My Career

My name is Neil and I almost began my commercial security career in 2003, at the outbreak of the second Gulf War. I was then serving with the now disbanded London District Provost Company, in Rochester Row, close to Victoria Station. A friend of mine from the Royal Military Police (RMP) unit at Colchester, Chris, had already decided to leave after 18yrs service and throw himself in to this work, after being approached by a company then known as 'Olive', now Olive Group. One or two others were also considering this option with other Private Security Companies (PSCs). I'd been serving for nineteen years at that point; fifteen of those years had been spent as an RMP Close Protection (CP) Operator, following the successful completion of the CP Course at Longmoor in early 1989. A year earlier I'd returned from my second operational tour to Sierra Leone, where I'd been the Team Leader for the RMP Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) Team in Freetown. Twelve months on and I was already warned off to take another team on Op. TELIC 4 as the General Officer Commanding's Team Leader, based from the Headquarters of the Multinational Division (South East) in Basrah. To this end I made the decision that with 19yrs behind me and the prospect of a pension that was going to see me have a regular income for the rest of my life, providing the next three years passed without too many life threatening incidents, I would remain in the Army and join the commercial sector when my career was complete. The next three years passed with two further operational CP tours (Basrah & Baghdad) interspersed with 10 months of 'down time' at Bulford in Wiltshire. I finally said goodbye to the Army in November 2006, following the end of my final CP tour in July that year and after a spot of resettlement training in Aldershot and Manchester, where I completed PRINCE 2 Practitioners & APM Project Managers Courses, followed by the Security Industry Authority's (SIA) Frontline CP Licence. The rest of my time was spent speaking to companies and international organisations based in London about potential roles. Quite a daunting prospect following a career that saw me join the Army as a Junior Leader at sixteen and leave twenty-four years later, a day before my fortieth birthday. I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted but I knew it wasn't to leap in to a role that saw me swallowed up in numbers, working with people whose standard of training and experience hadn't been tested and infact were only getting experience 'on the job'. There's nothing wrong with on the job training but when it's done under fire, indirect or otherwise, with real 'principles', who are depending upon the team to protect them, then it does matter. Commercial training cannot be compared to the military courses run by the RMP or SAS. Four weeks of CP training around the streets of the UK, no weapons or live firing work, no tactical driving and no-one failing the courses, unless injured or voluntarily withdrawing themselves and then being employed to provide CP cover to people on the streets of Kabul or Baghdad is questionable. This said though individuals have been trained to UK government standards on these courses, which require 150hrs of training. The comparison against what was a career choice for me in the RMP and what for others was a means to earn money after a military career doing other work, in my opinion, shows that my concerns are/were justified. This and the fact that prior to every deployment RMP CP Teams carry out Pre-Deployment Training (PDT). This has tests that have to be passed, including fitness standards and shooting tests. Individuals who don't meet these standards are returned to their parent unit and replaced. PDT lasts four weeks in itself. This follows what is considered to be the RMP basic eight week CP course to become qualified in the first place. So, having set my own parameters for working in the commercial world I knew that I wanted to be a part of a small team or to work as an individual and the choice came down to two. It would be the BBC or Shell, the petroleum company. I had good interviews for both, one at Shell House, outside Waterloo Station and the other in BBC TV Centre (the old one). Shell were keen for me to take on the Regional Security Managers role in Damascus, Syria and the BBC had an opening in their High Risk Newsgathering Team. Ninety minutes in to my interview with Shell I realised that it wasn't the job that I was looking for. I voiced my concern to the two individuals interviewing me and they were grateful I'd stopped the process there and then. The interview was scheduled for 3hrs and it meant I wasn't wasting their time. My interview with the BBC went well and my experience in Iraq stood me in good stead, however, the job offer didn't come immediately and I returned home. I waited a couple of weeks and on the 27th December 2006 at 2pm in the afternoon I received a call from the BBC asking if I could deploy on a 6 week temporary contract, to look after the bureau team in Baghdad. I said I could, when did they want me to deploy? The voice on the other end of the phone said 9pm. 9pm I said, fine but what day...."today, tonight", came the reply! So that was it for the next two years, I became a full time employee of the BBC, working in a small 8 man team. The team never worked together, only 2 and sometimes 3 depending upon the threat worked together in Baghdad, the rest were on Hostile Environment Training roles at bureaus around the world, or deployed with other teams covering other issues elsewhere or at home having some down time. Backgrounds were diverse but essentially the team were a mixture of SF & RMP CP and one or two others brought other skills to the table. It was a great team and I remain in contact with them all even today, even though I left the BBC in December 2008. Thereafter I moved to Moscow, as the Head of Security for the UAE Embassy. The job grew arms and legs and I was initially briefed that it was a bit of personal protection for the Ambassador and a bit of security management. It became a lot more than that, with budget control, CP team management and dependent upon movements, risk assessments and travel security. I was one of two people sent to set the contract up and having done so, I spent a year there (on rotation). Working in Eastern Europe is completely different to working in the West or elsewhere for that matter and the experience has stood me in good stead. After a year, I could see that the potential for progression was non-existent and I wanted to keep moving forward, so I handed in my resignation and left in January 2010. In the meantime I had started a first degree course, in Protective Security Management and still had a year to go. I'd also realised that in order to keep my head above the security crowd which was growing on a yearly basis, I'd have to have other qualifications and skills to offer potential employers and to better my employment opportunities. My next stop was Israel, where I was responsible for three separate contracts, as Country Manager. A step up the ladder at this stage but, the added responsibility was a challenge and kept me busy and that is the key for me when I am away from home. If I'm busy, the days pass quickly. I completed my degree in Israel, saw as much of the country as