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Cover Story

TWO if by Sea: Tactical Waterborne Units

Waterborne tactical training prepares SWAT teams for operations on the deep blue.

August 01, 2002  |  by - Also by this author

Confidence Builder

Of course, busting marijuana growers was not the impetus for the St. Mary's County SWAT team's waterborne training. At the time his team enrolled for the training, Cameron's primary concern was a hostage incident on one of the fishing or party boats that ply the local waters. Now after the atrocities of last September, he casts a wary eye toward the area's most critical targets-a nuclear power plant, oil refineries constantly visited by a fleet of foreign-flagged tankers, liquid natural gas storage, just to name a few-and he thinks about what his team could do if called into action against motivated terrorists.

Cameron harbors no Rambo fantasies. He knows that if a police SWAT team were faced with close-quarter battle with zealots, it would be very messy. But his waterborne training gives him confidence that his team would know what to do if someone, for example, hijacked an oil tanker in his jurisdiction.

It's that confidence that Cameron relied on in Baltimore at the tabletop exercise. He was one of the few people in the room who knew what he would do if the incident had been real. Cameron says he would have boarded the container ship with his 12-man team and attempted to run it aground before it could reach the bridge. Would he have been successful? "We were more prepared than anybody who was there," he says with a verbal shrug, adding that in a perfect world, close-quarter battle with terrorists on a container ship is best left to a SEAL team.

Unfortunately, it's a far from perfect world. "I think that the thing [tactical officers] have to realize is that you can't rely on the FBI or the military," Cameron says. "After the Baltimore exercise, we had to go back and take a hard look at things. I've realized that we're now being asked to do things that I have never conceivably thought about in my career and that includes waterborne operations.

"When we made the decision to do the training, it was because we had the dollars, and it was a priority for us," he adds. "But anybody who has water [in their jurisdiction] now, I don't see how waterborne training can't be a priority for them. The job is going to fall to the police. It's a crazy world, and the demands on us change every day."

Tactical Watreborne Operations

There are very few people more qualified to teach waterborne tactics and survival courses to police officers than retired U.S. Navy Chief Steven C. Bronson.

A decorated combat veteran, Bronson was one of eight Naval Special Warfare (NSW) instructors and combat craft patrol officers chosen to design, develop, and implement the Navy's Special Warfare Combatant Craft training program. Although retired, Bronson continues to work with NSW and Special Forces personnel.

But today most of his time is spent training cops. Bronson is a natural working with cops, and with good reason. He holds California POST certification and is a graduate of the San Jose Criminal Justice Training Center. Bronson says he achieved POST certification in the '80s when he was considering a career in law enforcement as a way of making a living after his retirement from the Navy.

After being reassigned to the NSW program as an instructor, Bronson was inspired to combine his interest in law enforcement, his experience in waterborne operations, and his love of teaching. He went on to found Tactical Watreborne Operations to provide high-end training to SWAT officers. "I've always had a great respect for the job these guys do on a daily basis," Bronson explains.

For more information about TWO training, visit www.watreborne.com or call (757) 426-9526.

Hidey Holes and Fatal Funnels

Tactical operations on boats and ships are different than tactical operations in buildings and houses. That's one of the first things that officers learn when they enroll in training programs with Tactical Watreborne Operations (TWO).

"A vessel offers numerous hidey holes and areas of concealment that you won't find in a building," says TWO founder Steven C. Bronson, explaining that his program includes training in how to move from room to room on a ship or boat and avoid ambushes and fatal funnels. "As part of the training, we actually do hands-on assaults on the various rooms of a target vessel. Typically, depending on the vessel, there are places where you can hide a person, and to the untrained eye, it wouldn't look like you have somebody in there."

TWO drives the point home in the time-honored Academy way. After the officers sweep the room and say they're "clear," Bronson asks, "Are you really clear?" Then a training officer steps out of concealment.

Bronson admits that every vessel is different and he can't train officers for all contingencies, but he believes he can help them see hidden dangers on boats and ships. "Certain things are always the same on all vessels," he explains. "Hatches, doors, bulkheads, overheads, wiring systems, all of these things are on every vessel that you might board. Training helps you identify an area of a vessel that might have been modified to allow somebody to hide."

In addition to training officers to make note of areas of possible concealment, TWO also offers instruction in what to do and what not do on a vessel. "There are places that you want to put your feet and places where you don't want to put your feet. There are buttons that you don't want to push and switches and valves that you don't want to turn," Bronson explains.

Swimmer Assaults and Surveillance

Although fast attack craft make for more exciting photos, the heart of the training offered by Tactical Watreborne Operations (TWO) is swimming tactics for surveillance, assaults, and sniper positions.

Many departments who have taken the courses offered by TWO have found swimmer assaults and surveillance to be the most practical application of the training. The reason is simple: Bad guys, like the rest of us, like property on the beach, the lake shore, and the river front. They also make the assumption that when the law comes knocking on the door, it will come by land.

The St. Mary's County (Md.) Sheriff's Department recently used TWO swimmer techniques to surveil and take down an illegal drug operation. "You couldn't approach from the land, the way these people set their houses up," says Lt. Tim Cameron, department SWAT commander. "But they didn't think about the water and that gave us another dimension."

Waterborne Gear

The following is Tactical Watreborne Operation's list of recommended gear for outfitting and training a 15-officer police waterborne team:

√ Wet Suits (3mm suits for water warmer than 68 degrees, 7mm for water colder than 68 degrees.)

√ Neoprene Gloves

√ Neoprene Hoods

√ Neoprene Booties

√ Seal Swimmer Goggles (www.aqualung.com)

√ Snorkels

√ Inflatable Swimmers Vests (A good piece of safety equipment for use under body armor.)

√ Rocket Swim Fins (You want them to fit over your boots, www.aqualung.com.)

√ Ballistic System (Survival Inc. makes one with a built-in buoyancy system, www.survivalinc.com.)

√ Dry Suits (For long exposure in cold water, www.usia.com.)

√ Dry Bags (To protect electronic gear and weapons, www.usia.com.)

√ Boats (Suggest Boston Whaler, Nautica, USIA, or Zodiac, depending on applications.)

√ Waterproof Flashlights

√ SealSkins (Socks that keep feet warm when wet.)

√ Boots with Goretex liners

√ Caribiners (For securing equipment)

√ Folding or Fixed-Blade Knives (Strong and Sharp models are available from Benchmade, Emerson,  KA-BAR, MOD, and others. Benchmade plans to release a knife designed by Bronson and Tactical Watreborne Operations in October.)

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Tags: Hostage Situations, Tactical Gear, SWAT Tactics, Counter-Terrorism Initiatives, Flashlights, Operations Plan, Reality-Based Training, Military-related, Search and Rescue, Watercraft


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