October 04, 2012

Meet the Experts

Get to Know the Practical Preppers, Scott Hunt and David Kobler

In some ways, Scott Hunt and David Kobler couldn’t be more different. Hunt, an engineer who now runs a working farm in South Carolina, has the glib, charm, and calm, reassuring wisdom of someone who spent a decade as a pastor to a non-denominational congregation. In contrast, Kobler, a U.S. Army veteran who experienced harrowing door-to-door urban combat in Iraq, is soft-spoken and tends toward the laconic. When he talks, his lingo is laced with military acronyms and references to grisly-sounding terms such as “kill zone.”

“I’m the boring infrastructure guy,” Hunt explains. “David focuses upon security, and threats. I’m the one who’s concerned about making sure you can get a hot shower. But when you’re in a crisis situation, you don’t realize how important that can be.”

Yet both men’s contrasting training, experience, and skills complement one another when it comes to advising people on how to systematically prepare to survive cataclysmic disasters. These might range from devastating hurricanes to more protracted crises, such as a massive electromagnetic attack that might wreak havoc upon our technological infrastructure, paralyze government, and cause the collapse of order.

Beyond that, Hunt and Kobler seem to share a common philosophy. While many in the prepper subculture seem fixated upon conspiracy theories that predict very specific scenarios for upheaval, neither man seems inclined toward such gloomy predictions. Instead, they preach the importance of flexible preparedness that would enable people to survive a broad range of challenges—from the short-term disruptions frequently caused by weather, to so-called “black swan” events, the rare cataclysmic extremes that may catch a society off guard because they seem so unlikely.

“What we promote are solutions that are identical for every scenario,” Hunt explains. “No matter what you are preparing for, you need to do the same things—determine what resources you have, establish your network of people who can rely upon one another, set up your preparations, develop the variety of skills you’ll need. When people don’t have things when a disaster occurs, in a short period of time, they become paralyzed. If you’re not prepared, you will freak out.”

Hunt, a jack-of-all trades whose talents range from welding and fixing machinery to raising cattle, says he learned that versatility growing up in a small town in upstate New York, where his father was an auto body mechanic, and his extended family circle included loggers, carpenters, and other people with hands-on expertise. From an early age, “I had to help out with all that stuff,” he recalls. “And oddly, all the things I hated to do as a teenager taught me the skills that I use now. I worked on a dairy farm for five years. I’ve done building, construction work, you name it.”

Hunt’s real-world experience as a youth stimulated his curiosity about how things worked, which led to him to pursue an engineering degree at the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which bills itself as “the nation’s oldest technological university.” While in school, he helped support himself by working as an assistant to kinetic sculptor George Rickey, doing welding and fabrication. That gig afforded him the chance to travel to Germany and Japan to work on Rickey’s installations.

After graduating from RPI in 1992, Hunt spent a decade working as an engineer for tire manufacturer Michelin, and then did a stint as a pastor, which appealed to his altruistic urges. But all the while, Hunt also kept getting his hands dirty. He, his wife and four children made their home on a farm in South Carolina, where Hunt could freely engage in his other passion of developing a largely self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle, in which he provided his family’s own food, water, power, and other needs. “I always wanted to see if I could live independent of the system,” he explains. Eventually, others’ curiosity about the systems he developed for providing water and other resources led him to start yet another career as a prepper consultant.

Along the way, he met Kobler, who came by the farm one day with a friend to help on a construction project. Like Hunt, Kobler is a transplanted upstate New Yorker, and lived in both a small town and in inner-city Buffalo. From the time he was young, his big passion was wilderness survival. “In high school, on Friday nights most people would go to the football games,” he recalls. “I and a couple of buddies would go off to the mountains and spend the weekend doing primitive camping. We’d take hardly any supplies, maybe just a tent and a tarp or poncho. We wanted to learn to live off the land.”

Kobler briefly studied criminal justice in college, before his love of practical hands-on work led him to take a job as a maintenance worker in a local school district. “I’m not an engineer, but I like building things,” he explains. “I’ve done carpentry, built wooden structures.” Then, in 2000, he decided to follow an old family tradition, and enlisted in the U.S. Army. “We have a long history of serving,” he says. “My grandfather was at Pearl Harbor. I felt that same call, and decided to follow my dream.”

Kobler rose to the rank of staff sergeant during his seven-year stint in the 101st Airborne Division, and in the spring of 2003, served in one of the units that spearheaded the invasion of Iraq. It was an experience that put his survivalist skills and ingenuity to good use. “We were out so far ahead that we didn’t have a supply train keeping up with us,” Kobler recalled. “We commandeered Iraqi vehicles to move us. We’d take flatbed semis and put our equipment on them.” After racing through the desert, Kobler and his squad battled Iraqi forces and insurgents in cities such as Baghdad and Fallujah.

Those experiences not only honed Kobler’s skills with weaponry and hand-to-hand fighting, but also gave him a sense of how quickly law and order might disintegrate in a catastrophe. “Criminals suddenly came out, to take advantage of the confusion,” he recalls. “We also saw a lot of revenge killings, in which people capitalized on the situation to settle old grudges.” In a worst-case scenario, he warns, a collapse of American society “would look like Iraq.”

After an injury compelled Kobler to retire from the military, he ended up in South Carolina, where he met Hunt and got the inspiration to apply his training to working with preppers.

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