The United States Secret Service recruits widely, though it doesn’t hire many people. Those who make it past the battery of mental, physical, and psychological tests must then face a grueling pipeline of training centers that will leave them physically battered, and ever in danger of washing out. The agency wants the best of the best, according to a grim joke among training instructors, because, as they say, “We’re just one assassination away from wearing the FBI badge!” Here are 10 things you might not know about Secret Service recruitment and training.
1. SWAT is fine, but the Secret Service needs philosophers.
There was a time when the road to the Secret Service passed through the nation’s military bases and law enforcement agencies. It made sense, after all: to build an agency of tough, experienced officers who can take orders and think under fire, you recruit people who are tough, experienced, and, well, can take orders and think under fire. As the challenges faced by the agency evolve, however, so, too, do the job openings. In recent years, the agency has sought “not only recruits who could handle the physical demands of the job,” writes the Washington Post, “but those who could also figure out how, say, to protect the elevators, controlled and operated remotely, the president might rely on during a foreign visit.” The Secret Service has thus been recruiting from the ranks of artists, philosophers, and computer scientists.
2. The service is secret but the recruitment is public.
It’s not as hard as you might think to speak in person with an actual Secret Service agent. The agency invites prospective candidates to contact their local field office, or to attend conventions and job fairs where the service will be recruiting. (Though no central job fair database seems to exist, a quick Google search can reveal recruitment opportunities in your area.) You can also apply online.
3. Before you apply, ask yourself how you feel about pain.
Simply put, the training hurts—a lot. When it comes to tackling suspects, controlling assailants, and running down hostiles, you can’t hold back in Secret Service recruit training. Like any elite military or law enforcement unit, instructors aren’t looking for reasons to admit you; they’re looking for reasons to wash you from the course. Forget bruises and bleeding; one report describes trainees hiding broken ribs from their instructors so that they’re not booted out of training.
4. You’ll experience the worst moment of your life before you set foot in a training center.
The application to become an agent is 34-pages long, and that’s the fun part. As one newspaper story reports: “[The trainee] had passed the written test, the drug test, the vision test, the hearing test, the initial interview, the panel interview, the home interview, and the ‘worst experience of my life,’ the polygraph, which elicited every foible and shame.” And once he made it to recruit training, he still washed out.
5. Don’t expect to get hired.
Sixteen thousand people applied for positions in the Secret Service in 2010. Two hundred people were hired. It is unlikely that the numbers have improved much.
6. Recruits train in a full mockup of a small town.
Candidates at the Secret Service training facility will train for scores of terrible events that one hopes never happen in the real world. To keep the training realistic, the agency built a small town to simulate high windows, sniper attacks, gunmen, terrorist incidents, and criminal incidents that happen to occur near a presidential site. Recruits can expect everything from clearing buildings to the high speed navigation of city streets.
7. Trainees might soon be training in a replica of the White House.
Though the training center has small mockups of White House rooms that aren’t to scale, and makeshift White House fences built on a parking lot, Secret Service leadership fears that the resultant training is inadequate to the task of protecting the White House and the First Family. Fence jumpers in recent years—including one trespasser who made a run for the White House and actually got through the front door—have led Secret Service to request $8 million to build a replica of the White House and its grounds.
8. Training doesn’t stop with graduation—if you protect the president.
If you graduate recruit training and become an agent who is part of presidential protection, don’t expect to kick back and enjoy the easy life. The training never stops. The presidential protection detail drills at the training center two weeks out of every eight.
9. If you don’t protect the president, training is a bit less frequent.
As reported in the Washington Examiner, in fiscal year 2013, the standard-issue Secret Service agent trained for approximately 46 hours. It gets worse. The average member of the uniformed division trained for 25 minutes.
10. If you graduate from Secret Service recruit training, expect your personal life to suffer.
It’s no secret that the Secret Service suffers from low morale. This is not only a result of its recent scandals involving security lapses and prostitutes. (It may actually explain those scandals.) As Dan Emmett writes in the Wall Street Journal: “In terms of the actual physical experience, imagine something like this: Forgo sleep for 24 hours, skip lunch and dinner, stand outside of a house in the rain at 3 a.m. for several hours, take a cab to the airport and finally board a plane to a large city for a four-hour flight. Repeat this regimen for several days in a row. To make the simulation complete, you also need to fail to attend a child’s birthday or graduation and miss the holidays or your wedding anniversary.”