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MILITARY & POLICE SPEC-OPS TEAMS
Training The Best Of The Best

For the last thirty-five years, a new kind of military/police organization has existed. It has captured -- and sometimes even terrified -- the American Public and without question commanded the rapt attention of the worldwide news media. I'm talking about SWAT teams; those highly-trained, well-organized groups of military or law-enforcement personnel to whom are entrusted the most difficult, dirty and controversial tasks -- jobs that can't be accomplished in any conventional way.

Beginning in the early 1960s with the infamous "Texas Tower" sniper incident, both the military and police community became cognizant of an emerging pattern of worldwide social, political and economic chaos. They searched for a way to combat it, taking a hard look at their standing operating procedures (SOP) and finding them inadequate. The same was true of the individual soldier and police officer, too. they examined his weapons, tactics, training, personality and even his psyche, finding them also to be lacking.

Thus, a special breed of soldier and policeman was born. He's tougher, smarter, more physically fit and skilled with weapons than his conventional counterparts. Moreover, he's more psychologically stable; better able to function under a wider variety of stress conditions. In the hated words of the political left, he's unique -- elite.


The question then became: "What do we DO with them?" How could they be organized and training to successfully counter the unconventional threat? The answer seemed obvious -- they turned to the U.S. Army, then by virtue of its post-WW2 training and experience at its zenith of combat efficiency. Better-armed criminals, as well as increasing socio-political terrorism, required specialized training, more sophisticated armaments and a totally different outlook. The para-military methods used by these elements dictated a para-military response. Who, they said, could possibly be better suited to offer assistance than the U.S. Army?

The FBI, long looked upon by the law-enforcement community as a father-figure, had for decades been the centralized source of data on nearly everything police-oriented. Yet, "The Eye," too, had been caught flat-footed and had little to offer. This revelation crystallized the problem and gave further credibility to the idea of military methodology.

This outlook, while fundamentally correct, caused some serious problems. Almost everyone knows the mission of the military is to "find, fix and destroy the enemy." But this kind of thing isn't a police function, at least here in the United States. The policeman's job is "To Protect and Serve." Our entire law-enforcement concept was based upon the judicial required to apprehend offenders with minimum -- not maximum -- force.

It took some time for it to become clear that, while para-military tactics, weapons and equipment are often used, a SWAT team is NOT an infantry rifle squad. Nonetheless, the concept instantly drew fire from the news media, who was, and remains, unable to resist the comparison. Even more irksome is that they arbitrarily conclude that the SWAT mission is also identical -- to kill the enemy. Even today, after all these years, this impression is prevalent in many locales, causing Police Chiefs "Excedrin headaches" of immense proportions.

In truth, while a military SWAT team might be employed for specialized offensive missions, its police counterpart is entirely defensive in nature. Any degree of force used, to include killing the suspect, is in direct response to the degree of threat he presents to the arresting officers and surrounding community.

Those who oppose the use of SWAT teams often point accusingly at the SWAT sharpshooter, equipped with a telescope-sighted rifle and scream otherwise. "Look at him!" they exclaim. "How can he possibly be defensive?" The answer is deceptively simple -- the SWAT rifleman only fires if there is no other way to neutralize the threat presented by the suspect(s) and bring the incident to a conclusion. The ignorant merely assume that because he's armed with a precision-rifle, his function is identical to a military sniper.

They couldn't be more wrong. The SWAT sharpshooter's mission is to neutralize a specified threat via controlled gunfire if ordered to do so, with a minimum of shots fired, and these only with great precision, NOT to engage targets of opportunity. If the SWAT rifleman fires his weapon, he does so only to protect police officers and citizens. This will occur only if it is decided that there is no other way to solve the problem. Such a decision is made only after much deliberation by the team commander, Sheriff or Chief of Police with the negotiators.

The only occasion where the rifleman himself would make the decision to fire would be in response to an instantaneous deterioration of the situation that places either citizens or police officers in lethal danger from the suspect(s).

And, he is held directly accountable for his actions. This is why SWAT personnel are so heavily screened -- to insure that they can function under such stress and have the capacity to quickly and intelligently make hard decisions.

Thus, the function of the SWAT team is to "defuse" a dangerous situation with maximum control over the way the scenario develops. Military SWAT teams have a broader mission, one that occasionally includes limited offensive operations. Such missions originate from detailed intelligence information and highly specialized objectives.

As one who spends considerable time training both military and police Spec-Ops personnel, I have, over a twenty year period, noted certain trends and principles. The first is that, other than for physical fitness purposes, initial training should take place in a classroom atmosphere. Critically necessary indoctrination to the team's purpose and resulting operational parameters cannot be established any other way. Such sessions should be kept as informal as possible, thus inviting free exchange of ideas and questions.

In addition, it's important that from both an individual and collective standpoint, everyone understands the unit's mission and structure, its tactical function and how everyone fits into "The Big Picture." Only then does the training move to the firing range, rappelling tower, airfield or other tactical areas.

