The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Security Contractors Working in a Hot Zone: Information for Writers w/ Shawn Rafferty



Shawn Rafferty
Welcome to ThrillWriting, Shawn. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your background?

Shawn - 

Hello, my name is Shawn Rafferty. I have been working in the military, law enforcement and security sector for 20 years. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry, was a corrections officer, police officer, force protection officer in Kuwait before the 2003 invasion, worked as a Security Consultant (trained Iraqi Ministry of Oil personnel) and Security Coordinator (assisted in managing guard force force for company building oil sector in Iraq, KBR) in Iraq and a Protective Security Specialist (Blackwater and Triple Canopy) responsible for protecting
US Diplomats in Iraq, mainly the US Ambassador.

Fiona - 
What role did you play as a security contractor?

Shawn
I started working for Blackwater in late 2004 after I left KBR and got a job in Afghanistan as a protective security specialist;
 this time protecting business personnel. I left BW in 2007 for the birth of my son and to start a business. I opened a martial arts school and taught Commando Krav Maga.  I went back to Iraq working for Blackwater (BW) again. By this time it was 2009. BW changed names to Xe and shortly after lost the contract. I then worked for a company called Triple Canopy doing the same work, protecting US Diplomats. I left Iraq in 2010 and became a firearms instructor training Department of State Diplomatic Security Agents.

I only did this for 3 months then I got a job working for the Department of Commerce as a Special Agent working on the Secretary of Commerce's protection detail. I did that for 3 1/2 years and recently quit to be a stay-at-home dad and build my business teaching self-protection.

Fiona - 
What form of MA do you teach - mixed/self protection?

Shawn -
I taught a system called Commando Krav Maga. But I have a second degree blackbelt in Shorin Ryu Karate, and I have been doing Muay Thai and boxing for years.

Fiona -
So your were a marine and you worked mercenary jobs.

Shawn -
Well they weren't mercenary jobs because we were indirectly and directly working for the US government. 

Fiona - 
You don't call yourselves mercenaries; what do you say instead?

Shawn - 
Security Contractors working for Private Military Companies (PMC). Although I did work with some real mercenaries that were operating in Africa. Another story...

Fiona - 
Thank you for correcting my vocabulary. A mercenary is a professional soldier hired to serve a foreign army, according to Google. Can you tell me some of the things that are parallel and some of the things that are different about the two environments?

Shawn - 
As a Marine you train to fight in combat and do combat operations. The parallel between the two would be that a security contractor that provides protection has a responsibility to run from trouble but if forced to fight, it must be with the same ferocity as a Marine or soldier. Providing protection or working as a security contractor in a war zone is very challenging. You are a target just like the military but often on your own with minimal support.

Fiona - 
Were your contracting jobs structured like the military with chains of command?

Shawn - 
Yes, pretty much. Not the same titles but you had a rank structure. Plus, it fit with what the guys were accustomed to. To go back to the environment and the differences; As an example when I first went into Iraq. The very next day we had to drive to the border of Jordan. All we had in the form of communication was a satellite phone (Sat Phone) and a drop dead time to return. No communication with military units or any support. Just us with unarmed vehicles, no body armor, and just Ak 47's with a few mags.



English: Cambodian AK-47
 AK-47 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So our Kurdish interpreter took us to this arms market in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. It was just a regular market where people were buying food and other household items. The interpreter went up to some guy and whispered in his ear. The next thing I knew, all these guys started coming out of the woodwork. You remember those shows in the 70's where the guy would walk up and say, "You wanna by a watch?" and he would open his coat and would have dozens of watches hanging? That was what it was like but with guns or holsters, etc. 

I remember I needed some ammo for my 9mm. So this guy brought me a box and a lot of the ammo was rusted or corroded. My dad was doing the same thing but not next to me. He questioned the seller as to whether or not the ammo was good. The Iraqi grabbed the gun, loaded, and shot off a few rounds in the air like nothing special. Mind you, it was a very busy market. I almost hit the deck when the gunshot went off but didn't. We bought a few pistols and some ammo and left.

