The 4th of July, Independence Day, is the most patriotic of all holidays in the United States of America and I generally make sure that I am never out of the country when it rolls around. Normally, I like to spend it with family and friends enjoying summer foods like hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and other treats; typical foods on this day I have enjoyed since a boy. Afterwards the dinner is always followed by a good fireworks show. However, this 4th of July was a little different.
On this 4th of July, 2013 I sacrificed time away from my family to do a military mission. After the Boston Marathon Bombing that took place on April 15th I was afraid that Al Qaeda would strike again, but this time on our most sacred holiday, and I wanted to make myself available to my chain of command if they did. If terrorists were going to attack a military base on American soil I wanted to be there to prevent it from happening, or at least respond to it if it happened.
In my corner of the country, the State of California, I didn’t play a major roll, but as a senior sergeant I did my small part providing security on my base. I was assigned a sector of the base with a team to command, and I did exactly as ordered to do. There were several other teams doing their assignments as well; it was a team effort. Prior to the shift I gave my men a bit of extra training on patrol tactics, encountering a terrorist attack (Active Shooter Team confrontation), and the procedures for isolation and evacuation should an explosive be found.
The mission lasted 12 hours, and by the end of the evening I was relieved that nothing had happened. In fact, no terrorist attacks were reported for the entire country that day or evening. Obviously I cannot go into any detail of what I, or my team, did that day, but suffice it to say, the fact that nothing dramatic happened it was a successful mission. My former Captain of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Dignitary Protection Unit, Captain John Hensley, used to say, “If you have to actually protect your principle you have already failed the mission.” Meaning, that our job was to avoid a fight all together, and getting into one was an indication that we did not plan properly to keep the principle out of danger.
It was a good 237th birthday for the United States of America.
First Place in the MILITARY STAKES Competition
On July 20, 2013 I showed up early to drill to attend a Non Commissioned Officers meeting before morning formation. The officers and sergeants I work with are top notch leaders, and so I didn’t mind the early morning start.
Fifty minutes later I called the platoon to formation and the Master Sergeant came out to relieve me and take charge of his platoon. Just before he relieved me to take over his platoon he said to me in a low voice so others would not hear, “By the way Sergeant Wagner, you’re going to receive an award today from the Colonel.”
He didn’t give me any further information, and so I went back to my squad to take my place. I had no idea why I was receiving an award. When the First Sergeant of the division came out every one snapped to attention, and then he turned the division over to the Commanding Officer.
To my surprise, the First Sergeant yelled out, “Sergeant Wagner, post!” I went to the front of the division and stood before my colonel and saluted. Standing to his left side was a soldier holding a rather large trophy that depicted a combat soldier, which I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye.
The orders were read out loud that I was to be awarded the MILITARY STAKES trophy for obtaining the highest score in the division. Out of approximately 100 soldiers my division participated in military skills, or “STAKES,” testing conducted on two drill dates; May and June. Each soldier had to prove that their soldiering skills meeting the U.S. Army standards and controllers at each “station” graded and scored each individual. The testing included proficiency on the M9 pistol, Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC), military map reading & land navigation, radio communications, and overall military knowledge. This was the first time I had ever gone through this particular testing, and so I was just trying to do my best and get my scoring as high as I could. I didn’t even think about competing with others, I was just competing with myself. I honestly didn’t know that a trophy was going to be given, for this was only the third year they had started the competition and this is my first year in my new division; I had been in my former division for seven years and we never had this competition.
I accepted the large trophy, saluted the colonel, and went back to formation. I didn’t really get a good look at it, or what it said, until the division was dismissed, and then my Master Sergeant gave me the order immediately, “Go secure the trophy in the office.” It wasn’t until later in the day he told me he was proud of me, and that, “…the trophy will look good in our office,” for my unit has their own building just outside of the division headquarters. I don’t get to keep the trophy, kind of like the Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League, for it stays within the division, but my name appears upon it, which reads 2013 SFC JAMES WAGNER for having won the MILITARY STAKES competition.
What was nice about the whole ceremony, and afterwards, was receiving the congratulations and handshakes from my peers, and them meaning it. Winning something like that can lead to a lot of jealousy from others, but in this case it meant that the trophy came to our unit instead of several others, and so it was also a source of unit pride. I didn’t have much time to bask in the glory, for I was required to teach my fellow soldiers up-to-date tactics for engaging an Active Shooter (in the event of a base shooting, school shooting, terrorist attack). As I was right in the middle of teaching two reporters came in from the PAO (Public Affairs Office).
Spotlight on Reality-Based Instructor Fernando Figueroa
As a self-defense and tactics instructor I am always delighted when my students are successful; especially when they give me some credit for helping them with their success. One such student of mine is Reality-Based Personal Protection Level 2 instructor Fernando Figueroa who now runs his own Close Protection business called Figueroa Protection.
Back in 2004 Fernando (CLICK HERE to link to his Facebook) took my Level 1 courses in New York City not far from the Empire State Building. He was like a sponge absorbing everything I taught him. In fact, each time I taught courses in The Big Apple Fernando showed up to assist me with courses that he had already taken, and to finish up his Level 2 instructor certificate.
Over the past nine years Fernando kept me informed on the jobs he was doing as a bouncer at nightclubs, and then proudly announced a few years ago that he was training to be a bodyguard. However, instead of just taking a few courses here and there Fernando went deeper than most. He was almost a scholar when it came to case studies, he perfected his firearms skills, and before long he was working in the field of close protection.
Working as a bodyguard was great, but Fernando aimed higher and also started teaching Close Protection and creating original outlines and manuals. He came up with a very intensive study on assassinations throughout history and even sent me the manual to look over. I must say that I was extremely impressed with his work. As a true instructor Fernando started writing articles and has had a few articles published in The Circuit Magazine, a magazine covering the security industry.
Although I was one of his teachers I too was learning some new things from him. Many instructors would feel threatened by their students surpassing their knowledge in some areas, but I was thrilled with what Fernando was doing. I love it when my students take things a step further than me, and the satisfaction it brings me in knowing that I contributed to their growth. I don’t hesitate to say, “I am proud of Fernando Figueroa, and his accomplishments,” and this is why I am featuring him for the month of July.
Copyright Jim Wagner 2003 - 2021 All rights reserved.