in: Behavior, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: September 27, 2021

Art of Manliness Podcast #85: Situational Awareness With Patrick Van Horne

The Marine Combat Hunter Program was developed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to give soldiers tools on how to detect threats before they happen. The goal is to make Marines as situationally aware as possible so they can not just survive, but also win lethal encounters. In their new book, Left of Bang, Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley present the skills and mindsets that are taught in the Marine Combat Hunter program for a civilian audience. We talk about situational awareness and how these skills can be used beyond the battlefield.

Show Highlights:

  • How and why the Marine Combat Hunter program was developed
  • What being “left of bang” means
  • What it means to be “situationally aware”
  • The importance of developing “baselines” to become situationally aware
  • The six behavior domains in determining possible threats in an environment
  • How you can use the skills from the Combat Hunter Program to save your own life and kick butt in the boardroom
  • And much more!

Book cover, left of bang by Steven Pressfield.

Left of Bang is filled with immediate actionable information. When you’re done reading it, you’ll find yourself being more aware of your surroundings. Definitely recommend picking up a copy. Also, if you’d like more info, check out Patrick’s website CP Journal.

Special thanks to Keelan O’Hara for editing the podcast!

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Have you had all those moments where you walk into a situation and something just doesn’t feel right and it makes you stop, like you walk into a restaurant and something about the situation just doesn’t feel right so you turn around and leave. Or it doesn’t have to be like something bad or violence is going to happen to you. It could be your interviewing a potential employee, he’s got a spectacular resume but something just tells you don’t make the job offer.

Well, these scenarios all represent what are guest today called left of bang moments, of the moments you feel something bad happens. His name is Patrick Van Horne, he is the author of the book Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life. And Left of Bang is about the marine combat hunter program which is developed during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000 to train marines how to identify potential threats before they happen and stayed left of bang like the explosive moment and that violent moment and they do this by becoming situationally aware to their surroundings and to the people they are interacting with. And so in this book, Patrick basically takes the combat hunter program and presents it to a civilian audience and how they can apply it to their own lives to not only just protect themselves but also just to be more effective in the world and being aware of who they are interacting with their surroundings so they can use it in their job or even in their romantic life.

It’s a fascinating book and we are going to talk about what we can learn from the combat hunter program to become more situationally aware in our lives. So, I think you will really enjoy this. So let’s get on to the show. All right, Patrick Van Horne, welcome to the show.

Patrick Van Horne: Thank you, thank you for having me.

Brett McKay: All right, so your book is about the marine combat hunter program. Before I read your book, I had no idea this existed. So, can you tell us what the combat hunter program is, why it was developed and how it came about?

Patrick Van Horne: Sure, and it’s only been around for at this point seven years or so. So, it’s not uncommon you haven’t heard of it just yet, but the reason of such a new program it was created out of necessity. After the fall of Saddam’s regime in Iraq, our enemy took off his uniform and brought it back in with the local population and he can hide from us as they plan their attacks. General Mattis, if you are familiar with the movie 300, we think him of as Marine Corps’ Leonidas, he realized that the technology that was available at the time to protect us from the roadside bombs and the ambushes that we are experiencing overseas, they are all pretty defensive and he wanted an offensive capability. And he saw that there was a need not only for the better technology but really for better training and it’s this kind of insight that caused him to direct the creation of the combat hunter program and it first came about in 2007, where the course was first developed in the pilot program and eventually taken off since. In terms of why it was developed, the goals were pretty straightforward. He had two goals for the program and those were; one, make marines more survivable, to make them more safe, to make them more secure while they are on patrol around the streets by teaching them how to read behavior and recognize threats so that we can start to prevent some attacks from occurring, but the other goal is to improve how effectively we were, to teach a marine how to look at a crowded marketplace and identify not only the individual insurgent who is going to carry out the attack but also the leadership who is planning and directing the attack in the get-go.

Brett McKay: Got you. So, I mean was there anything like this at all in the military. It seems like what it did was make explicit with, I guess, some soldiers or folks in the military might have said war was like a sort of an implicit or like an art that you either had it or you didn’t, is that kind of what happened?

Patrick Van Horne: It’s a really good way to explain it. There was and there wasn’t, there was something like it before. Now, we like to talk about it, that we aren’t simply just standing on the shoulders of giants. There was training out there that was available. It improved the marine’s ability to observe a certain area and there was training out there that taught marine how to track and how to follow a person’s footprints. And there was training out there on body language, but there wasn’t anything that put it all together into one course and as you said, make it very explicit or taught in a way that really helped the individual marine on the ground make better, more informed decisions. And it wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of other research that was already out there. But the combat hunter went really above and beyond what’s was currently being taught in the other schools.