Fiona - 
Yipes!

You said you were given a drop dead time?

Shawn - 
Drop Dead Time - Basically when we reached a certain time we had to return. This way if we were unable to communicate with the HQ, we would automatically return. The HQ didn't answer our call anyway. The company I worked for didn't have a lot of equipment. We had to buy some of our weapons on the black-market. I had to purchase my own pistol, for example. 

When I worked for Blackwater we had a lot more assets
Blackwayer and Triple Canopy had State Department contracts that had to meet pretty stringent guidelines to operate. We had to have armored vehicles, body armor, a certain amount of people to go out on missions, etc. The first company was rather loose. I would often drive out into town by myself.

My first mission with BW was protecting Kurdish Judges and lawyers and escorting them and DOJ agents around Norther Iraq interviewing Kurds victimized by Sadams war crimes. I actually got to go to his trial for 1 day.

Fiona - 

Wow. What an experience. 

I like that the contracts protected you a bit more with Blackwater.

Shawn - 
Yes, I felt a lot more secure, and the people I worked with all had the same training, so I knew what to expect as far as tactics and actions if attacked.

Fiona - 
So all of your fellow operators were military background. Any females?

Shawn - 
Most had military backgrounds. SEALS, Marines, Army Rangers, Special Forces, DEVGRU, and plain Cops. We had a few females towards the end. Only 1 or 2 where on protection teams. A few others were in support roles. One was a K9 handler.

Fiona - 
What are DEVGRU?

Shawn - 
DEVGRU - Development Group is the new name for SEAL Team 6. Mind you, I came across very few of these guys. Most would work much higher contracts because of their prior training and experience etc.

The background of the fellow operators was broad. We all had training and Secret Clearances. Not like the image of a bunch of blood thirsty cowboys running around.

Fiona - 
Are the terms like FUBAR the same across military branches and contractors - do you all speak the same lingo? 
(FUBAR -f*cked up beyond all reason/recognition)

Shawn - 
Yes FUBAR is. We didn't use it much but would just say F*cked Up instead. Excuse the language.

Fiona - 
You're fine - but in general the lingo was the same all of the little alphabet soup of communications? I'm wondering because you mixed a bunch of guys up, and their training was their training - would it all work out if lives were on the line?

Shawn - 
Training is training. Most if not all the teams spent a lot of time in between missions training. If there ever was an incident most of the time everyone acted the way they were trained, because they all knew what each other were doing. Those guys with combat prior experience would act better, because they knew what to expect.

Fiona - 
Tell me about that combat prior v. just combat trained - how would the men act/react. Did it worry you to go on missions with the inexperienced men?

Shawn -
Getting shot at is not fun. 
You never know how someone will react under fire. Hopefully with training, they will react like they should. But the guys that were combat tested where definitely a good thing to have around. It is also about having guts and the will to live and win. Guys with that mentality and no combat experiences can pull it together and do the job.

I wouldn't want to go out on missions with someone I didn't know or trained with. If you get attacked it is a very bad situation that can lead to a lot of lives lost. You are going up against insurgents/terrorist that were in actively fighting military units.

Fiona - 
Media is not very kind to Security Contracting groups.

Shawn -
Well the media has an agenda. 

Imagine working in a war zone disguised as a city with the normal activity of a regular city? Now put a $30000 price on your head and drive out of a base that only has 3 exit/entry points and go drive to locations that are commonly visited. Now add in IED's VBIED's (VBIEDS - Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive devices, car bombs for short) ambushes etc. We stood out like a sore thumb and were easy targets. Out of probably 15000 missions BW never lost a principal. 

Fiona - 
WOOT! for BW's huge accomplishments.

Breaking stereotypes and writing it right - what's one thing you'd like us to know that we wouldn't guess?

