PUBLIC LIFE AS A PRIVATE MAN – FROM BOSTON TO BOSNIA : JIM ERWIN

Steve Keefer

What can I say… I was born to protect. Emerging from years of service as a U.S. Military and Special Operations soldier, I eventually went on to become a private contractor with a mission – to protect a U.S. ambassador in Bosnia. One might say that I was a hired gun and a bodyguard. While the mission and terrain differed from my past military experience, I still came to rely on my gear and teammates for protection. It never failed me in the past as a warrior, and my trust in this tactical gear and the men around me was a sure thing. Even though Bosnia isn’t ravaged by ethnic wars anymore, the country is still filled with hostile pockets and regions. For example, many Serb leaders continue to have anti-American sentiments. Gearing up with reliable artillery is a damn good idea!

The role of a U.S. ambassador is multi-faceted while my role in Bosnia was for one purpose – to protect the ambassador. The Bosnia U.S. ambassador was there to represent U.S. policy, communicate mission elements, reshape the mission to serve American interests and to coordinate all executive branch offices. I was there to ensure that the U.S. ambassador was able to fulfill his role. That means keeping the ambassador safe and alive. It was ironic that I was now out of the trenches, not leading soldiers or engaging in team operations but protecting one person. And while security contractors don’t always face the same level of danger as regular army soldiers as no offensive missions are in place, it’s not uncommon for defensive security to require protective gear. I was always prepared in Bosnia with the right gear. After all, having the right tools can make the difference between life and death.

Throughout my time in Bosnia protecting a U.S. ambassador, we were exposed to a range of risk levels from greeting people in public to dining at high end restaurants. Most days finished with gaining access to the ambassador’s itinerary. Once the itinerary was known, we’d travel the proposed route, check roads for unexpected changes. In the morning prior to the Ambassadors arrival time, we would inspect the security of the designated venue. All around, I worked closely with the on-premise security staff to conduct a risk assessment and analyze security weaknesses. Other daily tasks included inspecting the ambassador’s vehicle for possible tampering, checking and changing the routes when needed, and since one-lane bridges and tunnels can be potential choke points for an ambush, I would always change such a route to a less dangerous one if at all possible. It was never easy…. there are over 200,000 active land mines in Bosnia. To keep the ambassador out of harm’s way, the route was never around the former lines of conflict, including suburbs surrounding Sarajevo. For sure, I used all the defensive skills learned from my time in the U.S. military.

After the day’s activities were over, it was my responsibility to bring the ambassador back to the secure residence location. Since walking from the entrance and entering the vehicles always exposes one to risk, the distance was always kept short. Once back to the residence, the vehicle was parked in a secure and guarded location to prevent sabotage or IED placement. In addition, I’d check all the equipment and ensure radios would be charged for the next day’s operation.

While the mission and landscape are different from a U.S. soldier to a U.S. ambassador protector, my role hadn’t changed; I am, and forever will be, a warrior. Staying in the fight however I can.

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