Tactical Operations Training at TREXPO West

For two days I found myself totally immersed in tactical operations, and emerged with newfound tactical knowledge learned from the “best.” I’ve been in the SWAT business in various capacities for many years, yet continue to have a thirst for tactical knowledge that will never be quenched.

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I’ve been attending TREXPO for more than a decade, and continue to be impressed by the quality and variety of the courses and instructors. TREXPO West 2009, March 31–April 2 in Long Beach, Calif., more than lived up to my expectations and once again I found myself with the difficult choice of which courses to choose.

I decided on attending the Tactical Operations track in its entirety, and I wasn’t disappointed that I did. I soon found myself immersed in two days of the latest in Tactical Operations taught by some of the most knowledgeable, respected instructors anywhere.

Sandwiched between the twin tragic shootouts in Oakland and Pittsburgh and amid a nationwide mass-murder epidemic, TREXPO West came at the perfect time for officers to learn new techniques and tactics.

For two days I found myself totally immersed in tactical operations, and emerged with newfound tactical knowledge learned from the “best.” I’ve been in the SWAT business in various capacities for many years, yet continue to have a thirst for tactical knowledge that will never be quenched.

Day One: “Tactical Leadership”–Taught by R.K. Miller, retired from the Huntington Beach (Calif.) Police Department.

I’ve known R.K. for a number of years. He is a dedicated, experienced tactician whose tactical knowledge yields an educational course. His topic, “Tactical Leadership,” is the key to the success or failure of all tactical missions.

At TREXPO West, R.K. discussed U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd’s revolutionary, universally recognized, battle-proven OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop. This concept, which has changed the face of modern warfare, was developed for aerial combat tactics, but it applies very well to law enforcement and SWAT tactical operations.

R.K. summed up tactical leadership as “Doing the right thing for your troops.” He says that successful tactical leadership requires mutual trust between leaders and troops. Without this mutual trust, missions are doomed from the start.

Other lessons that you can take away from R.K.’s class include such tactical tidbits as: Don’t expose yourself to unnecessary risk. Take care of your troops. Challenge yourself and your troops. Build for the future and be forward thinking. Correct and learn from mistakes. Be flexible in your tactics. Think like your opponent. Combine experience and intuition. Be decisive. Don’t melt down.

No matter how many times I attend R.K.’s classes, I always come away with new knowledge and insight.

Day One: “Active Shooter Response”–Taught by Don Alwes, NTOA lead active shooter instructor.

There isn’t a more timely, universal topic than Active Shooter Response. After the Columbine shooting 10 years ago, NTOA rewrote the book on law enforcement response to active shooters. That book is constantly being updated and revised in response to active shooters’ ever-changing tactics.

Don stressed that we don’t have all the answers. We can’t prevent all active shooters. He said there’s no single “right” resolution and sometimes a “bad” plan is the only available option.

Active shooters are a tactical officer problem, not a tactical team problem. Your circumstances and resources play a critical role in your response. Urban response (with greater manpower) will be very different from rural response (lone officer).

SWAT will usually arrive too late to an active shooting because such incidents require immediate intervention. Don told the class that first responders bear the brunt of the critical initial response and that their best response is to move toward the threat and make the violence stop. Success relies on skill, knowledge, training, and attitude.

We have come a long way in preventing and responding to active shooters, Don said. However, we also know we can’t rest on our laurels because the bad guys are working hard to defeat our counter measures. To win, Don stresses that we need to get there fast and get guns on the problem.

Day One: “Killing of SWAT & SWAT Teams”–taught by Ron McCarthy, LAPD SWAT Sergeant (ret.).

Many in SWAT—including myself—consider Ron McCarthy the premier master SWAT tactician of all time. If you’ve never seen him in action, you owe it to your team and yourself to do sit in on one of his classes. I’ve attended his courses for 23 years and have learned something vital and new every time. This time was no exception.

Ron tackled the controversial topic of how SWAT officers get killed with his usual no-nonsense, straight-forward tactical wisdom, insight, and understanding. Despite SWAT’s 40-plus years of overwhelming success, SWAT teams have made mistakes, and it is these few mistakes that anti-SWAT opponents focus on to justify doing away with SWAT entirely.

