The Civilian Operator: A Whole New Kind of Covert Work

If you’re deep behind enemy lines, tasked with taking down a specific target, you don’t want attention. Standing out among the crowd will only make you a target and possibly compromise your mission. You’ve got to achieve your objectives, be aware of your surroundings, and exercise the utmost of discretion in terms of use of force, verifying that your target is a threat, not simply a civilian.

Sound like the objectives of a SEAL or other SpecFor operator? Try armed civilian.

A New Battlefield

No matter what the evening news tells you, many of this country’s largest cities suffer from a plague of violent crimes. Police forces do what they can, but as anyone smart has figured out, their job starts when yours ends. Much of the violence is localized and kept between armed combatants. Gangs against gangs, gangs against police, and so on.

However, there are just as many unscrupulous criminals out there who look for easy marks to make a few quick bucks. Many robberies don’t involve violence. More and more, the use of force is employed to overwhelm the subject.

Another new trend is for mobs of teenagers to simply gang up on, attack, and beat a victim for no reason, as has happened in Greensboro, Minneapolis, and Wisconsin, among many others.

It’s not surprising, then, that the average person is taking advantage in record numbers of concealed carry laws and learning the arts of self defense. In fact, the exact demographics of people who recognize the need to protect themselves is surprising in its variety, no longer limited to the narrow category pundits would term “gun nuts”.  Completely contrary to the portrayal as urban terrorists, these people are law abiding citizens who take this responsibility very seriously.

Training and Tactics

The best trainers of handgun shooting and self defense will tell you that training is paramount to survival. As silly as some may find it, seeking out and training in classes that blur the boundaries between law enforcement and civilian tactics is not a bad thing. The key tactics learned in these, and the myriad civilian self defense courses that are worth the money, start with the most basic and often overlooked:

  • Maintain a heightened state of awareness and look for details. When it comes to self defense, this is even more critical. Most bad situations can be avoided by simply observing your surroundings, and taking note of anything that’s out of place or simply suspicious.
  • Practice de-escalation and avoidance. Avoiding a confrontation is always preferable to engaging a threat. As a civilian, because of our tight rules of engagement, we can’t act simply on a hunch, and by the time things escalate to the point of calling for action, the danger is much higher.  By being aware of your situation, and actively seeking to avoid confrontation or de-escalating the confrontation if you can’t avoid it, chances are things will resolve themselves.
  • Maintain a warrior mindset. If you can’t avoid a bad location, and you can’t talk your way out of the fight, you’re going to have to act. Mentally preparing yourself for the eventuality, and deciding mentally on your tactics and training with those will ultimately help you decide the outcome of the fight. Remember, in most cases, an aggressor who is actively seeking to do you harm has already decided on his course of action and his limits. By predetermining your own limits and course of action, you are free to simply act on your battle plan, paying attention to cover, concealment, accuracy, and other things that matter. Worrying about the consequences and outcome is best left until after doing what you need to do to save your life.

Relentless training isn’t just for the military or the police, and it’s not just about going to the range and putting a few rounds in paper. Everything from your own mindset to load out to logistical support needs to be checked and rechecked, because indeed if the time comes that you as a civilian must engage a threat, the critical nature of your kit and support system is every bit as serious as for a soldier, marine, or police officer who goes into battle.

To be successful, you need a routine set of kit – a holster that you are comfortable and familiar with, a specific placement of spare ammo, a cell phone that works reliably, etc. Make preparations for the eventualities of death or legal issues. Have a lawyer on speed dial – I’m serious! Make sure you’ve spoken with family and legal representation BEFORE the fact. Having a game plan will make your life a lot easier after the fact.

Dealing with an attorney who you are familiar with and who knows you is much easier when you’ve got all the psychological marbles rolling around than dealing with an unfamiliar attorney and no idea of the legal process to come.

Also, avail yourself of every training course you can. Don’t just attend once, either. Take as many classes as you can. New techniques and different classes have different dynamics and different perspectives on the same problem. This helps cross-train you with more skills, and at the end of the day, the more skills you have, the more tools you have in your toolbox to stay alive.

