Recently I had the chance of a lifetime to attend a 7 day basic SWAT class thanks to the good word from a tactical buddy of the DC area. Of course he had to toss a good Blue Falcon my way and his only prep for me was "There are going to be times where it's physically challenging." Coming from what I expect from most training, that merely meant OMG we might actually have to run around with guns a little. I had an idea something might be up since it was the first time I saw PT specifically on the course outline, however as with all the others who attended, we found out this was a class we had to earn and not just show up. Starting the fun in Fredericksburg, VA we met up at the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy. Things began easy with a class overview, instructor introductions, and even a quick SWAT history movie to get in the spirit. With a little under 30 students we broke up into 3 teams with a good mix of agencies such as NCIS, local SWAT, and Marine SRT. I was happy to end up in Charlie team which was mostly comprised of the Marines as I knew they wouldn't be messing around, yet had concern at the same time of making sure I wouldn't stick out as a big weak link.
During a round of quick introductions I didn't have any group or agency to claim affiliation with so I'm sure many people were thinking something along the lines of "What the hell is up with this guy!?" Declaring myself as The Monkey probably didn't help that factor any further, but hey that is how I roll. A bit of time was even spent gear queering it up showing a good display range of SWAT operation weapons and equipment along with talks how they are used. For a bonus, example enemy weapons were also covered. Soon after we hit the gym to rock out with some good ol' PT. Done in a military fashion there was a little mix, but we could always count on plenty of pushups. As a practice of situational awareness we were to always be looking at the instructor which somehow someone always seemed to be fucking up. This meant starting the exercise over, classic work as a unit or suffer as a unit. To finish up the PT phase they ran us outside pretty good. All said and done I think we lost at least two people by the third hour which transitioned well in a briefing on the tactical and warrior mindset. Anybody can be taught basic tactics and how to shoot, but true warriors have the complete training, fitness, aggression, and honor of a never quit mentality. After lunch we got into all kinds of fun stuff including: basic movement, room clearing, mission planning / diagramming, and overviews of dynamic vs stealth. It was a good foundation for things to come and first inner team interactions so we could start to get to know each other. I was particularly pleased to go over the mission planning as I haven't had much experience with it. We were given a thick ass paper stack to see how it is done on a pro level which really puts things into perspective on how much detail goes into a good plan. From threat level assessment to gear / asset lists, all are important to properly complete the mission if things go either good or bad. Most will agree a plan is just a list of things that probably won't happen, but more importantly, having no plan at all is a plan to fail.
Day two had us up early at a nearby Crossfit gym. We nicknamed the instructor lady Iron Maiden as it looked like she could beat all our asses down. I had no delusions about being fit so I knew it was going to suck. Hell it probably could have been a Jazzersize class and it would have sucked for me. This particular workout didn't really look too crazy in theory, but while wearing full kit and under pressure for a good time, it took things to the limit. Starting off with some running, we did some "enhanced" pushups and squats in combination with situps, pullups and probably something else thrown in there. The first cycle would be normally where I'd declare to myself that was a good workout, but there were two cycles so had to start the pain all over again. By the end I likely looked something like a zombie on his knees praying for death. I didn't puke, but that was the first time I had to go rock a #2 in the bathroom due to heavy exercise. The big lesson of the day was that a Stromboli breakfast before a hard workout was all kinds of a bad idea. Fortunately after about 15 minutes or so of embracing the suck I was back to semi-normal and was able to help the other teams. It was good to see a lot good motivational team support and making sure everyone got through the steps such as helping on the pullups. We soon got all our busted asses back together in the classroom over at RRCJA for a lecture on the suffering we just endured also known as Crossfit. For those unfamiliar, Crossfit has been growing in the operator community as it provides a well rounded full body kind of fitness with limited use or need of equipment. After