The main role of the Close Protection Unit (CPU), based at Longmore Camp and part of the Royal Military Police, is to deliver provost support to Operations across all spectrums of conflict.
The CPU prides itself in providing a professional and enduring worldwide close protection capability to the Ministry of Defence and to other government departments. All personnel in the CPU are volunteers sourced from within the Armed Forces. There is an eight-week selection course, divided into two parts: six weeks of training and a two-week exercise, codenamed Ex Watch Tower.
There is a strong emphasis on fitness and weapons handling during training for the 35 entrants. Usually there is a dropout rate of between 10 and 15 recruits due to injury or unsuitability.
"The training is progressive, demanding and well worth it," says Sergeant Shane Owen from Swansea, who is a CPU Team Leader. He joined the unit for the diverse aspects of the job and enjoys the informality and camaraderie of the team.
The CPU staff usually wear civilian clothes and are armed with a variety of weapons not normally seen on the parade square.
Their main weapon is the 5.56mm C8 Colt Diemarco (L119A1), made in Canada. During training exercises, the recruits usually carry eight or ten magazines, each with 30 rounds. In addition, they will be armed with the Sig Sauer P229 Pistol in a holster on the thigh or chest. Instructors who are playing the part of enemy forces are armed with the 9mm Heckler & Koch MP5 Kurz.
The motto of the RMP CPU is 'Protegimus', from the Latin 'Haec protegimus', which means 'We protect/defend these things'.
The big punch
During training, the CPU team will be protecting the 'principal': a VIP such as the British Ambassador. Their main priority is his safety, and to keep eyes on all possible threats - which are most likely to happen when the principal is moving around in vehicles or entering and exiting buildings.
In the event of an attack, the CPU team will use their vehicles as cover and manoeuvre them in such a way that they can make an escape. If their vehicles are blocked and cannot be used to withdraw safely, they will proceed to use another tactic: the 'big punch'.
In the big punch, the team will exit the vehicles aggresively and engage the enemy firing points with as many rounds as they can, during which the principal will be pulled out of the vehicle and made to keep down. Two team members will help him or her to safety while the others withdraw giving covering fire. If the principal is injured, he/she will be carried by one or two of the team while the others give covering fire. As a group, they will move at least 300 metres away from the enemy; firing positions re-group and give medical attention if required.
Part of the training simulates this event, and all team members have to run carrying their weapons, ammunition and body armour with a 70 kg dummy slung over their shoulders. This exercise is known as the body drag. It simulates the principal being injured and having to be evacuated to safety. Unusually for soldiers who are taught to look after their kit, the CPU discard used magazines during a simulated attack or fire fight. This is because seconds might count, and time replacing an empty magazine in a pouch could prove fatal.
Not like the movies
Staff Sergeant Glen Davidson is a wiry Scot from Falkirk and is Senior Instructor at CPU HQ. He has worked with the unit for over ten years and has completed tours in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Yemen, Beirut, Iraq, Oman and Afghanistan. He has a practical approach to close protection. "The reality is that you are a glorified cabbie. Forget the glory hunting; bodyguarding is not like the movies. For me, it's doing a professional job for the military or the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. We get a great variety of different tours in many countries. Sometimes they are 'holiday tours', but not in the places like Helmand or Algeria."
The CPU uses top-notch equipment that is also supplied to Special Forces. One of the unusual items of equipment is Simunition. Similar to paintball, this ammunition comes in 5.56mm, 7.62mm and 9mm, with various coloured rounds. On impact, the round spatters and leaves a colour mark. Simunition rounds do actually hurt and can break the skin on impact, so protective clothing and eye wear is used by recruits when being exposed to this ammunition.
According to Staff Sergeant Davidson, "Simunition teaches the recruits to take effective cover when in a fire fight, and nobody wants to be hit by it because it hurts like hell!"