I'd heard many good things about Urban Shield, so I immediately jumped at the opportunity to be an observer at Urban Shield 2009.
For those not familiar with Urban Shield, it is the nation's most extensive, comprehensive, and challenging tactical training exercise and competition. Staged in three Northern California counties and co-hosted by the Alameda County and San Mateo County Sheriff's Offices, this year's event involved 27 SWAT teams from California, Boston, and France, with observers from Israel and Bahrain.
Urban Shield lasts more than 48 continuous hours and involves 25 challenging real-world scenarios. It is a massive undertaking, with planning beginning almost immediately after the previous year's event.
Alameda County SO dedicated 600-plus personnel to the four-day event (orientation day, two exercise days, awards day), but the exercise actually involves some 2,500 -- including firefighters, EMTs, medical professionals, and role players -- working in three counties.
Day One: Orientation Day
Morning: the first thing I see upon my arrival at the Alameda County public safety complex is large color posters of the four Oakland police officers killed in the line of duty March 21, 2009. This sets the tone for the entire four-day event.
Orientation: It's quite impressive to witness more than 200 SWAT operators, dressed in a variety of BDU colors and styles, all sitting together, preparing to compete the following day. And as one would expect from such a professionally run event as Urban Shield, orientation establishes the ground rules, and places special emphasis on "safety."
Afternoon: Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern dedicates Urban Shield 2009 to the four fallen Oakland Police Officers: Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Officer John Hege, Sgt. Ervin Romans (SWAT), and Sgt. Daniel Sakai (SWAT). There is also a stirring, emotional video tribute to these officers' memory. Of significance, Oakland SWAT is one of the participating teams.
Seeing that Oakland SWAT is competing, I can't help but think of how important this event must be to them and to all of the Oakland PD.
I also think back to the Lovelle Mixon shootings and I remember that an Alameda County SO SWAT deputy was a member of the entry team during the operation that claimed the lives of Romans and Sakai. Oakland SWAT went into a "stand down" mode for two months while they regrouped after that tragedy. Alameda County SO SRU (SWAT) took over the SWAT duties while Oakland SWAT mourned. These two teams are close. They have attained a level of mutual trust and respect that few teams ever reach.
Seeing the Oakland SWAT team members I also wonder how the tragedy will affect their performance in Urban Shield.
They say time heals all wounds, and maybe it does. But it takes more than time alone to heal the deep wounds left by the loss of multiple officers. As I sit through orientation, I wonder if ACSO's dedicating Urban Shield 2009 to Oakland PD might help the Oakland team heal more quickly and more completely.
Days Two and Three: The Competition
For the next two days, the teams will be competing in 25 challenging real-world scenarios, with very little rest or sleep. This is a true test of tactical skills, physical endurance, and mental resolve. Each of the teams and participants has obviously trained extensively in preparation for this ultra-demanding event, but it's still going to be a test of their mettle.
As a former SWAT officer, I greatly appreciate and respect the difficult challenges every participant will face at Urban Shield. Not once in the next 48 hours will I see anyone give less than 100-percent effort. All participants and teams are credits to both SWAT and the law enforcement profession. The same is true for the ACSO support personnel. They work really hard making Urban Shield a success.
Day Four: Awards
The competition ends, and now it's time for the awards banquet aboard the U.S.S. Hornet. The Hornet is an aircraft carrier that was commissioned in 1943. She saw major action in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. She also recovered the Apollo 11 astronauts when they splashed down in the Pacific. The Hornet's hangar deck is a truly magnificent setting for any event, especially something like the Urban Shield awards banquet and vendor show.
The vendor show is impressive, offering a wide array of useful tactical equipment and weaponry to meet any budget. After spending an enjoyable day of checking out all the "toys," it is now time for the banquet and awards ceremony.
Sheriff Ahern presents awards to each of the 27 participating SWAT teams. Each one is a winner for participating in what I believe to be the world's most challenging SWAT event.
The highlight of the ceremony is Sheriff Ahern announcing the top three winning teams.
The entire audience breaks into spontaneous, sustained, heartfelt clapping and cheering "OPD, OPD." A proud moment for Oakland SWAT and the entire OPD. Their participation and their first-place finish serves as a tribute to their four fallen brothers and to all the men and women in their department.
Urban Shield is a huge event, and I have barely scratched the surface in this blog. So for the next few SWAT blogs, I'm going to look at this exercise from a variety of angles.
For more on Urban Shield:
The Best Training Anywhere…Period