The Bulgarian government wanted the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system for their most elite police teams, and I delivered.Not only was it a great honor for me to teach them in the capital of Sofia, but they wanted all of Bulgaria to know about their decision to include my teachings in their arsenal by having me on national television; not once, but twice. This decision wasn't just some middle management decision, but approved from the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense.
On October 31st I finished up an advanced sergeant's school, called ANCOC (Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course), back at my military base in Southern California.Early the next morning I had to catch a flight to Dusseldorf, Germany. I flew there to hook up with my Reality-Based Personal Protection Director of the German speaking countries, Tobias Leckebusch, so that he could assist me in the second Eastern European country I was invited to this year.Dusseldorf was selected as my "hub" because I would be finishing up my three-week teaching trip in that area. I had a lot of courses to teach.
Tobias and I took a Luftansa flight to Sofia, and by late afternoon we were on the ground in an unfamiliar country where all the signs are in Cyrillic (the Russian alphabet). Picking us at the airport was Nino Krewer, the owner of the very successful law enforcement and military equipment supplier in the heart of the city - CAMOUFLAGE.BG. This is the company the Bulgarian government trusted to organize and host my three courses, and it took several months to plan.Since the three of us had some time to kill until our evening meeting at CAMOUFLAGE.BG, Nino drove us to the center of Sofia where I immediately began taping my newest YouTube video about street ambushes. While taping this segment Tobias and I also had the opportunity to see the city like any tourist would, although it was a whirlwind tour.
After our evening meeting at CAMOUFLAGE.BG, and seeing what an expansive operation they have there, Nino took us out to dinner where I discovered what great food Bulgaria has. In fact, Nino took us out every night to a new restaurant treating us to traditional Bulgarian food. I must say that it was some of the most delicious food I have ever tasted. It is a combination of Turk, Greek, Macedonian, and Russian flavors. Not only was the food fantastic, but I found the Bulgarians on the whole to be very warm and hospitable.
On November 2nd, starting at 9 in the morning sharp, I began my popular KNIFE SURVIVAL course for a packed class. To start off the morning was a television crew to do a live story for the morning news on the most popular television station in Bulgaria - NOVA.bg. As we drove up to the training facility we saw the news truck with a satellite dish on top of it and the station's logo on the side panels. Fortunately for my students the camera was on us for only for the first fifteen minutes of class, and then the reporter and cameraman left. I don't mind the media in my classes, for it is something I face in most countries, but for those students not used to the attention it can be quite distracting. I've done it so many times I don't even pay attention to the cameras.Fortunately the students did not seem to mind the interruption, but 15 members of an elite team stayed out of the camera's view until the news crew left, and for good reason. These men were members of the Republic of Bulgaria National Service For Protection, which is equivalent to the United States Secret Service in my own country (in January I trained several of them, my own U.S. Secret Service, who were from the Los Angeles Field Office attending my Special Operations Assault Rifle Course at the Burro Canyon Shooting Park in Los Angeles). In Bulgaria these "Secret Service" agents are the men and women who protect the top politicians in the country, from the President and Prime Minister to all visiting heads of state. In this group who came to be taught by me was the boss of the Training Sector; who was the rank of Major. This Major came up to me and wanted me to know that my Jim Wagner Reality Based Blade (BO051), manufactured by Boker, is the official tactical folder of the team. I had heard in the past from Boker that the Bulgarian government had made a huge order for my knife, and in Sofia I had the opportunity to actually see some of the men who use my popular design for their missions. This knife has got my foot into the door with a lot of different groups, including into the White House in Washington, D.C., for it was back in 2008 that I shipped a United States Marine unit in Iraq the Jim Wagner Reality Based Blade, which was one of the deciding factors for me being selected to meet with President George W. Bush in January 2009.
The eight-hour course was exactly what the "Secret Service" wanted. They had heard that I had given the same course to German GSG9, the Israeli Police Academy, Brazilian GATE, Argentinean GOE, and many other units, and they had wanted it also for some time. Now that I was teaching in Eastern Europe, starting with the Czech Republic in September, the channels were open.
The entire course had gone as planned and all of my students were more than satisfied with the training. However, just a couple of hours before ending the class Tobias was teaching a technique on how to escape from a prison-style hostage hold at knife point and a student was asking if a certain move might work. When the student pulled Tobias in one direction my Director's knee did not follow and Tobias felt a snap in his knee. He instantly knew something was wrong. It was nobody's fault, just one of those things that can happen in training.
Tobias' knee was really starting to hurt him several minutes later, and so he was driven to the hospital by a CAMOUFLAGE.BG staff member. When Tobias returned to the training facility he told me that the doctor told him that tearing in the knee had occurred and he was advised to stay off of it and take some medication that was given. Tobias was more disappointed that he could not finish the class and be the attacker in the next two courses than the fact that he was hurt. It would later turn out when visiting a German doctor, and getting an MRI that a small bone fragment was floating around in his knee. As of today the doctors are waiting to see how the knee will mend with two weeks of no activity. The bone chip does not appear to be the main problem at this time.
At the end of the course the commander of the Presidential Protection Unit, in front of all of his men, presented me with the official team baseball cap bearing the coveted "NSO" emblem centered in the middle and a belt with the same emblem. The commander said to me, "I have wanted to train with you for a few years now, and now I am happy to have finally done it. We would like for you to give us more training next year when you come to Bulgaria." Needless to say, I was touched. It is always rewarding to know that what I have to offer is of value; "value" in terms of possibly saving lives, and of course the "bonding" among the warrior class is something that no civilian could really understand. I was going to write "male bonding," but the truth is that I have found that same bond with women warriors as well over the years. Some women soldiers and police officers I have trained have earned my respect just like their male counterparts. There is something unique about a person who is willing to run into the jaws of danger when everyone else is running away.
