Brian Bewley: When facing the possibility of conducting mobility/vehicular operations in a potential mass population situation, first and foremost, follow SOF Imperative #1: “Understand the operational environment.” This imperative will drive your actions.

About the author

Brian Bewley is a retired SF CWO who served with 1st & 7th SFG(A)s, USMILGRP El Sal, and SFUWO in Key West. Upon his retirement, he served as an Advisor to the UAE Special Operations Command and a Security Manager in Baghdad and Yemen. Brian and his wife S. Jessica established Tactical Solutions International, Inc. in early 2003.


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Mass population surrounding you is not usually a sea of combatants but protesters or agitators. They can still cause grave consequences to movement and to your safety.

The Article

The Back Story: Peering out a small window of the HC-130 Combat Shadow on its approach to the Chittagong Airport, the waters below were colored muddy brown and dotted with hundreds of dead cattle, bloated and floating for what seemed like miles in all directions.

Why were there dead cattle floating in the ocean?

Inside the belly of the Combat Shadow, my teammates slept on top of the pallets of relief supplies or were stretched out on the uncomfortable nylon troop seats courtesy of the US Air Force.

As the aircraft began its descent, the Load Master woke everyone up and told us to get our seat belts fastened for landing.

It felt as if we had been on this plane for days, and I could sense that everyone was looking forward to getting on the ground soon.

As everyone checked weapons and quietly secured their individual gear, I could feel the calmness of thought in all 35 of us, the newly established Damage Assessment Response Team, or DART of the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group.

The aircraft hit a couple of small bumps in the sky on its downward path towards the airport, but there was no worry amongst us.

The USAF 17th Special Operations Squadron crew were masters of this aircraft, and over the years, we had developed a remarkably close working relationship with them, and we trusted their skill in flying completely.

The landing was sudden, and without hesitation, the Load Masters began to open the rear ramp of the aircraft.

The outside light began to pour into the plane as the ramp opened, but so too did the outside air bringing with it the smells of death, humidity, and rotting cardboard.

The pilots soon brought the plane to a stop near the recently defunct air traffic control tower.

Just a few days earlier, on 29 April 1991, one of the most powerful cyclones ever recorded hit the region, and Chittagong was directly in its path.

Cyclone 2B (later named Marian) packed winds of 160 miles an hour and created a 20-foot storm surge that left a high-water mark on the air traffic control tower walls at a height of 15 feet.

It was estimated that 130,000 to 145,000 people were dead or missing, and over 2 million homeless with no food, shelter, or potable drinking water.

Welcome to hell!


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WTF? No guns in this apocalyptic wasteland?

I was the first American off the plane, and the first thing I noticed was a half dozen or so Soviet-supplied MIG-21s piled together in a heap at the edge of the runway and total destruction of almost everything in sight.

The smell was horrid, and there was a very large crowd of people grouped beyond the immediate carnage, being held back by security personnel with large sticks.

A tall man wearing western clothing was moving with haste towards the aircraft and was immediately greeted by our boss, who had un-assed the aircraft behind me.

It was our US Embassy liaison from the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Dhaka.

“Bewley, you and your commo guys grab your shit and load up with the Major here and get commo established with the world. Also, collect everyone’s weapons as the ambassador does not want us armed for some fucking reason, and lock them up in the Marines armory at the embassy!” my boss commanded.

WTF? No guns in this apocalyptic wasteland?

I was soon sitting next to two of my SF commo guys, jammed tightly in the backseat of a Toyota Land Cruiser, with all our gear and weapons filling the rear of the vehicle.

The Major was in the front with a local Bengali driver, and the vehicle slowly began the trek towards the US Embassy, an estimated 6 hours away in the capital city of Dhaka.

The guards with big sticks rapidly began swatting people upon our approach and established an initial parting of the human sea so that our vehicle could slowly pass through this newly established opening.

Initially, it did not seem too challenging as the security personnel with the big sticks were beating the people who were directly in front of the vehicle, which made an unhindered pathway for the vehicle to move.

Suddenly, however, the guards with big sticks disappeared within the crowd, and the pathway began to collapse upon itself.

People were immediately pressed up against all sides of the vehicle; their faces were etched with hunger, thirst, and hope that the Americans were bringing them life.

