Christian Irvine: 6 military lessons I learned while serving our country that could save your life

The secretive world of the U.S. Army Special Forces has become more public since 9/11. Even as a former Green Beret who lived through it, I’m surprised at how much you can learn on television today. Whether from the fictionalized world of characters like former CIA operative Jason Bourne, created because of an interest in international espionage and Special Forces training or the more realistic “Two Weeks in Hell” program on the Discovery Channel, people who pay attention while watching these shows can be safer by learning the lessons once taught privately to those risking their lives for their country.

Of course, certain training and techniques really should be kept private for reasons of national defense, but as someone who now works at maintaining the privacy of clients, there are techniques that should become part of everyone’s daily lives to cut the risk of being exposed to danger. Here are six of them.

1. Know how to get out of the area or building you’re in. When in a new city or even a part of town that is less familiar, everyone should make sure that they know multiple routes of egress.

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If I have to exit a building on foot or leave an area via car, I always assume that when the unexpected happens, the first choice of escape route will be blocked. Knowing how to extricate yourself from your location in an emergency can save lives, perhaps yours or someone you may rescue.

This is even more important for parents who need to think through a plan for a fire exit or a meeting place if children are at risk or get separated from those watching over them. Practice can make perfect.

Sometimes getting out of a building relies on physical strength, which must be tested to see if everyone is up to the challenge. If a door is unavailable, can a window be opened? For a child in a second-floor bedroom, is there a ladder that can be easily accessed and does the child know how to use it?

One of my celebrity clients, who is known in both the music industry and in Hollywood, keeps a ladder in the office that can be deployed if the primary or fire escape routes are blocked. It’s the kind of precaution I wish more of my clients would take.

Even in my car, when I’m stuck traffic, I usually leave enough room to hop a curb and to ensure I’ll be able to physically push through obstacles if necessary.

2. Know where medical aid can be found regardless of where you are. This could be the nearest hospital or clinic, the first aid station at a resort or security office in a mall.

To speed medical care, everyone should know their blood type and that of their children or travel companions, and of course, be sure to tell emergency personnel if anyone has allergies to medications.

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This might be an awkward conversation for people traveling together for the first time, but in an emergency, that kind of precaution can save lives and will be worth the social discomfort in asking. And for those traveling overseas, be able to share this information in the language of the region.

3. Don't let people learn everything they ask about you. Just because people ask questions, doesn’t mean an answer is required.

Maybe it’s because I run a privacy company but in almost every conversation, I ask myself, “Would I share this information with a business rival or competitor?” It’s always best to give an honest answer, if only to ensure that you don’t forget what was discussed, but it is not necessary to tell people everything they want to know about you.

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As someone who works with celebrities to ensure that their privacy is protected, I can tell you that many have learned that lesson the hard way -- and it’s not just about dealing with the paparazzi. Keep in mind that your personal information forms the basis of the answers to security questions on your private accounts. It isn’t just fodder for tabloids.

4. Know what is happening around you. It’s not uncommon for Special Forces veterans to be a bit paranoid and to always keep a watchful eye on their surroundings. We didn’t coin the phrase but just because someone is paranoid, and thinks that people are out to get them, doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

5. A sense that something is wrong is almost always right. According to research, most people make up their minds about others within two minutes and these snap judgments are surprisingly accurate. While the concepts discussed so far in this essay involve intellectually planning for security, you still need to “trust your gut” and rely on instinct when a snap decision is needed or you feel uneasy about your circumstances.

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6. Above all, don’t panic. The first thing that happens in an emergency is usually an extreme biochemical reaction by our bodies to fear, as the brain furiously presses the panic button. But with a plan in place for safety and action, reaction times can be shortened, which is why soldiers such as I were trained to be ready for anything.

It's true that being in the military and serving in war zones probably makes me more wary of the world around me but a few precautions taken deliberately can save your life and the lives of your family and friends.