Brett McKay: Got you. So, combat hunter is all about adapting to the new world of war where bad guys don’t wear uniforms anymore and you have to just be on your lookout all the time because anybody in a marketplace or at a mosque, there was a potential bad guys you get that kind read very subtle cues on how to prevent attacks, I guess, right?

Patrick Van Horne: Absolutely and it doesn’t just apply overseas either I mean if you look at even some of the mass shootings that we’ve seen even here just in the United States at schools and malls and movie theatres and workplaces and religious centers, people aren’t walking around and there, I’m an assassin, I’m a mass murder teacher and making it very obvious what their intentions are. It requires a greater level of situational awareness really knowing what to look for so that we can identify those attackers before they actually launch their assault.

Brett McKay: Got you. All right so the book is called Left of Bang which I think is just an awesome title. When I first saw the book I was like this is awesome, but you know what it meant. Can you tell us what left of bang means in the combat hunter program?

Patrick Van Horne: Sure. And that is the fact that’s title is a way I love our publisher, our title was very, very long and Steven Pressfield, the author of Gates of Fire and The Lion’s Gate just looked at it and said left of bang. That just kind of stuck, but if you think about a timeline, bang is directly in the middle of that timeline and this time is zero. Bang is whatever act you are trying to prevent. When you are right of bang it means that the event has already occurred and you are now reacting to it. You are right of bang on the timeline.

Now when you are left of bang, you’re earlier on the timeline and when it comes to preventing violence it really just means that you have identified one of the pre-event indicators that are out there and that are available and that are present to let you know something is going on and that you identify it early enough so that you can intervene. And that’s really the goal for getting left of bang because being able to prevent violence from occurring instead of just waiting for it to happen and then reacting to it because you had no advance warning. As I mentioned before, it’s not just for people in the military or police officers, it can just be for anyone looking to protect themselves or protect their family, looking for those pre-event indicators, those cues that let you know hey, something is going on here, we should do something about it.

Brett McKay: Awesome. All right, so I’ve been thinking left of bang all the time now. It’s like, I’m like, yeah, you got to hand it to Steven that was a great move on his part. So the goal is to stay left of bang in life.

Patrick Van Horne: Yes.

Brett McKay: All right. So, you mentioned it earlier a big part of the combat hunter program or a combat profiling is situational awareness. Everyone’s got their own definition of situation – I’ve tried a research for this and everyone’s got their own definition of what that means. Can you describe what situational awareness is in the combat hunter program and how do you develop it?

Patrick Van Horne: Sure. In a very general sense, situational awareness is just being aware of what is going on around you, I know you chose the word the definition, but the way I look at situational awareness is, it means that you know what to look for and you know how to look for the indicators that are going to really support whatever decision you are trying to make and so if you think about it in the context of safety or security you might be the most well-intention security guard father, a husband, a person out there, but if you don’t know what makes someone a threat other than visually seeing a gun or visually seeing a knife or some other weapon, you’re never going to get left of bang, is the first time you realize something is wrong is when you see that gun, you are simply going to be reacting to that attacker. So, when we talk about situational awareness, we use behavioral cues that allow you to recognize the person who stands out in the crowd that’s really the what we’re looking for and then we also teach a process and we talk about how you look for those indicators so that you can have that advance warning.

Brett McKay: Awesome. And so a part of having a situational awareness is being in condition yellow, right, we’ve talked about this before in the site at Cooper Code. Can you describe for those who aren’t what condition yellow is?

Patrick Van Horne: So, condition yellow we referred to it as a relaxed alert. You know that there is bad people, you know that there is bad things out there and your actively looking for them but you haven’t found anything specific to focus your attention on just yet, so that’s where the situational awareness ties in by knowing what to look for and how to look for it. You are going to improve your chances that when you are in condition yellow you are going to find that thing that wants your attention.

Brett McKay: Okay. So, a part of figuring out what should warn your attention is establishing baselines and this is something that is woven throughout the book. Can you talk about what baselines are and how do you establish them and when is an anomaly from that baseline enough of anomaly to warrant action on your part?

