It makes for a unique set of job requirements.
Law enforcement experience is expected. Military training is preferred. A willingness to jump between the governor and any source of trouble is mandatory.
That’s the job of Warren County native Joseph Patterson, a sergeant with the state’s Protective Services Division. Patterson has the responsibility of guarding Gov. Bill Haslam day and night and ensuring no harm befalls him.
Patterson’s job is especially intense because he’s what is called the governor’s “body guy.” That means he is usually just a few steps from Gov. Haslam during any public appearance.
“We train for just about everything you can imagine,” said Patterson, a 2002 graduate of Boyd Christian School. “It’s the small details that matter. You never know, especially nowadays, what might happen. There is always that unknown.”
Patterson, 33, says his division is like the U.S. Secret Service, just on the state level. Their job is protecting the governor and first lady at all times.
“When he’s at the residence, we’re at the residence,” said Patterson. “When he’s out, we’re out. This is a job where you really have to like what you do because it’s very demanding. It’s a lot of hours.”
Patterson says he works seven days straight, then has seven days off. That may seem like a favorable schedule, but he will log more than 80 hours in one week to provide around-the-clock protection.
Patterson’s road to Protective Services began after he graduated from Boyd. He joined the Marines after high school and spent four years in active duty. That included two combat deployments to Iraq and one to Haiti.
He married his high school sweetheart, Lindsay Smith, while in the Marines and they settled in Woodbury after his military service. He received his bachelor’s degree from MTSU and spent three years coaching football at Cannon County High School where he was known for his drill-sergeant mentality with players.
Patterson decided a career in the Highway Patrol would play to his strengths.
“Coming out of the Marines, I knew I had a skill set I could use,” said Patterson. His initial Highway Patrol assignment was in Coffee County and he applied for the job protecting the governor when it became available about four years ago.
Being Haslam’s personal protector gives him constant access to the governor. They talk frequently, but Patterson says he makes sure not to be too chummy with the man he’s in charge of keeping safe.
“When we’re in the car together, I consider it his time,” said Patterson. “He is so busy and has so much going on, I figure the car is his time to gather his thoughts so I won’t initiate a conversation. If he talks to me, that’s great. I’ll talk for as long as he likes.”
Gov. Haslam maintains a fairly busy schedule of public appearances. He generally makes two appearances a week with as many as four some weeks. This is in addition to regular work on Capitol Hill.
Haslam made his most recent public appearance in Warren County in January when he spoke to the Rotary Club of McMinnville. Patterson was by his side on that occasion.
For security reasons, Patterson didn’t elaborate on how many people are assigned to protect Haslam. He said there will be officers who arrive beforehand to scope out the area. Patterson said thus far he has yet to experience any close calls in terms of keeping Gov. Haslam safe.
“It’s great working for him because he’s a very active and very personable governor. He’s not somebody who sits behind a desk,” said Patterson. “One thing I can say about him is there’s no doubt he’s a guy who cares deeply about this state. He cares about what he’s doing.”
Patterson said there’s not much turnover in the Protective Services Division, even when a new governor is elected. His current plans are to stay on the job when a new governor is elected in November 2018.
Joseph and Lindsay currently resident in Woodbury and have a 3-year-old son.