Dirty hands clawed at the vehicle, desperately hoping for a morsel of food or something to drink, something they had probably not had in many days.

Hundreds of people were now rocking the vehicle, trying to get in through closed windows and doors.

It was a pre-curser to the mass zombie scenes in the Walking Dead TV show. “Get us the fuck out of here!”

I remember yelling at the driver as he now sat motionless, unsure of how to drive through the mass crowd of people.

The Major had somehow positioned his foot onto the accelerator.

He grabbed the steering wheel from his position in the passenger seat, immediately launching the vehicle forward while clearing the bodies to our front.

The pitiful face of the man who was laying on the vehicle hood pleading for help suddenly vanished, tossed into the crowd as we punched through the endless ranks of the desperate.

Within seconds, we were past the crowd and onto the main slip road that runs from the airport to highway N1, which would eventually lead to Dhaka 165 miles up the road.

The road was littered with debris, abandoned vehicles, livestock, and an endless tide of the zombies slowly moving towards the airport.

The driver once again took control of the vehicle from the Major and began dodging the various road hazards. This same scene was repeated almost daily until redeployment three weeks later.

While this was my first experience in Mass Population Vehicular Operations (MPVO), it formed the basis for my team’s Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) when we were operating in similar environments or situations around the globe.

Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Bosnia, the Philippines, Venezuela, or the streets of major Democratically led cities within the US (i.e., Portland, Chicago, NY City), to name a few, are examples of similar mass population events triggered by war, revolution, famine, natural disaster or a combination of all.

Operating in these environments safely and successfully requires proper utilization of TTP, planning, and preparation.

SOF Imperative #1: “Understand the operational environment.”

What if…?

When facing the possibility of conducting mobility/vehicular operations in a potential mass population situation, first and foremost…

… follow SOF Imperative #1: “Understand the operational environment.”

This imperative will drive your actions.

Have you conducted a route recon during movement planning?

At a minimum, conduct a map recon of your primary and alternate route and always remember to utilize PACE (primary, alternate, contingency, emergency) planning when possible.

Is there recent intel on protests mass concentrations of people along your planned route, or is there a potential for a flash mob to close a roadway along your route?

Change the route if protests, roadblocks, and mass gatherings are known or possible along your route!

There may be times when assumption of risk (i.e., driving through these protest areas) is required, but if not required… change routes!

Are you in a militarily hostile (semi or non-permissive) environment with clear rules of engagement (ROE) and a directed mission requiring speed of movement over security (think Black Hawk Down in the streets of Mogadishu)?

If yes, guns are hot, and those within the crowds are likely combatants.

Your vehicle is also a deadly weapon; employ it as required.

How does a convoy of vehicles differ from a single vehicle?

Are you the driver or a passenger?

If the driver, there is little concern for a group of combatants standing in the roadway to your front shooting at you… they are merely speed bumps.

Keep your head on a swivel… observe surroundings and respond to stimuli rapidly.

Beware of vehicular roadblocks, loss of observation through smoke and fire, channelization into potential ambush zones.

Be prepared to change routes immediately.

Passengers engage the threat as required, maintain communications and serve as additional eyes for the driver.

Down vehicle drills should be Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); practice them!

If the vehicle does go down, do you stay in the vehicle or exit and fight/evade?

Conflict areas are known for pulling dead or wounded Americans from vehicles/helicopters and dragging them around cities for a sense of motivation.

How are we going to safeguard our dead or wounded within a downed vehicle?

All these questions should be addressed in our SOPs and practiced until second nature.

I am sure everyone remembers the Blackwater guys hanging from a bridge in Iraq a few years back?

Are you traveling in soft-skinned, low-level vehicles or full-up B6/7 armored vehicles with run flats?

The type of vehicle helps with survivability when shit hits the fan.

That said, however, I have maneuvered through areas in local low-level soft-skinned cars without issue, while the nice, armored vehicles were IED and bullet magnets.

Have a standard recovery kit in all vehicles: fire extinguishers, straps, chains, jacks, etc., to pull a downed vehicle out of a hot area if needed.

Equipment destruction plan for installed commo, weapons, or equipment that cannot be rapidly removed from a downed vehicle.