Patrick Van Horne: Okay. So, I guess when I talk about knowing what to look for, what cues are important, the way we do that if you put into a very simple framework of baseline plus anomaly equals decision. The baseline is simply what is normal for an area or a person and anomaly anything that stands out from that baseline and requires your attention, and then the decision is what you are going to do about it. The anomaly is the attacker, it’s the predator, it’s the person that you want to pay attention to, but if you think about it being an anomaly is a relative term. If you are going to stand out, you have to stand out from something. And that something is the baseline in establishing that baseline is really the first and most important step to recognizing threats. So, the behaviors that we talk about on the book, the six domains of combat profiling, they really related to how those six domains come together so that we can establish what is normal for this situation, for this person that we are looking at, for this group of people that we are looking at. Everything has a baseline just a matter of really explicitly defining that so that you are ready to realize when there is anomaly, when there is something that deviates from it.

Brett McKay: Got you. So, everything is context specific so if you go into a village like, just give an example like if you are in Afghanistan right, typically a village might have a typical level activity during the day, right, there is the marketplace and people are herding goats and I guess that would be the baseline and if that stuff isn’t happening would that be an anomaly?

Patrick Von Horne: Sure. If you think about often times what people describe, when they think what the baseline be, they think about the physical objects, they think about the people being in that marketplace to buy stuff, they think about the tables and the booths and the people selling stuff and it gives themselves, but they rarely consider the behavior of those people within that how that contributes to the baseline. We’ll try to talk about some of the domains in a minute, but if you think about an individual person, every single person that you observe can fall into one of four categories. They are either just playing dominance, submissiveness, discomfort or comfort; everyone falls into one of those four categories. So, part of looking at the baseline is looking at the individual people and realizing most people here are comfortable or if you compare it to like a baggage claim here in the US, in that situation our baseline is people who are uncomfortable because they don’t want to be hang in on the baggage claim, they want to get out of their trip and so by providing the behavior in a very explicit way to define it and characterize the people that we were looking at, we can take that baseline and really expand on to make it much more clear so that we are again ready to identify what that anomaly is or who warrants a little bit more investigation.

Brett McKay: Okay. So, yeah, let’s get into like those six domains because the book focuses a lot on behavior. And behaviors are very subtle things, I also I don’t think about how people are behaving, again maybe on a subconscious level I’m but consciously I don’t. So what are the six domains that the combat profiling program has laid out to help marines and other military folks figure out what’s going on or establish baselines with groups?

Patrick Van Horne: Well, I guess, let me back up just for one second.

Brett McKay: Sure.

Patrick Van Horne: … combat hunter program. That was great, there were actually three pillars of combat hunter, there is one enhanced observation. The second pillar is combat tracking which is a just man tracking, following footprints, reading the indicators that a person leaves behind on the ground on the physical terrain, and then the third part of combat hunter is combat profiling, how do you observe not just the physical terrain but the human terrain.

And so when we are looking at the book and when we first started talking about what we are going to write about, we looked at do we want to talk about all of combat hunter and we realized that there is a lot of books already out there on observation techniques. There is stuff already out there on tracking. Once we realized that the biggest gap was combat profiling and really all combat profiling means it’s behavioral pattern recognition and analysis, but the fact that was being taught to marines you teach a class called behavior pattern recognition and analysis, no one’s going to show up. You rename it combat profiling and focus on each every single time.

So, part of the thing when we start to talk about behavior, what we are really talking about is the combat profiling part of the course. But especially when we are trying to talk to civilians or people outside the military, one, nothing here relates to profiling in terms of race or religion or anything like that. Those indicators in no way support our decisions and it’s also not just that combat tactics, they apply a lot of stuff we talked about in the book or in my company’s course is really applied to the way we’ve adapted these observations, these assessments to the civilian world. So, that it applies there.

Brett McKay: Okay. Great. So, what are these within the combat profiling, what are the six domains of behavior that we should be looking at?

Patrick Van Horne: So, the first one is referred to as kinesics, which is the study of body movement, which when you start to analyze that it gets interpreted into body language. The second domain is what we referred to as biometric cues. That was trying to look at the uncontrollable physiological responses to stress, things like blushing, things like sweating. The third domain is proxemics, which is the study of space and interpersonal relationships, so by looking at the space between people we can start to begin to assess and evaluate groups of people, understand the relationship between the different members of the group. The fourth domain is geographic and this is how people relate to their environment. If you think about the difference in the way that you even act when you are walking through a city that you are very familiar with and you walk through every day and when you are in the city for the first time, you are looking around for streets signs that behavior and that familiarity really reveals your relationship with that area. That also can tell us a lot. The fifth domain is iconography, which is the visual representation of a person’s beliefs or affiliations, things like tattoos, if you have a gang tattoo or a gang graffiti or something that shows really those beliefs or affiliations in a visual way, that is what we are taking to look at with the iconography. Then the sixth domain is atmosphere and this is the collective mood of everyone and everything present. It really relates to the general sense of safety or security that people feel in the different places that they go. And so those six domains really make up different levels and the different behavioral observations that support the baseline.

