NerdGuy Fridays: Dispatches from a Writer's Brain - M. L. Buchman

NerdGuy Fridays #3: the 4th SMU, sprinting to the gun, & chionophobia

The 4th SMU

The US military has 4 designated SMUs, Special Mission Units. These are the elite of the elite units. Two you’ve heard of: Delta Force and DEVGRU (aka SEAL Team 6). Two you probably haven’t.
The 24th STS are the Air Force’s elite air controllers. These are the guys who can spend 3 days fighting to take an airport, coordinating all the air strikes, then, once the airport is taken, run dozens (or more) flights per hour, by themselves, with a handheld radio from a card table. Imagine one person suddenly taking all air traffic controller responsibilities for a major airport with minimal equipment and you get the idea. These guys are seriously good.
The 4th SMU goes by many names: The Intelligence Support Activity, The Activity, Team Orange, The Army of Northern Virginia, and others. Their name keeps changing to help hide them from the public eye. Their entire mandate is the gathering and coordinating of intelligence in support of the other 3 SMUs. They are small, elite, and often will be the ones to go on the ground ahead of time so that the SMUs know exactly how to attack.
I’ve written about them before several times, most notably in Night Stalkers #7 By Break of Day and Delta Force #3 Wild Justice. And I think I may have even met a retired one once. The person implied things specifically by what they weren’t able to talk about. A fascinating non-conversation in a way. Let’s just say that we were in a group discussion and they were surprised by what I’d unearthed doing my research…and also declined to point out anywhere I’d gone astray.
However, I’ve never seen a write-up about anyone in The Activity before. But if I read the article below right, that exactly what Chief Shannon Kent was. It’s a long read, but an utterly amazing story of an incredible warrior.
Also, do you want to waste even more time with NerdGuy? Click through on the driving course that was mentioned in the article. (Did I mention that there are several cool videos if you look at the different kinds of courses they offer? And then, if you get down into the rally driving courses, you’ll be thinking about the Night Stalkers #11 Target of One’s Own with my heroine rally driver.)

Sprinting to the gun

In 1983, Sergeant Stephen Tueller of the Salt Lake City Police Department asked an alarming question, “How close is too close?”

How close can an assailant be, perhaps with a knife or a club, that they can charge an officer faster than the officer can draw and fire? He recruited a number of volunteers and decided to find out.

Twenty-one feet.

Let’s think about that for a second. That’s longer than my Toyota Camry. It’s 27″ longer than a 1959 Cadillac Coup DeVille. In fact, it’s 2″ longer than a full-size Ford F-150 Supercab with the crew cab and the full 8′ bed.

Tueller’s research completely changed the question of when was the appropriate moment for an officer to draw against an attacker. I have a buddy who was a Vietnam-era Marine MP. He said that a lot of his job was hauling drunk Marines off to lockup until they dried out. When I mentioned Tueller’s Drill to him, he shivered. “There I was, manhandling some of the most lethal drunks ever, and I never thought to draw against even the most belligerent. I’m lucky I’m alive.” Of course, he was one tough-as-hell Marine himself.

Here’s the Mythbusters failure to bust that myth:

Now you understand why the emphasis on quick-draw holsters. I’ve read, but haven’t seen (despite a Google search), that Delta Force operators actually wear their pistols at the center of the abdomen so that they are actively aiming their weapon in the same motion that they are pulling it from the holster. (Hint: I wouldn’t try charging against a Delta Force operator anyway. Just sayin’.)

Tueller’s Drill, or Tueller’s Law as I learned it in a “Firearms & Fiction” course,  has appeared in several of my books, most recently in the upcoming Miranda Chase #3, Condor.


Looking for something new to be afraid of? How about chionophobia, the fear of snow (chion is Greek for the white fluffy stuff).

Want to know about the 35 types of snowflakes and how to study them? Pick up a copy of Ken Libbrecht’s Field Guide to Snowflakes. Trust me, you’ll want the print edition. Way fun!

By the way, it’s been confirmed that the Inuit do have roughly fifty (50) words for snow. But that’s barely a flurry. To properly catalog snow in all its many forms from “skelf” (a large snowflake) to “unbrak” (the beginning of the thaw), one should learn the four hundred and twenty-one (421!!) words cataloged as used by the Scots. So, next time your heads in a “feefle” (swirl) while standing out in the “spitters” (small flakes of driving snow) you’ll know what to call it.


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