Career Insights Career Insights

A Former FBI HRT Operator Provides Key Insights

Photo Credit: Gregory Shaffer. Image from his book Stay Safe: Security Secrets for Today’s Dangerous World

The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, known as HRT, is an elite domestic counterterrorism unit.  HRT operators do everything from participating in high-risk raids to hostage rescue, mobile assaults, manhunts, and more.

Strike Source interviewed Gregory Shaffer about the mental and physical requirements to become an HRT operator.

Shaffer, who joined the FBI in 1995, spent four years working organized crime before he decided to try out for HRT. “I didn’t make it the first time,” Shaffer recalled. “I had to wait two years and try again.” The second time, Shaffer made it through selection and was picked up by HRT, where he spent six years operating in high-threat and high-stress environments.

Physical Requirements:

According to Shaffer, the physical requirements to join HRT are incredibly demanding.

“Just being an FBI agent has physical requirements. But those requirements will not get you into HRT. For example, you must be in exemplary physical shape,” Shaffer said. “On the first day, they weed out those who didn’t come prepared. 50% don’t make it through day one. You will do push-ups, sit ups, and dips until you cannot move. You will do two, three, five, ten, and twenty mile runs during selection. They will exhaust your muscles and body.”

Mental Requirements:

During selection, having the ability to make sound decisions under high duress is critical.

“When you’re cold, tired, and hungry, and they put a weapon in your hand, what are your decision- making processes like then?” Shaffer said. “HRT is modeled after the SEALs’ Hell Week. The hardest part of it is mental because your mind will quit long before your body will.”

Shaffer then pointed out how passing selection doesn’t guarantee a place within the organization. “Just because you finished selection doesn’t mean you get picked up for the team.”

What a Good Day on the Job Looks Like:

HRT operators frequently train to improve their abilities so they can perform their jobs more effectively.

Shaffer gave Strike Source a glimpse into the kind of training members of HRT receive. “You will go to driving courses all over the United States, rock climbing courses all over the world, shooting classes with the best shooters that walked the earth, ice climbing with the SEALs in New Hampshire. We train with the best, whether SEALs, CAG, or the SAS.

“But the best days on the job are ones where lives are saved,” said Shaffer.

Photo Credit: Gregory Shaffer. Image from his book Stay Safe: Security Secrets for Today’s World

What a Bad Day on the Job Looks Like

Being a part of HRT comes with a high-level of risk.

“A bad day is when you lose somebody,” Shaffer said. “A negotiator’s job is to prevent us from going in. If we have to go in, the negotiations have failed.

Shaffer also mentioned how being told to stand down can negatively impact an operator’s day. “A bad day can also mean getting all spun up and being ready to go. You are cocked, locked and ready, when all of the sudden they stand you down for whatever reason. They hit that switch and you’re trained to do what you do. It can be hard to come down off of that.”

The Right and Wrong motivations for Joining HRT

HRT’s motto is Servare Vitas, which means to “save lives.”

“The HRT motto is Servare Vitas, save lives,” Shaffer said. “Our emblem is of an eagle carrying a broken chain. That chain represents hostages, and our primary goal is to save lives. If saving lives is not your primary goal, then we don’t want to have anything to do with you.”