that, each team was assigned two ballistic shields followed by training on using and moving with them. A good deal of teamwork is needed to properly use them in a stack as it can be easy to get out of step and alignment leaving team members exposed. Combining other elements we learned earlier, we then practiced moving as a stack with a shield up stairways. We all look pretty ugly the first go around, but saw quick improvement as we continued to practice. The instructors got creative in making up an obstacle course for us in the nearby field. Starting off as a two shield stack, we had to navigate as a team through a simulated window, jump and crawl over others, and in general put up a good hussle. To raise the stakes the team with the best time earns claim to the great Spartan shield, the symbol of victory. If I remember correctly, our team went first. Despite the honor factor of going first, we learned a tactical lesson that watching others take a run first could greatly help course times. Sweet victory was not ours this time. Once all teams had their go, we soon found ourselves back in the classroom for a hard and fast IED briefing. The presenter went over all the good basics such as what makes up an IED, how some forms look and are disguised, and simple advice such as if it looks out of place, don't friggn' touch it. Following that we rolled right into a TEMS briefing which was all about the concept of having a tactical qualified EMS member. Being the equivalent of the team medic, it is a TEMS duty to provide immediate medical support to anyone in need involved in a mission. Thus these members must be trained up in both SWAT and EMT skills. Depending on the member, they may not be the first man in to kick doors, however will always be nearby in possible harms way. Next in line was a negotiator briefing to give us the basic knowledge of what they do and how to use them as an asset on a SWAT team. The presenter, being one of the negotiators of the area, gave great past stories giving insight on how a seemingly easy op can go quickly wrong and lessons learned through experience. For the final guest segment of the day we had some high speed DEA guys drop by to train us up on basic weapon retention. Back in the gym it was quick and dirty, but we all learned at least one way to get crazy people off our weapons in all kinds of positions. Going over both pistol and carbine we covered the finer details of how weapons can get into an out of chamber state after a good scuffle. I wish we had more time since each of these guest presentations could have easily been a full day class, however all offered impressive bang for the buck for one hour segments. We were then released for the weekend with homework to plan for an example search warrant mission. Our team had a lot of travel to do so we just stayed late to complete it. It was a good exercise to practice appropriate threat designation and remembering to attend to all the tiny details of a complete mission plan. Planning on how to get to business on a house is certainly the fun part, but all the other admin stuff is important for things to go smoothly.
I didn't have too much in mind for what to do on the weekend, but that turned out as a non issue as Crossfit apparently decided for me. My legs were totally wrecked, in theory from the squats which I find odd as we did a lot more upper body punishment that day. Anyway, besides the pain I lost huge amount of flexibly in my legs so caught up on a lot of TV trying to heal up in time for Monday. I wish I could say I saw a bunch of cool stuff in DC, sadly I only managed to hermit it up. At least I made it to the Marine's museum later on my last day in town, that place was top notch!
By Training Day three I had healed up a little, but was still disappointed my leg flexibility was all jacked up. My team mates weren't too thrilled about my multitasking media collection role so I bailed on that to concentrate on the main goal of just surviving the training. The last thing I wanted to do was drag down the team due to dorking it up as a cameraman. After some basic PT in full kit, we did the shield obstacle course again. Our team run seemed solid, but we supposedly missed the winner's slot by 1 second. We just had to assume that was the bossman's way of telling us to try harder. For a review on ballistic shield work and officer down drills each team then had a go a securing a downed member while getting wailed on by simunitions and paintballs from the instructors. Nothing like good ol' pain to let you know when you are slacking. Any exposed parts were promptly shot. This activity emphasized keeping the shields together with the team protected behind them. Those designated to pickup found simple movements such as just turning around become a little more complicated to make sure one's ass does not get shot off. Once complete, it was back to the classroom to get some