My apologies for the late AAR. This was a class I took in August, and writing the AAR took a lot longer than I expected, due to the large amount of material that was covered.
This AAR is written from the perspective of a nerdy civilian. Any errors in describing the class, as well as misuse of terminology, are solely mine and are unintentional.
SOTT-I Personnel Security Detail Course, August 10-17 2009, Cape Girardeau, MO
John Sieh (last name pronounced “See”). John’s partial bio is here.
SOTT-I's website is here.
This class, over seven days, provided an overview of dignitary protection (a/k/a security detail) organization, planning, equipment selection/preparation, and operator skills. The curriculum is based on the United States Secret Service model of dignitary protection. In addition to classroom lecture, hands-on skills taught by Instructor John Sieh and AI “Robert” included, amongst others, on-foot close protection formation, movement and contact drills, a brief introduction to CQB and related cover/contact drills, vehicle convoy driving methods, vehicle immediate action drills (with and without a principal, disabled vehicle contingency), and shooting from a moving vehicle. With the exception of CQB, all of the skills involving shooting were conducted live fire with both carbine and pistols. The training culminated in a PSD exercise on TD7, in which participants were tasked with planning and executing an actual mission. At the end of the class, all participants were evaluated, graded on various attributes, and received personalized feedback.
Excellent class, and a great value for the tuition ($1,000 for seven days of training). This class was safely and professionally conducted and was well-organized. I learned new skills and received feedback on areas for improvement. The instructors and participants were excellent and a pleasure to train with. I recommend SOTT-I (to the extent a reasonably informed civilian can) without reservation.
Nine individuals, mostly with .mil backgrounds (three branches represented), several having served in OIF. Also attending was one PSC from a NATO member country, currently engaged in southwest Africa. The SOTT-I facilities manager, “Dan” served as our hapless principal.
SOTT-I Midwest Training Center, approximately 22 miles northeast of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The 70 acre facility includes an air-conditioned classroom, a loft/warehouse that serves as an operations bay, and a 360 live-fire range with one 50 yard flat range, a 100 yard flat range, and a shoot house. One interesting feature of the range is a 4 foot deep ditch aptly nicknamed “the crippler.” The range is designed to be accessible to vehicles.
Excellent. Cape Girardeau is approximately 2.5 hours south of St. Louis by car, located right off of Interstate 55 and is well-developed with ample lodging, dining, and provisioning options. The local hospital features a Level III trauma center with Lifeflight capability. Participants brown-bag lunch (a refrigerator and microwave is provided on site). Secure equipment and firearms storage available (it was nice not to have to haul my gear back to the hotel every day). A very nice SOTT-I group rate was provided at my hotel.
Basic carbine and pistol skills (at least a level I carbine and pistol class from a reputable instructor) and above-average physical fitness. Unlike your typical shooting class, this course is very physically demanding, as participants will be moving in full kit.
Participants should be comfortable being down range of gun fire.
Duty-grade carbine with sling (in my opinion, the least cumbersome setup for vehicle use is an SBR with a single point sling). Pistol with holster (drop leg holsters are not optimal in cars). Nine carbine magazines. Five pistol magazines. Plate carrier with rifle plates. Eyepro, earpro, kneepads, baseball cap, long-sleeve shirt, scarf, and boots with ankle support. Ammo was provided by SOTT-I at very reasonable cost. I shot 900 rounds of 5.56 mm (Lake City) and less than 200 rounds of pistol ammo. It’s my understanding that with enough notice, SOTT-I can provide some of the required gear if travel limits what you can bring with you.
TD1 – INTRO TO DIGNITARY PROTECTION
- commenced with instructor and student introductions, and a classroom overview of dignitary protection. Students were presented with a very comprehensive power point slide presentation which covered the basics of the PSD mission, terminology, organizational structure, and, to the uninitiated, a mind-boggling overview of techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP) with respect to close protection formations on foot and in vehicles.
To me, the most memorable (and sobering) aspect of the lecture were the opening comments:
“The vast majority of organized attacks are successful. PSD’s can be injured or killed. Bodyguards rarely fire effectively, if at all. Bodyguards almost never affect the outcome of the attack.”
Following the classroom presentation, we were briefed by AI Robert on PSD equipment selection.
