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Becoming a Protection Operative

Have you ever thought about taking all this knowledge and training we provide you here at TRS and using it to start a new career? Have you ever dreamed of being a close protection operative and guarding celebrities or wealthy clients? Well, how much do you know about the field?

I have spent many years as either part of a protective service team, or actually leading teams. I have seen a LOT in this industry. In this article, I am going to tell you a little about what the field of close protection is all about.



Derek Smith (left rear) protecting a dignitary in Turkey

What is a Close Protection Operative?

Close protection operatives (CPO’s), or bodyguards, are usually defined by the single most crucial requirement expected of them in their professional capacity: provide physical protection to a client (which we call a principal in the industry). The CPO’s job is to protect their principal from any potential harm and to get them to safety quickly.

This even means being a human shield. This is not a field that can be taken lightly as it comes with many dangers. The different types of threats commonly faced by bodyguards around the world include:

  • Violence
  • Kidnapping
  • Mugging
  • Hostile confrontation
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Natural disasters
  • More subtle dangers such as: reputation damage, bribery and potentially embarrassing situations
  • Once when I was guarding Hillary Clinton, I bent over to grab a bag and the 9mm Beretta I was wearing in a shoulder holster fell out and clanked onto the ground right in front of her. I was an Air Force agent and I am sure the Secret Service agents thought I was an idiot (although they have had their own share of mishaps as well.)

    To be a successful CPO, you will need a wide range of skills and plenty of self-discipline and unlike conventional jobs, you will have to make time for, and in many cases, pay for your own professional development.



    Derek Smith protecting a visiting general in Turkey

    To be successful as a CPO, you will need particular skills to ensure your success. You don’t want to be responsible for causing any undue risk to your principal or hinder the assignment in any way. To be a skilled protection operative you need to at least possess the following characteristics:

    • Physically Fit
    • Calm under pressure
    • A fast and effective decision-maker
    • Prompt
    • Team Player
    • Ability to Operate on own initiative
    • Trustworthy
    • Good communication skills
    • Adaptable

    Why Should You Work in CP?

    The close protection industry is a dynamic and quickly changing sector of the global security industry and is composed of several distinct areas of expertise like: celebrity, VIP and high net worth protection, maritime security, aviation security, and hostile environment protection.The job is very is demanding, competitive and requires more dedication than just the typical job.

    The great thing is that being a bodyguard can be incredibly rewarding. Additionally, if you want, you can travel and work around the world. This, coupled with the potential to make an excellent salary, has made close protection an increasingly popular career choice, especially for ex-military.

    How do I get Started?

    Most CPO’s work for private companies who have clients seeking protection. Not all bodyguard jobs are the same, and many require different skill sets and experience so I recommend that you diversify your development and prepare yourself for any situation. With more skills, you make yourself more employable.

    In most areas, you need to be licensed, which means you probably need to get some training to meet qualifications. In Maryland, I am able to be employed as a bodyguard based on my Private Investigator status. There are many types of schools out there and you need to scrutinize them.

    What does Close Protection Training Involve?

    First, a school can give you a certification that says you passed their course, but that certification is not universally recognized as a qualifier to perform CPO duties. Any close protection school that promises they will certify you as a Close Protection Operator without carefully explaining that their certificate does not meet any legal standard for qualification is trying to take advantage of you.

    Since there is no legal requirement of certification for close protection services (check the laws in your area), there is no true need for any executive protection school to offer certification other than as a document to indicate you passed their course.

    Most close protection courses I have seen run for about 2-4 weeks, and you are immersed in the world of close protection. It’s vitally important that you find a training company that provides high-quality professional service, and again, I stress that you do a considerable amount of research on the company before enrolling. As a matter of fact, try to get recommendations from someone in the industry.

    Don’t let price alone be your criteria for selecting training. Unfortunately, there are many schools out there that offer a cheap and quick route to certification by compromising standards. Sadly, many CPO candidates took this route into the industry as demand outstripped supply. However, their skills were not up to par and this kind of hurt the industry.

    Now, employers scrutinize prospective candidates better, and getting the cheap, non-reputable training is a sure-fire way to remain unemployed. What you thought was a low-cost investment in a training course actually turns out to be quite expensive as you’re faced with the prospect of retraining or giving up on your dream of becoming a protection specialist.

    As for the training you will want a school that provides the following:

    • Executive Protection – How to prevent and handle accidents, medical emergencies and deliberate attacks, advance planning and conducting assessments.
    • Protection Firearms – Basic and advanced handgun skills, shooting precision, speed.
    • Protection Driving – Protection Driving and Security Driver related training
    • Defensive Tactics for Executive Protection – Realistic, practical, innovative, and proven response measures designed to meet the Protection Industries unique challenges that a CPO may encounter. You cannot just kick an attacker in the face and embarrass you client. You have to have the correct techniques to deal with the situation quickly and efficiently.
    • Protection Specialty Courses – Technology, behavioral analysis, business of security, physical security, executive protection training for law enforcement and so forth.

    The Close Protection Job Market

    First there are two essential ingredients for success in the CPO world these days. The two new buzzwords are “Branding” and “Networking.” If you want to get the job or the contract it’s all about your brand and your network, few other things matter as much.

    As it is in the world of law enforcement, there are certain executive protection schools that will set you apart from the competition and effectively “Brand” you as a serious contender for desirable work and that will expand your “Network” so that you are not alone in marketing yourself.

    Despite downsizing in the numbers of CPOs employed in hostile protection positions, such as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf of Aden, the demand for close protection operators is steadily increasing. In this hostile and unpredictable world, where natural resources are becoming scarcer and governments can be overthrown via social media, people from all walks of life are more concerned about their security. If you have the necessary qualifications and certification, display the correct attitude and have access to experienced networks of professionals, then you have a chance of making it as a CPO.

    Networking is an integral part of gaining employment in the close protection industry. You need to establish and maintain relationships with experienced professionals who can recommend you for jobs. These networks can inform you of new vacancies and over 80% of work is given to people who are referred by current employees, it’s also your most likely route to employment.

    If you are interested in this career, I hope you found this article helpful as an introduction to the business.

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