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Establishing Standards for Physical Fitness in Executive Protection

To respond effectively to an attack and deter a would-be attacker, protectors must be physically fit. To learn more about why physical fitness is so important in close protection, we asked our Director of Recruitment, Nick Duchene, who finds and hires our newest protectors.

Intuition and situational awareness seem to be fundamental for a protector’s mission success. How is physical readiness also important?

Listening to your intuition and remaining situationally aware — or ‘in the Now’ — are essential to noticing a potential (or actual) attack. Yet, that’s only half of the equation.  The second half is a protector’s physical response to an attack. Consider the three phases of an attack discussed in Just 2 Seconds:

  • First, is the attacker’s Moment of Commitment. That’s when he ultimately decides to attack, i.e. John Hinckley pulling the revolver from his jacket pocket and aiming it at President Reagan.
  • Second, is the protector’s Moment of Recognition. That’s when he or she sees Hinckley pulling the weapon from his jacket, hopefully before he pulls the trigger.
  • Third, is the protector’s Big Response. This is the physical act of stopping, or at least, disrupting an attack. If the protector’s Moment of Recognition is seeing Hinckley’s gun, then his Big Response involves speed, aggression, and power, i.e. either projecting himself onto the attacker or covering and evacuating the protectee — which might include carrying the protectee to cover. All these actions requires a protector who’s in top physical condition.

How else is physical fitness important for protectors?

It’s a deterrence! Had the Secret Service’s Moment of Recognition been sooner against Hinckley, they’d have noticed an awkward and lonely man in the press area without press credentials and with his hands in his jacket pockets.  By noticing this, an agent – appearing fit and professional — could have approached Hinckley and deterred his attack.

Take Arthur Bremer’s pursuit of President Nixon as the perfect example of the above scenario.

In his Assassin’s Diary, Bremer wrote about the switched-on and physically imposing Secret Service agents protecting Nixon.  This caused Bremer to fear what assassins’ (including Hinckley) tend to fear most: failure. Consequently, Bremer switched his pursuit to Alabama Governor George Wallace who was running for president.  Unlike Nixon, Bremer noted in his diary that Wallace’s protectors were unimpressive in their appearance – neither physically fit nor imposing. Consequently, Bremer chose to try and assassinate Wallace because he felt he’d more likely succeed against the governor’s out of shape protectors.

Overweight, slouching, and tired looking protectors do not deter assassins. Like terrorists, assassins want a soft (or easy) target.  Fit protectors make their protectee a hard target for would-be attackers.

How does GDBA ensure their protectors are physically fit?

Every GDBA protector, no matter how long they’ve worked here, must pass our Physical Readiness Test (PRT) each and every year. If they cannot pass the PRT, they will no longer work here. Look, the very lives of our clients depend on protectors who can respond fast and hard to an attack. Not measuring a protector’s strength, speed, and endurance every year — and enforcing a standard — endangers our client’s safety.

We will never compromise those standards.


Nick Duchene is the Director of Recruitment and Veteran Outreach at Gavin de Becker & Associates. He has led residential protection teams in California and close protection operations for at-risk public figures throughout the world. Before joining our firm, Nick served more than 20 years in the United States Army as a Cavalry Scout, where he lead soldiers in combat and earned the rank of First Sergeant.

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