of a mugging?
A large part of the Urban E&E training emphasizes "establishing the baseline," which simply means finding the natural rhythm or cadence of your environment and mimicking it. Part of this is paying close attention to your surroundings. It follows that I should be able to lessen the chances of being mugged by observing the baseline of my environment and avoiding likely trouble spots...pretty much common sense.
That said, I'm fairly confident that I could get out of a mugging, either by social engineering (also taught in class) or if necessary, force. The class also discussed the gear you should always have on your person (Tier 1 gear) and some of that would help in a mugging situation.
OK, but what if someone was trying to mug you in your sleep?
Getting mugged in my sleep would be a lot tougher, since I'm a deep sleeper. However, If we're talking about a home invasion, that would open the possibility of using a firearm, so...
Backing up a little, what's social engineering?
Social engineering is the practice of manipulating people to do something that you want. It was popularized by the hacker Kevin Mitnick in his book The Art of Deception. During the Escape & Evade exercise in Philadelphia, two tasks we had to complete were getting a stranger to let us use their cell phone and obtaining money from a stranger (without disclosing that we were taking part in an exercise); we used social engineering to establish a common misfortune (claiming that our wallet/cell was stolen) to accomplish those tasks.
How has this training in duping fellow citizens and escaping from Houdini-like situations benefited your daily life?
I feel more prepared than the average person. In truth, I am more prepared than the average person. I have a lot of the gear I would need in an emergency situation, and I have it stored in a series of Tiers so it can't be compromised. Soon, I'll have hidden caches on my SHTF emergency route out of NJ. I'm currently making an Area of Operations (AO) Book for northern Jersey, which Kevin (head instructor) was very emphatic about, that will cover a range of area attributes that is unbelievable.
This is getting intense. What sort of gear do you carry around in case of emergency?
My Tier 1 gear, which is always on my person as of taking the class: fixed blade knife, multitool, lock picks, lighter, small flashlight, cell phone, handcuff key, bobby pin, barrette shim, SOG V-cutter, OC fog grenade (pepper spray grenade) and cultural/language/communication skills and knowledge.
What are a few things everyone should have on their person or in their home at all times, just in case?
In the home, I recommend researching 72-hour bags and Bug Out Bags. They're a good place to start for collecting survival equipment. I'm also a proponent of legal, responsible firearm ownership.
What do your friends say when you tell them about all this?
My girlfriend says I'm crazy for taking the class, but I think she also finds it endearing. The rest of my friends say it sounds cool, but it isn't for them...though whenever I'm telling stories from class, I do see this little glimmer that seems to say, "If shit goes down, Tom is the guy to find."
Scenario: you are in the subway and a vagrant tries to steal something right out of your hands. What do you do?
First, he's not getting what's in my hand. Second, I'm asserting my position, clearing space between us and creating distance. I'm making eye contact and issuing stern warnings. I want to get away from him, but I want to be completely aware of my surroundings as I do it. I work with a lot of vagrants and homeless; the last thing I want to do is hurt anyone. However, I want to constantly demonstrate that I'm willing and capable of action if pushed.
Another scenario: You're walking down the street in El Salvador when all of a sudden a pillow case is thrown over your head and you're shoved in a van. What do you do?
In class, they talked about the progression of danger in a kidnapping. First, you're likely to be secured in a vehicle. Next, you will be taken to a temporary location. You'll then be taken to a more secure location, and will finally be brought to your final destination (which will be the most secure). What that means is that it's best and easiest to escape as early as possible.
After I'm thrown in the van, I'm working hard to control my stress/adrenalin levels through a couple simple breathing exercises--I know that if I reach Condition Grey, I will begin to lose fine motor skills and cognitive function that will be necessary for escape (read On Combat, by Grossman/Christensen). If I'm being restrained, I'm making a mental note of what I'm being restrained with, as well as passively resisting the restraints (flexing my wrist muscles, presenting my hands to be handcuffed in front, separating my wrists, etc). I'm also doing my best to assess the situation--how many kidnappers, are they speaking Spanish, what dialect, did they lock the van doors?
I'm also looking for the first available opportunity to escape. Can I make a run for it while the van is stopped? Will there be an opportunity to bolt when we reach our destination? Finally, if no escape options are available to me, I'm mentally checking off the Tier 1 gear I have hidden on my person.
That T1 gear sounds important.