Think you’ve got a good situational awareness? Try out these two videos to see how you do.

Covert Operations Really Does Apply

The open carry movement not withstanding, advertising yourself as a shooter or a gun-toter is a bad idea, especially in this day and age. Yes, it is legal to carry openly in many states, and in places where that’s the status quo, it won’t really draw attention.

However, remember that drawing attention to yourself not only makes things harder with the public who are not used to the good guys walking around in civilian clothes with a gun hanging out, but also the kind of elements who would see you as a target, like a school yard bully who wants to prove he’s bigger and badder than you are. Plus, if they don’t know your true capabilities, then you have a significant tactical advantage.

Urban Camouflage

Covert in this case, though, doesn’t just cover how you carry your gun. It’s also about how you carry yourself.

Many of the people who carry a gun for the first time and aren’t used to it are very self conscious. They either act in a way that draws attention to themselves, hinting that you’re somehow special or otherwise other than the normal public, or they do things that give themselves away. Behaving oddly is a huge tell, and again draws attention. Our goal is to treat our life like a serious undercover mission, and be a ghost to anyone that is looking for a mark to rob, beat, rape, or kill.

Also, urban camouflage is as important to us as anything else. Dress right for the culture, and no one pays you a second glance.

Bottom Line

It’s okay to be a regular guy. Not everyone has to rock the operator watch, shirt, shoes, and pants. Keeping low key is ideal, and when you do your job right, you achieve your objective without people remembering you were there.

Our goal, as Civilians, is to get out of the game intact, and to keep our loved ones safe. We’re the home guard, and that’s our job.

We can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters in arms, because they are the external to our internal security. We don’t need to be the police to be proactive, but we do have to be willing to step up because there won’t always be a cop handy.

Stay Safe and Shoot Straight

kzeng98 5pts

good stuff!  I am so the Regular guy but I sure do drink the cool aid!  I would like to see more articles on how us "Regular guys" can train/carry and equip.  I remember watching B. Webb on tv talking about carrying a flashlight, so now i always do.  Perhaps a Regular guy's guide to armor or communication gear etc. I enjoy reading and learning how to gain any edge I can from qualified sources such such as here on SOFREP.  


And I would just add that anyone who intends to lawfully carry a firearm in public know the laws(and know them cold) regarding the use of deadly force and where you can lawfully carry a firearm.

bogman2121 5pts

Anyone have some good recommendations for training courses to learn/become more of an "operator" SOF style? I saw that onpoint tactical has an urban escape and evasion course, I'd like to take some classes to become more proficient with my handgun, some driving courses would be sweet but really anything to improve the skills I think I have that don't actually exist would be great.


If anyone knows of any in the Colorado area I would love some ideas and next year I may try the Rogers Shooting School.

Fratus 23
Fratus 23 5pts

i must say that moonwalking bear has got some moves!!

katgirl231 5pts

I will always be saying this.  Thank you so much for this article.  My training notebook is expanding.  The people who post here are experienced and credible.  Please assume that I click 'like' on most of your responses!

Tango9 moderator 5pts

One other thing I'd like to point out here for those that read these posts and may not know:  the answer to the "round in the chamber" question:  YES


2 quick and easy reasons:  1) economy of action 2) noise

katgirl231 5pts

Thank you for validating what I have done for years and helping me not feel like a foil-hat type!  I not only carry for multiple levels of conflict but have a DARK kit w/ extra TQ in my bag.  De-escalation by talking (while keeping the stranger at a good distance) has kept me out of trouble most of my life.  When time slows down I'm always thinking contingencies and avenues for cover and escape - btw, I found that even a short course in Executive Protection hones your awareness and gives you other tools!

Tango9 moderator 5pts

I'd also like to add to the idea of avoiding conflict.  It's 10PM and you have a headache.  You would like to pop a couple ADVIL but you're out.  Heading down to the local Walgreens (the stop and rob du jour of Colorado springs lately) at that time of night is not worth it. 


