Contractor Clothing Fail
Contractor Clothing Fail

The 5.11 Tuxedo: Cargo Pants + 5.11 Shirt + Riggers Belt + International Airport = NOT GREYMAN!

Perhaps it is my innate curiosity or, for years I was actually employed to be highly observant - or more than likely I am just a nosey bastard by nature. Probably it is the latter and not the former. Cops can spot other cops a mile away. It’s been that way forever probably.

I can also tell you that I can spot fellow security contractors in much the same way. Many of you who are reading this right now are saying “yeah, you’re right, so can I”. We like to think it is a special talent that allows us to recognize a fellow meat eater.

There is some truth to that, but for the most part we are a fairly observant bunch and there are certain visual cues that we give off that inadvertently reveal who we are to one another and unfortunately to others with less than desirable motives.

For the last couple of years, I have been a government contractor who travels quite extensively by the requisites of my job. Now, having been around the globe a few times, I have found myself sitting in various airports, and Hotels where I can sit and partake in one of my favorite pastimes, People watching.

Now, the places that I find myself in are typically places where the native folks have less than a stellar view of my home country and in particular, my industry Security Contracting. Part of the reason why I do this is simply OPSEC. People-watching is a great way to get a feel for the place.

As a bi-product it answers tactical questions that I am subconsciously thinking about. : “Is it safe to be here?”, “What are the natural rhythms and schedules of the place?” Who belongs, who doesn’t and the like.

Middel East Airport
Middel East Airport

Don’t Stand Out From The Crowd Wile Traveling – You Endanger Not Only Yourself, But Your Fellow Contractors

There is also the reality that there is someone out there doing the very same thing that I am, but for very different and deadlier reasons. I am not going to go into a lot of Surveillance detection in this article, because frankly that is an entire topic on its own.

What I am going to do is point out some of the thing s that I have observed that some of our brethren who I know have been schooled in the right way… but for some damn reason, be it a poor self image, the need to grandstand or simply not conscious, that they are holding a sign that says “Target”.

The last time I flew out, I watched in horror as a guy walked down the concourse to get on the airplane.  He had his 511 pants on, his 511 shirt, his company hat and a tan Blackhawk bag that had his nametag nicely stitched on it. I asked him if he knew he stuck out like a sore thumb and he said yeah, but “so what”.

Fag Bag
Fag Bag


Now, in the age of the shoe bomber, underwear bomber and as news reports have recently shown “Boob bombers” and other terrorists who are still targeting western flights. This guy highlighted what flight he takes. More importantly he potentially also identified which flight carries the maximum number of expat contractors and other high value targets that terrorists would love to have.

Now, Lets back track his journey to the airport. Any casual observer now knows what hotel he frequents, more than likely his company has a whole herd of his co-workers housed there and now, they too were possibly painted for a Mumbai style attack. But….He does not care. He has his image to keep up and the need to impress somebody… I think that’s the part that really ticked me off. It was his nonchalance attitude.

Now, you want to risk your own life, Have at it…But when you so arrogantly risk mine, I get a little pissed.

mumbai attacks
mumbai attacks

The Mumbai Terror Attacks Specifically Targeted Western Foreigners

We all take risks, its part of our job, but not needless risks. Now the guy mentioned above was the glowing neon sign of what not to do, there are of course other less subtle tell tale signs that many of us inadvertently do that reveals who we are.

Here are a few examples:

For many of us, we have down time. That means a lot of time spent in the gym. This is great! We have the strength and stamina to pull our clients and buddies to safety and still keep up the fight.  All that time in the gym produces results that you may be proud to show off with snug t-shirts or other attire that is figure hugging.

Now, the downside is that is for the most part, the men in the countries where we travel do not have the same athletic build or diet to support the muscle growth that western cultures do. This of course makes you stand out. While this is nice in a bar full of hot chicks, it is not so nice in a country where there are Fatwa’s issued to kill the unbeliever… You catch my drift?

Tight Ass Shirt
Tight Ass Shirt

Besides Being Gay, Tight-Ass UU Shirts Can highlight You Are a Westerner

I know that we don’t spend a lot of time looking down. But, before you get on the next airplane out of your AO, have a look at your shoes. Are you wearing the latest greatest Merrill product or equivalent thereof? Sure are nice. One of the things that I train my guys to do is to look at Haji’s shoes when we are out and about and have a look at the beards.

Certain things are dead giveaways to who they are and it is no different for you. Look at your back pack. Is it the latest BlackHawk, LA Police gear, Maxpedition etc? If it is, Might as well hold a sign too. Speaking of Looking, What are you looking through? As in your eyewear? Those cool guy ballistic Oakley’s sure are nice!  What about on your wrists or head? You wearing one of those “Survival bracelets” as they are called?

Each of these things by themselves may not be the giveaway, but a series of these visual cues tend to add up and you may unwittingly identify yourself.

Here are a few things that I recommend for traveling grey:

For one, have a set of travel clothes. These should be non-descript, comfortable and are designed to blend in pretty much anywhere. Your appearance right down to your shoes should not convey any nationality hints or identifiable traits that make you stand out.

The clothing should be loose fitting, either a larger button up shirt with an off brand generic jacket. Buy a pair of jeans from the Haji mart, they are non-descript and come in a whole host of brands from around the globe.

Wear comfortable tennis shoes.  Nothing fancy with ridiculous colors. Accessorize with reading material that in no way reflects your profession, preferably something in a foreign language. Look at your travel bag. Is it a generic one that does not have a whiff of “Tactical” coming off of it?  And shave.


Do Not Wear Your Desert Combat Boots Wile Traveling (or while clubbing)

And lastly, don’t do a lot of talking. Your goal is to fade in to the back ground. In essence become the proverbial “Grey man” If someone were to ask about you they should have a hard time describing any concrete details other than generic height and weight. Your ability to blend in is really limited to your imagination.

I know some of you remember classes on camouflage. Camouflage is not just about hiding in the forest or out in the desert, it’s a state of mind. Apply those same lessons to your travel clothing and lesson the likelihood of becoming a victim. It’s not just your life that is at risk!


————————————————————————————— ~Luke W.Contributing Correspondent Luke served 8 years in the US Marine reserves and is a former Georgia Police Officer. He has been a firearms instructor since 1998 training LE, Civilians, Military and US Contractors. Luke is currently in his second rotation in Afghanistan where he is the lead for a PSD team.