Anyone who needs justification for why we train for the "unthinkable" need look no further than Fort Hood, Texas, and the other dozen deadly active shootings that have occurred in 2009 - so far.
Doing a quick search, I found a dozen active shootings across America, resulting in at least 80 gunshot deaths and 49 injuries. This includes seven police officers killed in Oakland and Pittsburgh, with another three wounded.
The shooting locations have occurred from cities (large, medium, small) to rural - and now a military base. Those who continue to try to say "It won't happen here" are living in denial of reality. Just ask those in the dozen communities with active shootings this year.
Training for the "unthinkable" is what Urban Shield is all about because the "unthinkable" can, and does, happen. And like lightning in a thunderstorm, you never know where or when the next strike will occur.
Thanks to the Alameda County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office, I was privileged to observe Urban Shield 2009. Twenty-seven SWAT teams, mostly from California but also from as far away as Boston and even France, were tested for 48-plus continuous hours by a series of 25 real-world, force-on-force scenarios. Each scenario designed to test officers' tactical skills and teamwork to the limit was scored and timed, with points deducted for mistakes.
This alone makes Urban Shield the most daunting, pressure filled tactical training exercise in existence. It's the equivalent of handling 25 separate SWAT callouts, each with briefings and debriefings, all back to back, non-stop for 48-plus hours. There's also an exceptionally physically and mentally demanding fitness and obstacle course involved.
However, there's far more to Urban Shield. The 48-plus hour exercise begins with a full day of extensive orientation, preparation, logistics, and setting of ground rules. The exercise ended with an equally full day of activities including classes and a vendor show culminating with an awards ceremony and banquet aboard the WWII Navy U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier - a magnificent setting for honoring the 200-plus SWAT warriors from the 27 participating teams.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Alameda County SO, especially Sheriff Gregory Ahern and the hundreds of his ACSO personnel. Without them, Urban Shield simply could not have happened. I've never seen such a high level of enthusiastic, unwavering support from so many people. Every ACSO officer I met or saw was a credit not only to ACSO, but also to the entire LE profession.
For example, ACSO deputies were present at each of the 25 sites to run the exercises. The amount of logistical preparation required for each location is mind boggling. In addition, ACSO deputies were assigned as liaisons to each of the 27 participating teams, handling logistics and driving donated vans to the 25 scenario locations scattered across three counties.
These deputies also played an equally important role by guarding the participating teams. This allowed the participants to focus fully on the training scenarios, knowing their ACSO liaisons "had their backs." I can't say enough about ACSO's enthusiastic high level of professionalism from top to bottom.
Equally impressive were all 200+ participants from the 27 competing SWAT teams. I can only imagine the countless hours of preparation and training each of these SWAT teams and warriors spent. I know firsthand how much preparation is needed for one training exercise. So, I can only imagine how much preparation would be required for 25 training exercises. Whether full time or part time, this amount of preparation undoubtedly requires a tremendous amount of personal time and effort.
I was impressed with the enthusiasm, professionalism, and abilities displayed by each participant and team. Not once did I see even a hint of anything less than best efforts by any team or participant. All 27 teams are a credit to SWAT everywhere. I've never been more proud of the law enforcement profession.
But the ultimate compliment came from the ACSO deputies watching and supporting Urban Shield. Compliments that included improving their own tactical skills by watching the variety of tactics employed by the different teams. Tactics that would help deputies handle dangerous real-world situations.
One deputy I talked with at orientation told me that for the next two days he'd volunteered to roleplay a "bad guy" for one of the scenarios. His role included physically resisting SWAT. And he knew from last year's Urban Shield to expect more than a few "lumps and bruises" thanks to playing the role realistically.
I'm not sure I've ever met anyone that eager to get "slam dunked" - not just once, but 14 times, at the hands of different SWAT teams. But what this deputy said next brought everything into proper focus. He said he was there to learn how to be a better road deputy, and what better training than learning from SWAT?
Urban Shield is far more than merely a SWAT training exercise. From participants to support personnel and observers, Urban Shield is an unparalleled tactical learning experience that better prepares all of us for the inevitable "unthinkable."
Upcoming columns will feature more Urban Shield - from scenarios to tactics.
Urban Shield 2009 Dedicated to Oakland's Fallen Officers