We were then tasked with prepping our three soft skin rental vehicles for convoy operations. Such tasks included attaching ammo bandoliers to hold spare carbine magazines, removal of rear headrests to provide a clear line of sight (and fire) to the rear, prep of vehicle bailout bags, reconfiguration of the spare tire and jack to make that equipment more accessible, and the packing of med/trauma kits. And there were other interesting procedures.
TD2 – MISSION PLANNING /BASIC CMMS / ELEMENT MOVEMENT
- began with a weapons safety brief and medical plan. This was followed by a classroom overview of what I believe to be the most under-appreciated aspect of dignitary protection – mission planning. The amount of material and preparation related to mission planning and execution is truly staggering, and can be a training topic that can easily span the course of a few months.
I have a hunch that there are folks out there in the dignitary protection/PSD world who specialize in nothing other than planning and its related skill subsets. Planning in a nutshell is hard to put into one idea or sentence but here is some of the gist of it: what is the mission, what elements will be involved, what is the threat level, what is the scheme of maneuver, what are the rules of engagement, what are the equipment and logistical requirements, what information do we have from advance and site surveys, and so on. Fortunately, the complexity and the number of steps an organization will undertake after initially receiving the mission tasking can be greatly reduced by falling back on modules of existing standard operating procedures.
Following lunch, students convened on the 25 yard flat range for an assessment of basic combat marksmanship skills with the carbine and the pistol. (Note that students were expected arrive already qualified on pistol and carbine.)
Consistent with Instructor Sieh’s teaching style of “crawl-walk-run,” we were first directed to dry fire our carbines and pistols for ten minutes. The class was then split up based on firearms handling experience and skill levels. The live fire that followed was what you typically see in a level one pistol and carbine class: pistol ball and dummy, basics of drawing a pistol from the holster, basic carbine shooting from the low ready position (single shots, controlled pairs, double taps), static turns, and shooting on the move. All students used AR15/M4 variants in various configurations (some SBR’s, reflex sights and iron sights, mostly single point slings). Pistols included Glocks, 1911’s, and even a Ruger P series.
A note: the weather was hot and humid (high 80’s - low 90’s) and we were in full kit (body armor and spare mags) on the flat range. This would prove to be challenging later in the week.
The evening segment of TD2 was, for a lack of a better description, “basic infantry movement 101.” This was not exactly new material for the majority of the participants with .mil backgrounds but was an eye opener for me. As a group, we moved in various formations, including a file, staggered file, wedge, and the all-important diamond formation. We also learned the various hand signals participants would use to control our movement. This exercise was initially run “slick,” and then repeated with unloaded carbines.
TD3 – SHOOTING IN FORMATION
- commenced with a weapons safety and medevac brief. Students convened on the 25 yard flat range in full kit (the requirements for which was specified every morning on the classroom white board). The range work started with ten minutes of pistol and carbine dry fire, followed by basic drills (firing from the low ready, static turns, shooting on the move), shooting controlled pairs.
Consistent with the instructor’s crawl-walk-run style of teaching, we were subsequently gradually introduced to shooting and moving as a group. All drills were initially performed dry.
•The first drill was an indexing exercise with one shooter engaging two side by side targets with a carbine, and another shooter simply standing behind the first shooter (not shooting).
•This drill was repeated, with the two-man element moving towards the targets (again, student in the rear did not shoot, only moved).
•The next drill incorporated a three man element in a wedge formation, with all three engaging three targets with primary weapons while moving towards the targets
•The final drill culminated in a four man group in a diamond formation, moving and engaging three targets to the front (rear man did not shoot).
TD4 – IMMEDIATE ACTION DRILLS
- started with the weapons safety and medevac brief. The emphasis on safe weapons handling could not be overemphasized, given the nature of TD4 in which participants would be downrange of gunfire.
Participants convened on the 100 yard range in full kit.
The group reviewed the various movement formations (file, staggered file, wedge, diamond).
The instructor then presented the break contact and bounding from various formations.
Bounding is a technique which enables the element to simultaneously respond to a threat and move to cover. Part of the element is shooting, and part of the element is bounding away from the threat in what is best described as a choreographed leap-frog movement.
Bounding is inherently hazardous, because an incorrect turn by a bounding participant may result in that participant getting shot by another member of the element who is providing covering fire.
We practiced the bounding, and then peels to cover, several times dry, and then made several runs live.
The instructor made full use of the range terrain. Some of the peels to cover were through a four-foot deep ditch running along the length of the range, or around the berms. The instructor added an element of physical stress to the live fire peels by directing us to run as a group to other more distant cover, such as the shoot house. The combination of hot and humid weather, psychological stress, and heavy kit (which constricted breathing) made this exercise physically demanding. (And I could have been in better shape).
