INDIANAPOLIS -- Dom Raso encountered and killed some of the world's worst bad guys in his 12-year career as a Navy SEAL. He knows what he's talking about, then, when it comes to protecting yourself. His one piece of advice for the average person regarding self-defense? "Get your head out of your phone."
"Just look up," he told TheBlaze at the 2014 NRA convention. "It's just a very, very simple thing to do and no one does it anymore, and it's really scary."
"Whether it's here, the show, walking to your car, at the mall, walking your dog -- getting your head out of your phone will allow you to actually experience your environment."
The former soldier who's also an NRA contributor cited the viral videos of people running into fountains while staring down at their phones. While many chuckle, he said that the other possibilities are no laughing matter.
"People falling into fountains and running into stuff -- that's people running up to you and stealing your purse, or taking your phone, or punching you in the face. We have all kinds of crazy stuff that's out there. The threats are all real."
Experiencing your environment, the now-retired SEAL said, sets you up to taking advantage of the second piece of advice: avoiding bad situations all together.
"The other thing I tell people is avoid, avoid, avoid," Raso said. "I want to avoid any situation before it happens. If I have the awareness -- if my awareness is up and my head is out of my phone -- now I can just take an exit left or go down the elevator or go down the escalator as opposed to walking into someone that's leaning on my car or two cars waiting for me."
He repeated himself for emphasis: "Avoiding is key, keeping your head out of your phone is key."
In fact, he's practiced it so much it now comes as second nature. His example? "I already know where all the exits are in here."
"I Am Forever"
It's that emphasis on awareness and avoidance that Raso -- who with his groomed beard, slightly spiky hair and deep voice is exactly what you imagine a former Navy SEAL looking and sounding like -- wants to bring to one of his newest projects: "I Am Forever."
[sharequote align="left"]Former SEAL on top safety tip: "Just look up."[/sharequote]
"I think it's probably the most interesting and exciting thing we're working on," he said of the new show. The concept is simple: Raso takes his experience as a former operative and breaks it down for a young, 17-year-old girl in an attempt to teach her how to not only be proficient in guns, but also be smart and defend herself.
"She's really just a regular kid," Raso said. "But what I'm doing is taking all my experiences from my career and distilling them down to the central capabilities and training aspects that she needs to know and apply them to life. So whether it's walking into an interview and learning how to protect herself with hand-to-hand combat or how to be aware in her environment and knowing how to protect her friends -- the whole package for her is going to be something a lot of people are going to see is beneficial to learning."
Still, just because the young girl (Reagan) is 17 doesn't mean it's going to be easy. In fact, that makes it a little more difficult.
"I can train tier one guys -- that's the easy thing to do," Raso explained. "But taking the skills I have and training a 17-year-old, you have to manipulate it in a way they can understand it and it make sense to them."
But don't be fooled: The episode isn't just for Reagan.
"Once the people view this, it's not just going to be the 17-year-olds that dig it: It's also going to be the brothers and fathers," he explained. "It doesn't matter whether you're walking through a convention center or driving to work, there's little tools you can take away that make you more safe and more aware."
The program, which will launch this fall, is part of the NRA's new initiative called NRA Freestyle that aims to reach younger and non-traditional gun owners. That initiative also includes another Raso-hosted show called "Media Lab," which takes a look at popular Hollywood movie scenes through the eyes of a top soldier and either debunks or confirms them.
"Not everybody that's young wants to come in and sign up for an NRA membership," Raso explained. "So this is a way to get them involved with what we have going on in changing the culture."
"Defending Our America"
All the awareness, all the training-up of young people and all the focus on reaching a new audience can be folded into one main goal: defending America. In fact, ask Raso about it and you can sense the passion.
"People are losing sight of what it does take to defend this country," he said while talking about the NRA's outreach to active-duty military, former military, peace officers and first responders. That's done through a project called Life of Duty, which offers free memberships to those who are active on the front lines -- whether overseas or on the streets of America's cities.
"All those people that Life of Duty supports understand that message," Raso explained. "They understand what it takes to protect this country because that's what their job is."
Still, he said, "defending this country is not just done with a gun, it's not just done in a uniform." Instead, it has to be something everyone takes to heart. That's why he's part of a new Life of Duty project called "Defending Our America," which features everyone from police officers to former CIA operatives telling their stories and giving first-hand insight into what it takes to defend this country. But it also allows average people to see where they fit in.
So far, the NRA has released a teaser episode of what that will look like. An official launch date has not been announced:
"If we don't let everyone share in the message of what it takes to defend this country," Raso concluded, "we'll lose sight of what we all need to be doing."
Follow Jonathon M. Seidl (@jonseidl) on Twitter.