Nobody has to convince Jim McGee about the importance of safety and security.
McGee, a University of Southern Mississippi faculty member and former FBI special agent, has devoted the majority of his life to protecting those basic human necessities. From working security details at Super Bowls and Olympic games, to assisting in hostage rescue missions, McGee has been on the front lines in safety management.
Today, he is utilizing those skills as programming director in the National Center for Spectator Sports and Security at Southern Miss (NCS4).
“The fact that I have such an extensive background in law enforcement and so many national contacts lends credibility to my position and probably make me ideally suited for the job,” said McGee. “I spend a lot of time doing risk assessment for different venues and working with the staff here to create a training program to deal with potential threats.”
The United States Department of Homeland Security has identified sports stadiums and arenas as potential targets of terrorism. Major sporting venues in the United States host millions of spectators every year, providing a perfect target for mass casualties, global media coverage and catastrophic economic impact.
The Southern Miss center was established in 2006 to provide an interdisciplinary environment to further increase sports security awareness; improve sports security policies and procedures and enhance emergency response evacuation, recovery operations and crowd management training.
Is McGee worried about a terrorist attack at the Super Bowl or Rose Bowl?
“I don’t know if worried is the right word, but I’m certainly concerned as we all should be,” said McGee. “An attack such as that in an area where so many civilians are concentrated would have a devastating effect on our way of life as we know it.
“That’s why it’s critical to provide the highest level of preventive training possible to everyone associated with sports events of this nature.”
For example, McGee said even ushers and ticket takers at athletic events must be educated on how to spot suspicious persons or actions.
High-risk rescue mission
Ask McGee a few questions about his FBI experience and the word “training” surfaces repeatedly. That specialized training was put to the ultimate test during McGee’s 21 years with the FBI and none more so than his participation in the hostage rescue mission at the federal correctional institution in Talladega, Ala.
In 1991 several Cuban immigrants facing deportation overpowered guards at the correctional facility and took 11 hostages. As a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), McGee assisted other agents in a successful rescue mission that resulted in no hostage casualties.
He has chronicled that heart-pounding incident and his training as a counterterrorism specialist in a new book entitled, “Phase Line Green: The Talladega Hostage Rescue.”
“I had never done any kind of writing before but I knew right after we successfully completed that mission that I was going to write a book about what transpired,” said McGee. “The idea was to give the general public a behind-the-scenes look at how intensive the training is in the FBI and the HRT in particular. Plus, I wanted to honor those individuals who dedicate their lives to preserving freedom.”
The term “phase line green” refers to the final position before an assault commences. At phase line green, assault teams wait only for the signal to go before breaching a crisis site. In his book McGee offers a blow-by-blow account of the successful rescue mission.
McGee, who played football at the University of Florida as a freshman before transferring to Ventura (Calif.) Junior College, said fear never enters into the equation when confronted with a hostage rescue assignment.
“You don’t have time to think about being scared,” he said. “When you’re in that situation, your training kicks in and that becomes your complete focus.”
Sometimes, in order to save a life another has to be taken. And while HRT members won’t flinch when the time comes to pull the trigger, McGee said the consequences are never lost on them.
“It’s a weight that you definitely carry with you,” he said. “That’s why you see a lot of divorces, depression and burnout in law enforcement. But you always keep in mind that the objective is to save the hostages at all costs.”
Telling their stories
McGee retired from the FBI as one of the agency’s more decorated agents. Among his many honors are the Medal of Valor, the Shield of Bravery, the Medal of Merit and the U.S. attorney general’s Award for Exceptional Heroism.
His book has drawn high praise from former FBI Director William Sessions, who provided one of the noteworthy forwards.
“Special agent McGee offers the public a glimpse at the dedicated law enforcement officers, who without hesitation, risk their own lives to save the lives of others,” wrote Sessions. “There are many success stories that are often overlooked because nothing went wrong. The FCI Talladega hostage rescue is definitely one of those.”
McGee’s work with HRT also took him to notable crisis situations in Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho. His also helped provide security management at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
“I rescued one of the Branch Davidians at Waco before the compound went up in flames,” said McGee. “I’m thinking about writing another book about that experience. I”ve probably got enough information from my 21 years with the bureau to write a couple more books.”
McGee lives in Pass Christian, Miss., with his wife, Shawna, and their four daughters – Shannon (20), Cory (17), Devin (14) and Regen (11). A friend alerted him to the fledging NCS4 at Southern Miss and a subsequent meeting with center Director Lou Marciani led to McGee’s hiring.
“To have someone of Jim’s caliber and experience at the university and national center is enabling us to enhance safety and security in the sports environment in this country,” said Marciani. “With his extensive understanding and knowledge of security issues at special events such as the Super Bowl and Olympics, he brings an element that’s truly extraordinary to our program.
“He is, without a doubt, an anchor to our future success at the center.”
“Phase Line Green” was originally released in May by Cold Tree Publishing out of Brentwood, Tenn. However, the company has since gone out of business, leaving McGee to handle all future promotion and distribution. McGee said he hopes to have the book available soon at area bookstores. Until then, anyone can order a copy by visiting www.phaselinegreen.com or contacting McGee at 228.242.8288.
Jim McGee, programming director in the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at Southern Miss, holds a copy of his new book, “Phase Line Green.” McGee is a former FBI special agent. (Southern Miss Public Relations Photo by Steve Rouse)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.