learn on. We covered all sorts of good stuff such as gas masks and calculating how much gas to toss in a room along with breaching and distraction devices. Unfortunately we didn't get to immediately practice those subjects, but learned the basic concepts and overview of tools used. For the main guest speaker of the day we had a great briefing on Al-Qaida and their many forms. It was a LOT to take in as I'm fairly uneducated on the subject, so luckily it was presented in a fairly easy to understand manner. I can't get too much into it, but I'll summarize by saying fuck Sharia law and there are more threats currently existing on our homeland than many know. This was a very eye opening briefing for the whole class. Due to an incident at Quantico earlier we missed out on night ops training so continued on with an extended Al-Qaida briefing. Eventually we broke for lunch and regrouped at the nearby Fredricksburg PD. They had a fairly new O-course for us to "test" out. It wasn't huge, but had all that you would expect in a military style obstacle course; lots of logs and metal, high stuff and balance stuff. Normally I'd consider O-courses somewhere in the realm of fun, but with all your kit on, they quickly go towards the suck. None the less, each team had their turn for time to earn the great shield. As designed, everyone's weaknesses show up so it is essential to work as a team. If someone got jammed up on an obstacle it was up to the rest of the team to quickly assist in a direct or clever fashion. Progress could not continue to the next obstacle until everyone completed the current one. It definitely kicked most our asses, but good ol' team Charlie was able to win this time. It is a bit of a blur, but at some point someone was always dropping gear so that earned the whole class a hefty set of pushups as a lesson in gear security... another reminder that the only easy day was yesterday. To wrap things up we met up with Tim Kuca for a range brief for the next day. Tim finds an interesting balance of keeping the material light hearted with some jokes here and there, but dead serious when it comes to the things that matter. For instance he warned that if anyone pointed a weapon at him, he would consider that grounds for the start of a gun fight. With note to all his operational and training experience, there was not a soul in the room that wanted to test that claim.
Day four starts early at the range for a day of nothing but blasting, my kind of day. As promised Tim runs the range as if it were Bizarro land in the eyes of most range masters. We are treated as adults with guns which includes being able to walk around with a hot weapon while the person is facing any direction. The weapon pointing rule still applies as we reserve that to only things we want to destroy. I think this makes a lot of sense as we train on such tightly regulated ranges then many holster up their gun and go to work. If we can't have a hot weapon holstered on the range, why the hell would you trust us to work that way? In this same spirit we are told to literally trash out the range. The intent is to get out of the clean football field looking environment and get closer to the gritty and harsh areas real firefights take place. We start out easy on pistol and rapidly pick up the pace. After some slow drills soon we are varying distance and speed to help students find their balance of speed an accuracy based on their target conditions. We didn't get much into malfunctions or one hand shooting, but did go right into shooting on the move and running up to a stop to then shoot which I had not practiced before. Options are given for students to see what works best for them such as choosing to run with one hand or both hand on the gun. Normally Matt Graham would assist in teaching this segment so a lot of this was review for me, but being able to train in this less restricted fashion is quite the rarity so I made sure to live it up. Eventually we snuck in a quick lunch to then transition over to rifle. Not everyone had used an M4 so we had to start slow, yet as promised we were soon doing fairly advanced events on the move. Tim gave some fancy turning reaction tricks I hadn't seen before. Apparently I need more practice since one of them ended up with the rifle cutting my face, but still more goodies for the toolbox as they say. For the big finish we got into some nontraditional shooting positions which when my EOTECH battery died (loaner rifle) it was good reminder that many positions are harder to do with iron sights. I realize I somewhat gloss over this day as most of it I have done before, however I can't emphasize enough that for most students it will be the best firearms class they ever take. I greatly hope more of the outside the sterile box thinking spreads to ranges and classes everywhere. Once it starts to get dark we start to clean up our ginormous mess and pack up.
