1st Cav PSOs keep division leaders safe in RC-South
August 28, 2014
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - As the Regional Command-South commanding general shakes hands with partners or as the command sergeant major examines base defenses, there is a Soldier always nearby with a radio in his ear, rifle in hand and head on a swivel. While everyone else focuses on the events of the day, he silently is watching for signs of danger.
The job of the personal security officer is much more than that of a bodyguard. Though the job of PSOs could be summed up saying they protect their boss, that wouldn't begin to tell their story.
The PSO completes several tasks that aren't often associated with security but are integral to protecting their assigned leader.
"I coordinate travel for the boss, mostly helicopters," said Staff Sgt. Travis Parker, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, who serves as PSO for Maj. Gen. Michael Bills, commanding general of 1st Cav. Div. and RC-South. "But my main thing is making sure I'm a bridge between the commanding general and the personal security detail."
Sgt. Pablo Gonzalez, also serving with 1st Cav. Div. and RC-South as PSO for Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Barteky, the division's CSM, explained that he has to anticipate what the sergeant major will want to see and who he will want to meet when he leaves Kandahar Airfield. Gonzalez has to coordinate security and travel with every location the CSM wants to visit to develop a plan for the trip.
"When you work for your boss, it helps to know him," said Gonzalez who is a native of Albuquerque, N.M., "It helps knowing where he's going to turn, what he's going to want to look at."
On mission with the men and women they serve, the PSO is often the pace setter, ensuring each event during the visit is planned out and making sure important timelines are kept. PSOs also ensure that their boss is kept in the loop of major events through a variety of communication equipment ranging from cell phones to satellite radios.
Being constantly alert for dangers can take a toll on Soldiers. Each PSO has his own way of dealing with the inherent stress of the daily tasks of the job.
"You have to be alert, stand up, stretch, keep active, and scan the area," said Parker, a native of Round Rock, Texas. "You have to remain mindful of everything that's going around and keep situationally aware."
"You can't work at 100 percent, 24 hours a day, so I try to bring the levels down a bit when he (the CSM) is in the headquarters building, but when we go out, my awareness kicks in. It helps me keep balanced," explained Gonzales.
Another challenge of the job comes from being a representative of an authority figure. Being the guard of a division sergeant major or commanding general also means PSOs often work alongside higher-ranked personnel.
"You don't want to over step the boundaries of your boss, but you're like an extension of him," said Gonzales. "It's hard as a sergeant when you try to approach a much higher ranking person and tell them what needs to happen. So you try to explain your boss's intent."
Parker expressed a similar sentiment, but said that it's just part of the job. He said that it's his responsibility to help others understand that it's his job to work for the commanding general's best interest.
The PSO's plan the best and safest scenario possible, breaking up patterns and keeping a watchful eye, but they prepare for the worst. If the worst does happen and their boss is attacked, the PSO has one job: keep their boss safe.
"I shoot every weekend at home," said Gonzales. "You cannot go and just be a good shooter, you need to train. Even the best guy needs to train. Here it's hard to get onto a range, so I clear my weapon and practice my draw and dry-fire to keep my skills up."
The PSO teams make sure to coordinate and work on their skills during down time, sometimes dry-firing toward concrete walls or learning how to trouble shoot radio equipment. It's important for each PSO to not only be a skilled individual, but also work flawlessly as a team when they work together. Prior to deploying, each of them goes though the same training as a bodyguard.
"In training, we learn shooting, driving, and history of personal security details," said Parker. He also said they look at a lot of case studies so they can learn from events of the past.
Everything a PSO does is for the sole purpose of ensuring the safety of their boss. They must ensure planning takes place before an event. They make sure the plan is kept and any necessary changes are communicated to everyone who needs to know. It's only when everything else has failed that the PSO may have to shoot back as they evacuate their boss to safety.