Westerly man provides 'executive protection'
Westerly — A man professing to be a professional bodyguard ought to at least look the part.
Courtney Sojka needn’t worry.
At 6-foot-4, 300 pounds and sporting a shaved head, Sojka appears plenty capable of providing “executive protection,” the term he prefers to “bodyguarding.” That's just one of the many services his Westerly-based Ballistic Security Enterprises touts on its website, www.ballisticsecurity.com. “Threat assessment and surveillance,” “strategic, advanced and pre-emptive planning” and “home fortification” are a few of the others.
Sojka, a 22-year career in law enforcement behind him, seeks to dispel the image of the bodyguard that popular culture often paints. Like, he said, “the two guys named Rocco” that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character hires in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Don’t even ask about “The Bodyguard,” the 1992 Whitney Houston film.
“Even in the industry, you find that a guy who says he’s a bodyguard is nothing more than a thug in a suit, someone who’s been a martial arts fighter or a wrestler or something,” Sojka said in an interview. “That’s the level of their training. They want to fight somebody or hurt somebody. But that’s not what it’s all about."
“The world of executive protection is about being smarter than your adversary,” he said. “If you have to resort to force or violence to resolve a situation, you’ve already failed.”
The 47-year-old Sojka founded Ballistic Security a few years ago, soon after a rotator cuff injury prompted his retirement as a deputy sheriff in the Franklin County (Mass.) Sheriff’s Office, which operates a jail and detention center. He also served for a time as a police officer in Vernon, Vt.
When the owner of a supermarket chain asked him to provide “a security presence” at an autograph-signing with sports celebrities, Sojka’s career path began to diverge.
“I thought to myself, 'If people are going to hire me because of my background and appearance, what if I got some training?’” he said.
Sojka’s research into executive-protection programs led him to the National Advanced Training Center in Tulia, Texas, where he took a 30-day Advanced Protective Security Specialist Course comprising more than 400 hours of instruction in the classroom and the field.
Kevin Macrae, president of the NATC, a private enterprise, said the school follows training guidelines laid out by the U.S. Department of State. He said he sought to fill a near-void by founding the school, acknowledging that such businesses face no government reviews or certification processes.
“It’s 30 days of stress and anguish,” he said by phone of NATC's program. “Some pack up in the middle of the night and leave.”
Many of those who sign up have backgrounds, or aspire to careers, in law enforcement or the military. Macrae recalled that Sojka had undergone SWAT training and other special instruction before he took the NATC course.
“State police don’t get this kind of training unless they’re in the governor’s detail,” Sojka said. “I was dumbfounded by what I didn’t know. Take motorcade security. It requires knowledge of who sits where, multiple routes, ideal attack sites (such as overpasses), choke points (where a vehicle must slow down, making it vulnerable). It’s a blend of executive protection and chauffeur; it doesn’t mean you’re a stunt driver.”
Sojka will discuss his clients only in vague terms, though he said the region has a potentially endless supply of them.
That, in fact, is how he came to locate in Westerly after “falling in love with the area” during a weekend getaway. When a wrong turn left him in Watch Hill, he realized it might be a good fit for his newfound line of work.
“You’re surrounded by high-end weekenders from New York City, Florida, high-net-worth individuals who migrate here,” he said. “You’ve got the area between Watch Hill and Newport, Boston, Cape Cod, the islands, the Connecticut shoreline to Greenwich, New York City and the Hamptons. Six major airports plus a lot of smaller ones.”
Sojka figures the demand for the services that Ballistic Security, its contractors and subcontractors provide (his girlfriend, Christine Davis, is the CEO) will only grow. Experts, he said, predict that attacks on celebrities are likely to increase, generating publicity for the attackers and their causes.
“Sad to say, but it’s a good climate for this business,” Sojka said. “Just turn on the 11 o’clock news and tell me how good we human beings are at getting along with each other. Those who can afford protection have to think about it.”
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