Merriam Webster defines prudence as caution or circumspection as to dangers or risks. Its synonyms include sagacity, diligence, wisdom, vigilance, foresight, and judgment.
I spent most of my career working in the shadows. While some of my service was spent with large groups, such as the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit, serving in Beirut in 1982, I spent most of my career working on small teams or alone. We often lived and worked with foreign military units like a Kuwaiti tank unit in the northern desert in 1996. In 1998, I worked alone in Yemen. Trouble spots on my own became my specialty. After 9/11, I launched to Uzbekistan in the vanguard for 5th Special Forces Group and served on several teams in Afghanistan during 2001 and 2002, participating in major combat operations alongside Afghan indigenous forces. Often, my mission was to enter a country to determine if other special operations forces could safely follow and operate. If so, I would develop the situation and make ready for them to arrive. In 2002, after departing Afghanistan, I moved to a mid-Eastern location to prepare the way for the next conflict. Working independently and conducting successful, often classified missions on several continents taught me the power of prudence…and the skills that must accompany it.
I later adapted those techniques and tactics to working alone in countries such as Yemen. There I lived and traveled in and between the capital in Sana and the town of Aden on the southern coast. Operating alone for several months, my requirements for security were no different than a large unit’s — 360 degree security, primary and alternate routes for everywhere I traveled, multiple means of communication, contingencies if I had to depart my residence in an emergency, planning what to do if attacked at any point while driving, walking or even eating in a restaurant — but operating as one meant all of the planning, preparation, and vigilance fell to me alone. I learned to live, work, and exist as I constantly re-evaluated my security and contingencies minute by minute. Adherence to the tenets of knowledge, preparation, and prudence led me to the conclusion in 1999 that terrorists in Yemen were capable of conducting a major attack against US interests there. My opinion ran afoul of the Ambassador and the official US position on security in Yemen but was based on sound principle and solid evidence. I ultimately raised a warning through military channels of this potential, an act which drew the ire of the Ambassador. The attempted bombing of the USS The Sullivans in January of 2000 and the successful attack against the USS Cole in October of that same year forever ingrained in me that the cost of imprudence is often measured in lives.
The tenets of knowledge, vigilance, and prudence worked against every kind of threat and remained real throughout my career. Let me teach you how the same principles and techniques can become real for you, too.