Hostile environments, Afghani children, abandoned Russian bunkers, missiles, guns and American army bases… Sounds a bit like one of those Hollywood action films, doesn’t it? Young and adventurous Megan Zavodny, the real Tomb Raider in flesh and blood, has agreed to talk to Estate and Manor Magazine about her professional experience as a Close Protection Operative/ Surveillance/ Counter Surveillance Investigator.
Having dramatically changed her career from a veterinary technician and a zookeeper, Megan is absolutely happy with her decision. A proud owner of a Bengal cat and a rescued ferret, she is still very passionate about animals and wildlife. Megan donates a lot of her money to conservation and volunteers when she can: “I know it’s a crazy change of spectrum but as a profession it didn’t give me the freedom to do what I wanted. I’ve always liked a high adrenaline rush and craved to travel and see the world”, explains Megan.
A close protection operative’s main duty in a hostile environment is ensuring the safety of the client and protecting them from anything that could mean harm. Engaging any threats is the last resort and the focus is on getting the client away from the danger as quickly and as efficiently as possible. “A threat can be anything. Internal or external. Everything depends on your setting. You always have to do a risk assessment in advance, whatever your mission is. Always look at the anatomy of the operation”, specifies Megan.
She joined the American army reserves as a military police and kept waiting to deploy but was not getting the opportunity. After a military conference in Wisconsin, Megan turned her eyes towards contracting and quickly found her first contract with Triple Canopy, one of the leading global providers of integrated security and mission support services. “I started in Kuwait as a force protection professional. It was a huge cultural shock because the Muslim culture is just so different from what I was used to in the USA. In Kuwait I lived downtown where I had my own apartment, I used to drive vehicles and go out.. It became natural listening to all the prayers multiple times a day as I lived amongst the locals”, says Megan.
Having spent over a year in Kuwait, Megan trained at Ronin Concepts Elite School in the UK, specializing in hostile close protection / surveillance / counter surveillance / first person on scene. “Eventually I might decide to take it another way and probably go into the CIA or the FBI. These certifications combined with experience put together a better resume. Anyway, I love doing what I do now”, she smiles.
Megan recently came back from Afghanistan, where she spent a few months on a military base in Bagram. She is sure it was not the worst part of the country; however, Megan still had to be on alert at all times: “Your spidey senses have to work. I was located right at the bottom of Hindu Kush Mountains, which are incredibly beautiful by the way. You could see the threats… The enemy using mirrors to signal each other in the mountains. Usually when this happens, it means that you are probably going to get hit. Even if you are working on the base and think you are safe, you are being watched more times than not, especially as of recently. It is a shame to say it, but this is the norm there. However, as long as you’ve got a good group of people who you work with (which I have been very fortunate to have) you generally feel a bit safer”. Megan’s intercommunications with the Afghani nationals were quite controversial. She has pointed out the presence of many locals at the base, most of whom seemed extremely friendly. However, Megan still had to be incredibly careful. “You never know if they are genuinely nice or if they are being nice just because they want information”, says Megan.
Taking pictures there was generally not allowed as the photographs could be used by the enemy’s Intel. “You think you are taking a selfie but you’ve got something in the background that can be identified. With social media people post pictures without even realizing what they represent. That is why I don’t have any social media aside from LinkedIn, which I use strictly for networking and business. But I do have one quite charismatic photo of me, posing outside a deserted Russian bunker with my AK47”, reveals Megan.
Since Kuwait, Miss Zavodny has always been fortunate to be contracting alongside her boyfriend: “I’m a bit more of a ‘dare devil’ and the first one to jump in, so he gets a little nervous. Nevertheless, he understands that I know what I am doing and how to defend myself. He is very supportive. My family, however, are not so much. They have always wanted me to finish school and become a veterinary. Of course, there is the ‘worry factor’ because I do put myself in hostile situations (in Afghanistan it was all about where the next missile was going to hit). But, I’m successful and really enjoy what I do. I don’t live from pay check to pay check, I get to travel and see the world and meet a lot of great people”, says Megan.
“You have to have your support system. Whether it is your family, your friends or the people you work with. It helps with your confidence a lot. If I eventually become a Mother one day, I would love to have a daughter. And if she came to me and said that this is what she wanted to do herself, I’d be very supportive. Moreover, I do not want to be a Mother who regrets not having accomplished what she had been dreaming of. I want to be able to have stories to pass along and say that I have done it, so can you. Do not let anybody hold you back. Stay in shape because being physically fit in this industry is a given; learn to shoot and do some combat training. Krav Maga, for example, it is a great skill to start with for both males and females. In order to be in this industry you must be strong-willed and have a backbone. Especially as a female, you are most likely going to be the only girl in the team. Men are men and they are going to joke, so you have to be able to accept challenges and be on the same level. I am not usually messed with but some people do not take a female seriously or they think that a woman cannot pull the same amount of work. I have dealt with sexual harassment, but nothing that I could not neutralize at the bottom level. I’ve been very fortunate that way. You have to have your confidence because in any given hostile situation you cannot be second-guessing your skills. That is when something bad usually happens”, explains Megan.
Her ideal next destination to work in would be Africa or Iraq. Megan believes she could make a difference there: “It is easier working overseas because you know who the enemy is. In the USA people just turn on each other, it is chaos. Now is the first time I have been back in a long while. Even coming back was a nightmare! An interrogation at the passport control because of all the visas in my passport… Not something you want on your way home”. Megan is also dreaming of touring Spain or Italy for a month or so to explore those fascinating countries and cultures. “So far my best holidays was a trip to Maldives and Sri-Lanka, where we went to an elephant orphanage. I got to play and interact with elephants which was an incredible thing. Each place you go to is a different world. I’m going to continue to travel and continue to see the world until I get burned down (which probably won’t happen)”, jokes Megan. “You have to have a sense of humor working in this industry. There are some days which are harder than others and you have to be able to adapt. The longest I have worked was a 17-hour working day, so you do burn out. You have to be able to find the stuff to do in your own time to keep you going. For me it’s usually working out, watching movies or doing school if the internet allows me to”.
Even with a rather dangerous and demanding profession like this, Megan can still be a girlie girl and occasionally wears dresses: “I guess I’m quite a chameleon because a lot of people have no idea what I do. It’s a good thing because some people do not understand. Besides, sometimes discretion is the best thing in this industry. And it’s nice to be a woman every once in a while”.
Megan Zavodny has recently received her certifications and is eligible for the SIA license. She is available for full-time employment or independent contract work.
You can get in touch with Megan via her profile on LinkedIn