“Son, always park the car so the rear end is facing the sun. Then you won’t have to sit on a hotseat when you get back in.”
That was one of my father’s dictums to me, while spending the summers in Phoenix with him. It was my earliest instruction about the value of positioning. The dictionary gives several relevant definitions for the noun form of the word position:
• a place occupied or to be occupied; site: a fortified position.
• the proper, appropriate, or usual place.
• situation or condition, especially with relation to favorable or unfavorable circumstances.
Now that emotions and internet commentary have quieted down about the recent Las Vegas murders of two police officers and a private citizen with a concealed weapon, it’s useful to discuss the relationship between ‘situational awareness’ and positioning. The two concepts are interrelated and complementary but not identical. Unfortunately, the concept of ‘situational awareness’ receives much more attention. This is probably due to the popularization of ‘The color codes’ by Jeff Cooper.
Unfortunately, situational awareness will not make up for poor positioning. If a person, group, or unit occupies an indefensible position, no amount of situational awareness will overcome that weakness, other than to become aware that the enemy is about to or has overwhelmed them. Military history is replete with examples of untenable positions, Ðiên Biên Phú being one of the most famous.
The relationship between positioning and situational awareness for the individual or small group involves time and distance. Proper positioning allows us to use situational awareness to react to a threat in time. Improper positioning makes situational awareness useless because there is no time to formulate and execute a defense or counter to the attack. Is it useful to be aware that my partner has just been shot in the head and a gun is pointed at my throat across the width of a table? Not really.
Our best option for avoiding or prevailing in any threat situation is to avoid becoming decisively engaged. Joint Publication 1-02, The DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines decisive engagement as follows:
In land and naval warfare, an engagement in which a unit is considered fully committed and cannot maneuver or extricate itself. In the absence of outside assistance, the action must be fought to a conclusion and either won or lost with the forces at hand.
Note that maneuver is an integral part of the definition. Maneuver takes time; if we don’t position ourselves adequately, there won’t be time. The problem the Metro police officers faced was that when the attack occurred, their position was such that they were decisively engaged.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss some principles and examine their implications in the Las Vegas incident.