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Transitioning from Military Service into Executive Protection Roles

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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. Moreover, a military service background may indeed be indispensable in numerous situations.

I know many former Special Operations warriors and conventional soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have successfully transitioned from the military into service as a protective agent. Although many have succeeded and even thrived in their new careers, some became agitated, frustrated, or disenchanted soon after starting a job.

The keyword here is “job,” and yes, it is a job. Unlike the military, which many see as a calling and serving with a sense of purpose and devotion to duty, working on a security detail ― especially in the executive protection arena ― will not be the same.

In some cases, you may have to protect a person whose attitudes, lifestyle, or political views may be diametrically opposed to yours. In others, you may have the task of 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 yes, perhaps there are some similarities with doing military service.

To start, here are a few tips to guide you through a transition from the 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 equip themselves for overseas contract deployments supporting government operations. 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 understand what type of operations they engage in, what their day-to-day is, and how well the employer and manager treat them.

Military Service

There are too many organizations out there, many with sexy names with SOF references that lead you to believe 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 shingles to sell their wares as executive protectors. Sure, they may have spent some time in the military service. 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 noticeable celebrity?

Combat Skills: Military Service vs. Executive Protection

Is the emphasis on martial arts, combative, 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 you must hone and fine-tune them constantly. However, the likelihood of an armed confrontation is infinitesimal in comparison to an approach by a starry-eyed young fan or an injury in an accident.

Are these the 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 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 the 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 specific manner, or someone may hold you civilly or criminally liable. A simple push to move someone may result in irreparable damage to your organization and your client.

Overworking and Practicing

On the subject of training, are they training as they would fight? It is fascinating to see the number of EP personnel who conduct a range of defensive tactics training in sweatpants and T-shirts. If your duty uniform is a suit and you are wearing body armor, you need to train in that.

Is the organization you wish to join solid in a 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 its people, provides training and growth opportunities, and is realistic about the operations.

Having a military service background certainly helps in these instances, as it will prepare you for the unrelenting world of executive protection.

Prepare Yourself: When Military Service Means Nothing

If you do not have the requisite training or experience, get it! The fact that you were not a SOF operator means nothing. While exiting military service and entering the private sector, transitioning army 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. You are going to lose the authority and imposing nature of your rank and unit affiliation.

Sure, some employers and principals will respect and even revere you for your service, but they will be the exception and not the rule.

Military Service

Equally important, you cannot assume that they will acknowledge or understand the hardcore experiences you had as a Ranger, Raider, Seal, or SF operator. 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 pretty challenging. I’ve seen many great SOF operators who simply could not take the standing around. Others find it dreadful to walk a residential perimeter or have people mistake them for the wait staff at a restaurant.

Cooks Turned EP Professionals

On the other hand, I’ve seen outstanding EP personnel that came from the 369th Underwater Basket-weaving Battalion, where they were cooks. They 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 in which you will be working.

Hone Your Appearance and Know Your Stuff

You should blend in with the area or environment in which you are working. Get rid of the tactical trousers, combat glasses, and boots. You will need to look corporate or business professional. That means that you should be well-groomed and physically fit.

Yep, your days of physical fitness testing and training are not over. Invest in some good dark-colored suits. The number of EP operators who buy crappy off-the-rack suits is incredible. It is only later that they find that they do not last and fade or fray quickly.

Spend on quality. It doesn’t have to be custom-made in Milan but get fitted and tailored if possible, as you will want form and function. You may wish to reinforce armpit areas and have pocket insets for a small flashlight and radio.

Here are a few additional invaluable pointers for transitioning from military service into executive protection roles:

  • Get savvy on intelligence that relates 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, vital routes, alternate routes, safe havens, trauma centers, law enforcement operations, etc.

Get orientation and, if possible, training on whatever communications, vehicles, or resources you will use. 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 feel 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. They will likely relegate you to the outer perimeter or event security assignments.

Research the pay for the area(s) you wish to work in and understand that junior detail personnel does not make a notable 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 the initiative to support the client. And yes, unlike certain movies where EP operators “don’t do that,” you should fetch water or coffee occasionally.

Being discreet, polite, and exercising initiative by 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. It may be glamourous to be around actors, corporate leaders, or heads of state. Yet, the work will regularly be the proverbial long hours of boredom mixed with brief moments of stress.

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