The Problems With International Security Training Projects
I wrote this article in 2014 and it was first published in the British Bodyguard Association Journal. Over the last 20 plus years I have organized training courses and events internationally and to be honest teaching the classes is the easiest part. The administration and logistics is the pain in the ass… Enjoy!
The Problems With International Training Projects
I am sat at JFK Airport in New York writing this article, I am waiting to catch a flight to the Middle East where I will teach a seminar for members of a National police force. I will stay in a nice hotel, be driven around and be decently paid, this is a far cry from 25 years ago when I was a 17 year old recruit turning up for basic British Army Infantry training at Depot Litchfield. Over the years I have provided security and training services to a wide variety of private and government client in Western and Eastern Europe, US, Latin America and Africa. And every job and location tends to have their own individual problems!
The first thing I take into consideration when approached for a contract is who the clients are and if they are times wasters, which over 90% are. Also, what it is they want exactly and can they afford it I regularly get emails from people wanting a vast array of course with money not being a problem, these tend to be the dreamers and the wannabes. When I believe someone is a serious client then we need to confirm they are who they say they are.
Several years ago I was approached by a police training institute from Mexico, where my company and I have worked numerous times. We were at the stage of waiting for the plane tickets to arrive, luckily for us they did not. A week or so later we saw the media reports that the institute had been raided and its official’s and others in the state associated with the local police had been arrested by federal police due to connections to the Drug Cartels. These days you have to be very careful, especially when operating in countries where government corruption is high!
When I write proposals I expect that the training programs will change if we get the contract due to facilities, equipment and team or local politics. But if the flights and retainer arrives we deal with the expected issues when we get to the location and the training starts.
Now what a lot of people don’t understand is that running commercial training projects and operating outside of a regular military or government structure is very different. For a start always remember, if things go bad for whatever reason, you have no support. Your local embassies with do the minimum they are required to do if it gets to the stage of where you need their assistance.
Now one of the big issues that a lot of inexperienced trainers have is that they expect living conditions in a developing country to be the same as they are in U.S. or Western Europe. On one job in Mexico when we were staying in a police barracks my associate had a scorpion nest in his room and I had a rat in mine, we had be careful when leaving our rooms to make sure the free roving Rockweilers had been chained up.
Things that people take for granted like power, internet and gyms maybe limited or no-existent. While I was working in West Africa mains electricity could be on for maybe a couple of hours a day, so laptops were always plugged in, phones charged at every opportunity. In most places internet is available to some extent, so you need to see how the locals get it and make sure you’re not getting scammed on rates. Food can be another issue for some trainers, don’t expect steak, potatoes and doughnuts. If trainers and operators are fussy eaters or germaphobic it raises a red flag for me. To be able to operate in an environment you need to be comfortable in that environment!
Now a lot of training programs change because the facilities and equipment that was requested or expected are not available, so you have to work with what you have. In locations where there are issues with corruption you can expect problems with equipment being stolen or sold; on one job I ended up cutting a deal with a team leader of a tactical team on ammunition, as the allocation kept getting smaller without anything being shot. I understood their situation and my main concern was improving operational effectiveness of the team and for this I needed the co-operation of the team leader and the team members.
On the other end of the scale we once had a group attend a custom course we organized for them in Serbia. This group included two American instructors who had law enforcement backgrounds… This group stayed in the most expensive hotel in Belgrade and were the only people we had ever complain about the facilities we use in Serbia. In America the ranges are better, in America we bought new Glocks for the students, in America… These supposed experienced instructors were ignorant prima donnas that did not know the rest of the world is not like America!! In America tactical equipment, guns and ammunition are freely available and quite cheap, not so in most other countries.
I am lucky that over the years I have had some good guides and I remember one from when I was in South Africa in 94 made it clear to me you must respect and understand others cultures. He was white and of a British Army background and it was clear to me that his native employees respected him greatly. He told me he made it clear to his guys that some aspects of their culture he dislike and their food disgusted him as he knew some aspects of his culture etc. disgusted them. But, he also made it clear he respected their culture and expected the same in return. It worked!
I have had to deal with various problems over the years that have voodoo and magic. Now for some this may seem a joke but in a lot of places voodoo and magic are part of the culture. One story I tell happened while I was working in Nigeria. A laptop computer went missing form a room at the training location and the trainees were the suspects. I was training about 60 vigilantes from 5 districts, many of whom could not read or write but this did not mean they were stupid! The next morning after the admin staff made a stink about the theft the district leaders came to and told me they needed a few hours off to go and see who stole the laptop, they wanted to go and see the traditional doctor, the magic man! To turn them down would have been a slap in the face for them, they were going to spend money and effort trying to find who stole the laptop and it was their way of solving the problem. So, everyone wrote their name on a piece of paper and off they went to traditional doctor.
