Retired British special forces officer Bob Shepherd uses security expertise to keep others out of harm’s way

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Sunlight glinted off hundreds of attentive eyes all fixated on the man behind the podium, whose grizzled beard and Scottish accent held captive the focus of every attendee of Pelham’s annual Memorial Day Parade.

This past Monday, six-year Pelham resident Bob Shepherd gave his Memorial Day service address as the keynote speaker of the event, sharing his thoughts on war through experiences from his time in the military.

“For the past five years I’d been attending the event, but I always felt like an outsider looking in,” Shepherd said. “This year, I felt like I was no longer watching from the side, but I was part of the event—and that was really special.”

Shepherd’s speech at the Memorial Day service allowed the retired veteran to recount parts of his gripping life story and the war-torn lens through which he has seen the world.

At age 14, Shepherd left his dysfunctional household in Dundee, Scotland, to play youth soccer. Two years later, he enlisted in the British military, where he became a warrant officer in the special forces for almost two decades. After serving in the Special Air Service (SAS) unit of the British Army, Shepherd worked as a private security adviser to various media groups and diplomats as they travelled through conflict regions around the world.

His career in the security sector has brought him to some of the most hostile regions in the world, including Afghanistan, the Balkans, the West Bank, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, with clients such as CNN International and the Japanese Ambassador. In the late 2000s, Shepherd began working on other projects; aside from being a security consultant, he has also taken up writing and lecturing.

In 2008, Shepherd co-authored his first book, The Circuit, with his wife, journalist and Al Jazeera Managing Business Editor Patricia Sabga. Through Shepherd’s extraordinary experiences in the private security sector, the book discusses the rise of the international corporate security circuit and the dangerous malpractices of the unregulated industry. The Circuit became a Sunday Times top ten non-fiction bestseller in the United Kingdom.

Shepherd and Sabga collaborated to write two fiction thrillers as well, both critically acclaimed: The Infidel and The Good Jihadist.

Since retiring and moving to Pelham, Shepherd has adopted a new project to put his expertise to use.  

“I want to use the skills and knowledge that I have to help keep people safe,” he said. Shepherd feels the responsibility to spread the “proactive skills”—the actions that can be taken in a high-stakes situation without a firearm—that he has acquired over his career. With school shootings and mass shootings on the rise, Shepherd believes that the fundamental way we are taught to react to active-shooter scenarios is flawed.

“Confining children inside a school with an active shooter and telling them to stay put until help arrives goes against every survival instinct,” Shepherd writes in his popular article for Circuit Magazine, A Formula for Surviving School Shootings.

Shepherd is an advocate of the “run, hide, fight” options-based response. He stressed the importance of teaching the options that any person near a shooting has, so that bystanders can be proactive rather than having to wait for first responders during an emergency.

Though the idea has been adopted by schools around the country, it is struggling to gain support in Pelham. Shepherd said he is continuing his efforts to work with the district to implement options-based responses, rather than just traditional lockdowns.

Shepherd writes about this issue and others in his online blog. “Being from the U.K., I want to bring a different perspective to the way things are done in America,” he said. From urging more efficient emergency response to advocating safer driving practices, Shepherd’s aim has always been to keep those around him out of harm’s way.