Brett McKay: Okay. So, you use that to figure out your baseline and then you figure out if there is any anomaly. So, my question is, is there a domain or domains that are more important than the other or are they all equally important or and is there like a rule when you see an anomaly in various different domains like that is when you act or how do you know when to make a move?

Patrick Van Horne: The correct answer probably say that no all domains are equally important. In a sense they are, you never know what is going to alert you and at that specific moment, it might be atmospherics one day, it might be a group relationships the next day that lets you know that there’s something weird going on here. But if I had to choose one that’s more important, I might teach this now as a civilian, I group kinesics and biometrics together. They are technically two different domains in the book and in the combat hunter program because they come from two different fields of research but if you think about they really come together to help us make an assessments about individual people. And so I say I kind of believe that the way we look at a single person is the most important observation because that is what we are going to build off for all the other domains, if we can’t look at an individual, we are going to struggle to look at groups of people. If we can’t look at an individual, we are going to struggle to see how they relate their environment and if we are going to look at their collective move that is really just aggregate of all the individual people that are there. So, I really focus a lot of time on either just practicing myself or when I am teaching how to master the way we observe and assess individual people.

Brett McKay: I mean this seems like a very difficult skill to develop because it’s something that people don’t do on a conscious level. Like observe body language or things like I said it’s very subtle things. Is it something that takes time to develop or can you teach or can a marine go through the program and take up some things that they can use or start using right away?

Patrick Van Horne: It does take time but there is a lot that can be picked up right away. If you think about it back when you first started learning how to drive, if you think about it there’s so many different actions required to drive a car, you are turning the car on your steering, you are trying to figure out the right pressure on the gas pedal, the brake pedals, turn signals, checking your mirrors, you are so consumed by all those individual acts when you first starting out that you don’t even realize what’s going on around you, what’s going on outside of the car, but after time as you keep practicing how to drive, how to drive, how to drive all of those internal actions become a habit you can do them without a lot of constant attention and then your focus started to shift further down the road looking at the people changing lanes in front of you, changing your own radio, texting on your cell phone, eating your burger whatever it is that you are doing in the car. The only reason you can do that is because all of those individual skills that led into actually getting the car to go from point A to point B became more natural.

The same thing applies when it comes to reading behavior. At first, because we are going to teach a little bit of a different terminology for some of the behaviors that we’re going to use and we are going to talk about the reason why certain behaviors are important. Right at the first moment, it might seem a little cumbersome or it might seem a little bit of a challenge, but we have been looking at people our entirely lives, you might not have been doing it intentionally but everyone goes out on people watches at some point and so people have a good foundation to build up so even though at first the process might seem a little awkward it is designed to support the way we naturally make decisions, the way we naturally observe people and so because that we can escalate through or accelerate through kind of learning period pretty quickly.

Brett McKay: All right. Do you have any examples from the battle field of the combat hunter program or combat profiling working?

Patrick Van Horne: Absolutely. There is one that we talked about in the book. There was a marine who is an instructor in the combat hunter program before they returned to the deploying unit. He talks about when he was in a village one time and they were talking to the person who they thought was the village leader. He thought he was the person talking on behalf of everyone else there and as they were having this conversation, he started to notice some very subtle things that before this guy would make a decision he would look over at some other people and eventually realize that the true leader of the village was not the person they were talking to but it was a person who is standing back, he wasn’t sure of what the marines’ intentions were, what they wanted so he was going to let someone else kind of handle the initial part of the conversation before stepping forward.

