Virginia Coalition of Police
and Deputy Sheriffs
You HAVE TO Be A Sheepdog On The Plane
By: Frank Borelli
September 1, 2006
This past week I
enjoyed a conversation with a "Flight Deck Officer". That would be, as I
understand it, a pilot who is armed. Why they don't just continue to
call them "pilots" is beyond me. Why do they need a special name?
Especially one that might point out the fact that they're armed to any
bad guys paying attention? We'll leave that alone for now. The jist of
our conversation was that - in his experience - contemporary Use of
Force guidelines as well as defensive tactics are being taught to Flight
Deck Officers. He felt that this was inappropriate since the risk is
potentially so much greater in a plane, and because so much of the
defensive tactics skills being taught today simply don't work in the
limited space of airplane aisles. His comments got me thinking and here
Dave Grossman, a well known speaker / trainer in today's warrior
community, describes people as fitting into one of three categories:
Sheep: The average person. All they want to do is live their life and be
left alone. They are peaceful and do no intended harm. If attacked, they
will submit to demands and not fight back.
Wolves: The predators. These are the people who commit crimes against
others. They prey on the sheep. Violence is their tool. Terrorizing is
Sheepdogs: The protectors. The sheep don't really like the sheepdogs all
that much. They don't trust the sheepdogs. After all, the sheepdog stays
to himself on the outside fringes of the group. If he gets angry, the
sheepdog snarls and bares his teeth, but if you leave him alone, he'll
leave you alone and all is peaceful. If he is, or those he is supposed
to protect are, attacked, he will fight back and fight back hard. He
refuses to be prey.
The large majority of today's society - especially here in America I
think - are sheep. They just want to live their lives in peace to pursue
life, liberty, prosperity and happiness. Most of them don't tend to
trust the sheepdogs. If you doubt that, take a look at any newspaper or
newscast, or do a Google search on "police use of force". You'll most
likely find some news article about how some police officer is being
sued or questioned because of an action he took to defend himself or to
protect someone else. The sheep would be perfectly happy if we sheepdogs
just weren't around... until the wolf shows up.
As Dave Grossman says, "When the wolf shows up, the whole flock of sheep
will try to hide behind that one sheepdog."
On September 11, 2001, a group of passengers on Flight 93 decided that
they would not be sheep. The terrorists were the wolves. On three other
planes, because of what they didn't know and what airline staff had been
taught to do in response to hijackings, the passengers didn't resist or
fight back. They did what nearly everyone would have done in their
situation. They sat still and let the flight crew and flight attendants
deal with the problem. On Flight 93, when they found out what the
hijackers were doing with the planes, they decided to fight back. That
decision changed them from being sheep to being sheepdogs. In today's
post-911 world, I submit to you that every passenger on every plane
needs to be a sheepdog.
Now we have to consider how to do that given the physical
characteristics of a plane. I can't afford to fly first class, so
usually my seat is just wide enough for me to fit in, and if I have a
gun on my hip it's pressed into the armrest. The aisle is just wide
enough to walk down, and not even do that without banging into every
seat you're going by unless you walk on an angle to your steps. I ask
you, How are we supposed to fight in such an environment using the
typical skills we're taught?
Consider what defensive tactics training you've had. Think about it all:
Kicks, punches, elbow strikes, knee blitzes, control holds, wrist locks,
arm bars, brachial thumps / stuns, etc. How much of what you've been
taught do you have time and space to perform in an airplane aisle? And
then, once you have taken some positive action, what follow up action
have you been taught to secure the subject after you've taken them down
/ incapacitated them?
Throughout our careers we've been taught specific Use of Force
guidelines or Rules of Engagement (depending on what uniform you wear).
If a person is making threatening statements but isn't displaying any
aggressive behaviors (on the ground) there is a limit to what you can do
to them: verbal commands, and maybe OC Spray if the person continues to
be non-compliant. Now put that same person on a plane - it's a whole
The risk presented by the person on the ground is limited. Unless he/she
has a bomb strapped onto their body, they really can only do a limited
amount of damage and harm. Even if they do have a bomb strapped on and
ready to detonate, the amount of damage they can do is limited by the
number of people within the necessary proximity of them and their
explosive device. But what about on a plane? Can ONE person cause enough
harm or damage on a plane to affect it's safe operation? Since there are
only two people on the plane who have to be killed to make the plane
crash (the pilot and co-pilot) I submit to you that the person on the
plane who presents any type of threatening posture should be viewed as a
threat to EVERY person on the plane. How many lives is that? 200? 300?