Is there a QRF if things get bad?

These are just a few things to think about while in this operational environment.

Are you in a humanitarian or law enforcement environment where your actions could bring discredit upon your mission or organization by driving aggressively through crowds, possibly causing injury or death to those that you are tasked with saving or protecting (think previous Bangladesh story or police trying to quell the riots in Portland)?

Or are you a law-abiding citizen legally driving in your city with your family, and a spontaneous protest erupts around you?

If yes, the mass population surrounding you is not usually a sea of combatants but protesters or agitators.

They can still cause grave consequences to movement and to your safety.

We do not need to look far back in our history to find adequate case studies; riots in Watts, LA, Chicago – to our current unrest on the west coast, Minneapolis, Washington, DC.

Or what about the unrest and criminal activities post hurricane Katrina?

MPVO Tips of the Trade: Planning, preparation, and a bit of TTP

Protests may start off as a peaceful demonstration for social justice/reform, or complaining about the slowness of government response to a natural disaster can suddenly ignite into full rioting, with mass property damage, burning buildings and cars, looting, assaults, and yes, murder.

Images of Reginald Denny being pulled from his truck and having his head smashed with a brick, police slain while they sit in their cars, or major highways being closed to traffic due to human blockades seem commonplace in our 24-hour news cycle of today.

Our police and citizens caught up in this mayhem are trying to figure out their response; their TTP… “what must I do if I am suddenly surrounded by mass protesters?

Can I shoot the protesters if I am in fear for my life?

Can I drive through protesters if they are illegally blocking my vehicle?

These are just a few of the questions I receive almost daily.

Again, I refer everyone back to SOF Imperative #1… Understand the operational environment.

MPVO Tips of the Trade: Planning, preparation, and a bit of TTP to keep you and your family safe…

1. Stay informed … of any protest activity, location, and movement in your area.

Social media, the local news, and even some cell phone apps such as Google Maps will alert you to the potential of unrest.

Brief your family before departing of what is going on in the area and what actions to take should the protests occur while in transit.

Have kids use the bathroom before you depart. Unscheduled potty stops can be dangerous in protest areas.

2. Ensure the vehicle is properly stocked … with emergency items such as first aid kits, jumper cables, flashlights, a small Get Home Bag with water, food, survival items, and self-defense weapons (non-lethal/lethal). Cell phones should be fully charged or have charging blocks within the vehicle.

3. Pre-plan routes to … your destination and return, including a primary route, alternate route at a minimum.

Use car GPS for quick referencing of location and alternate routes.

If protest areas are shown along your routes, change direction and avoid at all costs.

Keep car fueled up to a full state.

If you need to refuel, choose a primary and alternate fuel stop along your route.

If the trip is long, preplanned rest and feeding stops should be coordinated to the greatest extent possible.

4. Seat belts are always worn… doors are always locked, windows are always up.

Use vehicle air conditioning in the RE-CIRCULATE position.

If legally authorized, maintain a firearm in a concealed carry position.

I personally place my pistol under my right thigh (I am right-handed) grip towards center console.

This allows me quick access to my pistol, and it is not caught up in the seatbelt if I had to draw from my typical appendix carry position.

I have had plenty of civilians tell me that if I slam on my brakes, the pistol will fly onto the floorboard and will complicate things.

This makes me smile as this will NOT happen, and having driven armed in some of the most austere places on the globe; this works for me.

5. Drive defensively with at least … 2 car lengths between you and the car in front of you, so you have plenty of time to react to a rapidly changing situation around you.

Of course, today’s drivers may try to fit their car in this 2-car space, so be prepared.

Always look for an out.

If something happens directly in front of you, you must plan quickly to stop, change lanes, change direction, pull onto sidewalks; conduct J turns, etc.

When coming to a stop on a city road, leave sufficient space that you can maneuver the car out of traffic if needed. You have planned, prepared, and avoided all protest areas, great job!

I am not going to let the violent crowd dictate if my family and I get to live

What if Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) raises his head, and you suddenly find yourself surrounded by a flash protest mob?

1. The passenger must immediately dial 911 and describe mob size, location, activities, and that you are in fear for your life and the life of your children.

Most laws state that you cannot intentionally run protesters over in your vehicle.