On Day five we start to finally put everything together. As a mix of scenery we meet up at the O'Gara Group training facilities to be the first to give it a test run. PT made a comeback and afterwards we found ourselves at a new O-course. Overall it appears more kind in appearance, but that doesn't mean it won't wear you the hell out. Rather than climbing over a lot of crazy things there was a lot more leg work including a crapload of stairs. The losers had to take a simulated downed teammate around the course as a reminder it pays to be a winner. Team Charlie chose to carry me around as well even though we won to embrace the team suffering. Once the suffering was out of the way we got geared up with sims weapons and protection kit to do some force on force scenarios. It was quite the treat to be given three op scenes including a two story building, a small shack like building, and a bus. Starting with the biggun two story building it was still under construction, but could see some nice details forming to give it a middle eastern look. Luck was not with us so it was starting to rain pretty good. Normally this is no big deal, but with all the goggles and masks and such it was fog-town visibility wise. Since the shields were already pretty beat up, we had to leave them behind on these ops due to visibility being zero. We didn't go over any elaborate mission plans, just a general mission statement and an entry point then told to get to business. Between being the first run, the vision fog, and interior darkness, I'm sure we looked quite raw. Starting off with the team blasting the instructor and a teammate certainly left room for improvement. By the third run we were getting our act together and making the best of the poor visibility situation, however since a two story op, the lesson that stairs suck was certainly delivered. Next we made our way to the small building scenario. This one included a shanty town style fence and redneck front lawn with vehicles and misc junk to keep us guessing. I had suspicions there was going to be some underground bunker shit in there since it was so small, but it just turned out to be a small ass building. The backstory was the mission was a search warrant on a biker gang so it was nice to see interior details of drug making equipment and your expected slum furniture. Inside the opposing forces stepped it up a notch to let us know not everyone is going to be happy to comply and to search everyone for weapons. Fortunately no one was ever in the vehicle, the roof, or around back, but we had to make sure every run. On the third run I got to give it a go as the #2 man. It went overall well I guess since my corner enemy surrendered; visibility still sucked so it was hard to confirm compliance or aggression in the split beginning seconds. There was a lot of blasting on the earlier runs so they wanted to make sure we didn't get itchy fingers on the final run. It is good to be aggressive, but we can only drop those who earn it. Afterwards we make way to the bus scene. Rather than being about fighting forces it was more of a team timing exercise. For OPSEC I won't tell the exact setup, but we had an 2 entry teams and a window watch all moving at the cue of a distractor bang. To dominate the simulated hostage situation inside, the synchronized timing on the multipoint enty is critical to give the suspect overwhelming confusion. As we practiced we had great respect for those who had to ever show up and do it for real. There are many unknowns such as how difficult the doors will be to open and any small delays can result in disaster. Positions were cycled to give each team member a turn at the different tasks and some even had the chance to be in the bus to see what the storm looks like when done properly. For the next phase we met up at a nearby middle school for a briefing on active shooter history and tactics. The main lesson was getting away from the old defensive tactics to having the titanium balls to go in, even if alone, when it is clear you are the only hope for the victims. When the shit hits the fan, it averages out that an innocent will die every 15 seconds in an active shooter situation so there simply isn't enough time to wait for backup. Having said that, those first on the scene don't have to be those who finish the scene. Any sort of conflict with the suspects will give chances of them getting bogged down granting time for the calvary to arrive. Following the briefing we ran short on time so were only able to practice some basic hallway team formations / movements and had to call it a night.
Day six started off a little later in the day back at the Fredericksburg PD O-course. My left ankle wasn't doing too good from all the uneven terrain of the earlier scenarios so I wasn't exactly looking forward to it. I slapped on a classic wrap and hoped for the best. One of the students managed to forget something so ended up a bit late. As you may have guessed we all felt the wrath with endless pushups until he arrived. The point was well made that you can't show up late to a mission. I forget if someone dropped some gear or what happened, but some other shit went down and we scored 50 or so more pushups RIGHT before our run. We slugged through it as a team, however sadly team Charlie didn't take home the shield this time. At some point in the action I managed to pull my left shoulder so I was at about 25% power in that arm and starting to feel like a cripple in combination with the gimp ankle. I didn't come all this way to quit so I managed to suck it up. Utilizing the tower of the O-course the class was able to practice some rappelling. It had been a while for me so I welcomed the refresher and I even got to try a head first run for the