Shawn -
Most if not all the guys in BW are patriots and love their country. Although we got paid good money to do the job, everyone felt they were doing a good thing for their country and to better the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are bad apples in every bunch, but most of the guys just did their job and wanted to make it back to their families. 
However, we lost dozens of our guys.

War attracts a lot of different personality types. You have to be a little off to want to work in a war zone.

Fiona -
And now you're back in the states and have a school. Can you tell us something about what you do?



LINK


Shawn -
Sure. My current business is teaching people personal safety strategies based on situational awareness principles and observation skills. I will later evolve into developing security plans for schools, businesses and places of worship that address active shooter threats. 


The workshops I offer focus primarily on teaching people how to avoid becoming a victim. I feel it is better to not be attacked versus fighting off an attacker. The reality is, if you walk around with your head in the clouds and don't pay attention to you environment, it doesn't matter what you know or what weapon you have. I do teach few techniques that I feel are effective despite the size and drug induces state of your attacker. 

Remember it takes thousands of repetitions to be able to react under stress. Is your technique you practiced effective? Did you train under stressful situations? 

What I teach is information backed with stories, pictures and real CCTV footage so you will recall years later.

Fiona -
YES! This is one of my pet peeves in literature. A heroine with no experience at anything suddenly fights her way out of a situation or shoots someone dead. It's so improbable that it ruins the story. If a woman goes to kick a guy in the shins, she'll break her toes - if you're going to have her fight - she better have a fighting background, otherwise write it differently - the truth of the outcome is probably a whole lot more interesting anyway.



Pay attention. Watch your Back. Have a Plan.


Shawn -
Exactly. That is the wool put over people's eyes. Take my 2 hour self-defense course, don't practice for 6 months, and when you get attacked you will react properly. Ya right.

Fiona -
Or they read a magazine article once. I've trained MA for ten years, and I would always run from a fight if I could.

Shawn - 
That's smart. They may have a gun, knife, or be an experienced fighter that doesn't hurt easily. Most victims of attacks put themselves in a position to be a victim. A predator preys on the weak.

I just want to be real about everything. If you buy pepper spray, don't believe the commercial and think it will work every time. A stun gun does not work every time. A real gun takes a vital hit to stop someone high on drugs.

Fiona - 
I was in a NRA workshop, and they said with drugged guys you can unload, and they still come after you - then you're left with pistol whipping - not good.

Shawn -
True. Hit vital organs, heart, head, and they will go down. Now try to shoot your gun at someone attacking you, and you never practice? Or your gun jams, and you never practice clearing the jam under stress? Or you never practice taking the gun out of your holster. Now do all these things under the stress of being killed? Different story than practicing in an air-conditioned range with Bon Jovi playing on the speakers




Fiona - 
I just want to say to my fellow writers, for me, it's one thing to make it up, it's another thing to read about/talk with someone as I am doing now with Shawn (because there's no way I'm going to a war zone for the experience). But, I think, it takes your writing to a whole different level when you can do some hands on with what you want to write about. If you're writing a fight scene, you might consider trying it out with and instructor, taking a class. Shawn you're in the DC area, would you consider putting together a day for writers' groups to come and ask you a bajillion questions and try out some of the moves?

Shawn - 
I would love to teach a workshop for writers. I explore areas like active shooter, traumatic first aid, weapons familiarity (penetrating power, weaknesses) terrorism besides other topics. It really is a full service workshop where I try to cover areas people experience in everyday life.

Fiona - 
Now for the traditional Thrillwriting question - would you please tell me the story behind your favorite scar?

Shawn -
My favorite scar. Not combat/gun related. I was attacked by a dog (St. Bernard) at 5 and had to get 50 stitches in my face. Sometimes I joke and tell people it was from when I was in Somalia.

Fiona - 
Shawn, I totally respect and appreciate your service to our country and that you are trying to help others learn to be safe. Thank you so much for your time and experience.


Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


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