What would you do at the sound of gunfire? Hit the deck? Move to cover? Maybe you’d run in the opposite direction? For most people, these are reasonable and appropriate reactions to an active shooter, but that’s not how a Secret Service agent, on a protective mission, will respond. Quite the contrary, agents won’t run, cower, or hide; instead, they will make themselves “big.” And that’s exactly what Special Agent Tim McCarthy did on March 31st, 1981, during the assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan.
As Special Agent McCarthy heard the retort of John Hinckley Jr’s pistol, he turned and made himself “big,” putting a barrier of flesh between the threat and the protectee. The bullet intended for the president struck McCarthy instead, slicing through his liver and lung. Thankfully, both he and the president survived the attack.
Making yourself big at the sound of gunfire flies in the face of human nature. And the only way to overcome that basic instinct is through training… a lot of training. Agents spend countless hours immersed in scenario-based attacks, continually tweaking their reactions to the threats. This repetition creates muscle memory.
But Special Agent McCarthy’s reaction to the shots fired by Hinckley wasn’t solely muscle memory. No, he was also courageous. More so than most. A hero.
Like all Secret Service agents, Special Agent McCarthy took an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution and the Office of the Presidency and, if necessary, lay down his life to do it. And that’s why the Secret Service motto is “Worthy of Trust and Confidence.” Trust that agents will perform their duties to the utmost of their abilities and the confidence that they will give up everything, including their lives, to see the mission through.
I may no longer be a Secret Service agent, but many of my friends still are, and so too is my wife. The Secret Service does an amazing job recruiting the best this country has to offer. Agents have diverse backgrounds, and they come in all colors, genders, and creeds. To a one, these men and women are dutiful, honest, loyal, just, and above all, courageous.
And although we may be living during turbulent times, I ask that you remember this simple fact: when you see Secret Service agents lined up in front of the White House, they are not the enemy; no, they are the best of us.
Duty. Honesty. Loyalty. Justice. Courage.