'I took a course on kidnapping and hostile environment survival'

Hostile Environment Training involves a faked kidnapping and safety instruction if you find yourself in a war zone

Hostile Environment Training involves a faked kidnapping and safety instruction if you find yourself in a war zone or disaster - Credit: Courtesy of HET

Yesterday I was kidnapped, held for several hours, hooded and handcuffed, pissed on, roughed up, verbally abused and humiliated.

It was one of the best experiences of my life. 

This was the third day of a course that most journalists, photographers, charity and first aid workers take to prepare themselves for an environment like a war zone or disaster area. Often a requirement for insurance coverage, Hostile Environment Training takes three days and mine came courtesy of https://www.hostile-environment.co.uk near Andover. 

It's not cheap - £1,120 plus transport and accommodation - but worth every penny. I now view the world very differently and feel far more confident about travelling. I think it will come in handy for everyday life, too.

Kerstin in bullet proof vest with gun during her Hostile Environment Training

Kerstin in bullet proof vest with gun during her Hostile Environment Training - Credit: Courtesy of Kerstin Rodgers

You learn the "Golden Triangle" of basic skills to survive in a hostile environment: first aid, navigation, and communication. I learned where is safest in a taxi (back seat behind the driver), how to spot a landmine (you can't, they are virtually invisible as are the trip wires) and where to position yourself if being attacked (it depends on the weaponry; short guns or long guns, mortars or grenades).

If you watch Hollywood movies and TV shows for advice, you won't last long. 

You know those scenes where cops hide behind a car and are miraculously safe from bullets? It's nonsense: Bullets go through metal like a knife through butter. There is only one place in a car where you are safer, and that's crouching behind one of the wheels. Even so, escape as fast as possible because a car attracts gunfire. If there are several of you, huddle in a row behind the wheels, then escape quickly spreading out in different directions. Why? Because every second counts, and the time it takes for a gunman to choose which way to point his gun could give you enough time to hide.

If being shot at in a building, the advice is different. Short guns can't penetrate walls but long guns and mortar shells will. Don't hide under a desk or table – it's pointless. Stand a metre away from a wall as bullets go in a straight line once they strike a wall and will hit you if you are leaning against it.

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For mortar fire, lay down in the crevice between the wall and the floor. If you are being rescued, do not stand by the wall where the door is. Soldiers will not open the door, they will blast through the adjacent wall, so crouch down next to another wall, hands on head, mouth open. Dynamite can suck all the air from a room so you don't want a vacuum in your body. Hands on head is so that the rescuers don't confuse you for a baddie and to show you haven't got a weapon. 

Kerstin after her ordeal

Kerstin after release from her ordeal - Credit: Courtesy of Kerstin Rodgers

Another misleading movie trope is that a grenade goes off when you take the pin out. Untrue: it explodes within five to seven seconds of releasing the lever on top after you take the pin out. If you don't depress the lever, you can replace the pin. Unfortunately, it's impossible to throw a grenade far away enough to avoid blowing yourself up and everyone else within 50 metres.

If kidnapped, bunch your fists when they handcuff you, it loosens them slightly. If they tell you to flatten your hands, you are dealing with professionals.

Be compliant, polite, honest. I've a tendency to be honest but with my kidnapping experience I found myself making up stories, saying I worked for the Red Cross, that I thought the man in the black balaclava screaming at me was "yes, indeed, very pretty," and that my parents in their 80s would be more than happy to hear from them by phone and pay £100,000 in ransom.

On the other hand, they asked me my address and car number plate and I gave it to them as well as all my real bank details (honest!). They used Google Earth to look up my address and ask the colour of my front door. Sometimes I laughed, which was a mistake because I'd get clubbed around the head or put in a "stress position" as punishment. This is doing the plank or squatting on the balls of your feet with your arms out. After several minutes of planking I had to ask for a rest, describing my caesarean operation which severs your core abdomen muscles. I'm not sure if they'd empathise if I was in Yemen or Syria. It's kind of a first world problem.

The feedback after the kidnapping is filmed and assessed. I was told that my humour was disarming, which could work for or against me. It made me human and you want that because dehumanising someone is the best way to kill them. On the other hand, it could trigger extreme violence. What did I say? I had a large machete dug into my chest and was told that if I didn't tell the truth the "pretty" black balaclava man would cut out my heart and make me eat it.

"You want that?" he leered.

I shook my head:" 'No because I'm a vegetarian."

Even I could see the ex-SAS soldier acting the part cracked a smile.

You learn a lot about yourself, not least that you act in strange ways under pressure.

HET at www.hostile-environment.co.uk/courses/heat

Kerstin Rodgers is a food and travel writer from Kilburn. Visit msmarmitelover.com