Armed and Dangerous: Should a Principal Carry in Afghanistan?

The new Secretary of the Navy caused a minor kerfuffle last week by carrying a sidearm while touring Afghanistan. Richard Spencer is a former Marine aviator, finance executive, and vice chairman of the nonprofit Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. He is a welcomed relief to the naval services after the hyper political reign of Ray Maybus. While on a tour of Marine units in Afghanistan he was photographed  wearing a sidearm which lead to all sorts of speculation in the press and in the PMC community.

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer speaks with Marines and sailors assigned to Task Force Southwest at Camp Shorab, Afghanistan, December 23, 2017. Photo provided by US Marine Corps

The photo above caused CNN correspondent Barbara Starr to tweet  “Can someone explain why the head of our Navy is wearing a sidearm?” That is a question that is much deeper than the ensuing debate answered. Allow me to explain.

Most people would assume that secretary Spencer would have adequate training to carry a pistol due to his prior service in the Marine Corps. This is not true. Every Marine officer is required to pass an annual pistol qualification but qualification with a pistol is not the same as training. Unless a Marine officer is assigned to a special billet, or is a master boondoggler,  he will not receive the training needed to employ a pistol effectively from the holster under duress.

My industry friends like Tom Williams, who has a ton of PSD team leader experience, are unanimous in their opinion that a principal (in this case the SecNav) should never be armed. He hasn’t trained with or know the drills of his detail and thus a liability even if he has expert combat pistol skills – which he doesn’t because a quick read of his resume reveals he is not master boondoggle material.

Thomas is in this case is wrong (which I say in jest by the way as he is a close friend).  Before I explain the genius behind the SecNav carrying heat around the Helmand let’s review the why behind personal security details because they are now in vogue. Everybody who is anybody wants one which is strange because they rarely work.

Let me ask you – name an instance where a PSD detail stopped an assassination. I can think of only one and goggling the question is worthless as the results focus on JFK conspiracy theories, other presidential shootings and fake news from the legacy media about how evil guns are.

The one example I can think of happened in Afghanistan and involved an attempt, in 2002, on President Karzai. At the time his security detail consisted of SEAL’s and although they killed the gunman who was setting up to shoot Karzai they also killed one of Karzai’s favorite aids who had already jumped on the shooter. It could be argued that the aid stopped the assassination attempt and the subsequent shooting by the SEAL’s was overkill but, in the context of this post, that’s splitting hairs.

SEAL Team members moments after smoke checking the assassin (and everybody near him) during the attempt on Karzai in 2002

One thing most people don’t think about is that finding a highly trained, dedicated, assassin is rarer than finding a diamond hidden in a goats ass. It can happen but I never heard of a good example. Your average VIP/celebrity, trained on a steady diet of Hollywood movies and Brad Thor thrillers, probably doesn’t realize the threat comes from goof balls, not scary professionals.

Bill Lind contends the world ended on June 28th, 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at the hands of Gavrillo Princip. Princip is a typical assassin; a loser who was part of a plot with other losers who screwed up their simple plan. One of the other assassins in the group, a nineteen-year-old student named Nedeljko Cabrinovic,  had thrown a grenade at Archduke Ferdinand’s vehicle but failed to account for the fuse delay or the speed of the vehicle and it detonated four cars behind his target.

The exact same thing happened to me when I was cruising through Shah Joy on my way to Kandahar during one of my bootlegging trips. I was going about  40mph when I see a guy step out of a crowd in the bazzar, look at me and then throw a grenade at my truck. I hit the gas and watched the thing go off in my rearview – it knocked some locals down too and I was amazed anyone would be so stupid as to think a grenade thrown at a moving vehicle would somehow impact the vehicle.

And speaking of stupid – check out young Master Cabrinovic who, after realizing he had failed and the crowd was about to close in on him, swallowed a cyanide pill that had been in his pocket for weeks and had deteriorated so much that it only made him throw up. Being dedicated the kid went to plan B  jumping off a bridge into the Miljacka river to drown himself but the water was only 4 inches deep…..you can’t make this kind of stuff up.

Princip, armed with  a pistol and stationed further down the motorcade route, realized the plan had failed and went down a side street to a sandwich shop to get a bite to eat.  Meanwhile Archduke Ferdinand insisted on being taken to the local hospital to pay his respects to the folks injured by the grenade attack but his driver got lost and he ended up on the same side street as the sandwich shop where his car stalled right in front of Princip. Does this, the most important assassination of the last century, sound anything like the plots you have read about or watched on the big screen?

Princip fired two rounds from a FN model 1910 pistol from 5 feet away striking the Archduke in the neck (hitting his juggler) and his wife in the abdomen (hitting something vital there too because she died minutes later). Although he was only 5 feet away he was shooting a 9x17mm round (essentially a .380 ACP we shoot the 9x19mm parabellum round which is a little bit mo better) so those two hits were lucky (or unlucky depending on how you feel about Austrian royalty). 99 out of 100 times that round fired at that distance by a poorly trained shooter would not result in a fatal wound.

Point is your average assassin team is little better than a insane clown posse squad.

What about your average protection detail?

So there I was, hanging out at the American embassy when the guard force got the word to clear the streets, President Karzai’s motorcade was coming through. Being the PM on that contract I figured I didn’t have to clear the street so I went out the sidewalk to watch. Rolling in front of Karzai’s vehicle were two Hummers from the DynCorp protective detail and to my utter astonishment there were American guys leaning out of the rear windows with their rifles on their shoulders aiming in at anyone who was on the side walk. Once the left the embassy that would have been about 3,000 or so Afghans. They didn’t aim in at me so I guess they weren’t total jerks but what kind of tactic is that? Talk about bad optics, talk about a failure to understand the basics of an OODA Loop.…to this day the image fills me with wonder at how goofy men can be given a rifle, a boring mission in a foreign country and no adult supervision.

Back in the heyday of overseas contracting (2003 – 2006) when the money was good and the jobs plentyful there was more of this kind of foolishness going on than you would believe. Many of the PSD jobs went to the lowest bidders who were often Brit’s or Aussie’s or Kiwi’s and these are not countries where men can train with or even own firearms. The only two companies I saw out there who did pre deployment training and developed solid SOP’s were Backwater and Triple Canopy. Everybody else was making it up as they went along.

Tom Williams worked for Blackwater back then so when he starts ranting about live fire training and IA drills and putting the principal inside the diamond he’s on the money. My buddy Frank Gallagher also worked for BW and wrote a good book (with John Del Vecchio) about his PSD time called The Bremer Detail: Protecting the Most threatened Man in the World). Now that I plugged this on the blog I’m going to have to get a copy and read it. I normally avoid books on boring topics and nothing is more boring than PSD work, which why I never did it. However it is true that both Frank and John are cool cats so I know the book will be worth the time and encourage you too to score a copy soon.

Having said that let me say this; your  average PSD team has little to no collective training, and little to no ability to stop an insane clown posse assassin if the crazy dude has worked his way in close proximity to the principal.

The SecNav was visiting Marines in Afghanistan where the threat to him would not be Bernie Sanders supporters (like it is in the US) but Afghan troops loyal to the Taliban who would willingly sacrifice their own lives to take out an American VIP. What’s the best solution for that scenario? Don’t look like a VIP which is why it was good, non – linear, almost master boondoggler level thinking to wear a sidearm so he looked like he was part of the PSD team and not the principal the PSD team was guarding.

I would have given him a rifle too but no rounds. In that respect I agree with My buddy Tom – I don’t like having people with loaded guns around me when I don’t know their capabilities.

And there you have it; another CNN generate mystery solved with a history lesson bonus.

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