first time. Overall the class appeared to do well, no one was frozen in fear with the height. While one team was at that station we cycled between a basic tactical first aid and suspect restraint station. For first aid we practiced a groin shot on a dummy getting them all nice and bandaged up then using a rubber wrap tourniquet on the arm for further practice. On over at the restraint station we trained up on suspect compliance with ASP tri-fold cuffs which was good since they were about to get plenty use later in the day. Once every team had their turn we made our way down to Quantico's Hogan's Alley. This place is amazing, basically being a small fake city specifically built for tactical training. Rather than being a bunch of ghetto tires and plywood you see in shoot houses, the whole place looks quite legit with great attention to detail even including obnoxious car sales signs. Soon we got all our Sims kit back in order. I decided to try out the Mtek facial armor in combination with goggles this time which grabbed some attention. Again the class was presented three unique ops that each team cycled through. Our first hit was a 2-story building with substantial parking lot area to give a commercial zone feel. To mess with us there was contact before we even entered the building so we had to push through once the element of surprise was lost. Inside the first story was blocked off admin wise to keep it relatively small resulting in most of the action being upstairs. As usual the badguys just looove shooting us coming up the stairs so we were happy we brought the shield along for the ride. Once in, we overall flowed well clearing out the rooms. The team leaders certainly got their workout as it became harder to keep everything moving as a unit with so many rooms and space to cover. Despite being a good general purpose training op, the main lesson we were taught was to keep an eye out for ninja hiding spaces. The mission over call was delayed due to one suspect being able to make it to secret hideout in one of the closets. As a result we started beating the hell out of everything which was a bit more than the facility admins wanted....what else would you expect from Marines. Next up was an odd shaped building that reminded me of a larger than usual school "portable" building commonly used for expansions. Inside it was crazy land mostly due to another batch of Marnies being the suspects. They messed with us proper ranging from slow compliance, to acting like retards, to straight up roaming the hallways on rollerblades. The suspects even talked dirty about our mamas once restrained as a nice touch. The doorway placements made it really easy to get carried away with clearing the current room we were in while neglecting the next doorway threat. I certainly took a couple shots to my side on that lesson. In general every run at this building was a complete clusterfuck, but we learned a lot each time. Next up was a designated crack house on the second floor of an apartment complex which simmered things down slightly. The space was smaller and the suspects were less wild so we could concentrate more on smooth tactics. They got us again with another sneaky ass hiding place, however in general we did well. The scenario was mixed up well ranging from contact immediately upon entering to having the door already open and the suspects hiding in smaller rooms. I wasn't sure if it was good or bad luck, but out of all the ops so far I hadn't had the chance to shoot anyone who deserved it, all suspects I encountered surrendered so I was starting to get worried I'd be slow on the trigger when it comes time. We didn't get done till about 11. It was a long, but awesome day, yet we still had one more to go.
Day seven, the big show finally came around. We kept hearing the only easy day was yesterday, but at this point most people were thinking more along the lines of 1 week ago. Some Ibuprofen helped the shoulder and ankle a little. Meeting up at an old school in King George we stayed true to the very end and begin with PT. Quickly we learn that was the mere warmup since things turn all Navy Seal style as a big ass log makes an appearance. As a team we had to hike this damn thing all around the field including a simulated window and a wall where the log could not touch. Due to being height challenged I had to use my head while most the team used their shoulders. I had particular trouble helping lift the log all the way up to assist in making it over the wall. To mix things up, at about half way the log had to be gently grounded so each team member could cross a horizontal rope obstacle, run around in the forest for a bit and come back to haul more log. The rope was less than ideal on tightness so made things interesting in the form of bounce and droop. The shields were to be carried the whole time on this course so we had to get crafty and rig up one member with both shields on their sides for balance as they crossed. During this phase the instructors started to pick it up a notch and by telling anyone who looked like they were having trouble how easy it would be to give up and quit. The hope was of course for students to ignore the easy way out and to push through. One of the members of the other team had particular trouble on the rope and looked pretty done for after several failed attempts. A lot of time was blown and things started to get drama intense, but they eventually got to thinking and locked him in with a carabiner to complete the obstacle. It felt bad to see only one person have to struggle so hard, yet it was great to see them stick it through and overcome a situation that was looking increasingly bleak. The team with the highest time earned some more log time mostly consisting