The Making of an Agent

Special Agent in Charge Michael Bryant talks about the Secret Service and the rigorous program would-be agents must complete at the James J. Rowley Training Center outside Washington, D.C.
By Laura Blumenfeld
Sunday, July 26, 2009

LESSON ONE: Get Ready To Die

The teacher walks into the mat room.

"Good morning, Mr. Mixon," the students say in unison.

"Cut that [expletive] out. Don't act like you give a crap about my morning."

Steve Mixon smiles, or maybe it's a snarl. Before he became an instructor at the Secret Service training camp outside Washington, Mixon served as a team leader on President George W. Bush's Counter Assault Team.

"Everyone's going to leave today in some degree of pain," Mixon tells the special agent trainees.

The 24 recruits, dressed in black combat pants and jackets, stiffen into four rows, jingling handcuffs. Scott Swantner clenches his jaw. Krista Bradford rubs raw knuckles. One trainee, who broke a rib, is keeping it a secret, fearing he'll be discharged.

"Everything is in play here, guys. Everything you learned from Day One," Mixon tells them in a basement that muffles rifle blasts. "Assailant control. Guillotine chokeholds."

For the members of Special Agent Training Class No. 283, this is finals time. They have been cramming here for months, since days after the election of Barack Obama, hoping to join the men and women charged with protecting the president.

Not all of them will make it.

If they fail, they will leave humiliated. If they pass, they'll become members of an elite, stealthy service during a period of exceptional pressures. At their annual party, Ralph Basham, the former director, greeted his replacement: "I'm the happiest guy in Washington because I'm not the director of the Secret Service anymore."

With the rise of Islamic terrorism, the agency's roster of protectees has grown. With the election of the first African American president, public scrutiny has exploded. Presidents typically receive 3,000 threats a year, says a Secret Service expert. Obama is outpacing the average.

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