It depends on the model of airplane and how many tickets were sold - how
many seats are filled.
That said, I view a threat to those 200+ people as far different from a
threat to a handful of people. On a plane when a person gets beligerant
and makes any kind of threat or causes any kind of disturbance, I
believe that an accellerated use of force / rules of engagement protocol
needs to be approved, and indeed mandated. Now, I have to say up front
that I'm not familiar with much of the Air Marshall program. What rules
they operate under are not known to me, but given that our country is
governed by the Constitution, Federal Laws, State, County and Local
laws, I'd be willing to bet that their rules aren't much different from
the cop on the ground's.
But let's even take cops out of the picture. What if there is no Air
Marshall on board and a person is getting stupid? I would hope that the
Flight Attendants have been sufficiently trained to intervene properly,
but if they aren't or don't? Then it's up to the passengers - any
sheepdog on the plane - to step up and put the potential predator down.
I don't mean kill them necessarily. Depending on circumstances I believe
that a warning should be given. At that point the Wolf knows a sheepdog
is there and approaching. His choices are simple: stand down or be put
down. No other option exists or should be discussed. No nice, "Please
would you be so kind?" The warning should be simple and straight to the
point: "Sir (or Ma'am), you represent a threat to the safety of this
plane. Sit down and shut up or be put down and locked up." Arrest powers
don't matter. If a Wolf gets put down on a plane by Joe Average Citizen,
the pilot will let the other end know and Air Marshalls or local police
will be waiting when the plane lands.
Once the warning has been given, two options exist: the Wolf sits down
and shuts up, or the Sheepdog puts him down - and down hard. Think about
it: the Wolf has expressed his desire to do harm and then has ignored
his only warning not to. To me, that indicates his intention to move
forward with his stated goal of doing harm. We simply cannot allow that
to happen. Too many lives are at risk. Time to act and act definitively.
Now, I ask you: If the threat you face is a potentially lethal threat,
then what options are open to you? The answer is ANYTHING. Sure, a nice
brachial stun might be effective if you can get positioned and have the
room to do it. A wrist-lock takedown and then roll him over into a nice
arm bar for holding onto him would be great if room permitted. But
that's what cops might do - not the average citizen. What can the
average citizen do?
Well, if Mr. Wolf can't breath, he can't fight (for long). If he can't
see, he can't fight. If he can't stand, he can't fight (effectively).
So, I submit that Mr. Wolf should immediately find himself under attack
from Mr. Sheepdog, and Mr. Sheepdog should be attacking in such a
fashion as to:
1) Remove Mr. Wolf's ability to breath by attacking his throat (yeah, he
might die, but he HAS presented lethal force)
2) Remove Mr. Wolf's ability to see (accomplished in a number of ways
and some of them won't even permanently blind him)
3) Remove Mr. Wolf's ability to stand (it doesn't take a whole lot to
break a knee and broken knees tend to be rather distracting to the
person who owns the knee that is broken)
Does that sound rather harsh? Too bad. The Sheepdog doesn't typically
worry about limiting the amount of damage he does to the attacking Wolf.
In fact, I'm pretty sure that the Sheepdog would be perfectly happy to
have the Wolf lying dead at his feet, no longer a threat and a warning
to all others of his kind: leave this flock alone. THIS Wolf thought
he'd get an easy meal and all he got was dead. Care to join him?
I know. We're human. We're supposed to be compassionate and caring and
not blood thirsty. Remember me, the Sheepdog: If you leave me alone,
I'll leave you alone. Let me and my flock live in peace to pursue
prosperity and happiness. Mess with me or my sheep and I will show
absolutely no mercy in defending myself or them. If you die in the
process, that's the price you pay for having been so stupid as to have
attacked THIS Flock on my watch.
THIS is the attitude every citizen must strive to have on every flight.
I know they can't. I know some are simply unable to perform acts of
violence. Then again, if 5% can, that's 15 Sheepdogs on a flight of 300
people. 10 on a flight of 200. 5 on a flight of 100. Against one or two
wolves? We should be able to stomp them into the deck and the sit on
them until we land. Think about it...