Like mamma used to say:  Nothing good happens after 11 PM.  There are also neighborhoods in certain cities you just stay away from.  People that wander into those places just because they CC I classify as the "4-Wheel Drive" type...  you know the ones:  when it's a foot of snow on the road they think because they're in a 4WD SUV they can still do 60.


Your best weapon is your brain.

WayneL48 5pts

Awesome as always! Keep up the great work.

Burton 5pts

Phenomenal write up.


One thing that's always puzzled me is the false dichotomy of the civilian shooting community (of which I am a part). I see guys taking shooting classes (which is great) completely decked out in multicam with plate carriers, etc... Nothing specifically wrong with that, but I do get confused as to what they're training for?


If for fun and gun handling skills, I get that, and that's great. But if it's for situations involving SHTF/rioting/police can no longer control threats, wouldn't it be a better option to look like an average joe? If I'm in a gang and see a guy walking down the street with multicam, a plate carrier, a helmet, and an AR, I'm gonna be on my guard and try and take him out ASAP from distance.


If the same person was wearing a coat with jeans, but concealing a handgun with extra mags, perhaps a SBR tucked away in the coat, and a plate carrier covered by the coat, the mindset of the criminal completely changes. Seems to me more people should be dressed 'normally' with hidden assets in training classes because I can't think of a situation for the life of me where it is beneficial to look über tactical in true, real world, destabilized situations.


The false dichotomy lies in a lot of those same people attend all these shooting classes in full-on tactical gear, and yet only occasionally CCW and aren't in the right mindset when they do.


I'm not trying to stir anything up or pass myself off as a SME, but it seems like a lot of people are missing the forest for the trees a bit, and your article hit the nail on the head.

HugeFan 5pts

Excellent, excellent article. Couldn't agree more!

Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman 5pts


An excellent write up. One think I would press is training for failure. It is vital for our humility and survival to experience different failure scenarios from shooting our friends (in practice of course) to drawing on the wrong person from officer to the weak part of a herd of thugs and then dealing with the full development of the scenario. It is annoying but very rewarding in the broader sight it develops in the person and you will be less shocked when sometimes things don't work the way they are "supposed to" :)


This is a fantastic read. Believe it or not, two nights ago I was put to the test.


I work nights, alone in an area on the border of good and not so good. Due to certain events I no longer the owner of a pistol. Mostly financial reasons thankfully. However, here I am working and I see car lights pull into the parking lot. This happens often as people turn around, get head from a prostitute or whatever. But never do they stay for more than about 10 mins. This car however stayed for roughly an hour and half. After watching it from time to time, knowing that there were not many actions I could take should something arise. I did the next best thing. I called the police.


Mind you while waiting, I planned my escape routes, which I actually practice and my boss even noticed on camera...he laughs..I sit there with a more serious face. I even strategically place all the sharpest objects and blunt objects I know of around the office. Needless to say, the only thing missing is my firearm, which now will be back in my possession as soon as I can get it.


So, the police car rolls up and what do you know, the other cars leaves discretely when the officer drives to the back. Now, his situational awareness is shot to hell. He said he never saw the car at all. There is only one way in and one way out of the parking lot and instead of going left he went right and never looked.


With that said, my nights at work have left me a bit on edge. This write up could not have come at a better time. Down here in Florida there are a lot of civilians taking on the role you mentioned above. And at some point in time, I will be damn sure to be one of them too.


I was never able to receive formal training in the military and as a civilian I appreciate and thank you for a write up like this. Only shows me that I am doing something right when it comes to my safety and that of my family.

Old PH2
Old PH2 moderator 5pts

I recall reading at some time that the Japanese High command never seriously intended on an Invasion of the Mainland US because, "Every Farmer and citizen could be armed."  Although the gun control act of 1968 makes owning certain types of military weapons restricted, at no time does the 2nd Amendment make mention of any distinction between Sporting or Military arms.  Reading through the Federalist papers I find that our nation has a huge advantage over every other, likewise we have a greater responsibility.

Looking like you fit in any given situation is of paramount importance.  Situational Awareness,driving, shopping, walking the dog, playing with the kids in your yard, will save lives.