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In the wake of 9-11, special ops teams that train together survive together

March 01, 2002  |  by Frank Borelli

Improvising is something every soldier and police officer can do, but every one of them will tell you it's important to minimize the need. Prior planning prevents poor performance. This exercise allows the teams to iron out every detail they can and train on it.

All involved learn something they didn't know before. You can never be sure what this will be, and it's often different for everyone attending, but each training exercise is a learning experience. The operators who attend this training will all walk away with some new tidbit that they've tucked away and will remember when they most need it.

Bloodless Battle

If there is a negative aspect to this training, it's that the training doesn't occur often enough and that it is planned with common knowledge of the teams. Crisis response, most especially for the police special operations teams, is like anything else that police officers train on: the more often you perform the training in a realistic scenario, the more likely you are to perform properly in a real-life situation. "Training is bloodless battle and battle is bloody training."

If such training is to be of greatest value, then the only person who knows the exact date and time should be the team leaders. The rest of the participants should be put on alert for a general time frame. Then, on the morning of the training, the sheriff's office dispatch center should be paging, or calling, the team members to respond. The training should begin with that call-up.

A PAX-SAR team member provides cover with an M-60 as police exit the helicopter.

Such a training concept may prove inconvenient, but it is more realistic. This wasn't a training exercise for a warrant service or raid where plenty of planning time is available. This more closely resembled a hostage or barricade situation that occurs without warning and requires immediate response from the teams.

By the same token, giving minimal notice to the teams is only practical if this exercise is done frequently enough to warrant it. If this is a once-a-year event that contains more classroom briefings than operational practice, then using it as training for response to a spontaneous event doesn't hold a lot of learning value.

Mutual Respect

It was heartening to listen to the team members talk about and with each other. While they obviously enjoyed poking fun at the guys on different teams, their other comments made it just as obvious that they shared a mutual respect. There is a Fraternal Order of Police, but the police special operations community shares its own fraternal bond and it's easily noticed when different teams interact.

Sgt. Thomas, prior to the beginning of the training exercises, had commented that the STATE guys were "pretty good guys," and "they know what they're doing." These comments are neither openly complimentary nor insulting. They are common everyday statements about some brother cops.

The less obvious but more meaningful compliments are paid in the course of the exercise itself. Calvert County SOT is the primary police spec-ops unit on scene and Sgt. Thomas has command. During the course of the helicopter flight, he invites the STATE team commander, F/SGT Runk, who theoretically outranks him,  and depends on his input for evaluation of potential obstacles to the successful completion of their shared mission.

The fact that Sgt. Thomas asks, and listens, is a compliment to F/SGT Runk. It also sets an example to Sgt. Thomas' men that they should pay attention as well. The action, not the spoken word, sets a precedent that will carry forward into future combined operations or training exercise.

At the end of the training day, not only have all the teams benefited from the learning environment, but the citizens of the county have unknowingly benefited as well. The citizens are protected and served by capable men who know their jobs, but who never quit trying to learn more-the sign of a true professional.

Frank Borelli is a veteran police officer and a police instructor now working with the U.S. Army's testing and training communities to identify opportunities to share law enforcement and military resources. Frank enjoys comments and can be reached at [email protected]

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