The Secret Power of Sheepdogs – Verified by the Most Trusted Man in America Today

The most contentious aspect of the sheepdog concept is the concealed carry component. When we first heard David Grossman at West Point my fellow IOC instructors and I understood the sheepdog message but started to tune out the specifics when he heard the phrase “abstaining from alcohol”. We were Marine Corps infantry officers and that wasn’t happening.

Despite the emphasis on weapons, sheepdogs are most often unmasked by events that have nothing to do with having a firearm. Keanon Lowe, a high school football coach in Portland Oregon, disarmed and then comforted a distraught student, stopping a potential catastrophe before it could happen.  When he found himself in the breach, he stepped up, and that’s what I’m talking about with sheepdogs. Had he done the exact same thing at Columbine High School in 1999 he would have been shot dead. That’s what David Grossman is talking about with sheepdogs.

If you carry a concealed pistol because you cannot tolerate the thought of being unable to act in the infinitesimally remote chance that you are in a position to act, that is great. But having a medical trauma bag and the knowledge to use it is an infinitely more practical skill. The chances you will encounter an auto accident or medical emergency while you are out and about are near 100%. Having the skills to help without the tools is useless. You might be able to repurpose found objects to render some sort of primitive immediate aid, but when a competent person arrives with a trauma bag they are going to politely ask you to step aside.

When bad accidents happen enough people stop to allow the rest of us to, in good conscience, carry on. In this day and age the vast majority of people will never encounter gun violence or human depredation. But nobody gets through life unscathed by trauma.

Having a bias for action and the heart of a lion is not worth much without the capacity to act.  According to Grossman at all times and in all places a sheepdog must be ready to step into the breach. Nobody walks out of Thanksgiving dinner expecting a 122mm rocket to slam into the yard and kill a bunch of their friends. I didn’t; I should have because I was in the Green Zone of Baghdad (in 2004) working the American Embassy guard contract, but I didn’t.

The GP tent containing our Nepalese volleyball team instantly caught fire trapping wounded men inside. We were scheduled to play the Marine Detachment after standing post for them on November  10th. They were hosting a Volleyball tournament and barbecue for us in return, which is why we had a GP tent set up inside our compound – Nepalese are serious as a heart attack about Volleyball.

This called for some hero stuff like sprinting 100 yards and diving head first into a burning tent to pull out the wounded. Two of my colleagues, an American and an Australian, did just that, but not me. By the time my fat ass had jogged 100 meters the window of opportunity for rescue had closed. That will never happen to me again, it should not have happened in the first place.

The consequences of failing to act during a moment of crisis will reverberate through the entirety of a life. The ability to act in a moment of crisis will likewise reverberate through the entirety of your life. The guilt associated with failing to act because you could not act due to a complacent, sedentary lifestyle….can ruin a life.

The humiliation at falling short when in the breach combined with later experiences in Afghanistan forced me to adopt most of the Grossman Sheepdog standards. In doing so I discovered that the Sheepdog creed guarantees exceptional quality of life as we age. That contention, as is everything sheepdog, is validated  by Joe Rogan himself, the most trusted man in America today.

I will cover the Grossman standards of concealed carry in my next post, but one of his mandates was (when he laid this out in the early 90’s) abstaining from alcohol. The reason is simple; if you are carrying concealed and consume any alcohol you are, by definition, outside the color of the law. To David Grossman the alcohol thing requires no further explanation. To Marine Corps infantry officers abstinence from alcohol was crazy man talk.  But when you get past 60 and have type 2 diabetes that requires daily injections of insulin, not drinking alcohol is easy. And it turns out you sleep better if you don’t drink, who would have thought that?

Plus, if you are over 60, and not on a regular strength training program, you have  problems with the concept of cause and effect. The science on  strength  training for the aging is both clear and unequivocal. The only way to mitigate cognitive and musculature degeneration as you age is by strength training. This fact is so well know that I include no Joe Rogan link; he has hundreds of hours talking with scientists, physicians, writers, martial artists, SEAL’s, CIA agents and a Marine or two on the topic.

I am a disciple of former NFL player Pete Koch. His routines are difficult and include lots of squats because (as he often says) when you can’t squat to use a toilet it’s over.

If you can do three of Pete Koch’s 30 seconds at a time routines, without stopping, you are in exceptional shape. His training is designed for the geriatric set but most 30 year olds couldn’t do one of them. They are ball busters. For Marines, Pete Koch has a special place in our hearts because he played a Recon Marine in the popular Clint Eastwood movie Heartbreak Ridge in the 80’s.

