I’m sure most of you have heard that attention to detail is one of the most important traits of a tactical operator, but how much detail are we talking? I’m here to persuade you that even how you tie your boots could determine if your operation is a shining success or a dismal failure. To do this, let me tell you a story:
It was 0400 as my team was getting geared up for a routine hit on a small complex just outside of our Forward Operating Base (FOB). The target package we received identified Wissam Abed Hamoodi, a local merchant suspected of storing weapons for Al-Qaeda in his residence. We’d done hits like this a hundred times since we got in the country, so the teams’ preparations were smooth and methodical.
As we were loading up the vehicles, I heard some of the guys giving TJ shit because he was running out of the head still pulling up his pants…again. He ate some of the local cuisine a few days earlier and it seemed to be working as a good weight loss plan. As he climbed onboard I can distinctly remember him looking up and laughing off the jokes as he quickly tied his boots. The dirt kicked up as we moved towards our target.
We dismounted the vehicles and breached the main gate into the compound. We didn’t see any movement as we approached the main entryway. I was stacked on one side of the door with Rampage, and TJ was on the other side with Hutch. Skinny Mike stepped up and breached the door and then quickly cleared out as TJ and I made the initial entry.
As we crossed in the doorway I felt something small pulling underneath my foot. TJ’s boot had come untied during our short transit, and I was standing on one of the laces. Before I could lift up my foot, TJ hit the ground just as Rampage and Hutch came in behind us. That’s when I heard the first shots. They were coming from the other corner of the main room we just entered, the spot TJ needed to clear but couldn’t because he was face down on the deck.
Rampage and Hutch were designated to enter after us and cover the center of the room, so they never saw it coming. Hutch was hit once in the side of the head and went down immediately. By the time Rampage knew what was happening, he was taking rounds up the side of his body and was able to fire a few rounds as he slowly turned and fell to the ground. Why is it when shit hits the fan — the fan always seems to be on high-speed?
It was either pure luck or divine intervention that I had not been hit. I was essentially being shielded by my teammates’ bodies, which afforded me time to react and a put effective rounds on target and eliminate the threat. By this time TJ was just getting up off the deck and started calling for Doc, while trying to drag Hutch’s lifeless body to safety.
I was in shock but continued to scan the room for additional tangos. As I watched Doc try in vain to bring my brothers back to life, I couldn’t get the image of TJ hastily tying his boots out of my mind. The devil’s in the details…
I hope this story sticks in your minds as well and that you never forget that something so seemingly insignificant as how you tie your boots can bring about such devastating consequences. I also hope that you never forget the short lives of Rampage and Hutch — two brave warriors, whose lives were completely made up for this story.
OK, that was my first attempt at fiction, but hopefully you’ll remember the very real lesson it teaches. It’s the small details that often draw the line between mission success and failure. Your job (if you want to be a high-speed, low-drag operator) is always being on the right side of that thin line — a line often written in blood.
The moral of this story is not about boots. It’s about paying attention to the little things. It’s about the Butterfly Effect and how cutting corners, lack of maintenance or any number of small missteps long before the mishap report is written can lead directly to tragically avoidable ends. To be a well rounded tactical operator, you need to dive deep into the minutia for every aspect of your life. Here is one example of how you should look at tying your boots.
Inspect your boots every time you put them on and make sure your laces are equal in length. Worn laces will eventually snap and you can’t predict when that will happen. The best thing to do is have a pair of new boot laces on hand and replace them as soon as you see them getting worn or frayed.
There are several ways you can lace your boots depending on your feet and ankles, the type and age of the boots and their intended use. Unfortunately, most people get a new pair of boots, which come pre-laced, and leave them laced the way they came. If your end use for this pair of boots is walking from your car into Starbucks, this might be OK. If not you’ll need to look for something a little better. There are three lacing patterns that are most effective and most common. They are the Army lacing pattern, the ladder lacing pattern, and the straight bar pattern.
The ladder lacing is probably the most supportive lacing pattern for combat boots. It firmly holds the foot and ankle in place but requires longer laces than you would normally use.
The Army lacing pattern gives you the greatest flexibility in the ankle but does not support your feet or ankles as effectively as the ladder pattern.
The straight bar pattern is the least supportive of the three lacing patterns but provides the best looking pattern and the laces will pull tight very quickly. This pattern is best reserved for dress boots or tactical photo shoots.
Fit to Be Tied
As with lacing your boots, there are several ways you can tie your boots, and some are far more effective than others. If you don’t want to end up like Rampage or Hutch, you’ll need to reassess your knots since most people tie their boots incorrectly.
One of the things that separate “Special Operations” guys from “regular operations” guys is not just their attention to detail, but their enjoyment of the details. Case in point is Ian’s Shoelace Site. Everything you ever wanted to know about tying your boots or shoes can be found on this site, and I’ve spent hours in awe looking at and trying out the various knots.
The first quick fix when you tie your footwear is to remember the steps for tying a square knot. A common mnemonic I use for teaching Scouts to tie this knot is: Right over left, left over right, makes a knot both tidy and tight. If you notice that your laces easily come untied, you’re most likely tying a Granny Knot; right over left, right over left or left over right, left over right — either way and you’ve got yourself a Granny Knot.
The fix is easy. Change one of the ways you cross your laces, either your initial overhand knot or when you cross the bows. The way to make this most secure is to tie a double knot. This is simply a standard shoelace knot with an added overhand knot. This knot will work well for most situations, but nothing is fool-proof, except…
The Navy SEAL boot knot. Use this method if you really don’t ever want your boots coming untied or if you are planning on wearing your boots in the water. The knot is simple but completely effective. Tie a square knot and tuck in or cut the excess lace. For added security you can wrap riggers tape (a.k.a. duct tape) around the top of both boots. When you’re done saving the world, grab your trauma shears and cut the laces.
Keep these simple steps in mind next time you’re tying boots and remember the importance of the small things in combat.