The secret service has an incredibly admirable—and tough—job of protecting the President of the United States and their family and staff. Sometimes, this may mean they will have to take a bullet for them. When most people imagine the secret service, they picture them dressed in formal attire, but often without a bulletproof vest, so you may be wondering if they ever really use them at all.
The secret service uses bulletproof vests, but only for certain events, such as inauguration night, public affairs, and times of high-threat, like terrorist attacks. Sometimes, agents will wear lighter body armor for everyday use to allow for faster movement should the need arise to move swiftly.
As you can see, there are different types of body armor and bulletproof vests that the secret service will use for various reasons, which we’ll discuss in greater detail below.
When Does Secret Service Wear a Bulletproof Vest?
The heavy bulletproof vests that you see the FBI and many more members of groups such as the CIA, police departments, etc., are usually reserved for:
- Known threat situations
- High-profile events
- The aftermath of an attack that already occurred
However, you will likely never see secret service agents wear these eight to nine-millimeter thick vests; this is because the added weight of the vest (which is five to six pounds) can slow agents down—a factor which can be the difference between whether they can save the President’s life should a threat occur.
Additionally, wearing these large bulletproof vests are a little more impractical for agents if their goal is to blend in. Imagine seeing the President walking in the park. Sometimes, you’ll see secret service nearby wearing suits and sunglasses. Still, just like the movies and TV shows, other times, they’ll wear “civilian clothes” so they don’t attract attention when they follow the President or their family.
Generally, there are only a few instances where you’ll actually find the secret service wearing heavier body armor:
- Inauguration Night
- Terrorist Attacks
- Most Public Events
Inauguration night is when you will most likely find secret service wearing bulletproof vests. Even the President-elect may wear a vest during the event; this is primarily because many people in the country may not approve of the President-elect, so it’s not unheard of that on Inauguration night, there is an assassination attempt to prevent them from “taking over.”
However, this isn’t the only reason why bulletproof vests are used during this important event. The other reason why the secret service wears them is to better shield the President and President-elect should a riot break out in the crowd.
After the unfortunate events of 9/11, the secret service wore bulletproof vests in addition to the members of other bureaus and agencies; this is because once it was determined the event resulted from a terrorist attack on the United States, the President’s security became even more important—they would likely be a target should another terrorist attack take place.
However, in these situations, not every secret service member will wear a bulletproof vest. Most agents close to the President and will likely wear heavy body armor—as well as the President and family and staff who is nearby—but other agents will wear a thin layer of body armor under their clothing so they can quickly move around the area and deem whether a location is safe for the President and his secret service escorts to approach.
Unfortunately, with gun violence becoming more and more prevalent—combined with a more divided country—any public event the President attends must be protected with the highest level of security. This may include having to wear a heavy-weighted bulletproof vest.
Any time the President of the United States takes the podium for an event open to the general public, it is an absolute necessity that the closest secret service agents wear bulletproof vests; this is especially important during an election season, where there are many rallies and public events that would require this level of protection from potential threats.
We don’t see the secret service too often on the TV during these events, but they are there in their body armor. More often than not, the President will be dressed in a suit with body armor underneath to be protected by some degree.
Forms of Body Armor the Secret Service Uses
As with anything else, body armor has advanced over the years to become more modern and practical. There are two main forms of armor you’ll find the secret service using:
- Non-Plated Body Armor – This type of armor is more flexible and may be used for day-to-day protection.
- Hard-Plated Body Armor – This type of armor is more commonly used in military combat or high-threat situations.
The types of body armor that the secret service uses can also be classified as different levels, from Level IIA to Level IV, with Level IV being the most protective or “bulletproof.” The closer the vest is to Level IV, the more likely it is hard-plated.
Non-Plated Body Armor
Among the levels described above, you can find that most non-plated body armors are within the Level IIA to Level IIIA category. These bulletproof vests are meant to offer protection against more commonly available firearms to the public, such as 9mm, .357 magnum, and .44 magnum.
These vests are typically made up of “softer” materials such as Kevlar (a heat-resistant and strong synthetic fiber) as they can bring the bullet from these firearms to a full, slow stop. They can also help resist impalement from knives or sharp objects.
These types of vests are more common for everyday activity among secret service agents on duty. The President may wear one under their suit because of the protection it offers without being too uncomfortable.
Hard-Plated Bulletproof Vests
These bulletproof vests are for situations like terrorist attacks and war combat as they offer protection against guns that fire off rounds much more quickly, such as rifles and machine guns. This pushes the levels up to III and IV as they are much more heavy-duty than the other vests.
These vests are worn outside agents’ suits rather than under because they are typically made of hard plates of steel, titanium, ceramics, and other materials to offer the most protection possible.
The secret service agent’s position in relation to the President and the event they are working will determine what kind of bulletproof vest they will have to wear and when they should wear it. Most times, you will find secret service wearing heavier bulletproof vests during Inauguration, high-profile public events—especially during election seasons—or during and after a terrorist attack.
In general, agents are not required to wear body armor every day as they can be uncomfortable to some degree and sometimes inefficient for doing their job. However, they will often have on some type of body armor: either a light version that can be worn underneath their clothes or a heavy-duty version worn over them.
A final thing to remember about the secret service is that their job is to quite literally take a bullet for the President, Vice President, elected officials close to the President, and their respective families. Bulletproof vests not only protect the agent, but it also protects the President—and anyone near them—should an agent feel it necessary to step between them and oncoming bullets.
When put in terms like this, it’s easy to see why most agents will be wearing a bulletproof vest more often than not.
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