Pete Koch played The Swede in Clint Eastwoods movie Heartbreak Ridge. He has additional credibility with Marines because he admitted that filming a movie in Camp Pendleton that was supposed to take place at Camp LeJeune was weird.

When you look at Pete Koch or Joe Rogan you are probably thinking that it is impossible to attain that level of muscular development and conditioning past the age of 50, let alone 60. For most of human history you would have been correct, but not now.

Joe Rogan has talked dozens of times about testosterone replacement therapy (Test as the cool kids on Rogan call it) and the importance of maintianing optimal hormonal balance. I have three years on the Test, HGH, and several other supplements recommended by Rogan or his guests.  My experience is they allow you to work out with more intensity, recover faster, and add lean muscle mass. For married men the additional benefits from increased free testosterone will be appreciated by your partner.

Obtaining these supplements (Test and HGH are injectables) is easy and the testosterone covered by most  medical insurance plans. If you get on schedule, start working out hard, and stay with the routine for a few months, you will be amazed at the difference. There are supplements for women so this is not a gender specific thing, my wife is on them too.

But you will not start to look like Joe Rogan or Pete Koch unless and until you are on a strict diet.

The science here too is unequivocal and the topic covered in depth on dozens  of Joe Rogan podcasts. For years I supplemented and worked out hard but this year I got serious about diet in an effort to reduce my dependence on insulin.

I use a local branch of the national franchise that has weekly weigh-ins/body analysis and prepares lunch and dinner meals for clients based on the results. With the exception of bullet coffee in the morning I drink only water. It’s not easy to stay on the diet but nothing worth doing is easy.

The latest Science tells us you can lower your biological age with diet and exercise. Knowing that is all the motivation some people need to get and stay on a program, but it wasn’t for me, and I doubt it is for you . I write this knowing that motivation and self-discipline are the keys to a quality life (here is the validation of that from Joe Rogan).

But knowing something and acting on that knowledge is tough.  I came at the Sheepdog thing backwards. Once I found myself living the way David had recommended all those years ago, I discovered the magic of Trijicon RMR sights. Glock make a model 19 with the slide already cut for reflex sights and the trigger on it is not bad. If I did need the tool I can now employ it with precision, so why not carry the tool? It reinforces what you should be fostering in your self image and that is you are both disciplined and dangerous. Jocko Willink and Jordan Peterson cover that topic here.

I adopted the harsh physical conditioning standards of David Grossman after learning the hard way the price of not doing so. Despite listening for years to Joe Rogan and his guests talk about the importance of diet, I did not take their advice seriously until my diabetes was out of control. Now that I figured it out I thought the secret is worth sharing. You can even  us an appendix rig to carry when the stomach flattens, finally, after how years?

I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas, a holiday I dreaded up until a few years ago. If you’re a Vet (or not) and are reading this and you are alone this holiday season leave a message in the remarks. I want to talk to you.

The History Behind the Wolves, Sheep and Sheepdog Analogy

The Wolves, Sheep and Sheepdog analogy, coined by David Grossman in his book On Killing,  has gone viral over the years attracting a tsunami of positive reviews, clubs, blogs, and a ton of negative press. Type “wolves sheep and sheepdogs” into goggle and you’ll get 306,000 results in 0.79 seconds.  Scroll through the links and you will see how large and controversial the concept has grown over the years.

My knowledge on the topic comes from knowing David Grossman before he started the Killology Research Group.

I was introduced  to David Grossman during a visit to West Point in 1991.  I was an instructor at Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course and our group chief, Major John Allen, got us invited to West Point to exchange presentations at an after-hour military club ( I think it was a maneuver warfare club).  Major Allen had come from the Naval Academy to take over the Infantry Officer Course, so he knew how to wrangle invitations to military academies.

Most of my fellow instructors and I were just tagging along, Major Allen and Mike “Mac” McNamara were doing the presenting of our new decision making and staff development programs which they had just written. In return two instructors from West Point, a Captain named Richard Hooker, who had just published a well received anthology on Maneuver Warfare, and a Major named David Grossman, who was about to publish a book on the human factor in combat, gave presentations to us and the hundred or so cadets in the club.

Richard Hooker wrote a good book and was a decent guy, but David Grossman’s presentation was super intense. We had never heard of anyone probing the human factors in combat in such detail. John Keegan had first wrote on the issue in his famous book The Face of Battle but David Grossman was way beyond Keegan. He combined  historical research with modern psychology and synthesized a unique, compelling, explanation for how to develop proficiency in the primary task (killing the enemy in battle) and the price paid by the combatant for his time on an active battlefield.