During firing-range sessions, emphasis should be placed on a "hot" range, meaning that those receiving training maintain loaded weapons. while this may mildly alarm the novice who has been indoctrinated to safety procedures, "Hot" ranges are actually quite safe as long as proper discussion of its integral elements is accomplished.

This fosters a feeling of self-confidence, both collectively and individually, and demonstrates to the team that its trainers have faith in them. As well since team members will be carrying loaded weapons during actual field operations, it is imperative that they have no illusions about them. If the guns really are loaded, there is no "playing around," e.g. pretending that they're loaded when everyone knows they really aren't.

Simplicity in all facets of team activity is also imperative and it should be understood by all personnel that so-called "split-second timing" and elaborate weapon-handling are dangerous myths, suitable only for the movie screen. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is valid -- and so is Murphy's Law! History has repeatedly proven that both exist, so recognize them for what they are and incorporate them both into your training at every opportunity.

Specific weapon-handling and tactical techniques should originate from an intelligent appraisal of the team's needs. Because someone is an IPSC, NTI, IDPA or PPC shooter doesn't mean that the techniques involved in competitive events at the best or even adequate, for SWAT use. In fact, usually the reverse is true. Superior techniques do in fact exist and, as opposed to those which originated from the competitive sector, have proven to be far superior.

The same can be said of weapon selection. Due to conventional military influence over SWAT operations in its formative years, the disproportionate use of the assault rifle, usually the U.S. M-16, has often prevailed even though the facts dictated otherwise. In truth, the assault rifle has, at best, only a limited function. In contrast, the submachine gun, with its lower recoil impulse, lesser muzzle blast and superior compactness, is a better general-purpose alternative.

Misconceptions about the assault rifle are usually a result of someone or a group of individual officers forgetting that they are part of a team and, on the basis, decided what they need without considering the teams overall needs. The classic military firefight that seems to preoccupy such personnel illustrates a dangerous loss of perspective. If we wanted to shoot up the countryside with "firepower," we wouldn't need a special team! We could simply have everyone show up with their personally-owned "heavy artillery," hunting rifles, souvenirs from the wars, etc., and have at it!

Emphasis should also be placed on rope-work like rappelling and fast-roping, live-ordnance training, booby traps, communications, teamwork and, of course, tactics. Only by incorporating these into realistically-conceived training scenarios can maximum benefit be realized. Too often, tactical simulations requiring lethal suspect-neutralization are emphasized instead of those which mandate live-capture and removal.

While some feel that using live ordnance and booby traps constitutes too much stress, I've found that is encourages enhanced situational and environmental awareness, thus making it a highly useful training tool. The obvious benefit of such awareness in real operations therefore more than justifies it as a normal practice.

Of course, good judgment should be used. There is no benefit to unnecessarily injuring someone. However, the fellow who trips a CS blast-dispersion grenade booby-trap will remember it for a long, long time! To put it mildly, the sound of that safety-spoon popping free and knowing you have only a couple of seconds to react, definitely leaves its mark! And in the field, that mark might well save lives if the booby trap is explosive. Traumatic, yet harmless tricks of this kind are an excellent confidence-builder as well as a superb means of testing the team's performance in unexpected situations.

One of the most common deficiencies I encounter when reviewing both military and police SWAT training curriculums is the exclusion of leadership personnel from participation in tactical problems. As strange as it sounds, the team commander and other element leaders are often prevented from functioning in their official capacities, assuming instead the role of a regular team member.

This is dangerous because no matter how expert in fundamental skills the team becomes, it will fail to function cohesively in the field unless those entrusted with leadership assignments are allowed to practice them in training. Too, all team members should understand how everyone else functions, preferably to the point where they know at all times exactly what other team members will be doing at any given point in time.

Another area often neglected is communications, be it hand/arm signals or radio. Radio procedure can easily range from being excessively verbose to just plain incoherent and add to this the tendency to raise our voices when excited and the picture is complete
-- chaos reigns.

Therefore, formal instruction in proper radio procedure, as well as the integration of such procedures into actual team exercises, is needed. Incidentally, voice-actuated radios, while theoretically handy, are a particular problem because a special effort must be made not to breathe heavily or yell in their vicinity, thus unwittingly causing their activation and paralyzing the teams communications net. For this reason -- and I agree -- many team choose not to use them.

The accompanying photography illustrates many specific things of which SWAT personnel should be aware. In both training and actual field operations, remember that success or failure is heavy influenced by all of them. It is essential that the team keeps abreast of newly-developed method and techniques, but without losing their perspective in the process.

The father of Spec-Ops, the legendary COL Otto Skorzeny, said it best:

"Ask for volunteers for dangerous work. Pick out the best.
train them in fellowship. Then they will develop qualities that no one
has ever suspected them to possess. They will follow you through
anything -- they will even live and fight and go on to certain death
by themselves."

I've found COL Skorzeny's observations to be true and thus integrated them into every phase of my own SWAT training programs. And judging from the high degree of professionalism exhibited by many SWAT teams these days, I'm not the only one.

 

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