Executive protection training must include the stress of a violent attack. In doing so, instructors can test physical courage and teach composure during life-threatening scenarios.
It is a given that Soldiers and Marines deploying to a war zone spend much of their time at the range improving their marksmanship and weapons handling. Yet, mastering the fundamentals of marksmanship is merely Step‑1 of a two-step training process. Step‑2 involves firing that weapon accurately amidst the screams, violence, and chaos of combat. After all, when a soldier finally fires his or her weapon in combat, the environment will never be as calm as that breezy day at the range.
In our experience, the military effectively recreates the chaos of combat through various training methods, including Simunition rounds (plastic marking capsules) which often break the skin and cause pain, enabling soldiers to experience some situational stress. Other stress-inducing methods include aggressive role players speaking Arabic or Farsi and paralyzing the decision making of a young officer or NCO. Tear gas is also a great tool, causing soldiers to don their gas masks and attempt to fire well-aimed shots while their gas mask fogs and beads of sweat sting their eyes.
These measures and many more, help prepare soldiers for the world to which they will deploy. A world where men are shooting back, trying to kill them. A world where enemy mortars are exploding around them. In short, a world of incredible stress. How will these well-trained soldiers measure up amidst this violent world? No one really knows for sure; however, by inducing stress during their training, instructors can better condition soldiers for combat and identify those soldiers who cannot handle stress, i.e. those who should not deploy.
This sort of “Step‑2” training, of course, is never cheap and requires resources. Fortunately, today’s U.S. military bypasses this obstacle with billion dollar budgets and global resources. Yet, where does that leave private sector security companies with limited budgets, who must retrain soldiers towards a new “protection” mindset, where the mission is more to protect the client than destroy the enemy?
Sadly, in the name of cost savings, most security companies cross their fingers and forgo training altogether. And if there is training, it is likely “check-in-the-box” training, allowing the company to tell clients, “We Train.” Yet, that training is most often “Step‑1” training; that is, within a controlled environment void of the inherent chaos of a violent attack or life-threatening medical emergency.
To move the Executive Protection bar from Step‑1 to Step‑2 level training, we recommend EP Companies include the following 3 training methods (reference: Just 2 Seconds):
1. Introductory Training Academy
Before hiring protectors, we recommend at least an entire week of full immersion training — morning, day, and night – at a facility or camp (not a classroom or gymnasium) where you can create intense training scenarios. In other words, an isolated and expansive environment where you can implement stressful Step‑2 training, including role players, pepper spray, water rescue, and other intense training experiences. By doing so, instructors can evaluate each trainee under stress and better determine if he or she will remain calm in an emergency and make good decisions when their protectee and others begin to panic.
2. Simulated Combat
We recommend placing trainees in the role as protector while instructors shoot at their protectee, and at the protector, using Simunitions. When trainees are shot, it hurts. In this context, the pain is good, for it is part of their inoculation to combat.
Research indicates that people in attack situations can have sustained heart rates of higher than 200 beats per minute, so trainees learn a lot about the destructive effects of an increased heart rate. When trainees are under attack, their heart beat races. In early engagements, it’s not uncommon for trainees to be incapable of even simple, familiar actions, like unlocking a car door. After just a couple of simulated combat engagements, however, trainees’ heart rates come down, allowing their motor skills and judgment to be retained which gives trainees the confidence to operate under extremely stressful conditions.
3. Stress Inoculation.
Hand-to-hand combat training at police and military academies typically involves someone playing a “bad guy” and “attacking” another participant. This method cannot be fully effective because the trainee always knows that the roleplaying instructor isn’t going to injure him, and is, in fact, seeking to avoid injuring them. Accordingly, the experience doesn’t trigger the same level of fear and stress as an actual violent encounter.
To accurately simulate an attack, we recommend using trained police dogs. Before the exercise begins, the trainee should have absolutely no idea what is coming, not even that a dog will be involved. Suddenly, the trainee, already stressed after being shot with Simunitions is ordered to wear bite-resistant clothing. The dog then attacks with all it’s got. Even though the powerful bites do not penetrate the skin, the trainee experiences the tension, grappling, wrestling, and aggressiveness of an actual violent attack — because it is an actual violent attack. This experience, being attacked by an adversary who truly wants to hurt you, is impossible to achieve in conventional training.
Because of this training, trainees can better overcome the natural impulse to run or retreat, and learn to actually advance toward the danger (“feeding” an arm to the dog). And with each consecutive bite, the trainee’s heart-rate falls and he or she faces their fears with a clearer head and calmer demeanor.
Just as the military injects stress into their training to prepare soldiers for combat, Executive Protection firms should include the above recommendations to better prepare their protectors for the stress of a violent attack. In doing so, they can test physical courage, evaluate mental toughness, and teach composure during life-threatening scenarios.
Nick Duchene is a Chief Training Instructor 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 attained the rank of First Sergeant.
Michael Burk is a protector within the Special Field Services branch at Gavin de Becker & Associates. He has led emergency response teams in multiple states as well as close protection for at-risk public figures. Before joining our firm, Michael served 4 years in the United States Army as an Airborne Ranger, where he trained soldiers and played key roles during multiple combat deployments to Afghanistan.