The group was then instructed on consolidation procedure, in which the element, having bounded to cover and having formed a perimeter, at the command of the element leader, takes stock of ammunition, casualties, and equipment (the ACE report).
TD 4 Afternoon:
After lunch, the group rehearsed dry and ran live a contact front from the diamond formation, this time with a principal. This immediate action drill built on the morning’s training, with the added twist of moving the principal away from the threat. The drill was conducted with pistol only, and then with carbine.
TD5 – VEHICLE IAD’s / INTRO TO CQB
– commenced with another range safety brief. Since we would be shooting from vehicles, this safety brief covered 1) the risks of cook offs in hot rifle barrels and the obvious implications for muzzle awareness, and 2) the need for shooters to be aware of the primary optic’s point of aim versus point of impact (i.e., don’t shoot the side view mirrors or the doors on the rental cars).
The group convened in full kit, with two SUV’s and one sedan (for the principal).
The group rehearsed “slick”, and then ran live fire several scenarios without a principal, the first of which was the management of a checkpoint encounter (and a contact front). The group also covered contacts from the vehicle left, right, and rear while in the vehicle.
The students were then introduced to the “down vehicle” contingency, in which the occupants of the disabled car bail out, suppress the threat, take turns retrieving bailout bags, and bound to cover.
Following lunch, the group repeated the morning’s drills (“slick” and then live) – this time with a principal. For the first time, the group rehearsed driving to a venue, de-bussing, accompanying the principal on foot in protective formation, reacting to threats, and getting the hell out of dodge afterwards. The range shoot house served as the destination venue.
In the morning and afternoon sessions, class participants were rotated through each of the positions in the three vehicles and protective formation (this is especially important for the drivers, whose sole job, while in the vehicle, is to focus on driving only and not shoot). Needless to say, learning and internalizing the “choreography” for each contact contingency and each security detail position introduced no small amount of psychological stress in the form of “fear of screwing up” and maybe “fear of getting shot.”
The group received a brief introduction to (or review of) CQB. The skill is relevant because there may be an occasion for a security detail to evacuate a principal into an unsecured building. The group rehearsed (dry) a simple four-man breach/entry of a structure, and clearing of one room, with carbines. Additionally, cover and contact procedures (management of “X-Rays” or wounded/dead threats) were reviewed.
TD6 – SHOOTING FROM A MOVING VEHICLE / CONVOY DRIVING
The morning session of TD6 is best summed up as “shooting from a moving vehicle from a seated position while in full kit.” After a safety brief and a review of the concept of the “negative lead,” Instructor John Sieh drove class participants through the 360 degree range, where we engaged (or attempted to engage) targets while driving. The 360 degree range had targets mounted on trees that were not always easy to see and were often placed around corners.
•The first run involved no principal and no de-bussing. We engaged targets to the left, right, or front as called out by the instructor. Example: instructor says “contact left,” and those with a clear shot to the left (the left rear passenger) engage targets.
•The second run of the 360 range included a real live principal, but we were limited to engaging targets with a pistol.
•The third run included a principal, and we engaged targets with a carbine and pistol.
Often, the person closest to and protecting the principal in the car during a contact would be shooting one-handed or not at all. If a participant was sitting on the left side of the vehicle, and was a right-handed shooter, that person would often be shooting with their weak side.
For safety reasons we did not practice live fire contacts to the rear of the vehicle.
I have to admit I found this portion of the training to be … fun. Somewhat tempering this is that it was more difficult to get hits on threats the faster the vehicle was moving. Also, there were times when we zoomed by the threats without getting a shot off (nothing wrong with that as the objective is to secure the principal).
In the confines of the vehicle, burns from hot brass were a real hazard. Ironically, the person role-playing the principal (who went through every run) got most of the hot brass down his shirt.
This one I inflicted on John. (Sorry, John).
The afternoon of TD6 was a fairly relaxing change of pace and was an introduction to convoy driving along a pre-selected 40-50 mile route. With no gear (other than two-way radios in each vehicle) we practiced driving three cars in staggered formation, and rehearsed communication and movement procedures. We learned to recognize possible danger/ambush points (I didn’t know dead animals could be used to conceal an IED, for example), and, to borrow a phrase from CQB, we were literally driving “nuts to butts” at 70 MPH on the interstate to prevent separation of the convoy by another vehicle.