Day two in Sofia was my Protecting Others course specifically designed for professionals. Again members of the Republic of Bulgaria National Service For Protection were there along with many students from the bodyguard school named Guard and Security College. CAMOUFLAGE.BG supplied all of the equipment for the course, including air guns for drills and realistic scenarios.I was thrilled that I was able to show many technique and training methods that neither team had seen before, but of course many of the standard bodyguard techniques that I taught were the same that are used by professionals worldwide. At the end of the course the owner of Guard And Security College, Rumen Ralchev, stopped by to personally thank me for teaching his students and presented me with a school T-shirt, a booklet in English all about the school, and a pin bearing the school's emblem.
The Guard and Security College is under the parent company of Balkan Security Institute along with St. George the Victor, which is a vocational high school that teaches young men and women to become bodyguards. The man who sent his students to me, Rumen Ralchev, is a very interesting man. When Bulgaria was part of the Soviet Empire Rumen served in the Safety and Security Agency, and then in 1989 with the National Security Agency (NSS). He was honored by the Moscow Academy for Security and Legal Order, at the rank of Major General, for his contributions to Russian and Bulgarian "special services."
With Bulgarian independence from communism Rumen founded the Balkan Security Group in 1996 and in 2005 he opened up a chain of bodyguard schools sanctioned by the Minister of Education and Science.The Guard and Security College is accredited by the New Bulgarian University and students get university credits for the Bachelor's Civil and Corporate Security program. What I found very interesting was that high school students attending St. George the Victor actually learn bodyguard skills to eventually go into government and private sector security positions. Training for these young men and women include personal protection, criminal law, conflict psychology, threats in a security environment, weapons skills that includes ballistics studies and explosives, hand-to-hand combat, tactical first aid, and foreign language skills (English and Russian). Half of Rumen's students that he sent me were from the College and the other half from the high school. At first it felt a little strange for me to be teaching "kids" so young, but I had to remind myself that Eastern Europe is not exactly like America or Western Europe. After I saw that the younger students were just as dedicated to learn as the older security agents I treated them like I would any professionals under my tutelage. The experience reminded me of how the former Soviet Union and Easter Bloc nations really pushed their young people hard, and at a very early age, in completive sports, like the Olympic Games. Instead of Olympic hopefuls my students are the future bodyguards of presidents, prime ministers, and Bulgaria’s CEOs. Rumen Ralchev told me that he wanted me to teach his people more skills in 2012. The motto of the organization is "Professionals train professionals," and I am happy that they consider me one of their official trainers. This is one of a few bodyguard schools over the years that are using some of my techniques and training methods.
Day three was my Special Operations course giving me the privilege of training Bulgaria's national counterterrorism team (SOBT), along with three other national SWAT teams. Of course the CT team trains with other top European CT teams, and so their skills were very high, which made my job easier because I was able to go right into techniques and training methods that I knew could improve their current tactics and personal safety. I'm no guru of tactics, but I have the ability to look at a team's methods and improve upon it. This knowledge did not come easy, but through many years of working with police and military teams around the world and countless hours of analysis. And, like any trip where I train with the nation's best, I picked up a few pointers myself from my students. It's a two-way street.
The teams wanted a group photo, and so we took two sets of photos. One photo had everyone with balaclavas off (tactical fire resistant face masks), so that each member of the team could get their own copy, and a photo with masks on for me to place on my wall in my Reality-Based Personal Protection European Headquarters in Solingen, Germany. Of course, I was given permission to place this same photo on my website.
Just before leaving the training center I was interviewed by another television station reporter, which was on aired that weekend nationally, followed by the publisher of GUNS BG ("BG" stands for Bulgaria on the World Wide Web). I had appeared on the cover of GUNS BG and was the feature article just prior to coming to Sofia, but the publisher said, "Your course was great. I would like a follow on article if that’s okay with you?" Since the Special Operations teams I had been training had no problem with it I agreed to a 30-minute interview.
That evening, Tobias's and my last evening, Nino Krewer and his staff took us out to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant that included ancient Bulgarian music and folkloric dancing. Some of the male dancers even did a dance where they were fighting one another with long blades and that really got Tobias' and my attention. Nino gave us that knowing nod as if to say, "So, do you guys like it?" and of course we loved it. Then after the desert Nino called for everyone's attention and said, "I want to give Jim and Tobias something special that they will remember us by. But, as you know Jim and Tobias live, eat, and breathe tactics. They are given tactical gifts all of the time, and it would be too easy to give them a tactical gift from the store. So, I did not want to give them something they may already have. I wanted to give them something traditional from Bulgaria, and something of value. Therefore, I would like to present each of them with a traditional Bulgaria blanket."
Nino pulled out two large bags and slid the blankets out. These were not small thin blankets, but hand-made substantial thick colorful blankets similar to that of the American Amish. These were blankets that were very intricate and art objects that someone had put a lot of time into. In response I said, "This is truly a unique gift. It is very beautiful, and I can tell you now that my wife is going to love it. Thank you all." Tobias then gave his thanks, and then everyone raised their glasses and toasted the conclusion of a very successful seminar. Reality-Based Personal Protection was now established in Bulgaria.
The next morning Tobias and I were on Austrian airlines heading back to Dusseldorf via Vienna. Once we landed in Dusseldorf we both took separate cabs, he headed home and I headed to my hotel in Solingen, and took the weekend off.
Copyright Jim Wagner 2003 - 2021 All rights reserved.