THE APOSTLE opens with a quote from George Orwell: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Orwell was referring to women and men like my friend Jim Erwin, who served ably as a Special Operations soldier for more than a decade, and is a highly skilled sniper and counter terrorism, hostage rescue, close quarter combat, and high risk security expert.
Thanks to Jim and thousands of courageous and capable men and women like him, millions of us sleep more soundly and live more freely. I am delighted to share my interview of Jim this month as part of The Ultimate Reader Experience.
BRAD: The title THE APOSTLE is inspired by a new breed of warrior I was learning about in my research – including my trip to Afghanistan – for this book. How has battle changed since you began your career more than a decade ago? How has training changed?
JIM: My close friend and former Delta Operator Jamie Weideman had the perfect quote to this question. “Tactics are driven by Technology”.
Equipment upgrades/trickle down technology, such as use of body armor by all soldiers, were not the case in the past. Adjustable slings such as VTAC, better boots, better camo uniforms, etc. rapid INTEL collection and new interrogation techniques like water-boarding to obtain time sensitive info are new since a decade ago. By using water-boarding (which is highly effective), for instance, targets were identified and acted on in a very short time period, resulting in success. In the past, most Intel was cold and no good by the time we were on target. Modern gear, like better packs, boots, vests, etc. helps the soldier and is what we see today. Look at each soldier in the regular Army and they all have modern nylon, etc. Better boots, decrease soldier fatigue, enhance mobility, and increase survivability by allowing the soldier to run faster, jump higher, etc. Lightweight nylon saves weight on the total load, distributing it on the body better, which decreases fatigue and injury. The adjustable sling has helped a great deal with reducing fatigue on 10 hour dismounted patrols. The ability for soldiers to have Internet and satellite phones in combat helps morale. And, no kidding, soldiers can order tactical gear online, if they aren’t issued, and receive it within two weeks in Afghanistan. Logistic support has greatly improved. These are topics that many overlook, and demonstrate the bigger picture of improvements, more than just shooting more in training.
When I first joined and served in the Rangers, I had a pair of jungle boots and an LCE (Load Carry Equipment) – it was gear right out of the Vietnam Era and pretty much gave me no tactical advantage, it’s just what you had and you used it. We didn’t wear body armor – we were issued flak jackets, again Vietnam Era mentality and gear. We only wore it on live fires, or the occasional “let’s make this suck a bit more” road march. Now, every soldier in the military is issued high quality body armor, and in most cases allowed to choose what type of boots they wear as long as they are an authorized brand/style! Our tactics have also changed because our technology continues to advance, and at a rapid pace. We also don’t abide to the cookie-cutter type mindset that what worked last time. Now, highly intelligent men and woman are out there taking the fight to the bad guys and adjusting the tactics as needed to stay a step ahead and be more lethal every day.
BRAD: Your resume reads like it was ripped out of a thriller, having led ranger rifle teams, sniper teams, assault teams, and a platoon specializing in military free-fall operations. Among your accomplishments, you were the Distinguished Honor Graduate of your U.S. Army Sniper Course. What makes a great sniper? How did this become an area of focus for you? What are your thoughts about the role of the sniper in our war on terrorism?
JIM: I grew up in the mountains of California crawling around and pretending to be the sneakiest SOB in the woods! I never really did much shooting growing up but knew I was going to join the military. What led me to the Sniper calling were the stories I read about Carlos Hathcock in Vietnam. I was amazed at his ability and accomplishments. When I finished that book, I was sold. “I will be a sniper and a damn good one!” I loved the thought of me, or me and my partner, against them. I have always preferred the smaller group tactics — If I can creep up on my enemy by myself or with a spotter and wreak havoc and cause chaos, then get out without them ever knowing where or who I was — It’s a great feeling! Plus, when it’s just you and your bro out there, there’s no one to blame or take credit for your actions…. It’s on you! You better be damn good or you die! That’s how I trained and taught my subordinates, failure is not an option, and being caught is a death sentence.
I personally think what makes a good sniper is an individual that can work well under tough conditions by himself or with one other person. Having patience beyond normal and a strong desire to be out there on the edge and comfortable doing so is key. He must have a solid understanding of his weapon system and its capabilities as well, and the environment/conditions he will employ his trade. I truly believe much of what makes an exceptional sniper isn’t taught, it’s just in you. Not everyone wants to be a sniper; it takes a special breed to want to do the job and be comfortable out there.
I look at the accomplishments and distances these modern snipers are achieving and I’m simply in awe. I wouldn’t be worthy of carrying their spare ammo! My hat is off to these warriors and their drive to continue to enhance the sniper mission and continue to prove how effective and lethal a couple of well-trained men can be on the battlefield. I salute them and am proud to have carried that torch in my day. (I never led an assault team; I was just on the team)
BRAD: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and Israel are just a few of the countries where you were deployed. Where was the most fascinating place you served? Why? Would you share with my fans one of your favorite personal stories from that experience?
