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Real-Life Scenarios in EP: Physical Positioning

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For our latest edition of real-life scenarios, we invited GDBA’s Senior Vice President, James Hamilton. He was so kind to share two interesting stories with the EP Wired community. They relate to physical positioning and what it means to be near the principal in the most critical and — most mundane — moments.

Without further ado, we bring you a story on why you sometimes need to get coffee for your principal and another on why you can’t fight a rocket with a firearm!

Getting Coffee for the Principal: Story #1

At one point, I was protecting a high-net-worth individual. We were driving in a big US city, and they wanted to get coffee. I thought about it.

They were in an armored vehicle, and I was in the follow vehicle. So I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be smarter if I went inside, got the coffee, and left them in the armored vehicle? And then we would be on our way.”

Thus, I told the protectee, “Please, stand by. I know what you usually order. I’ll go get it for you.”

I went outside, got the coffee, and came back out. Much later, I saw a colleague who told me: “I saw you getting your protectee’s coffee earlier today. Is that what you all do as bodyguards?”

I replied: “No, actually, what I was doing was keeping them safe. But I appreciate you criticizing me.”

What we at GDBA call that is the theory of controlled spaces. In other words, you keep the protectee in a controlled environment and don’t expose them to an uncontrolled environment if you can help it.

I didn’t know it was called that at the time, but I thought that was the right thing to do — and I did it.

On Exposure

As this was a very HNW individual, the chances of coming up to them, either wanting an autograph or wanting to throw something on this individual, was a thing we had to consider. Why expose them to that environment if you don’t have to?

Now, certainly, if they want to go outside, you have to let them do their thing. But my protectee was completely fine with it, which was very helpful because it saved me a lot of headaches.

Unfortunately, many bodyguards put themselves or their clients in a position of concern where they don’t need to.

I’ve heard bodyguards say, “Well, I don’t get coffee,” or “I don’t deal with dry-cleaning,” or whatever.

There are times when that is the right call. In that situation, with multiple protectors and multiple vehicles, that was the right call. I wouldn’t change a thing, and I’m glad I did it.

Back then, I just didn’t know that what I did had a name.

The Warzone: Story #2

I was with a government official in a warzone, and you might assume whether it was Iraq, Afghanistan, or one of the others. But, the plan was to take this official to a building and up onto a roof, where we did not control the surrounding high ground. So, it was a very unfriendly environment.

My intuition said: “Don’t do this!” But I wasn’t the advance agent. I was on body coverage (AIC). And when I got to this location, they told me what the plan was. But I was like: “Why are we doing this outside on a roof? Why don’t we do it here, in the conference room?”

When we got to the roof, we were there for about 10-15 minutes. I got pretty close to the protectee because I knew that, if something bad happened, I needed to move him. I was thinking of a sniper or something like that.

At one point, a rocket came from the high ground and hit pretty close that I heard it. We all scrambled to get off the roof. The key point for you is you have to be physically positioned close enough to the protectee to be effective. And I was. I was able to grab him and take him down the stairs and get him to safety.

Manhandling the Principal

The protectee didn’t think the rocket was that close and might not have been like in the movies, but it certainly was close enough for me. So, he was angry because I manhandled him. But it was what I needed to do at the time. I don’t regret it. I do regret going up there. My intuition advised me against it.

However, I let others override that. Obviously, the protectee gets a voice and a vote, and he would have probably overruled me.

Looking back on it, I guess it could have been worse, but I’m glad I reacted the way I did.

At that moment, there is no upper management to complain to. It’s just you and the principal. So, the best thing to do is to say, “Okay, I’m going to be close.” Because, a lot of times, they say: “I don’t want you that close to me.”

In that situation, I said: “We shouldn’t be up here.” But he stated: “We’re going to do it.” And then I responded with: “Okay, I’m going to be close.”

Closer than he likes, probably. But I have to be close, and this is what I mean by physical positioning. You have to be close enough to actually cover and evacuate, to grab him and move.

On Effectiveness and Physical Positioning

As a protector or bodyguard, you could give too much space, and then you are not effective at all. Our company has an analogy that says: “You are being paid to prevent a layup, like in basketball.” Then, you have to be on the court. You can’t be in the stands.

Unfortunately, I see many protectors who are in the wrong position. In America, they think they are just going to shoot the problem. Well, in my situation, you can’t shoot a rocket.

In most incidents, when somebody runs up on stage to disrupt a speech or something like that, you’re not going to shoot that person. If pulling a gun is your only response, I’d say you don’t really understand what you’re doing.

There are certainly times for firearms. Yet, my experience has been that physical positioning is what makes or breaks a successful detail in the field. Not residential protection, not office protection where you are supported by technology and other layers of protection. In the field, your mental acuity as a protector and the physical positioning are really the secret sauce. Think Jerry Parr.

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