My years of martial arts training inevitably led me to become interested in the world of Special Operations; also known as SPEC-OPS. My interest became action when in 1984 I read a book about terrorism titled The War Against the Terrorists: How to Win Itby Gayle Rivers. I was fascinated not only with the various terrorist organizations wreaking havoc around the world at the time, but I was equally fascinated with the counterterrorist teams that were tasked to confront them. I was awed by the weapons that these teams toted, the high tech equipment they used, and the pure intensity of the conflicts between “good and evil.” Even though I was not in law enforcement at the time, for that would not happen for another four years, when I read this book I knew that the civilian martial artist systems I had studied were inadequate against terrorism, and I made it a point to get my hands on other books about counterterrorism and Special Operations teams.
Little did I realize at the time, but eventually my dreams of getting involved in Special Operations would be fulfilled. On March 11, 1994 I, Officer Jim Wagner, would be selected for the Costa Mesa Police S.W.A.T. team, and soon become one of the most cross trained members on the team due to my position.
At the same time I, and three other police officers, founded the training organization Hike Stalk Shoot which we later renamed HSS International. What started out as a “sniper club” for local law enforcement and military snipers, grew to become an international training organization for law enforcement agencies, correctional institutions, probation, and military units. I personally created all of the the defensive tactics programs, the entry level sniper program, and spearheaded the maritime operations training for the company. In just a few short years my instructions were in demand all around the world. Some of the units that hosting hosted me inclued: FBI SWAT, German national counterterrorist team GSG9, DEA, Brazilian GATE, Argentinean GOE, Escambia Sheriff’s Department SWAT (Florida), Rosarito Grupo Especial (Mexico), U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard Boarding Teams and Sea Marshals, Spanish Diplomatic Protective Services, Israeli Special Forces, London Metropolitan Police TSG, North Miami SWAT (Florida), California Department of Corrections SRT, U.S. Air Force Security Forces, U.S. Army Military Police SWAT, Lake County Sheriff’s Department SWAT (Indiana), U.S. Marshals Service Special Operations Group and Fugitive Task Forces (San Diego, Dallas, Washington D.C.), Los Angeles Airport Police, Skagit County Sheriff’s Department Cell Extraction Team (Washington), British Columbia Sheriff’s Department (Canada), Los Angeles County Probation Department, United States Probation Office, San Diego Sheriff’s Department Prisoner Transport Unit, Vancouver Police SWAT (Oregon), U.S. Marines Provost Marshal Office (PMO) and Special Response Team (SRT), Department of Defense Police, U.S. Navy PMO, Los Angeles School Police SWAT, and the list goes on.
As much as I taught these elite units I also learned from them, for training with professionals is a two way street. As a chief instructor of HSS International, and a corporate officer, I also attended many courses as a student to expand my own tactical skills. Courses included a lot of training with the United States Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, which included Military Operations Urban Terrain (MOUT) training, Helicopter Rope Suspension Training (HRST), Range Safety Officer (RSO), and Scout/Sniper training with the 1st Marine Division Sniper School; Devil Dogs who lived and breathed the motto One Shot, One Kill.
In 1999 I started teaching full time and I joined the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, America’s fifth largest sheriff’s department as a Reserve deputy. I went from wearing a shield to a six pointed star. In just a few months I was promoted to the rank of sergeant and assigned as the Team Leader for the newly formed Dignitary Protection Unit (DPU). This elite team was formed per the orders of Sheriff Michael Corona, “America’s Sheriff” according to President George W. Bush, and tasked with protecting celebrities, diplomats, and the Sheriff himself.
On September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States, and the next day I was assigned to anti-terrorism duties with my department. I was ordered to run the main check point for John Wayne Airport of Orange County. I was one of the few law enforcement officers in the region that had been trained to identify Arab terrorists. I was familiar with the latest tactics they were using because of the training I had received while in Israel only a few months prior to the attacks.
Although I was thrilled to do anti-terrorism (preventing terrorism) work and train elite law enforcement and military teams, I wanted to be on the front lines on the Global War on Terrorism. I wanted to do counterterrorism (fighting terrorists). The United States government was scouring the country for anyone qualified, and up to the challenge. I was selected as an agent for the United States Federal Air Marshal Service. I was flown to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) headquarters in New Jersey for my initial training, and then flown out to the middle of the desert to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Artesia, New Mexico for the primary training. This was exactly what I had signed up for: weapons training, surveillance techniques, explosives training, defensive tactics, case studies on terrorism, and lots of firearms training.
Upon graduation I was officially a part of Operation Enduring Freedom and assigned to the Los Angeles Field Office, which operated mostly out of Los Angeles International Airport. As a United States Federal Air Marshal (FAM) I participated in 146 counterterrorist missions doing everything from surveillance of the nation’s airports, finding weaknesses in the aviation security system, to flying on all of the major American carriers. On one mission I arrested a suspected terrorist while the aircraft was still on the ground. The fully loaded passenger aircraft was scheduled to fly to Washington D.C. I searched the Middle Eastern man’s briefcase in the jetway. Inside it contained nuclear information.Two hours later the FBI took my Pakistani prisoner into custody.
For more information on Jim Wagner training GSG9, Germany's top counterterrorist team CLICK HERE.
On September 11, 2002, the aniversary of 9/11, I resigned from the U.S. Federal Air Marshal Service, and I resumed my duties at HSS International. I again taught Special Operations teams at home and abroad.
On January 21, 2003 I started my own training company and created my own “complete” self-defense system Reality-Based Personal Protection. Although it is a system primarily designed for civilians, many Special Operations operators have enrolled themselves in the courses over the years, and a fair number of units have invited me to teach at their locations.