Guest Blog: The Combat Operator

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From our friend Jake Allen at The Combat Operator:

One of the aspects that amuses me about contracting is the free-flow of people between companies and contracts. Its not uncommon to join a project and see a number of familiar faces with whom you have a shared history even if each has worked for multiple companies in the interim. The down side of this reality is that you also see a few nardowells who probably should be either in prison or committed to an institution for lunacy or just general stupidity. How does this happen? Simply stated, its the buddy system that is to blame. In this business people recruit and even promote their mates in absence of, or often worse, in violation of standing company policies.

I have no problem with people hiring their friends or for that matter their family provided the people are qualified to do the job. But what gets me is when people are brought onto a contract simply because someone in a position of authority believes an applicant is a good guy. Ive always believed that being a solid citizen was the bare minimum for any employee and not some kind of a differentiator that should give someone the leg-up on getting a job.

As a friend of my own likes to say, Being a nice guy does not make you the right guy. I like that, because it implies that being likeable is important but it should never supersede the actual skills required to do the work. Most everyone would prefer to have teammates that share our interests. It just makes life in the zone better if you are surrounded by selfless team players who respect other peoples space, clean up after them selves, require no micro-management, are trustworthy and reliable, like to have a beer, talk about footy, maybe play some poker or are otherwise sociable around the dinner table. All of that is important because often we are often living together in close quarters with loaded weapons and little or no external supervision. Its important to get along with each other. Having good guys on the team is an important aspect of what enables a team to function. If for no other reason than, should the need arise, a guy is more likely to risk his life for a person he genuinely respects than someone he cannot tolerate. But the real question is: How often is the very existence of that life threatening situation created in the first place, at least in part, due to the poor technical or tactical proficiency of some idiot who despite his above average social skills should not be in the job in the first place? Of course its impossible to know precisely but in all the events I have seen, experienced, heard and read about the vast majority of them can be worked back to a very few people making some severely poor decisions.

Armed security is, at its core, a thinking-mans game where intellect borne of training and experience ought to be the most prized commodity. Those who are trained to do so can design security systems and services that mitigate risk in the first place and thus avoid armed conflict in many cases. In military jargon this is often called pre-kinetic or left-of-bang meaning they are the actions taken long before an incident occurs. This is perhaps the most important and certainly the most underrated aspect of security consulting. But despite our best efforts and planning events will occur which require people to think on their feet and deal with the difficulties and complexities that constitute combat.

Wouldnt it be great if you could take any operator from any background and like Neo, the main character in the movie The Matrix, simply plug his brain into a computer and in seconds upload all the necessary training and decision making criteria in a batch of digital files? Yeah that would be cool but here in the real world we are a long way from that. Not only can we not do it automatically, most PMCs dont even try to do it manually. The absence of documented processes/procedures and intense repetitive training (and believe me there is a massive absence of both among most PMCs) means that companies are betting their entire future on the decision making skills of their lowest paid employees.

But all operators are not equal despite the fact that the company may see them as interchangeable widgets each with the same fixed operating cost. I often counsel anyone who will listen that the greatest commodity in our business is people. Contracts change hands all the time but the people on the ground hold the companys reputation and with it their future in the palm of their hands every single day. In a business where a single poor decision by just one employee can result in loss of life, the smearing of the companys brand and the loss of millions of dollars in revenue. Its puzzling to see how little effort most PMCs put into finding and retaining the best people. Especially when you consider that when your best people leave to work for a competitor it has the two-fold impact of lowering the previous companys service quality while simultaneously increasing that of their competitor.

I really dont see people as good/bad, young/old, smart/dumb, I simply see them as trainedready, or untrained and thus unready. Sure, most operators are trainable but that implies that you have time between the impending moment-of-truth and the completion of said training. Do you? You can always train someone tomorrow but what if the moment-of-truth comes in the next 5 minutes, or after lunch or tonight at midnight? Is he ready? Is your company ready to deal with the consequences of his lack of readiness?

Good people are worth their weight in gold if the definition of good includes more than social skills. I, for one, would rather work with cantankerous and grumpy teammates who are tactically switched-on than guys who are agreeable in camp but useless when the bees start buzzing.

Id like to see companies adopt lucrative referral programs that reward referring parties when the new-hire is a success but also sack the referring party when the referred person does not perform to standard. Of course this implies that the company has a standard to begin with...Ill leave that for another day. The point is that people should think hard about who they endorse. Were that the case the overriding criteria for employment would return to where it belongs and that is in the realm of training, experience and real-world capabilities.

Leave a comment letting me know if you agree or disagree.

-- Jake Allen

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