However, in this situation where I have my family with me, I am not going to let the violent crowd dictate if my family and I get to live.

The driver will attempt to slowly navigate from the area if possible.

Do not stop!

If necessary, gently nudge people that are in the path of your vehicle out of the way.

If they jump onto your hood, continue slowly forward until clear of crowd and then accelerate.

The hood ornament(s) will soon regret their decision to hop aboard when the speeding vehicle stops, they jump off, or your sudden breaking loosens their grip on the hood.

Of course, not much will occur if they hit the car’s windows with their hands, but bats, poles, bricks, or emergency responder window breaking pens can lead to window breakage.

Side and rear windows are safety glass and will shatter readily.

Do not push this shattered glass out, as it will still offer a layer of protection from the protesters outside the vehicle attempting to reach through the broken glass to pull an occupant out of the vehicle (i.e., will cut skin quickly).

Once free of the crowd, you can push the shattered safety glass outside of the car so you can see.

The windshield is laminated safety glass and has a layer of plastic that will keep it from shattering. It can white out, however, eliminating your ability to see.

Should this occur, have your passenger kick the front windshield out so that you can see to your front.

2. Children or passengers should immediately get low into the vehicle, as close to the floor as possible.

There is the possibility that armed protesters will shoot at the vehicle as you move through the crowd.

Should a flammable liquid be tossed onto the car, such as a Molotov cocktail, immediately accelerate through the crowd, breaking contact and stopping at least 200 meters from the protesters.

Do not worry about running people over at this point.

The 200 meters allow sufficient standoff from your vehicle and the sprinting protesters heading towards your car to allow you to step out with your fire extinguisher and extinguish the flames.

Once the flames are out, immediately get out of the area. 200 meters is also a distance that most protesters armed with pistols will be ineffective.

I also carry 1 CTS HC (heavy cloud) smoke and 1 CTS CS grenade in my emergency kit that can be used to break contact once free from protesters.

Most people do not have access to these pyrotechnics, but there are alternatives, such as bear/wasp spray, that are effective up to about 25 feet.

3. If either being shot at, Molotov cocktails were thrown at your car, or rocks smashing out your car’s windows – these are deadly threats.

Faced with a deadly threat, we are generally authorized to protect our lives, the lives of our family, and innocent 3rd parties.

Your vehicle can be considered a weapon; use it!

However, should your vehicle no longer be drivable, or you have been channelized into a roadblock or ambush with no possibility of escape, you will be required to fight for your life.

Fight from the vehicle for as long as possible.

Shoot through doors and glass as needed.

Do not extend your firearm outside of the vehicle as it can be taken from you with ease and used against you.

When out of ammunition, be prepared to fight with whatever you have and do not quit.

If there is a possibility for escape for you and your family, do it early.

Time wasted will bring more bad people to the party, so be prepared to fight your way to shelter or cover from a nearby building.

How do we train for these mass population, mob vehicle assault scenarios?

Start with tabletop exercises, walk-throughs, dry fire, and eventually live-fire training would be a logical training hierarchy for the whole family.

Shooting in and around vehicles, within confined space, such as the front seat of a vehicle, shooting through glass and doors are required skills but often not allowed on public ranges.

Qualified training facilities such as Tactical Solutions International, Inc. or its commercial training arm Tactical Training International, have 360-degree ranges, vehicles, specialty venues, and real-world experience to provide all requisite skills for MPVO.

As each state is a little bit different in its use of lethal force, we recommend that you check your local laws. There is a lot of case law already in the books on use of deadly force in these situations.

Train, know the law, avoid getting caught up in protest areas, but if you accidentally do, in my opinion, it is better to be judged by 12 of your peers than carried by 6.


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Photos by Brian Bewley

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Brian Bewley and his wife S. Jessica own and manage Tactical Solutions International, Inc. (TSI) in Crowheart, WY.

TSI and its commercial training department, Tactical Training International has been conducting cutting-edge tactical training for DoD, US Govt organizations, friendly foreign governments, LE, corporations, and qualified civilians since 2003.

For more information on TSI or TTI training opportunities, please visit

or contact Nate Mastin or Logan Brown, TTI Training Dept., (307) 486-2336.