I have a startling piece of mathematical news for those recruiting to the security industry: ex-military does not equal perfect match. In fact, ex-military these days says very little.
Before former soldiers rush to their keyboards to ask the editor why he has let such sacrilege reach your eyes, let me explain.
I am the son of a soldier, I have a very high regard for the British Army, which in my opinion has been the best in the world since the days of Oliver Cromwell, who created the first People’s Army. Even in the days of conscription, the British Army and its personnel acquitted themselves with distinction in Malaya and Korea. In very difficult circumstances (isn’t all conflict difficult?) they continue to do the bidding of this nation’s rulers across the world in a way that is reflective of the society from which they have come.
In doing so the British Army have nurtured some outstanding individuals who on returning to civvy street have adapted to their new environment and made massive contributions in the security industry and elsewhere.
Yet the assumption that the skills required for military service will make an individual a good door supervisor or executive protection officer is simply wrong. And that observation is made before we take into account that there is such as a thing as bad soldiers as well as good ones: there are Bloaters and Walters out there, dear recruiter.
I know this because I have met some of them. Worse I have worked with a few, both on the doors and in close protection. On the doors many seem to think that the fact that they have shown undoubted courage in a war zone means they know how to break up a bar brawl. It’s an interesting concept, since no bar brawl that I have seen in the UK has involved anything more than basic tactics on an instinctual level: no strategy and certainly no guns or air support have been involved. More to the point, however, their experience lends nothing to the far more useful skill of de-escalation.
As a disappointing aside, in fact, I have had to deal with both serving and ex-soldiers who have disappeared into the murky world of drug abuse and drug dealing. I am fully conversant with the way that our society has let down some of the young men who have done the fighting for this country, and as a student of sociology and psychology I am not passing any judgement on them here, merely pointing out that the route that some young soldiers take does not make them ideal material for civilian security work.
The issue of recruiting ex-military is even more glaring in close protection. Executive CP is not a particularly close approximation of a warzone battlefield. Certainly the British Army has a level of expertise in this area, but that expertise is not spread across its entire personnel, so for a company to boast that all its personnel are all ex-military is not really an indication of a great deal. As far as Close Protection goes in the UK I would be more likely to look for somebody who has an equivalent period of work in a major police force such as the Met. Such an individual will have a better grasp of the laws in the UK, probably have a greater experience of physical intervention, will have good communication skills and will be used to working as a facilitator with an understanding of multi-agency collaboration.
Calmness under pressure is something that the British Army has a deserved reputation for. But fundamentally its basic purpose is the generation of violence. Of course at a deeper level the military existence is as much as about the utility of violence rather than the violence itself. It is possible to argue that door work and close protection also have the utility of violence at their core but in reality door work is about containing violence and close protection is about avoiding it. Thus the mentality required for door and cp work is different to that of front line soldiering.
At this point, as well, it is probably prudent to address the different kinds of violence that we are talking about. With a few exceptions the British Army do not dwell too much on unarmed combat for the simplest of reasons. The job of killing is done at a distance on the modern battle field. In civilian UK, killing doesn’t come into the equation at all. So we have – and do – have long and heated discussions about how the SIA’s idea of containment of violence is not fit for purpose (which it isn’t) and we debate about whether CPs should study martial arts (they should) and we all have to understand what we can and can’t do legally to contain or stop violence. Such considerations do not have to bother the average 20-something year old squaddie as he sights his SA80.
That is not to say, as I am at pains to point out, that former soldiers do not make good security operatives, but it is a quantum leap to suggest that going from military to civilian security is a natural progression and therefore recruiters and clients should be wary of making such an assumption.
To put some personal perspective on this, I had worked the doors with an ex signals bloke that didn’t have my back and I had an ex infantryman who seems to have fought the entire Taliban on his own – he didn’t have my back either; I did CP with a another ex-infantryman who was star-struck by his principal, so didn’t do his job and another who clearly had PTSD and was keen to ramp up perceived confrontation, needing the rest of the team to work on him to keep him calm.
There are some fantastic individuals out there who are good at security, some have military experience, some do not. Having served in the forces is something that one can feel a sense of pride having done, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all in civilian security and the quicker recruiters realise that the better it will be for everybody – except the Walts and Bloaters of course.
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