Wally's War

Walter Philbrick cues the music, a symphonic piece on CD that has the verve of John Philip Sousa meets John Williams. He dims the lights in the small workout gym and urges Nelson Ricardo, one of his employees, to take a position on a foot-high platform. The gym lies deep in the bowels of International Protective Services, a security business on Hollywood Boulevard near downtown, a firm whose scope defies quick summation. Barely noticeable from the street, IPS is a warren of merchandise bins, hallways, cubbyholes, offices, a shooting range, a library, and display rooms.

Philbrick and Ricardo have spent the past hour this afternoon packing up rubber knives, plastic handguns, and info packets to ship to Atlanta, where Philbrick will soon conduct a weeklong SWAT training class for federal police officers. At the same time, they psyched up for this evening's counterterrorism class, which tutors laymen and professionals in techniques for identifying threats and disarming thugs and terrorists. The classes were born soon after the September 11 attacks, but Philbrick, ever restless and looking for a new twist, has written an over-the-top introduction for antiterrorism classes presented locally or on the road. Hence the music. In Ricardo, who joined the company in November, Philbrick believes he's found the ideal man for ratcheting up the rhetoric. Whether Philbrick is truly serious about melding the martial with the musical is anybody's guess, but this afternoon's "performance" is pure burlesque.

Ricardo would indeed be the perfect accessory in Philbrick's latest scheme. A handsome 36-year-old Cuban-American, Ricardo is an ex-Green Beret and has produced and acted in three low-budget feature films. He cuts an impressive figure as he steps up, dressed in all black, with short, black hair.

"On September 11, 2001, the world watched in horror, shocked," Ricardo booms in a rich baritone with William Shatneresque affectation. "But now, as time has gone by, we have grown stronger. We have united. We will not fall victim again. We will not fear the enemy anymore. We will look the enemy in the eye and say, no more!"

"What happened to the Irish accent you were going to use?" Philbrick screams. Ricardo cracks up, curses Philbrick for causing him to forget his lines, then picks it up again. "You will be trained by men who have looked at death in the face and came out laughing. We will teach you how to protect your home, your family, your work, and your country! Do you want to live?"

"I want to live!" Philbrick shouts.

"And now, without any further ado," Ricardo winds up for the finale, "right here, Hialeah police officer and 13-year SWAT member Wally Philbrick!" The music swells.

It's not hard to imagine Philbrick getting such a showbizzy intro for, say, his own television show called Wally World. After all, that is the nickname for Philbrick's collage of personalities, firearms, police gear, and surveillance equipment that routinely draws the likes of cops, bodyguards, detectives, military buffs, and, recently, plain civilians. Just what genre that show would be, however, is anybody's guess. Adventure à la The A-Team? Well, a Navy SEAL, a Green Beret, and a SWAT cop are in the ensemble. A sitcom like Cheers? Philbrick, a natural cutup, does seem to know everybody's name. And as a world-class judo expert, he can take a pratfall without breaking his neck. Reality TV would perhaps be the most apt category because the idea of self-defense and antiterrorism training isn't such an abstract concept for many after September 11. The denizens of Wally World have long known this, a knowledge that has both bound them together and isolated them. For the past four months, IPS has been inundated with regular folk who want to learn how to shoot a handgun or disarm a boxcutter-wielding assailant.

"Our gun-sales business has doubled," Philbrick says of post-9/11. "Our concealed-weapon classes have doubled, though they're kind of slacking off a bit now. Our bodyguard business has doubled. People are actually afraid now -- of everything, everybody."

Wally World's terrorism defense classes, including a four-hour, self-defense course for American Airlines flight crew members, have garnered international media attention. "I had so many TV cameras here one night that they were falling all over each other," he says. "From South America, a French station, a Spanish station, from Canada." The course has also gotten coverage from Time magazine, the major networks, and local daily newspapers. "I think they all fed off each other," Philbrick explains.

Whether an alarmed public continues to flock to IPS probably depends upon the terrorists' next move, but the routine of the regulars isn't likely to change much. "All the bodyguards come here, the arms instructors, martial arts guys, the police instructors, SWAT-team guys," Philbrick says matter-of-factly. "We shoot or have coffee. Talk about the old days. They hang out for a long time. They leave, go to work. Maybe they buy something."

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson