Within Arm's Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service

Within Arm's Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service

by Dan Emmett


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Dan Emmett was just eight years old when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The events surrounding the president's death shaped the course of young Emmett's life as he set a goal of becoming a US Secret Service agent-one of a special group of people willing to trade their lives for that of the president, if necessary.

Within Arm's Length narrates the story of Emmett's journey in this coveted job-from the application process to his retirement as assistant to the special agent in charge on the elite Presidential Protective Division (PPD). Here he discusses some of his more high-profile assignments in his twenty-one years of service, including the PPD and the Counter Assault Team where he provided arm's length protection worldwide for Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush.

This memoir describes the professional challenges faced by Secret Service agents as well as the physical and emotional toll that can be inflicted on both agents and their families. Within Arm's Length also shares firsthand details about the duties and challenges of conducting presidential advances, dealing with the media, driving the president in a bullet-proof limousine, running alongside him through the streets of Washington, and flying with him on Air Force One.

With fascinating anecdotes, Emmett weaves keen insight into the unique culture and history of the Secret Service.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462070725
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/12/2012
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.47(d)

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iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Dan Emmett, Special Agent, United States Secret Service (Retired)
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-7072-5

Chapter One

The Death of a President and Birth of a Career

Through the years, many people have asked how and why I chose the Secret Service as a career. The answer lies somewhere in the inescapable fact that children are highly impressionable.

On November 22, 1963, an event occurred that made such an indelible mark on my young life, it largely determined who and what I was to become as an adult. That event was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and I was eight years old at the time.

Over the course of that fateful weekend as an idealistic third grader, I made the decision that one of my career goals in life was to become a Secret Service agent, one of the men who protected the president of the United States. Two decades later, that was precisely what I did. This is the story of that career, first imagined as a child, that through hard work and a bit of good fortune flourished into reality.


The third of three sons, I was born in 1955 at the end of the baby boom in the small town of Gainesville, Georgia, located about fifty miles northeast of Atlanta. Each of my brothers and I were born six years apart, so that none were in college at the same time. That is how carefully my parents planned things.

While neither of my parents had progressed in formal education beyond the high school level, both were determined that my two brothers and I would all graduate from college. Through great sacrifices characteristic of their generation, we all did.

My father and mother were born in 1919 and 1920, respectively, and were products of the Great Depression. Both had grown up in families with little money, but through hard work and good financial planning, they accomplished amazing things together in their fifty-nine years of marriage. That partnership ended only after Dad passed away in 1999.

My father was a very serious, totally self-made man, who, without warning, could display a very colorful sense of humor that at times caused my mother to recoil in horror. Partial to dark suits with white shirts and dark, thin ties, he greatly resembled former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, complete with wire-rimmed glasses and swept-back dark hair. A World War II veteran of the Pacific Theater of Operations, he was extremely patriotic and was an active member of both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The son of a Baptist minister, Dad loved God first, his family second, and baseball third, although the order could vary at times depending on what teams were in the World Series.

After marrying my mother in 1940, Dad discovered, mostly as the result of her promptings, that he possessed a talent for business and escaped his dead-end life of working in a cotton mill by becoming a furniture salesman. In 1950, Dad started his own furniture business, appropriately named Emmett Furniture, which he owned for over sixteen years and then sold for a decent profit.

My mother was the quintessential mom of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Always perfectly attired and resembling a TV mom, she vacuumed and cleaned our immaculate home in dresses and pearls. In spite of her hectic schedule, she always had dinner on the table each evening promptly at six o'clock when my father arrived home from work.

As a child, I spent a lot of time at Dad's furniture store, or just "the store" as we referred to it. Most days during the school year, Dad dispatched one of his two deliverymen, Robert or Reeves, to pick me up from school and transport me to the store, where I would do homework, play in the large area of the rug department, or watch the newest Philco black-and-white TVs while enjoying a ten-cent Coke until it was time to go home.

The old building that housed Emmett Furniture was built in the 1920s and constantly smelled of new furniture and fresh floor wax. There were always a lot of interesting people coming and going, including policemen, local politicians, businessmen, and just about anyone you could think of. Dad was a friend of Congressman Phil Landrum from our Ninth Congressional District, and one day as I sat watching cartoons, he appeared. This was during the early 1960s, when constituents generally held congressmen in high esteem, and I recall feeling very special as this important man sat and talked with me for a few minutes.

Other days I would be dropped off from school by one of Dad's men at the public library, where my mother worked part-time. There I would do homework and immerse myself in books about World War II or anything else I could find related to the military. Considered cute at the time, I was fussed over by Mom's coworkers, who loved to give me dinner-spoiling treats and seemed to delight in patting me on my blond crew-cut head.

I attended Enota Elementary School, where each day we diligently studied reading, writing, arithmetic, and American history as it actually occurred, all under the careful scrutiny of our teachers. We also unashamedly and with no reservation recited the Lord's Prayer during morning devotional, along with Bible verses and the pledge of allegiance. No one refused to join in any of these activities, and there were no complaints from any parent about the curriculum of hard academics, God, and patriotism.

At recess, we cultivated a healthy competitive spirit by playing a variety of violent and potentially injurious games, including tackle football with no pads and dodgeball, now banned in many schools. Not everyone received trophies for every sporting activity, and those who lost in dodgeball or other sports did not seem to suffer from permanent physical injury or lack of self-esteem.

Like most children of circa 1963, many of my relatives were military veterans from World War II or Korea. Dad's World War II service had included helping liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. Like most World War II veterans, he spoke little of his military exploits, but when he did, I listened, totally fascinated. Uncle Olan had been an army tank commander who in 1943 was captured by the Germans in North Africa and spent the remainder of the war as a POW, emerging from captivity a broken man. Two other uncles, Fletcher and Bud, served in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) and barely survived the experience.

Due to the constant exposure of being around military veterans, combined with a sense of adventure and patriotism that seemed built-in at birth, I always felt it was my duty, my destiny, in fact, to serve America, as had my father and uncles. It was simply assumed by most of my relatives that when my time came, I too would contribute. At the time, my future contribution was naturally assumed to be military service, and one day that would come to pass with my becoming a Marine Corps officer. But it also turned out to be a great deal more.

A Defining Moment

On Friday, November 22, 1963, I had just emerged from school and was moving down the sidewalk; probably looking very Opie Taylor-like, when someone said President Kennedy had been shot and was dead. I dismissed the comment, as such a thing could not possibly happen.

On that day, Robert, one of Dad's deliverymen, was designated to pick me up from school and deliver me to the store for another afternoon of homework and playtime. I approached the green pickup truck with Emmett Furniture Company on the side and then climbed up into the cab, laboring under the weight of my books contained in an official military haversack. Inside the truck, I found Robert wearing, as usual, his aviator sunglasses and smoking his usual Phillies cheroot cigar.

Normally reserved in a confident way, today Robert's demeanor was different. He was obviously disturbed over something. "What's wrong, Robert?" I asked. With some degree of difficulty, he answered, "President Kennedy has been assassinated." I was not familiar with the word assassinated and asked for further explanation, which he provided. So it was true: President Kennedy was dead.

As Robert drove the 1962 Ford pickup on the five-minute ride from school to the store, we rode in silence, listening to the news on WDUN-AM radio. Upon arriving, I joined many of Dad's customers gathered around the three or four televisions in the TV department and watched Walter Cronkite go over what details were known about the assassination, which had occurred in Dallas, Texas.

Dad's customers talked about possible Russian or Cuban involvement, oblivious to my presence, probably not thinking such a young boy could comprehend any of it. The mention of Russians concerned me, as I remembered the year before, when America and the world came to the brink of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban missile crisis. If the Russians had killed our president, there would certainly be war, according to those gathered around the television sets.

As the miserable November weekend progressed, my family and I watched live coverage of Kennedy's coffin arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Robert Kennedy, brother of the president, accompanied the casket, along with the now former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, still splattered with the blood of her late husband.

Later, on Sunday, November 24, my family and I watched as the accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down in Dallas Police Headquarters, also on live television. Having yet to learn about the concepts of due process and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, I remember feeling justice had been done now that the man everyone seemed to believe had killed the president was also dead.

Up until that point in the weekend, I—along with everyone else in America—was in a type of shock over the assassination and attempting to grasp the fact that John Kennedy was no longer the president of the United States. Since I had no memory of President Eisenhower, it seemed Kennedy had been president my entire life. Now he was gone. As depressing as the entire situation was, a moment was about to occur that would ultimately change my life forever.

Somewhere during the confusing and emotional events of that weekend, I viewed a photo made moments after the fatal headshot. The photo depicted Secret Service agent Clint Hill on the back of the presidential limousine attempting to protect Mrs. Kennedy and the president by shielding them with his own body. This dramatic image, which personified not only Agent Hill's unquestionable courage and devotion to duty but also the importance of the Secret Service as an organization, is without question the largest reason behind my choice to become a Secret Service agent.

Children are indeed impressionable.

Chapter Two

College, the Marine Corps, and Ronald Reagan

As the years passed, so did many career ambitions. In the end, however, two always returned. In addition to one day pursuing a career in the Secret Service, I had set the intermediate goal of becoming a commissioned officer in the US military.

I graduated from high school in 1973 and enrolled at North Georgia College, in Dahlonega, Georgia, twenty miles from my hometown. North Georgia is a military college with Army ROTC, and it seemed like a good school for me to attend since my first goal upon graduating college was to serve my country in the military. All males living on campus were required to participate in Army ROTC, which meant wearing army uniforms and learning the customs of the US Army.

In the new era of the volunteer army, recruiting commercials invited young men and women to "join the people who joined the army" and offered "today's army wants to join you." Conversely, I had seen Marine recruiting commercials and posters with men sporting very little hair that boasted of keeping its standards high and its ranks small, wanting a few good men and not promising a rose garden. The hard-nosed Marine Corps approach to recruitment intrigued me, but I had never met a Marine officer and there were none at North Georgia College. For lack of an alternative, I was by circumstance alone headed toward becoming an army officer. Most of my relatives, including Dad, had served in the army, so I felt that was good enough for me also. However, any thought of being commissioned into the US Army ended abruptly the day I met the Marine Corps selection officer for the sixth Marine Corps district of Georgia, Captain Kenneth L. Christy.

Since North Georgia was a state-supported school, recruiters from the marines were allowed to search for suitable applicants for their programs on campus. They would usually set up a place in the student center one or two days out of each quarter for interested students to come by and talk; they would also set up a time and place for students to take the Marine Corps officers' written exam. One day when the marine recruiting team led by Captain Christy was on campus, I decided to see what they had to offer. As it turned out, what they offered was an attitude and a challenge.

My first meeting with Captain Christy occurred at a motel just outside the campus, where he and his recruiting team were staying. As I pulled into the parking lot on a beautiful autumn afternoon, I found Captain Christy seated in his car.

Captain Christy stepped out of his vehicle, and I immediately realized that I was looking at what a military officer was supposed to look like. He was a little over six feet tall with large biceps, resembling a shorter version of actor Clint Walker. With a large chest created by thousands of bench press repetitions and small waist honed from thousands of miles of running combined with hundreds of thousands of sit-ups, he looked more like a model wearing a marine uniform than an actual marine. In addition to his imposing physique, he wore aviator-style prescription glasses and intentionally sported almost no hair. His perfectly tailored uniform was made complete with the addition of silver parachute wings and three rows of combat ribbons, which included a bronze star and two purple hearts from his tour in Vietnam during 1967.

After exchanging introductions, Captain Christy invited me inside the motel lobby, where we talked. After sizing me up, Captain Christy all but stated that from the looks of me, I probably could never make it through marine training and that the army might be a better choice for me. Whether he was serious about my appearance or whether his words were meant as a challenge designed for those seeking a challenge, I was sold on the marines at that point. Captain Christy smiled a bit and summoned his equally impressive gunnery sergeant, directing him to administer the officers' written test to me. If I passed, it would signal the beginning of my journey into armed military service. Four hours later, I completed the test and that night joined the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class program.

The Platoon Leaders Class, or PLC, was a program where college students attended Officer Candidates School during the summer at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and then returned to college to complete their degrees. Upon completion of college, the candidate was awarded a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Marine Corps. It sounded easy, but it was a program that had proven fatal for some.

Rebellious and undisciplined since adolescence, with a resentment of authority in almost all forms, I had for some inexplicable reason just joined the most disciplined branch of the military services. Perhaps I somehow knew that I needed the type of discipline that could only be found in the marines. As the great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "There is something in all good men that yearns for discipline." I apparently yearned for discipline and would soon learn it under the most trying of conditions.

Summer Hell

Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class summer camp is a physically and physiologically brutal rite of passage designed to produce commissioned officers and leaders for the US Marine Corps. This period of my life was crucial in forming the person I was to become, as well as the type of Secret Service agent into which I would one day evolve.

Almost from the moment I arrived at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, on June 1, 1975, every waking moment became a challenge. On most of the days that were to follow, my platoon mates and I would have taken odds that none of us would survive the summer, much less graduate from the program.


