QUANTICO, Va. --
For the Special Agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations there’s much more to Protective Services Operations than donning their signature sunglasses.
PSOs are techniques and procedures designed to protect individuals, called principals, from accidental injury, embarrassment, physical assault or death during a specific event, while traveling or over an extended period.
Besides the frequent travel, engaging and interacting with senior leaders on a daily basis and the fast paced and ever changing environment, the principal-rich National Capital Region presents other challenges for the AFOSI Special Agents who work PSO there.
“One of the most unique challenges is getting everyone to understand why we (Protective Service Details) exist,” said SA Rock Ashley, assigned to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s Protective Service Detail at the Pentagon. “We operate in a world where everyone considers their base, office building, hotel, secure compound, etc., to be safe. So it’s increasingly difficult to get them to understand why we have certain lodging requirements, why we transit via motorcade and why we balance being close enough to our principal while respecting their personal and professional space.”
The public’s perceived image of PSD Special Agents has evolved significantly from large, imposing men wearing dark suits, sunglasses, a concealed weapon or two and a fancy communication earpiece.
“Today, PSD Special Agents come from different backgrounds and are required to have a working knowledge of technology tools, an understanding of international cultures, politics and current events, and a sharp mind with increased situational awareness skills in a world presenting constant threats,” said SA Alejandro Falla, of AFOSI Detachment 332, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, D.C.
Det. 332 is mainly tasked to protect foreign dignitaries, but also tasked to support the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Secretary of the Air Force, combatant commanders plus the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency while he is on overseas/higher threat temporary duty.
“Not only do we have to consider everything I mentioned, but also adapt to the unique needs of each principal under our protection,” SA Falla said.
All AFOSI special agents learn the basic PSO skills during their initial 18-week training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Glynco, Ga. Agents assigned to protective service details and those who regularly assist PSOs are selected to attend the 11-day Protective Service Operations Training Program at FLETC. Emphasis is placed on the full spectrum of protective operations including: doctrine and terminology, coordination and mission planning, protective service motorcade operations and more.
“The PSO training course did a great job of setting a foundation for PSD duties,” SA Ashley said. “Since each team operates uniquely and there is no way to duplicate or predict those things in training, I’m a fan of them teaching that this is ‘A’ way to do something and not ‘THE’ way something is done.”
Which leads to the question, is there a typical PSO?
“I honestly don’t think so,” SA Ashley said. “There are some locations in the National Capital Region that become fairly routine, but anytime we’re on temporary duty in the States or overseas there are unique challenges. You never quite know what’s in store but the goal is to make sure the principal can tell you’ve been working small miracles to ensure mission success.”
Small miracles aside, there is a process designed toward mission success used by the Foreign Dignitaries detail at Det. 332.
“In broad terms once we’re tasked to protect a Minister of Defense or Chief of Defense and have the initial itinerary each team member is given roles for the mission,” said SA Falla. “The Advance Agent conducts site surveys; the Shift Agent coordinates for support with outside agencies and other OSI detachments if needed and also prepares the protective threat assessment; and the Lead Agent attends meetings related to the mission objective.”
There’s plenty of documentation and preparation prior to executing a PSO. Once it begins, very long days are the norm to ensure the MOD or CHOD gets from point A to point B in time and safely. The agents go into each mission fully aware they will likely have to adapt to and overcome an unplanned situation or itinerary change.
Despite the extremely long hours, the constant time zone and temperature changes take on the body or how the constant churn takes its toll, SA Ashley wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“I’ve been to countries I never thought I’d see and sat through briefings about capabilities I never knew existed,” said SA Ashley, a four-year veteran of the CSAF PSD. “I’ve been privy to the private thoughts of our most senior Air Force and DOD leaders, met every living Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and shaken hands of more heroes than I can count. It’s been an amazing ride I wish more Special Agents and Defenders knew we could take.”
SA Falla echoed SA Ashley’s observation from the agent’s side of the sunglasses.
“This assignment has given me the decision makers’ point of view of how the DOD operates and keeps all military departments at the vanguard globally,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with as diverse a group of people imaginable to accomplish our mission seamlessly. Sometimes I’ve led, sometimes I’ve followed, it’s been equally rewarding for my professional growth. Taking care of people, in our case protecting them, is a source of pride and one of the most important activities anyone can do.”