A few hours later they returned and told me they had found out who had taken the laptop, four ceremonies had been done and the same name had come up as the thief in all of them, it was the security guard for the buildings. The person running the program was American and had issues about firing the guard, who I wanted out of there ASAP! When the guard’s bags were searched a mobile phone charger that one of the locals I was using as an instructor had lost a week or so before. This resulted in my instructor grabbing the guard’s dagger and trying to stab him, luckily for the guard someone grabbed the blade before it hit him, which still resulted in a mess and a fair bit of chaos anyway. Needless to say the guard was fired and left the compound pretty quickly. The laptop was never found but did the magic ceremonies identify the thief? Who knows, it’s not my culture but I respect it!
How you behave is extremely important, people seem to forget that when on training and operational projects those that hired you will be watching you closely. For some, receiving attention and being treated by locals as a novelty can go to their heads, to say the least, which can result in problems especially when the novelty factor wears off. Big problems can arise when people make statements about politics or the performances of local police or military commanders etc. and start stepping on people’s toes. Many instructors seem to forget that they are guests and that the local order of things will always need to be respected, even if it’s to your liking.
As anyone who pays attention to what is happening in the international security world would have seen the U.S. secret service has been having numerous problems over the past few years with their people being caught up in stupid situations with prostitutes and getting publicly intoxicated. On long term jobs people need to let off steam, just do so in private and in a safe environment with trusted people.
It never cease to amaze my how many men get their selves into trouble over women and this applies on operation and training projects also. Getting involved with local women can be a serious breach of security; just like the U.S. secret service agents in Cartagena, Colombia who were stupid enough to take the girls to their hotel rooms. There are plenty of “by the hour” hotels in Colombia, their brains should have been used in conjunction with their penises! I was on one job where one idiot invited a girl to his hotel room he had met a few hours before in the lobby of a 5 star hotel. When she got to his hotel room an argument broke out as he did not realize he had to pay for here time, I think his ego was hurt. In some places women can be provided by the clients, how you deal with such gifts will depend on your personal circumstances, refusal can lead to some awkward questions but if you accept always remember to tip…
The general rules for behavior should be that you want to be as anonymous as possible, show maximum courtesy to your clients and always respect the local culture and bureaucracy. Also knowing the local laws and limits of your responsibility is extremely important. Back stabbing and jealously exists in all aspects of the security business and sources of this need to be identified. In locations where there is a lot of internal bureaucratic power struggles going on people will be looking to trip up your project just to belittle those who contracted you for the job. On one job in Mexico we were called to meet the local police commissioner who told us he did not want us there, we were brought in by his superior without his knowledge.
One incident I had while working with the vigilantes in Nigeria resulted in a Mexican standoff between us and the army. The army and police chief’s for the area were informed there would be armed vigilante patrols operating but, within minutes of us hitting a paved road army patrols appeared wanting to confiscate firearms and make arrests. The vigilantes are community security teams where the army and police are federal organizations and have a greater authority. I understand this was a part of the local power struggle and the soldiers were just hoping for bribes. We had anticipated this problem but what complicated and infuriated me was that the person in charge of the project, who had met with the police and army chiefs and who we had on standby was delayed in getting to our location; because he was hungry and sent his driver to get beer and food, he ended up getting a taxi!! Never expect those in the rear to realize or want to get involved in the issues that can arise in the field, even if they can talk a good war, don’t expect them to get their boots dirty!
Now to me the actual training of the students is the easy part of a training contract, hopefully you can see just getting to day one of the course can take a lot of planning and politics. Now when it comes to training the students you need to clarify what they really want and how hard they want to be trained. You may think that if people are paying for a training course they want to be trained to the max, not always so. When working in Latin America and Africa the students tend to want to be pushed hard and learn as much as they can. In the U.S. and Europe people tend to expect coffee, lunch breaks and to work a 9 to 5. This is where you need to work with the clients and see how they want training, they are the ones paying the bills. It use to frustrate me that if students did not want to train hard then they were not serious and not going to be up to a decent standard. These days I see it as their choice, as long as they are happy and I get paid I am happy. I remember taking one individual in Florida for a private pistol class and this guy was shooting poorly even though he had a very expensive firearm. When I tried to correct him he kept telling me that he had always shot the way he was shooting and did not listen to my advice. If people want to pay me and not listen to my advice that’s their choice, you can’t educate pork, but as long as they pay cash I am happy!
Now to me there is a big difference between lectures and training courses, something’s you cannot teach solely by showing power point presentations and videos. I makes me laugh that a lot of close protection courses, especially in the U.S. are made up of nothing more that lectures, BS exercises in parking lots, some basic shooting and maybe a controlled trip to a restaurant. With our civilian courses our students run realistic exercises and on our Government courses the exercise where possible are live. This is best way for people to learn and also exposes them to some of the potential problems and stress of live operations.
On the larger training contracts the student instructor ratios can be high as there is not the budget for more than a couple of instructors. When working with the vigilantes in Nigeria I usually had 60 students for 12 days courses. Initially I had to delegate to the district leaders to organize their people until I could select guys I could use as instructors. Those I tended to choose were those who generally had the most punishments during their courses and took it with a smile. It’s easy to teach techniques to intelligent people but finding intelligent people who can take and give out punishment is another thing. Nigerian vigilantes tend to be a bit rough around the edges and need to be dealt with in ways they respect!
