Brussels, Belgium — When it comes to conflicts and emerging crises, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) depends on its member nations to lift their weight and contribute. But when it comes to protection of its leadership, NATO depends on the officers of the Close Protection Unit (CPU). These are the men and women who protect our leaders.

CPU agents are mostly concerned with the close protection of the incumbent Secretary-General — currently, that’s Jens Stoltenberg. They provide 24/7 security for his personal residence, office, and travels.

“There are people working at NATO who are doing their best to keep the world safe. Our job is to keep them safe,” said a CPU team leader in a recent interview.

The CPU is comprised of three teams. Officers are trained in high-risk driving, emergency medical procedures, precision shooting, handling of explosives, close-quarters combat (CQC), and hand-to-hand combat, among others. Although not a requirement, most of the officers have a law enforcement or military background.  A lot have served in their country’s Special Operation Forces (SOF). And that’s one of the great benefits of the CPU: the ability to recruit from 28 nations. Although some might perceive it as a standardization nightmare, the CPU training regime ensures uniformity of tactics and procedures.

But what requirements do they have to meet?

There are two assessment categories: physical fitness and marksmanship. There are different physical standards for men and women. The marksmanship standards, however, are the same for both sexes.

Candidates fire 50 9mm rounds at targets that are between 6-25 meters away. The CPU uses International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) targets. Only shots within the “A zone” are counted. The minimum standard is 40 hits. Competitive candidates, however, must aspire for 48+.

Regarding the physical component, standards vary according to sex and age (under and over 40 years). There is a cardio assessment, a strength assessment, and a swimming assessment.  The cardio aspect consists of a timed 1.7-mile run. Minimum time standards range between 12-15 minutes. The strength part is comprised of successive exercises wearing a 22lb ballistic plate vest: pull-ups, dips, lunges (with an 88lb barbell), deadlift (with a 200lb barbell), and a plank hold. Finally, candidates must swim 300m, then dive to the bottom of the pool and retrieve an object, and then tow a simulated casualty 50m.

“We must always expect the unexpected,” added a CPU officer. “We always have to be vigilant. Every day things come up. There’s no room for complacency.”

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