TD7 - PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER - SIMULATED MISSION PLANNING & EXECUTION
At 7:30 a.m. the group was issued a warning order. We were given until noon to develop a bottoms-up mission plan (abbreviated, of course given the time constraints) to provide protection for two VIPs. We were to pick them up from their hotel at a predetermined time, take them to lunch, and return them safely to their hotel.
We were advised that the neighborhood around the hotel and the lunch venue was “calm” but that a certain adjoining region (which happened to coincide with the SOTT-I range) was considered a high-risk / high threat environment.
The morning was a blur of activity. Through a series of taskings, the team developed a brief plan distilled into a mission concept that was presented to the security detail commander.
The plan and contingencies were discussed. Travel routes and checkpoints were finalized. Vehicle seating/positions and close protection assignments were made. We received an update that we would provide security for one VIP instead of the two originally contemplated. Gear was loaded onto the vehicles, comms double-checked, the security detail changed into low-profile civilian attire, and the convoy departed.
On our way to the hotel (yes, a real hotel), the advance team at the hotel warned the approaching security detail that the hotel was under surveillance by unknown individuals. This required a change in plans to pick up the VIP at an alternate hotel entrance. The convoy moved accordingly.
The pickup proceeded uneventfully otherwise. On to the VIP’s lunch date.
The debus at the restaurant (yes, a real restaurant) went as planned. After the VIP was led into the restaurant, the convoy parked, and members of the security detail assumed their positions.
Our “VIP” actually sat down to a leisurely lunch, and a nice one at that. With all of us watching. The nerve of the guy!
Inside and outside of the restaurant, the security detail monitored entrances/exits and hallways, and noted the entrance and exit of unknown persons via two-way radio. Due to the hot and humid weather, detail members on watch outside were rotated to the air-conditioned restaurant every 15 minutes.
While on watch, I came to the realization that this part of the job was pretty darn tedious, about as exciting as watching paint dry. It took extra effort to stay focused.
After an hour, the VIP finished his lunch, and detail made preparations to depart. The embus proceeded uneventfully. Back to the hotel, or so we thought.
On our way to the hotel, the security detail commander informed us of another change in plans. The VIP did not want to be returned to his hotel room. Instead, he requested to be diverted to his office … located in … you guessed it, a high-risk environment.
The element leader then alerted us that the convoy was being tailed. The “tailer” was role-played by AI Robert. The convoy attempted to shake the tail, but it was difficult to accomplish this in moderately congested afternoon traffic and keep the 3-car convoy together.
On the way to the VIP’s office, I started to feel a little drowsy from the combination of the hot weather and mental fatigue. (I was driver for the rear vehicle).
The convoy stopped just short of the VIP’s “office” to allow the detail to kit up prior to entering a hostile environment. Before we knew it, in another deliberate training curveball thrown at us, while we were donning our kit, the VIP wandered off to greet a person unknown to the security detail. I quickly ushered the VIP back into his sedan (after giving him a verbal reprimand along the lines of “what were you thinking, sir, it’s not safe here, please come back this way”). The cobwebs which previously clouded my head were gone at this point.
After kitting up and loading weapons, the convoy proceeded to the VIP’s “office” (in reality the shoot house at the SOTT-I range). I don’t know about the rest of the class, but I went into this last exercise with a really uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. There was a quite a bit of information to remember, and I vividly recall mentally rehearsing contact scenarios.
And you can imagine what happened next. The protection detail fully debussed, with drivers pulling security over their vehicles/sectors, weapons at low ready. As the close protection detail was walking towards to the “office” in diamond formation, the convoy DRIVERS took a contact from their left, and immediately thereafter, the VIP’s detail took a contact from (the detail's) front. Reverting to muscle memory and the weeks’ training, the drivers engaged their respective threats, and the VIP’s detail simultaneously moved the VIP away from the threat and suppressed. The detail rapidly boarded the vehicles and left the area. Exercise completed.
The class concluded with a mission de-brief (how things might have been done better).
Following the de-brief, the instructors provided an individual assessment of student performance by various criteria (for example, tactical awareness, physical fitness, and combat marksmanship) as well as an overall performance rating.
The instructors presented a special “Master Operator” award to the most well-rounded student.
Good write up. Sounds like a solid course of instruction. I always check their site for upcoming classes. The instructors appear to be top notch.