Naval Petty Officer 2nd class Robert Corson wanted to join the police force and learned that military experience helps, so he enlisted in the Navy. He lives with his wife in Jacksonville, and they just had their first baby, Robby, Feb. 16.
Corson provides protective security for the commander and deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, most recently Gen. John Abizaid and Vice Admiral David Nichols. Corson deployed to Qatar in November and hopes to return to his family this May. He called recently and spoke with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan.
Tell us about your military background. I wanted to be a police officer, and it’s hard to be a police officer unless you have a prior military background. So I joined the Navy and was stationed in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor where I drove patrol boats for a few years. Then I transferred to Jacksonville, and my wife is from here.
I was actually about to get out of the Navy when I called to get this assignment from Qatar. I went to Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., to protective services school, became a protective services agent, then went forward to Tampa and am tasked with 30 other agents out here.
It’s wonderful for my career when I get out. I meet other people from various agencies, and it opens the doors a lot wider. I extended five months after I get back so I can find a job.
What’s the day-to-day routine like for an agent? There are certain aspects I can’t talk about. Whenever these senior details go in country they have full protective service and that involves making arrangements with host nations and embassies to make sure they’re safe and come back to their mission. I wear a civilian uniform and look professional at all times. I don’t have a buzz cut anymore. It’s been a great experience and I enjoyed the places I get to go to.
As a country boy from Tennessee, I thought I’d be on a ship. Never been on a ship. I’m in Doha, Qatar, and I’m assigned to Centcom protective services detachment. We do the same thing the Secret Service does for the president and vice president. I’ve been close in at times, and sometimes we never get seen at all. It depends on the country and threat level.
Are you armed, and do you wear protective gear? I’ve usually got a vest on; we wear our protective gear; we’re armed. Some countries aren’t as bad as others, and we try not to ever let our guard down. We ensure these individuals make it back safely. A lot of times, it’s advance work, coordinating with military officials, host nations, individuals, traveling with them; we drive their limousines with them. It’s important to know how to drive evasively.
What does advance work involve? I do a lot of the advance work. I enjoy doing that and I enjoy interacting with people. I got to go to Spain and I’ve always wanted to go to Europe. A day outing somewhere involves two to eight days of work. Spain was on a U.S. military installation. That made it simple because I could talk with the Navy guys. I know their protocol, coordinate the setup, type of vehicles, where we’ll be going, how we’ll be doing it.
Ninety-five percent of time I don’t have any trouble. Most of them go as far out of their way as possible, because they look at it as an honor to meet these individuals [Abizaid and Nichols].
What does your training include? We learn a lot of indoctrination into protective services, about case studies, acts against individuals in the past. You can never predict what a person may or may not do. So you get in their mind to figure what may or may not happen. Driving is a big part of our service; we’re not driving like normal. We also have a lot of firearms training.
What weapons do you typically carry? A 9 mm, smaller compact version. Some areas we’ll have long guns like an M16, other areas more compact weapons.
What are Gen. Abizaid and Vice Admiral Nichols like? I can tell you one thing – nothing but cordial to me. Always. My wife gave birth about a month ago and they sent me home for it. They’re really good people.
What’s the reaction of the local people? When I actually flew here I was nervous, didn’t know what to expect. Qatar is a nice place. People are cordial. It took me by surprise how much they speak English. I actually like it here. If I wasn’t married I might stay in, but I want to see my family.
We coordinate a lot with the Qatari military police. They’re funny, they do a lot of the same stuff we do. Talking with one of the guys, we sat and talked about fishing for an hour and half. He fishes the same way I do. Things are very different but also so similar.
What’s your take away from this deployment? When I got back home for the birth of my kid, it amazed me how kids out here [in Qatar] are content playing in sewer drains with a rock back and forth. I realized how much I love America and how wonderful it is. After being out here, I value it more than ever.
The Tribune arranges these interviews with service members through U.S. Central Command. Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan can be reached at email@example.com