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Private firm fills security gaps in Germany

European edition, Sunday, July 29, 2007

At Army installations throughout Germany, there are hundreds of blue uniformed men and women manning garrison gates. They check IDs, search cars, carry guns and wear the “Pond Security” badge.

What began as a small start-up in the early 1980s with just 12 guards has ripened into a business with an annual income of nearly one-quarter of a billion dollars and a staff of about 3,000 guards.

Through the years, Daniel Pond has managed to build his security empire without attracting much attention.

But at a time of war and heightened terror alerts — as evidenced by recent reports that Army bases in Germany were targeted by terrorists — there’s a spotlight on security. Pond says his guards are the most qualified and best trained to do the job. Constant threat assessment briefings instantly communicated from base to base and a continuous review of security methods help keep guards prepared, he said.

But who are these guards? They come in all shapes and sizes. Some appear fit. Others are on the paunchy side. Many just look ordinary.

Where do they come from, what are their qualifications, and are they up to the job?

Extensive training

Pond says it’s his training program — developed over 24 years in business — which sets his guards apart.

U.S. Army Europe’s contract with Pond Security requires 136 hours of basic training, said Mark Parker, a retired Army military police who serves as Pond Security’s director of western affairs.

Guards receive an additional 34 hours of work before assuming a guard post, including eight hours of baton fighting lessons, which is repeated annually.

Guards also must visit the Pond Academy range in Erlensee, Germany, every three months to keep their shooting skills sharp.

In January, Pond opened the $5 million training academy in Erlensee, where guards take classes as well as learning how to use their batons and shoot their handguns.

At the gun range, live rounds are fired into state-of-the-art targets with ever-changing scenarios. If the guards are too slow to draw their weapons, a controller behind the scenes fires back hard plastic pellets.

“It hurts,” Parker said, referring to the return fire. “This is the most modern range in Europe.”

Pond Security also has a Corporate Weapons License, which enables Pond’s guards to carry guns and rapidly place armed guards throughout Germany as needed. It’s the only security agency with such a license, Parker said.

From background checks, written tests and field training, it takes three months before a guard is assigned to a post, he said.

Before entering the training program, prospective guards must pass a German government written and oral test, which is the first step toward becoming a security guard. The test, conducted in German, is the biggest obstacle for U.S. citizens interested in working for Pond Security, Parker said.

He estimated that more than 50 percent of the guard staff has previous security experience.

“Naturally, when we select officers we’re looking for people with backgrounds in security, law enforcement and military service,” he said.

Business is booming

The first government contract awarded to Pond Security was in 1984. It was a small assignment, guarding a storage area. In 1987, Pond obtained a contract for his first gate guarding job at the Wolfgang Kaserne in Hanau.

“I got a contract and I held it. I got another contract and I held it,” Pond said. “People said Pond is like a virus.”

The move to install contract guards on a larger scale happened in 1997 in connection with the deployment of soldiers to the Balkans, which left a shortage of manpower for security operations.

“With some exceptions, all our installations were open posts back then, but because of some embassy bombings at the same time as the deployments, USAREUR leadership contracted for guard services at our installation access points. Guards were only at access control points, and it was a pretty simple operation then, compared to now,” said Lt. Col. Carol McKinney, chief of Law Enforcement Operations at the USAREUR Office of the Provost Marshal.

Business boomed and, by 1991, Pond employed more than 500 guards.

But in 1994, Pond Security took a hit. After the Gulf War and the end of the Cold War, the military was less concerned about base security since there was no big looming threat. As a result, Pond Security was down to fewer than 100 guards at Army bases.

“USAREUR opened up the gates,” Pond said.

During that time, security was lax. There were reports of lost equipment. One time a colonel at the Hanau Garrison walked into his office to find three homeless people inside, Pond recalled.

Pretty soon it was decided that more security was in order. In 1997, Pond Security added 500 guards, bringing the total to 1,000. Another 600 were needed in 1999. After the Sept. 11 attacks in the States, 1,000 more guards were needed in Europe.

By 2004, there were 4,000 Pond guards.

Today, Pond employs about 3,000 guards and about 5,300 workers overall. Pond Security generates some $220 million in annual revenue. In 2003, Pond Security was awarded a five-year $1.3 billion contract from USAREUR, Pond said. In addition to USAREUR, other clients include the U.S. State Department in Germany, the German Railway System and Procter & Gamble.

“One advantage that we have in using contract guards is they are able to get more familiar with the area and the people because they don’t rotate to training exercises or deploy,” McKinney said.

“Having a security force that is constant provides our garrisons with the best possible security: tThey know what right looks like, and they’re familiar with the area and people. Our security forces are a valued asset to our force protection programs and our garrison security.”

If there are complaints about Pond guards, they generally stem from frustration with being targeted for a random vehicle search, she said.

“If you don’t get pulled over (at the gate), most people love Pond,” McKinney said. “If you do get pulled over, you say, ‘Why me?’ I sometimes feel that way. (But) they are our first line of security.”

Going forward, Pond is looking to expand his operations in the United States. There are some big things in the works, he said.

“We’re waiting on a very prestigious contract,” said Pond said with a smile.


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