Dan Cerrillo spent more than 13 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL and saw multiple combat assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving the elite force in 2005.
Less than a year later, he was back in Iraq working as State Department private security contractor.
“My (annual) paycheck as a SEAL was $68,000,” he said. “My biggest check as a contractor was for $34,000, and that was for 30 days of work.”
After working regularly as a U.S. government or private security contractor since leaving the Navy, the 40-year-old Cerrillo began tapering back last year.
“I did the work basically for the financial rewards, which were incredible,” he said. “I started because of the financial component and being able to still carry a gun and be a warrior. And it was an easy transition out of the military.”
The Seattle-area resident said working as a private security contractor also kept him in contact with many of his buddies.
“I was with good teams and the jobs were pretty awesome,” he said.
The work was often challenging but made easier when he partnered with “people who knew their stuff,” Cerrillo said.
“It comes down to who you are assigned to work with, and assigned to work for,” he added. “If you’re working for a person with knowledge in operations, the job can be very easy. But every now and then, you get someone fresh off the boat, and if we would tell them that we shouldn’t do something in broad daylight and they say, ‘You’re going to do it anyway,’ then it’s a different story.”
Companies working with the State Department, he said, required their security contractors to undergo a “tryout” period. In addition, Cerrillo said, the agency’s officials had veto power over the companies’ personnel choices.
“If someone was considered on the borderline of being unsafe, they didn’t get picked up,” he said.
People experienced in military special operations, such as former SEALs or troops with multiple combat deployments, tend to become the best security contractors, Cerrillo said. “It’s because of the nature of the situations they’ve been involved in. When you’ve been part of hundreds of direct-action missions, you learn. It’s as if there’s a light switch.”
Those with such experience are able to manage and cope with almost any threat, said Cerrillo, who also works as an occasional coach and trainer at the private SEALFIT training center in Encinitas. That facility is run by fellow former SEAL Mark Devine.
“It comes down to maturity and sophistication,” Cerrillo said. “The more times you’ve experienced danger, the better able you are to slow it down — and that is easily transferred from the military to private security.”
Cerrillo and Devine were close to security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, two San Diego County men killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack at the U.S. diplomatic compound and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. Doherty was a coach at Devine’s center, and Woods was in Cerrillo’s wedding party.
“My friends died, and not even their families know the full story,” Cerrillo said. “The biggest concern is not over what happened, but why. Why is there still so much secrecy?”
© Copyright 2013 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.