Several years ago, I accompanied a highly recognizable member of the executive branch of the U.S. Government and his family on a voyage to a remote area of India. As a senior member of the U.S. Secret Service routinely traveling with the President, I was accustomed to immediate access to every available resource to ensure a safe and secure trip. For this one, however, those resources were scarce – neither provided by the U.S. government nor desired by the group, which consisted of the senior official, his spouse, three young children and a second family of a similar size.
Planning for Much – With Little
In planning the trip, we analyzed available resources – intelligence assets, local law enforcement support, communications platforms, medical contingency options, and safe harbors in the event a crisis occurred and evacuation became necessary. We soon realized that few of these resources were available and that we were largely going to be on our own. We needed to create and develop operational and tactical plans with very few resources. Luckily for us, the Secret Service has developed long-lasting relationships with experts around the world, ready to assist at a moment’s notice. We began calling our friends.
First, we uncovered very little intelligence on the areas we planned to visit. We were going to a region so remote that its inhabitants had little contact with the outside world. We would be traveling on horseback – often several hours from the closest road. There were no local police. We would rely on un-vetted local guides. Even the most rudimentary medical facilities would be hundreds of miles away (if we could even get there, since the U.S. government would not dedicate medevac aircraft to cover the trip). We would be camping most nights with no facilities, sharing communal meals cooked in a large pot for the entire group over a campfire stoked with cow dung.
Expecting Snakebites and Dysentery – or Even Ambush
I thought this would be the worst trip ever. I was missing Christmas with my family and certain that something bad would befall us: a snakebite or dysentery or some other medical condition or issue. Or the un-vetted guides were going to lead us astray, straight into an ambush. It did not make me rest any easier when I discovered we would be traveling through areas and routes used by drug smugglers.
So how did this dreadful journey transform into one of the highlights of my life? Because we were prepared. We developed contingency plans to mitigate the impacts of even small incidents before they could turn into major ones. We leveraged our contacts in India – and were able to plan for the worst with trusted partners at the ready should we need them. This support changed my whole outlook.
A Wonderful Outcome – Except for One Incident
To make a long story short, it was an incredible trip – one of my all-time favorites. The only incident we hadn’t planned for happened: an “attack” by monkeys when we unwittingly entered their territory and hundreds – perhaps thousands – of monkeys postured in the trees surrounding us, ready to pounce. Luckily, we escaped, but thoughts on the potential outcomes of that encounter still linger with me.
Today, these lessons, and that trip, come to mind when families reach out to Hillard Heintze for support for similar journeys. As we help them plan for every conceivable scenario – or most – you’ll usually hear me say, at some point: “Watch out for the monkeys!”