The Zombie Apocalypse, Part 8: Keeping Your Sierra Together

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Will you know it when you see it? ~

Jonathan Glazer, 22 January 2016

We envision ourselves in crisis acting in certain ways. Some of us emblazon ourselves with logos on our chests and capes, despite the impracticality of capes being settled by The Incredibles. Others have a more realistic understanding of how we act under fire and identify which rock we will use for shelter when the poop hits the radial cooling device. In reality, the intellectual part of our brains cannot comprehend how our emotional side will react once the hounds of hell are unleashed.

When we perceive a fight or flight situation to be upon us, our adrenal glands situated on top of our kidneys squirt adrenaline into the blood stream. This causes a cascade of hormonal and other physical changes designed to enhance our ability to either beat the living feces out of someone or grow wings and fly away from them.   Our heart rate, respiration, circulation patterns, muscle response and thought patterns all work in harmony to bring out the inner caveman (or woman) in all of us.

z-apoc-1Unless you are actually in the moment, you will have no way of knowing what our Incredible Hulk looks, sounds or smells like. Once you have been in a number of those situations, you begin to recognize the consistent patterns that are a part of this process. Seasoned combat veterans know what happens when the lead flies. Over time, they gain control over the chaos. Guys who have been in the field too long have been known to fall asleep during firefights. This is because adrenaline is like heroin in that we build up a tolerance to it. When you spend a lot of time in crisis mode drinking the hormone like Gatorade, it eventually has less of an impact. The result is Robert Duvall as Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now not even noticing mortar shells exploding nearby and ordering his men to surf amidst a hot combat operation.

When the dead rise with a taste for human flesh, will you be able to spring into action, swoop up the family and the dog, gather your supplies, move into your hardened position and begin fighting the good fight? Or will you be Tom Hanks during the D-Day landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, staring at the mayhem around him, unable to hear, seeing people move in slow motion and just staring at the scene unfold in front of him? Tom eventually gathered his wits and acted heroically, but he had a moment where he might have caught some nastiness before he sought hard cover. Without experiencing combat or a realistic simulation, you just don’t know what you will look like when it is time for action.

The U.S. Army discovered during World War II that only about 20% of soldiers in combat actually fired their weapons towards the enemy with the intent of killing or wounding them. Part of this was due to an ingrained aversion to killing people and part was due to a poor reaction to the stress of combat. Following the war, the army changed their training regimen to include target shooting at humanoid forms and realistic combat simulations. The idea was to decondition the negativity associated with shooting at a biped and to also acclimate to the adrenaline rush associated with fluid and chaotic combat situations. Soldiers (and people in general) fight the way they train. If they train on a static firing range at stationary paper targets, there is no telling how they will respond when someone is shooting at you (or trying to eat you).

z-apoc-revolver2Police training has taken the same path. Police instructors tell of an officer who was involved in a shooting. This officer was a competitor on the pistol team and was accomplished as a shooter. He was killed by a perp who came upon him and shot him while taking cover behind a car. His revolver (this was a while ago) was empty and six shell casings were in his pocket. This officer was in the habit at the range and during competition of firing the six rounds in his revolver, ejecting the spent shells into his hand and putting them in his pocket so he could reuse and reload the shell casings later. It was while doing this time consuming act that he was surprised and killed. Perhaps if he dumped the shell casings on the floor and executed a fast reload, he would have been able to fight.

The point is that our training is a strong predictor of our response in a life or death situation. Law enforcement training used to be not much more than a couple weeks in a classroom learning about the use of deadly force and a few weeks on the range learning just enough about the firearm to be scared of using it. Force on force training is now very common in academies. Simunitions is one training tool used by police instructors. This system takes a real handgun (or long gun) frame and adds the working part which fires what is essentially a paintball. It allows officers to use realistic firearms in tactical situations with bad guys shooting back at them.

I have trained using Sims and I can tell you that they put you into a real combat mindset. The shots hurt like hell and leave a visual mark that is plain to see whether you lived or died during the engagement. I can also say that I experienced a full adrenaline dump which caused my breathing to get out of control, my protective mask to completely get fogged, my small muscle groups to become ineffective, my hearing to get messed up, my peripheral vision to almost disappear and my sense of time to get completely out of whack. All of these are commonly reported effects of being in an intensely stressful situation. If you have not experienced these symptoms while training, you have no idea how you will react once the dead roam the earth and try to snack on your innards.

Let’s take a look at these effects I just mentioned. Your heart rate speeds up and you breath much more deeply and at a different rate than when not under stress. If you received professional marksmanship instruction, you learned to regulate your breathing and to be conscious of your heartbeat. You learned to shoot when your body is exhibiting the least amount of motion, which is when you are momentarily not breathing and in between heart beats. Throw that out of the window when the freak out happens. You won’t be able to control those elements at all.

If you are wearing some kind of protective gear that covers your face, such as a gas mask or a motorcycle helmet, the fogging can be a big issue. It sure is for me. Blood flows to the large muscle groups and away from the small muscle groups. That means punching someone, running away, swinging an ax or busting through a door become easier. Here is where your super human strength originates. Loading ammunition into a magazine, inserting a magazine into a firearm, finding keys in your pocket, turning a key in a door, opening window latches, dialing phones and doing anything requiring fine motor control becomes, shall we say, challenging.

What seemed easy to do at the range or in an emergency drill on a warm sunny day becomes impossible when rotted teeth and fetid breath are heading towards your tasty body. Your sense of time becomes messed up. Things seem like they are in slow motion. If you make timing arrangements (count to 20 to give me time to set up this diversion and then run in that direction) you will have trouble with this. One stress reaction is known as auditory exclusion. You only hear certain things. Gunshots, which are loud and damage your hearing if you are not wearing ear plugs become inaudible for many people. Shouting instructions may or may not be effective during a fight.

Tunnel vision is common under fire, meaning you lose your peripheral vision and only see what is in front of you. A ghoul vectoring in for a trachea tidbit from an oblique angle may not be seen by you until it is too late. Avenues of escape may not be visible. Obstacles may be unseen until you are stumbling over them.

What should one do to prepare? Add some element of force on force training that simulates combat and induces an adrenaline dump. Some police forces use Airsoft Training. This is a combat simulation which uses realistic looking guns firing small plastic BBs. They sting when they hit but cause no lasting damage beyond small welts and bruises. Kids play with the equipment quite commonly, but it is easily used to create a training simulation that provides a sufficient amount of realism inducing an adrenaline response.

And one time is not enough, unless you just want to know what your last moments will be like as you are treated like a bag of tortilla chips at a Grateful Dead concert. (Know what I mean?) Once you get used to being in a combat situation, work on team operations with likeminded individuals. Most Airsoft games consist of lone wolves running around shooting at each other. Find team members and seek training on small unit tactical operations so you can work together and not just as a group of individuals.

And that is not all. If you want to be able to survive the Zombie Apocalypse, train on what to do when the moment comes that changes life for the worse instantly. Be aware of your surroundings. When your neighbor charges at you, blood streaming down his face as he snarls hungrily for your gizzard, be ready to switch into survival mode, even if it means running away before you assess the situation. Watch the news when a natural gas explosion levels a building, a fire guts a neighborhood or a storm forces evacuation. The media likes to interview the victims as they stand there in shock. Those are natural reactions to high stress situations and most people are unprepared and passively accept what comes to them.

Don’t be one of those people. Learn how to keep your head screwed firmly onto your neck and you just might get to keep the contents of your brain bucket.


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