I could, worked in the West bank and down in Gaza and made good friends. I turned the contracts around, brought in professional personnel and I enjoyed the working environment. The company I worked for looked after me well and had interests in other parts of the world and with the work I'd put in, in Jerusalem, they asked whether I'd be interested in repeating the exercise on another contract in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was a short discussion with my wife, and with her backing and the additional challenge in a country where I'd not worked before I accepted the offer. So I set off for Kabul. Having arrived and settled in I almost immediately signed up for a Master's Degree in Business Continuity, Security & Emergency Management and completed that over the next 18 months. I initially ran one contract, this grew to a total of six contracts eventually, two of which I brought in myself whilst carrying out business development. Three contracts were diplomatic and three US government related. Manpower responsibilities increased to well over 700 personnel, the budget grew to several million and after two and a half years I decided my role had run its course. Kabul was becoming claustrophobic and the red tape issues with the Government of Afghanistan's Ministries were beginning to get silly. So with new contracts about to be signed, I decided that it was the right time for me to move on. I resigned and left the company in January 2013. I felt I was leaving the company and the contracts in a strong position compared to when I'd arrived (talk was of contracts being cancelled then) and I was making the break at the right time. I've been in the commercial sector 7yrs this year. The roles have been diverse and challenging and the experiences have seen me working both long and short term contracts which have taken me to Angola, South Africa, Zimbabwe, France and Nigeria as well as those countries mentioned above. Where am I going next? Who knows........ I've had some good down time this year but I now need to get back to work, the feet are itchy again. I have Sudan as the strongest candidate on the cards at present, working as Country Manager for a large company, who are just opening up over there. In addition there are other openings though. I'm in the mix for roles with the EU in Djibouti and Libya, with a large Oil and Gas company, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh and another in Somaliland. I've turned down roles in Mauritania and Nigeria but I've applied to join the Stabilisation Unit in the UK. This is the pool of subject matter experts held by the government who can be deployed worldwide to assist on long and short term problems on secondment to organisations like the EU & OSCE. I'm now working at a level that I want to continue at but these roles are few and far between. It takes time and a need to be patient for the right offer to come along but with decisions being made in the next week, I should find out where I'm going next very soon. I'm always asked about what advice I'd give people looking to leave the services and join the commercial world. In the first instance I'd say stay where you are and pick up your pension. If that's a non-starter and you don't have a reputable CP course from a military provider under your belt, ensure you choose a reputable commercial supplier (Excellentia, SOS Gp, or the Phoenix Course with G4S to name three). Then look at your options and don't just go with the employer offering the biggest pay packet. Terms and conditions are paramount, if your kit and equipment are rubbish and the rotations are ridiculous, then your life will be both uncomfortable and difficult to adapt to and you will find yourself jumping around between contracts sooner than you hoped. This doesn't look good to a potential employer. So find the right contract, ensure you're happy with the full package and stick with it for at least a year initially. Consider the following, as a short list when looking at a role: Flights Home - Who Pays? Where are they flying you from/to? Will they pay for you to get to and from the airport? Accommodation: Do you have your own room, are you sharing? If so, with how many? Communications: Do you have internet as standard or is there an additional cost taken from your wage for its use? Are there local phones provided for contact when working? Pay: Are you paid in dollars, Euros or Pounds? Do you need or have you already considered opening an international bank account? Are you paid weekly or monthly, after you're submitted an invoice or direct to your bank, without the need to do so? Insurance: What insurance does the company offer? If you're injured on duty, will they fly you home at their costs and pay you for the duration you're recovering and then re-employ you? If you're killed abroad do they cover repatriation and an income or lump sum for your family? If you are injured on duty, but not seriously enough to return home, however it stops you carrying out your normal daily duties, will you continue to be paid or not? Equipment: What equipment do they provide as standard, what are you expected to bring with you? What weapons are you expected to use (if it's a hostile environment), some will provide the latest M4 rifles, and others will be old AK47's for instance (I've operated with both). What vehicles are you being provided with, B6/7 armoured vehicles or soft skins? Will you get body armour, if so how old is it, what make is it; can you use your own? The list is not exhaustive but this gives you an idea of the sort of questions you need to consider before jumping in to a role, particularly in a hostile environment. Finally, I will mention education. I cover it briefly in my blog above, however, I strongly recommend that if you do not have professional qualifications or a degree then you seriously need to consider getting better qualified. I left the Army with no formal qualifications by some 'O' Levels and I now have two degrees. These undoubtedly get me through the paper sifts and in the door to interviews. They are always commented on and because they are industry related, they are worth their weight. They have both been completed over distance learning and this takes some personal discipline but the rewards are worth it. I won't be working away from home forever (none of us are getting any younger) and will eventually need to find a 'real' job in the UK. These will help immeasurably. I can't push the need for education strongly enough. If it's something you want to consider then look no further than Bucks New University. They have a great security department, offering a number of worthwhile courses including Security Consultancy, Foundation Degrees, BA/BSc's and the MSc. Their website is: http://bucks.ac.uk/ and your contact there will be Phil Wood, the Department Head (phillip.wood@bucks.ac.uk). Thanks for reading this introductory blog, it's my first (and last probably)! I hope it helps you consider your next step or your current career in the security industry carefully. The jobs are fulfilling but as the saying goes...... "There's no security, in security", so if you're looking for a regular monthly income, with a pension and a good medical and dental package, stay in the services or do something different. Regards, Neil

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