As I recall most of us  spent every minute we could talking to David over the several days of the visit. Here is one example I remember well; we knew about the fight of flight response generated by a threat, but none of us had ever heard about the inter-species options of fight, flight, posture, or submission. As soon as Grossman explained it to us we could see it was legit. That was just one, minor, example of the fertile ground David Grossman cultivated in his groundbreaking work. 

This is an intense book on an intense topic and it remains the definitive text on killing in combat.

David was gracious enough to give us several copies of the manuscript that would become his best seller On Killing. I incorporated his ideas into the IOC close combat package and I was glad to have them because I was on the hook to come up with something original after Mac had revised the entire decision making program.

During his presentation Grossman went through his sheepdog versus sheep analogy (with attribution to an unknown Vietnam vet) in great detail. These days the sheepdog analogy has become controversial. It was featured in the movie American Sniper and here is an extract of Grossman’s work I found in a Slate article exploring the “Surprising History of American Snipers Wolves Sheep and Sheepdogs Speech<

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath—a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.

The Slate article is amusing because the authors are alarmed at how far and wide the Sheepdog concept had spread. They think the idea is crazy, and I can see their point, Idid I too, at first. Being school trained reporters they (typically it seems these days) get the facts wrong. When discussing the origins of the Sheepdog metaphor they write: “Grossman crafted this analogy in response to 9/11 and the war in Iraq”.

David Grossman published On War in 1996.

I had a chance to listen to David’s presentation in 2002 when Front Sight Firearms Training Institute (where I was an instructor) and the Nye County Sheriff Department hosted him and his family for a four day defensive handgun course in exchange for one of his seminars

David and I had a short conversation at dinner in Vegas after the course when he determined I wasn’t carrying. It was a one-sided conversation. I wasn’t carrying because it’s a pain and I shoot all day, everyday, so not having a pistol was nice and I wanted to drink some beer with dinner.

He  replied that carrying, given the proficiency I had developed and the training I had received over the years, should be considered an obligation. He said  I owed it to everyone around me to be able to employ lethal force, if required, to prevent trauma or loss of life. He then asked why I would willingly surrendered the one tool that would enable me to provide effective intervention to stop potential loss of a human life?

I understood what he was talking about and would like to say that, then and there, I corrected my selfish attitude on the matter. That’s not what happened, after talking to David that night I decided I wasn’t going to carry concealed anymore.<

Wake up, get dressed, holster a pistol and leave it there until you go to bed? That’s crazy talk and I also knew there is no upside to inserting yourself into a lethal force encounter. Even if the shooting is ruled justified by the jurisdiction involved there is a legion of powerful law firms who will file a civil case against you for a cut of the payout. You might win in civil court too, but you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the process.

I would not learn the lessons that David Grossman had taught me until I started working in Afghanistan as a heavily armed humanitarian.That’s what this blog was about when I started it eleven years ago.  I built, on time and on budget, in the most contested regions of Afghanistan, some massive projects. I carried a pistol from the second I got dressed until I went to bed. Because I understood weapons and also understood the dynamics of interspecies aggression I used my weapons on several occasions to de-escalate situations that were heading pear shaped fast.

Let me stipulate that what kept me safe in the remote, rural, contested districts were the Afghan people in those districts. In many places I worked I was the only westerner they had or will ever see. I traveled heavily armed to mitigate the risk of kidnapping or an attempt on the monthly payroll. Kidnapping and strong-arm robberies are not now and never have been confined to just Taliban. Criminal gangs avoid hard targets and my motto in Afghanistan was if you can’t be safe, be hard to kill (or kidnap).

I don’t believe I survived 7 years outside the wire Afghanistan because I’m good with guns. I survived because I am good with people and the Afghan people valued what I was doing for them. If the Taliban ever decided they wanted to take me out there was little I could have done to stop them. I know of at least one case when they were going to try (inside the town of Delaram at one of my projects) but the district governor and some local elders, and a mullah ran them off. I never knew about it until years later.<

I have adopted the Sheepdog standard knowing full well the chances of me every using a pistol in a lethal force encounter are slight.  I also know that if I am ever faced with a situation where a pistol could stop a perpetrator before he hurt or killed innocents, and failed to act ….. I would have problems living with that.

For me it, as it has been for David Grossman all his adult life, the Sheepdog decision is a decision to keep my honor clean*.

*Mike “Mac” McNamara, who presented a new tactical decision making class in 1991, is now the host of All Marine Radio. He has developed a Post Traumatic Winning program that is about to make him famous. The “keep your honor clean” reference is from his PTW presentation. Click here to find out more about Post Traumatic Winning.