of raising it all the way up and doing sit ups with it as a team. There weren't any other logs around so the rest of us did push ups and situps for support. As if we weren't all done for after that, the "SWAT Olympics" were then next which consisted of each team carrying an instructor on top of a pallet and running up and down the field. Once again my height cursed me so I ended up in the center doing head work. We hauled ass so in hindsight I'm happy to be alive. If anyone tripped or something broke, my ass was going to the hospital. It was close, but lady luck was on our side and team Charlie won it while sporting the Spartan shield the whole run. With only a little time to hydrate we quickly moved onto the final joint operation event. We had to hit three houses simultaneously, each team picking a house. A mission team leader was chosen and I somehow ended up as Charlie team leader for the day. Intel reported House #28 likely needed a breach so I signed us up for it since I knew the rest of the team was just as eager. We only had an hour to plan and a good portion was spent with the teamleaders going on a ride in the SWAT van to do recon. Our mission leader fortunately was able to snag some pictures while we mostly took notes. We were able to get a good look at the fronts of the houses noting the side garages, however the backs and secondary entry points were unknowns. With the back story of the hit being due to terrorists planning a bomb strike this week, I chose to take one shield and to search for a secondary door for the point of entry to avoid enhanced barricades or traps. Since radios were not supplied we had to dumb things down a little bit for synchronization. Rather than having sneaky insertion points, each vehicle just parked right in front of their assigned house and we stacked up waiting for the mission leader signal to go. It may have not been the real thing, but if you ask me not much beats the feeling of rolling out to a hit. Once everyone stacked up, we got the signal and it was game on. Unfortunately I failed to emphasize the idea to hit the left side of the house since it would be away from all the other shit going on, so of course we somehow ended up on the right. We were already stacked up and moving forward so I decided to push forward rather than risk confusion of reforming up. We make it around back for a bonus zinger that there is no backdoor and the secondary entrance ended up on that left side. The element of surprise was lost long ago, but we still had plenty of hurt to give. Once stacked up at the door we busted in with a solid two hit breach with bonus flashbang for good measure. The house wasn't particularly big, but all the rooms opened to a central room causing an fatal funnel effect. The living room went down easy while the bedrooms put up a fight each with a suspect inside. Perhaps it wouldn't have been much of an issue until one suspect popped out of the friggn' attic entrance right in this hallway like area taking shots at us and straight up dropping dynamite. I was still helping secure the suspects in the living room at that time so missed most that action. With one man covering the attic I took over so they could secure the bedrooms. After no more roof conflict I was able to eventually command the suspect down to secure them. I started to hear rumors about TNT, but didn't hear the full bug out code yell so knew things were starting to get dicey. Since in doubt I had the team form up in the living room with all known suspects so we could get out of dodge. We ended up low on restraints so one guy got armbar service. A secondary search was desired, but we needed to get the hell out of there. Once back out front the suspect zone was getting cramped with less than compliant folks and one of the other teams put in a call for assistance so we had to stack up to go right back at it. We cleared the rear yard area of the house next door not being sure where the assistance was needed and soon after that the scenario over call was given. We formed up back at the school for our final debriefing. Minus the TNT I'd say our hit went pretty well. The other teams had their own challenges such as doors requiring unexpected breaching and super non-compliant suspects. Despite having really big spray painted numbers on the houses, one team almost hit the wrong house, however luckily fixed the issue before actually making entrance. The instructors made a special note of this as a great example of the importance of the attention to detail required. If the wrong house was hit, not only is the synch all messed up, innocent civilians could also be hurt.
As a civilian it was a honor to be able to take this class and bleed a little with true operators. I wish more people could experience the same to have a better understanding of the harsh lifestyle they must endure. Due to being only 7 days, everything was done on a rapid timeline as similar classes would spend at least 2 weeks on such a course outline. To top it off, all instructors and help were there doing it for the love. There were no big piles of money involved, the only motivation was helping those who protect our communities. To put things in perspective it was noted that the SWAT and SRT teams we represented are the cavalry. When some Jack Bauer shit comes to your hometown they are the ones assigned to respond as there will not be enough time for some Delta Force FBI Spaceshuttle Doorgunners to come out of no where and save the day. Thus failure is not an option. The adventure certainly doesn't end here though. This is only a basic class so we are reminded to continue the quest of further training and professional development as warriors do. After a little down time to heal up, I certainly plan to.