29th Mar2012

Train Your Situational Awareness

by A.J.

What is Situational Awareness?

Your situational awareness is how closely your perception reflects the reality of the environment you find yourself in. Situational awareness for the tactical athlete is not only your environment, but also your effect on the environment and the danger or opportunity of that environment. For a military member it is often frustrating when we have to deal with civilians because of their inherent lack of situational awareness (like when they walk around with their face in the phone texting). The mere fact that we recognize that we are annoyed by them is again a part of situational awareness.

Developing Situational Awareness

Last week I had the honor of lecturing for a group of Air Force Special Operations CCTs and Tac-Ps and one conclusion we made was that situational awareness starts at the operator and radiates out. When you think about guys who need to have the SA switch in the up position there are few who need it more that CCT and TAC-P types. You mastery of situational awareness also will be affected by your ability to apply discipline to your attention, because attention is a limited resource you need to learn to prioritize that attention. When I am developing FNGs I give them what I believe to be a priority spectrum for paying attention and situational awareness and it is as follows:

  1. Threats; always prioritize your attention to threats before anything else
  2. Mission Requirements; If you don’t fulfill your mission there is no sense in leaving the wire, so resolve to accomplishing the mission or just stay in the rear.
  3. Opportunities; As you kick down doors and fulfill missions every so often a little bread crumb is dropped by the bad guys that we can use to potentially increase advantage so, if the tactical situation allows be sure to capitalize

The above is more a guideline of how to focus your SA but it doesn’t really give you a skill that you can use to develop your SA better. So when I talk to operators in my interviews and at the bars over a few beers I have found that there is a system that many of them use to get great SA in every situation and I want to share that with you guys. What I have seen guys use is an OCOKA analysis and here is a real quick overview of what that is.

OCOKA Use This Acronym And Make Super Human SA

A number of  you are familiar with the acronym OCOKA (OCOKA-W) and if you have a land warfare background you are rolling your eyes because it is such a basic tool but, for the rest of us I am going to define it:

  • O – Observations/Fields of fire; when you see an area and want to determine the value if any often the first thing you look for is whether you can use your weapon systems and optics to cover the surrounding areas.
  • C – Cover/Concealment; Standing on top of a van can give you great observations and fields of fire but provides no cover or concealment making it undesirable. (note for the record, Cover stops bullets and provides protection, Concealment just makes you unobservable to the enemy)
  • O – Obstacles; When a patrol is compromised because of a goat herder and a decision is made to let the herder go, be sure you aren’t backed against a terrain feature that will stop a hasty exfiltration. Obstacles are man-made and natural objects that will slow or stop progress of personnel or material
  • K – Key terrain features; A key terrain feature (which is often of less operational import in asymmetric war) is a man-made or natural feature that can provide an advantage to the force that occupies that feature. In an empty room a knocked over refrigerator can on a small-scale be a key terrain feature.
  • A – Avenues of Approach/High Speed Avenues of approach; Generally speaking an untrained opposition force will approach an objective from the most accessible convenient route. The fact that the enemy can arrive at a high rate of speed can be a force multiplier and give advantage in an otherwise equal match (though I often prefer stealth to speed)
  • W – Weather; The addition of weather to the acronym seems fairly recent to me but maybe it was there all along and the guys that taught me just decided to keep it from me but I think its impact is self-explanatory

What is Situational AwarenessHow Does This Help Situational Awareness?

OCOKA-W doesn’t provide all the information that relates to your environment but if you use it as a guideline to analyze any situation you are in you will be amazed how much more info you gather. So walk into a bar and in a split second decide where the most desirable tactical position is:

  • O- Where do I have to sit to see the most attractive people?
  • C- If a person I am avoiding walks in are there features I can use to mask my exit?
  • O- Is there a plant in a location between me and the plasma screen that will stop me from seeing the game?
  • K- The jute Box will have the highest number of females walking up to request lame 80’s music, is that desirable or annoying
  • A- If my spouse shows up where is that going to be from, I better keep an eye there

Now it may sound goofy but just that simple regimented approach to sitting in a bar can en grain skills that can save your life on operations overseas or even just playing airsoft with your buddies. Give it a shot and tell me how it works out for you. Be sure to put your email in on the right side to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss any future posts, thanks for stopping by.


2 Responses to “Train Your Situational Awareness”

  • Freddy Osuna

    Excellent article. This is a concept that can be applied by everyday Americans.

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