JIM: Each have a special spot in my life. Bosnia for its beauty and the friends I made there. Sarajevo was an incredible city and every block told a story of history. Loved my time there.
Iraq for its raw and Wild West feel. I swear some days I just looked around and tried to picture how it looked thousands of years ago when Alexander the Great rolled through on his conquest.
Iraq is no place I would ever care to live and believe it will always be an unfriendly place for Westerners.
Afghanistan. My best day there was the day I left! Austere and it seemed to be stuck in centuries past and appeared to me there was no interest in coming into modern times. Kabul was fairly modern, but I still felt like every person there wanted to put a bullet in me. I lived in the red there and would be completely exhausted and ready to fight my best friends by the time my rotation was up. It wasn’t healthy.
Israel. This was my favorite. The history of the country alone was fascinating. I would show up to work and get our mission brief – it seemed like every mission was a trip into history! We went all over the place! I would be in the West Bank taking people to Bethlehem or to Jericho. I had the pleasure of protecting an individual who didn’t like sitting around. He wanted to go out and see the sites! We went to some of the most historic places in the country. It was “epic”, and I was getting paid to be there. I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, explored the under-city of Jerusalem, got to enter the Dome of the Rock, traveled to the Dead Sea and many, many more places of such historic importance – it was almost mindnumbing. One experience I will never forget was our mission to take clients to Bethlehem, for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. We were at the Church of the Nativity. We got there early to do our advance work and security checks and got to see the exact location where Jesus was born (according to their best guess). I don’t do organized church, but am a God-fearing man, and it was an overwhelming experience. Complete silence and respect by everyone in there. It was a once in a lifetime experience. I stood outside the church during the mass with over 10,000 of my closest friends, in the rain! It was worth every minute.
BRAD: Now, you apply your close protection expertise to provide personal security to some very high-value individuals. What are some of the practical tips you offer them to stay safe? What can my fans do as individuals to stay safe? What is one skill everyone should practice for their personal security?
JIM: The one skill I cannot over emphasize enough is situational awareness. Live with your head up and on a swivel! I’m not talking about being paranoid, just aware! Know what is around you before it’s on top of you. I make a game of people-watching and practice it often. Next time you’re in a major city or an airport, look around. Notice how many people are head down and earphones on. They just have no idea what is going on around them. This is a horrible trend, I could easily make my way right to them and be on them before they even realized I was dangerously close. Get your head up, look around and see what the world is doing around you. When you enter a location, take look at who’s in there, then make your way to where you want or need to be. I typically scan the crowd and who is aware and who isn’t. I make my way to where I need to be and if I can, sit with my back to a wall and facing the entry point of the place I’m in. This gives me that advantage of being able to take action if somebody with bad intent comes in, and allows me to know exactly what’s between that exit and me if I have to get out fast. I’m not paranoid by any means, I just refuse to be a victim and give myself every opportunity to come out on top if something does happen! Live with your head up and be aware of what is around you. I also carry my wallet in my front pocket, just to make myself a more difficult target. A person with bad intent will chose the weakest target. A person with their head up and unafraid to make eye contact IS NOT an easy target!
BRAD: If you don’t mind sharing, what do you see as the next biggest threat to America?
JIM: I believe it will continue to be the terrorist threat we have been dealing with, however, I think the war is headed into Africa and with much less coverage by news and journalists. I think this is a good thing. The fight is moving toward the low visibility SOF style hits and takedowns. Off the radar and out of the media, this is where we take the fight to the training grounds and recovery areas. What I mean by this is where the bad guys go when they leave the known combat zones. They go to areas in Africa to recover and re-train. We are figuring out where they’re hiding and trying to influence locals in these regions, and we take the fight to them there!
BRAD: Finally, I have to ask, what is your favorite BRAD THOR novel?
JIM: I have to admit; I have only read one so far: Black List. It’s a great book and I will be buying the rest of your books in the near future! Very well-written and you use just enough depth without going too far, meaning just going into so much detail on a specific weapon or tactic that actually slows the story down. You keep every part of it believable and realistic. I’m a FAN!!! I am drinking the Kool-Aid!
BRAD: Jim, you can answer this or get rid of it if you want. BONUS QUESTION: I hear you have some very exciting things on the horizon. Anything you can share with us?
JIM: I do! I have been growing the company I am a part of, U. S. Elite, by traveling to trade shows and testing out gear to be able to give first hand feedback. I will also be doing photo and video shoots to keep the content on our website new and relevant.
I have also been chosen to be on the Pro Staff of Kryptek Outdoors. They have some fantastic camouflage and are a great company to be associated with. Look to see it available on our website.
I have also been asked to be in a movie and have the possibility of being involved in a couple TV shows! I’m very excited about all these opportunities. As they come to fruition, I will post progress!