Whether it is Executive Protection (EP), Dignitary Protection (DP) or Protective Services Operations (PSO) translating military skills into executive protection is certainly feasible if you are honest with yourself and do a bit of homework.
I know a number of former Special Operations warriors and conventional soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have been successful in transitioning from the military into service as a protective agent. Although many have succeeded and even thrived in their new careers there are some who, unfortunately, become agitated, frustrated, or disenchanted often soon after starting on a job. The key word here is “job”, and yes, it is a job. Unlike the military which many see as a calling, serving with a sense of purpose and devotion to duty; being employed on a security detail, especially in the executive protection arena will not be the same. In some cases, you may be required to protect a person whose attitudes, lifestyle, or political views may be diametrically opposed to yours. In others, you may be tasked to driving, running errands for or spending long days with people you consider less than stellar citizens who you would not want to share a drink with much less have to your home to meet your family. So here are a few tips to guide you through a transition from military operator into EP.
FIND A REPUTABLE ORGANIZATION TO WORK WITH.
There are countless outfits, many with impressive rosters of well-seasoned special operations folks and retired General Officers or SOF leaders as board members. Some are geared for contract overseas deployments in support of government operations while others cater to the private sector servicing well known CEOs and companies. Do your due diligence. Our world is not that large and you’ll probably know someone who has worked with or around the organization you are seeking to join. Speak with others and gain an understanding of what type of operations they are engaged in, what is their day-to-day and how well are they treated. There are too many organizations out there, many with sexy names with SOF references that lead you to believe that they are the real deal. These are often replete with steely eyed bearded guys with big arms. Unfortunately, many are nothing more than poseurs who purchase their OGA starter kit and hang their shingle to sell their wares as executive protectors. Sure, they may have done some time in the military and yes they are likely pretty darn good with a pistol, but what do they know about planning and preparing a trip to the mall with a well known highly visible celebrity? Is the emphasis on martial arts, combatives, pistol work and deadly force or do they balance it out with de-escalation, verbalization and soft skills. Some reading this may say, ‘oh geez, this guy doesn’t care about the warrior skills’…wrong! The combat skills are absolutely imperative and must be honed and constantly fine-tuned, but the likelihood of an armed confrontation are infinitesimal when compared to an approach by a starry eyed young fan or an injury in an accident.
Are these guys you want to work with training on emergency medical skills? Are they adept at communicating tactfully and respectfully? I would argue that most EP operators are not well prepared in terms of first aid or articulation of force. In other words, IF they have to use force to protect their client, are they prepared to articulate the why and how? Are they aware of local ordinances, state or federal laws relating to use of force? You may not be able to rely on an attorney or your client and better be able to explain why you reacted or responded in a certain manner or you may be held civilly or criminally liable. A simple push to move someone may result in irreparable damage to your organization and your client. On the subject of training, are they training as they would fight? It is fascinating to see the number of EP personnel whose range or defensive tactics training is conducted in sweatpants and t-shirts. If your duty uniform is a suit and if you are wearing body armor, you need to train in that.
Is the organization you are wishing to join solid in reputation? Have they been subject to legal actions? Are they compensating their people properly and to market standards? Do they provide legal and or liability insurance protection for the operators? How are the shifts conducted? Is there overtime pay? Even some of the more reputable firms can be known for overworking their more junior operators. If you are driving or standing watch you cannot be expected to be effective, no matter how young and fit you are, if you have been outdoors in the heat or cold for over twelve hours. Seek out an organization that respects their people, provides training and growth opportunities, and is realistic about the operations.
If you do not have the requisite training or experience, get it! The fact that you were not a SOF operator means nothing. Entering into the private sector, transitioning military personnel must remember that all the qualifications, badges, rank and ribbons mean nothing to most civilians. You will be stripped of that identity when you enter the civilian world. The authority and imposing nature of your rank and unit affiliation will be lost. Sure, there are some employers and principals who will respect and even revere you for your service, but they will be the exception and not the rule. Equally important, you cannot assume that the hardcore experiences you had as a Ranger, Raider, Seal, or SF operator will be acknowledged or understood. This means you will need to show your worth and demonstrate your value as a professional, a protector and a security practitioner. SOF operators; do not rest on your laurels. There are a scant few Special Operators who actually worked a protective detail while in the military. Don’t get too cocky thinking these are easy gigs. Sure, they can be, but at times they can be quite challenging. I’ve seen many great SOF operators who simply could not take the standing around, walking a residential perimeter or being mistaken for the wait staff at a restaurant. On the other hand, I’ve seen outstanding EP personnel that came from the legendary 369th Underwater Basket-weaving Battalion where they were cooks who took their transition seriously, learned, trained and gained experience and are now leading details. There are plenty of decent courses out there and some even accept GI Bill-VA benefits. Get yourself EMT or First Responder certified and train well on those skills. Study tactical planning and understand the region or area you will be working in.
Hone your appearance. You should blend in with the area or environment you are working. unless you are in the field, get rid of the tactical trousers, combat glasses and boots. You will need to look corporate or business professional. That includes being well groomed and physically fit. Yep, your days of physical fitness testing and training are not over. Invest in some good dark colored suits. It is incredible, the number of EP operators who buy crappy off the rack suits only to find that they do not last and or fade or fray quickly. Spend on quality. It doesn’t have to be custom made in Milan but get fitted and tailored if at all possible as you will want form and function. You may want to reinforce armpit areas and have pocket insets for a small flashlight and radio.
Get savvy on intelligence related to threats in your area of operations, read the newspapers, watch the news, talk to people, do a lot of map study and identify key terrain, traffic, major routes, alternate routes, safe havens, trauma centers, law enforcement operations, etc. Get orientation and if possible, training on whatever communications, vehicles or resources that will be used. Study security technology and understand alarms, CCTV and access control systems. Get to know your client and any issues they may have or previous history of threats or concerns. You may be lulled into a false sense of proximity but understand this; you will not be their friend and should not become part of the entourage. There will be others in that role. You are the protector and your principal role is diligence, vigilance and proactivity.
TEMPER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.
Do not expect to be placed with an “A” list client or major player right out of your military transition. You’ll likely be relegated to outer perimeter or event security assignments. Research the pay for the area(s) you wish to work and understand that junior detail personnel do not make a great amount of money. I know some who work for VERY high end, well known clients who have not yet broken the 100k salary mark. You’ll need to prove your work, demonstrate that you are trustworthy, ethical and forward leaning. Take initiative to support the client, and yes, unlike certain movies where EP operators “don’t do that”, you should be ready to fetch a water or coffee here or there. Being discreet, polite, and exercising initiative anticipating needs will get you far. Knowing the terrain and understanding the potential threats, be they criminal, environmental or political will make you a solid commodity they will want around. Get with someone you respect who has experienced the work first hand. Soak in their knowledge good and bad.
All in all, EP work can definitely be rewarding, but as glamourous as being around actors, corporate leaders or heads of state may be, the work will more often than not be the proverbial long hours of boredom mixed with brief moments of stress.