But as the marine realized this was going on, they started to see his behavioral cues, they shifted focus and started talking to them and were able to really build rapport with this village much more quickly because they were talking to the person actually in charge versus just the representative. But we have talked to a lot of marines who come through our course before they deploy and they come back and there’s countless stories of people who come back and say something they learned in the course saved their lives, there’s people are coming back saying I want to go through the course for second or third time, just so I can pick up on more and more. One of the most recent examples I have doesn’t even come from marine or even is using this four security mindset, it was someone who is in sales and who use this with the client they were presenting to and this person walked into a meeting and she realized that the person they were pitching was displaying dominance and when she realizes that she completely changed her approach upon that recognition and she tailored her delivery to make him feel comfortable, to build rapport and she slowed things down and she won him over slowly, but she wouldn’t have win the sale it’s not because she changed her pitch, it’s because she said I usually give the same pitch each and every single time, when I realized that he was just displaying that he was not ready to purchase, I was able to use that recognition and change how I actually I delivered. So, it’s really just about creating the opportunity to get the information you need to make an intelligent decision in any field that you are in.

Brett McKay: All right, so it’s not just for killing bad guys, you can actually again sales with combat profiling.

Patrick Van Horne: Absolutely. If you think about what, so often times when we teach it, it’s in the context of recognizing threats. If you think about what threat recognition is that is core, it’s really just looking at someone answering two very simple, not simple but two questions about them. One, did they intent to hurt someone else and two, are they capable of acting on those intentions. And so the behaviors that we were talking about are really designed to identify the people who have that violent intent, but obviously not all intent is violent. We can use this in sales examples you try to identify the intent of the person sitting on the other side of the table as you are preparing for your negotiation to figure out what they care about or what is not important you apply, you look for people’s intent when your interviewing them for a job, you try to figure out what parts of their background you need to investigate a little bit further, customer service, management, leadership, there are all areas where by understanding what people’s behavior is telling us about them. We can make that more informed decision.

Brett McKay: Oh, very cool. So, for those who are listening who aren’t in the military or aren’t LEO, they are just civilians. What can they start doing today to start putting into practice some of these concepts of combat profiling? Is there something they can, like an exercise they can do that can help them become more situationally aware and establishing baselines and things like that?

Patrick Van Horne: Yeah, sure. There are two steps when you are trying to use behavior to for whatever purpose that you have, there are two steps. There is one recognizing the behavior that you see and so in the context of looking at an individual person that might be dominance, submissive, uncomfortable or comfortable and in then the second part is determining putting that into context determining is this cluster, is this important for us to take a look at or is it important for us to investigate a little further. So, the first thing that people can do to really start to master this and make it more natural is really build upon those recognitions, not just to push people to our side but my site started as literally a place for marines to practice when we are teaching at and we got a lot of marines who came to us and said I’m hooked, I’m on board, I want to become better at this, where can I go and at the time there was nothing available for them to go to and practice on and master these skills before they are deployed. So, our website is really designed around that sole purpose with videos and pictures and blog articles and different ways to practice making each of these different recognitions so that when you are out in town or in sales meeting or in the mall and you realize that something is off, you have already built upon that recognition you can immediately jump to figure out hey, is this person’s dominance something I want to take a look at, is there something I should be concerned about, should we get out here, should we call someone and so you can get to that part of the analysis that critical thinking part of the process much more quickly by really mastering and approving how quickly and how accurately you can recognize the different assessments that we teach.

Brett McKay: You call it building your mentor file folder right in your book.

Patrick Van Horne: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I like that analogy. Oh, cool, so what was the name of your site again?

Patrick Van Horne: It’s

Brett McKay: All right, so beside, is there any place else where people can find out more about your work?

Patrick Van Horne: Absolutely. We recommend you to getting the book Left of Bang which you can get through either our site or or but as I talked about before even all the observations that we teach, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, we pull these from other people who have come before us. And another website if you do want to learn more we put up a book or recommended reading list of all the places we pull stuff from and you can get the information right from the horse’s mouth, straight from the source if that’s what you are looking for, so we definitely recommend that’s where you can start your research on your personal development.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Well, Patrick Van Horne, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Patrick Van Horne: Thank you so much for having me.

Brett McKay: Our guest todays is Patrick Van Horne. He is the author of the book Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, you can find that on and be sure to check up Patrick’s website, for more information on how to develop your situational awareness.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check up the Art of Manliness website at And if you haven’t already, I’d really appreciate if you check our store at You will find some really cool posters there, we got a poster with Teddy Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena Speech, really rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s If and we also have some e-books in there. I just put in a new e-book there about Building Your Resilience which is a vital scale you want to have if you want to get through life’s ups and downs you can find that there, really appreciate that your purchases will continue to support the Art of Manliness. So until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

Related Posts