THE MAGAZINE

Staging Security in a Theater of War

By Scott Ast, CPP

Plan for transport.
Travel in Iraq is never routine. The route to and from Baghdad's airport to the International Zone--the "safe" zone of the city, often called the Green Zone--is one of the most dangerous stretches in Iraq, and great caution, concern, and preparedness must be exercised while traversing this area. But all travel requires some measure of point-to-point protection.

Many companies choose to use private personal security detachment (PSD) convoys for transportation security as opposed to riding with the U.S. military convoys. That's because military convoys tend to be more noticeable and attractive targets. They are also not likely to be available on the contractor's schedule.

Also, a private car traveling in a military convoy is likely to be the most vulnerable link in the chain. Government contractors can find out about PSD providers from the government and other contractors. They should have teams in place well before any personnel are sent to Iraq.

At the airport, our personnel join a PSD, which accompanies them to their destination and elsewhere during their stay in Iraq. The PSDs we use consist of highly trained former military special-forces personnel. Most are former U.S. forces, but others are from countries in the U.S. coalition in Iraq. Other PSDs also use Iraqis and other foreign nationals as part of the details.

The best PSDs "call out" information to each vehicle as they travel, such as "Three men, 3 o'clock" or "Two on the roof, 9 o'clock." This approach lets forces in each vehicle assess potential threats themselves and train weapons on a target if necessary.

That's vital because vigilance should not be left to the PSDs alone. It takes everyone on board to serve as the eyes and ears of the group.

I trained my staff to be always alert and on the lookout for suspicious activities, objects, or people, such as fast-approaching vehicles, people on rooftops, and debris in the road.

It pays to be "consistently inconsistent" in Iraq, never traveling at the same times and on the same routes if possible. I also encourage our professionals to practice the "buddy system" with colleagues. That is, when they are up and around, traveling in PSDs or in other settings, they should check up on each other.

I ask them to inquire as to how their colleague is feeling that day. They should ask, "Are you 100 percent?" If they say no, and describe having a headache, being tired, or otherwise not being in peak condition, they need to be observed to determine what the issue is. Maybe they have been bitten by an insect or an animal, are dangerously dehydrated, have appendicitis, or suffer from an infection.

I would be remiss if I didn't give due credit to the PSDs with which I traveled. The crews I worked with and observed provided outstanding service and protection as I made my way through Hillah, Fallujah, Najaf, Diwaniyah, Tikrit, and other destinations such as Bayji and Mosul.

Beyond providing physical security, they conducted reconnaissance of planned routes and were constantly reassessing risks and tailoring their protective posture. Their bravery, determination, and grit warrant special mention.

Have emergency plans.
I have always operated on the "Six P Principle," which is shorthand for "Proper Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance." Relying on the U.S. government or military is not always an option, so internal readiness, coupled with mutual assistance and contingency arrangements with others, is mandatory.

It is critical to have self-explanatory emergency action plans in Iraq and for workers to be well-acquainted with them so that all players will know their roles and be ready to act after being shaken out of bed by a missile, mortar, or small-arms-fire attack.

Each worker should be given a list of actions to take immediately after an emergency. These can be presented on index cards, but they must also be ingrained in everyone's minds. For example, as part of the plan, our personnel know what to do if their PSD team is incapacitated or they are kidnapped.

Medical assistance. Emergency medical assistance is frequently needed. Medical treatment is handled by trained professionals at the job site, camp, or compound. The more serious the injury, the more it may require emergency medical transportation or an airlift to the closest U.S. military medical facility outside of Iraq

Personnel should be trained in telltale signs of medical conditions, such as rashes, headaches, and listlessness. They should also know basic first aid and how to quickly summon medical attention.

Evacuations. Work-site evacuations must be expected. One critical factor is ensuring that personnel know the locations of all blast shelters and bunkers, when to take cover, how to take cover, and what to do next. It is also important to know what types of structures are safe to use as shelters.

Some shelters consist of squared sections of concrete that might someday end up being used to construct sewers, with more elaborate versions being dug at an angle into the ground with poured concrete steps and incandescent lighting.

An important precaution before entering any shelter is to check for desert pests such as scorpions and camel spiders. This is especially true in the hottest part of the day; they love the shade.

Poor attention to evacuation procedures left me with an extremely sore jaw in one case. When a Katyusha rocket whizzed over our camp early one cool morning, two workers in a panic sped face first into each other. After the impact, one of them continued running, crashing his forehead into my jaw. I grabbed both men by the collar and shoved them into the closest shelter, which was less than 15 feet away.

The rocket detonated in a blinding flash, and the concussion of the blast disoriented us for a few moments. A trailer was destroyed in this incident, but thankfully no one was injured. Not everyone can keep their wits about them in such situations, but having a working knowledge of the bunkers closest to your present location, as well as what to do in all other emergencies, will help.

Communication. My company uses what it calls the "Lifeline" program, whereby any time a professional is outside of the United States, we provide him or her with around-the-clock emergency contact information. The numbers are used to reach our security and safety managers and their own management team.

Personnel may also provide this information to relatives or friends. In the case of Iraq, I have received many worried telephone calls after media reports of attacks or explosions from persons attempting to determine the safety of someone they care for who was in Mosul, Bayji, or Baghdad at the time. The value of having a quick resource for determining the well-being of a loved one is incalculable. Fortunately, our staff has been unharmed in these incidents.

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