As I have said before you must always show respect to your clients and students. Some trainers have a superiority complex and seem to think that just because they are from a developed country that those from developing countries are stupid. This is a big problem and can lead to a lot of issues, especially when the trainers start to be shown up by their students. I have trained students over the years who were illiterate and not owned shoes but spoke multiple local dialects and could survive indefinitely in the bush with only a machete, skills I can only dream of having. In Latin America have worked with those that don’t own a piece of brand name “tactical” equipment but understand the streets better than the criminals they deal with every day. I respect my students and over the years have learn a lot from them.
If you do not have your students respect then you are going to have problems, if you cannot do or have no operational experience at doing what you are teaching, then how can you expect your students to respect you. There are many instructors who are purely instructors and know what they have been taught and read, but no nothing of the problems of applying these theories on operations. As there are many students who have plenty of operational experience but never received any formal training. They know BS when they hear it because they already know what works and what does not work, that why they are still alive.
I have dealt with tactical teams trained by the British, French, Americans and even the North Koreans and what is always lacking are the basics. Everyone seems to want to show the high speed entry techniques but forget about the basics like how to read a compass and approach a target location without detection. I remember one Mexican team who had received several months training from French and U.S. agencies, they looked pretty stacking up outside of a door, but had no procedures for dealing with offensive actions by the criminals. So, they were being taught procedures from countries where the criminals are very tame and compliant and then trying to employ these procedures against very aggressive, motivated and trained drug cartels… Things were not working for them… Again, you must understand the environment and opposition you will be training the students to deal with.
I like to identify the general fears of those I am training and exploit them; be it swimming rivers in the dark or standing between targets during live fire drills. This exposes the real character of the students and applies stress into the training, which is essential when training those who will be working in high risk areas. Safety must always be considered, but in my opinion in places like the U.S. and Europe people are more worried about a student breaking a nail that being operationally effective. When training serious students who will be using the skills taught, they tend to understand cuts and bruises go with the turf.
When running intense courses for government agencies in high risk locations we train the students hard; long hours, minimum breaks for food and constant activity. I am not one for the “positive re-enforcement” method of training, where even if people a screwing up they get told how good they are. This is used in a lot of U.S. law enforcement training and theory behind this is that the cop just needs the confidence to deal with the situation even if they are not that competent. This is acceptable in low risk locations like the U.S. and Western Europe, but when dealing with serious criminals I would want to be working with people that are competent and not those who just think they are competent; there is a big difference!
On all my courses I like my students to make mistakes and to take them outside of their comfort zones; anyone can talk like perfect tactical guy in Starbucks. Students learn more from making mistakes and this also helps them see what they have been doing wrong. I tell my students if far better to make the mistakes during training rather than on operations. I have come across some that cannot handle having their faults identified and constructive criticism, this is just ego and insecurity issues on their part. I remember one operation that was carried out by the vigilantes in Nigeria that was a complete fiasco and I am glad to say it was nothing to do with me. They had good intelligence that several known kidnappers were staying in a village, a reconnaissance was done and identities were confirmed. The operation was ran by the area coordinator for the vigilantes who had no training and would not go through my courses. He gathered a group about 30 vigilantes and drove straight to the village with the vehicles sirens blazing, just like the movies. Needless to say the kidnappers escaped and the guys I had trained were disillusioned with the coordinators actions. This operation was outside of my limit of responsibility anyway, but sometimes it’s funny to sit back and let people show their true worth!
The first time we worked in Mexico we were training a state police tactical team and to say they had attitude and ego issues would be an understatement. After about 3-days straight training, one of their guys ending up in hospital and the team commander nearly being accidentally shot by one of the team members they began to listen. They were another team that had be shown room entry techniques etc. but never trained to work as a team and had no discipline. We were with them 16 days and by the end they were a very effective team, maybe to effective.
Discipline is something that many people are lacking and is something that cannot be installed by lectures. There has to be consequences for incompetence and punishing the whole group for one person’s stupidity usually leads to the group educating the wrong doer. Outside of the U.S. and Western Europe fighting and violence during courses is a lot more common, especially when the students are tired, hungry etc. Discipline needs to be enforced and in some situations it can quickly lead violence, this again goes with the turf.
Problem students need to be identified and if they are not able to comply with the program then they need to be dismissed. This can lead to issues if the dismissed student has influential friends and then the politics begins. In such situations my usual compromise for the dismissed student to be let back on the program is for them to complete a tasking that will take them outside of their comfort zone.
Hopefully you can see from this article that there is more to running a training program than just teaching lessons. The main problems come from the organization, planning and politics involved. Providing commercial training and operational service is a lot different than working for a government agency or military. You have to take a lot more things into consideration as for a start you have little or no real support network. You need to understand the culture and politics of those you’re training. And most importantly, you need to get paid!
“Stay low and keep moving”