Excerpted from WITHIN ARM'S LENGTH by DAN EMMETT Copyright © 2012 by Dan Emmett, Special Agent, United States Secret Service (Retired). Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface: In the Home of President John F. Kennedy, November 1984....................ix
Chapter 1: The Death of a President and Birth of a Career....................1
Chapter 2: College, the Marine Corps, and Ronald Reagan....................10
Chapter 3: Never Give Up Unless You Are Dead....................20
Chapter 4: The Charlotte Field Office....................26
Chapter 5: Special Agent Training....................32
Chapter 6: Back to Charlotte....................38
Chapter 7: The New York Field Office....................51
Chapter 8: The Counter Assault Team (CAT)....................70
Chapter 9: The Agent Who Loved Me Eventually....................94
Chapter 11: The Presidential Protective Division (PPD)....................101
Chapter 12: Shaping the Next Generation....................166
Chapter 13: Retirement....................183
Afterword: Motives for Writing This Work....................193
About the Author....................195
Appendix 1: Myths and Truths about the Secret Service....................197
Appendix 2: A Brief History of the Secret Service....................206
Appendix 3: Glossary of Terms and Acronyms....................209

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Within Arm's Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
mbradley More than 1 year ago
Only took 2 days to finish this book and I did not want it to end!! Anyone who served bravely in the armed forces of the US of A and was a Secret Service person is A ok in my book. Nice photos.
tyg49 More than 1 year ago
well written and informative
jcullen288 More than 1 year ago
Mr. Emmett gives an up front and personal account of his career and the ups and downs of government service, in one of the most prestigious organizations in the world. His first hand accounts make you feel like you are on board with him working through the excitement and frustrations of a secret service agent. His accounts brings you closer to true day to day history making, than you will ever see on the news or in text books. It is clear that Mr. Emmett believes in his country, himself, and what is good in America. A refreshing honest memoir of one of the great Americans that make this country great.
wendybart More than 1 year ago
Mr Emmett has put together a nice book for himself. I was so pumped up reading it that it made me want to run out and join the Secret Service! Must be a Marine recruiter in his spare time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A number of books by various authors have tackled the Secret Service but, far and away, this book-by a former agent, no less-should be required reading for all law enforcement personnel who are thinking about joining this division of the Office of Homeland Security. While I wish it was longer, I cannot find fault there; why be long-winded? Recommended for the college student through adult.
yahoo75 yahoo75 More than 1 year ago
books come and go, but some STAY. This book will stay on my shelf for decades to come. i really liked this book a whole bunch. well written
dave petrossi More than 1 year ago
phenomenal book!!!!!
Sally Pearsall More than 1 year ago
This was a truly fine book. My husband served in the Marine Corps and became an ATF agent afterwards. I enjoyed the parallels to his life and career. We even had to fly on a C-130 together once in those little buckety webby seats. This one is on my read again shelf
SallyMantovich More than 1 year ago
i got this book the other day and liked it
floydboring More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book immensely. I cannot say enough positive things about this work. In fact, I literally have no criticisms! You can do no wrong in purchasing this fine book. Dan Emmett deserves the Pulitzer Prize!
stevexxpp More than 1 year ago
Simply put, this is THE best book ever written on the Secret Service. Very well written and put together, exciting, never dull, and quite a page turner. Since the agency's inception in 1865, no other book matchs Dan Emmett's "Within Arm's Length."
securityforces More than 1 year ago
avoid the stupid 1-star "reviews": please avoid the stupid 1-star "reviews"---this book is AWESOME! Every product seems to get these stupid "anonymous" 1-star reviews, but, in this case, this is just sheer lunacy. This book is fantastic!
sue manwilla More than 1 year ago
is there a way to contact mr. Emmet? please tell him that i injoyed his book very much and the newspapers are telling tall tales about what is in his book and it is a shame 'cos he writes well and i injoyed it alot..my kids will like this too. i hope he doesn't loose his way following these newspapers they are not telling truth. i injoyed it alot
Rich Upchurch More than 1 year ago
this dude knows his stuff and it reads like a primer on how to be a great citizen
alicia25CR More than 1 year ago
I got this as a gift. I thought it was going to be a Clinton memoir. it is actually the story of a dude who protected him. It is actually pretty sweet- me like. He also guarded W, but we won't hold that against him ;) Two thumbs up
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
However, delivery via Barnes & Noble on line was VERY long and I would NOT recommend using that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
gardngrl More than 1 year ago
Fascinating account of the physical training that goes into Secret Service personnel, and the incredible hardships they endure to serve. Not to be missed!
mdb28 More than 1 year ago
I hate to say it...feel a little guilty... Obviously what the secret service does is extremely important and skillful. It just is not that dramatic...I am sure it would be life changing to guard the prez...it is just not that fun to read about it...
tommys1 More than 1 year ago
i found it to be very interesting if you enjoy stories about the inter workings of our secret service.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
wanzie More than 1 year ago
A very topical subject and shows the true devotion of the men with the job requiring such sacrifice. Well written, interesting, insightful and a quick read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very informative and easy to read.