Ron puts it bluntly: SWAT supervisors are key to success, and bad supervision has gotten SWAT officers killed needlessly. He stresses maintaining your standards and rules and using common sense. Decisions need to be reasonable, lawful, ethical, and within policy.

Ron told the TREXPO audience that he doesn’t tolerate accidental discharges. He believes in semi-auto over full auto, and recommends designating primary and secondary shooters. He believes in good time (in our favor) vs. bad time (in the suspect’s favor), advising teams never to give suspects your good time. Prioritizing life, he ranks innocent civilians first, police second, and bad guys last.

Ron asked this thought-provoking question: What would you do if it was your family member as either the victim or suspect?

Ron believes that time is only on the side of the one who uses it wisely, and manipulates it, for tactical advantage. And he notes that complacency kills.

He told the TREXPO class that they should be studying respected expert tacticians including, John Boyd (inventor of the OODA Loop) and Sid Heal, a retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department commander. Ron also stressed that terrorists study our tactics and have learned to take advantage of our weak spots. We need to change the dynamics and create chaos that disorients the terrorists by moving constantly and aggressively toward the terrorists.

Ron’s message is simple–too many SWAT officers continue to be killed each year–tragedies that can be dramatically reduced by adhering to the basic tactics that have made SWAT successful for 42 years.

Day Two: “Hostage Rescue Tactics”—Taught by Bob Gallegos, LAPD SWAT Team Leader (Ret).

Hostage rescues are the most challenging and risky of all SWAT operations. They require precise timing, training, experience, and coordination. Innocent lives hang in the balance, and there is zero margin for error.

How does a SWAT team reach the level of proficiency to pull off a successful hostage rescue? Bob Gallegos, one of the premier SWAT practitioners anywhere walked us through hostage rescues, step-by-step.

Bob explained each step in clear, concise language, also explaining the rationale for each step and tactic. This is where Bob’s vast SWAT experience became readily evident.

Simply stated, he knows what he’s talking about and has practiced what he preaches many times. And above all, he wants to share his vast knowledge with others in SWAT.

Yet, he’s also the first to admit that he doesn’t know it all and is always willing to learn from others. He encouraged his students to ask questions and thoroughly answers them.

Hostage rescue is a complex topic, with innumerable variables, yet Bob’s instructional style is easy to digest and simplifies this complexity into bite-size pieces everyone can understand.
He also provided valuable insight and understanding of the what, how, and why of LAPD SWAT tactics. That’s important since LAPD SWAT is a recognized leader among SWAT teams.

Day Two: “Controlled Entries: The Smart Alternative to Dynamic Entries”–Taught by Sgt. Willard Cragun of the Ogden (Utah) Police Department.

Will Cragun, a SWAT commander at his agency, tackled the controversial topic of dynamic entries on warrant services. He cites a growing number of SWAT teams, including his own, employing alternatives to dynamic entry, except for hostage rescues. According to Will, NTOA is also moving toward alternatives to dynamic entries for warrant services.

Will told the TREXPO attendees that too many police are getting killed and injured on dynamic entries. Another consideration is how courts view dynamic entries. Will went on to say there needs to be a balance between action imperative with need and risk, and he asks the question: “What amount of dope is worth officers’ lives?”

He continued by saying tactics evolve and need to be battle proven, and he advised that we should not confuse good luck with good tactics. Dynamic entry depends upon surprise, which is difficult at best because suspects always have the advantage.

The alternative tactics Will advocated included surround and call out, takedowns away from strongholds, and controlled entries, a version of the limited penetration tactic that mitigates risk while increasing target domination.
Will sums it up by saying change is a constant, and you’re either getting better, or you’re getting worse.

Day Two: “How Evolving Technology Can Affect Tactics, Training and Procedures in the Future.” This was the keynote presentation by Richard “Mack” Machowicz former U.S. Navy SEAL and host of the Discovery Channel TV series “FutureWeapons”.

Mack is dedicated to helping military and police win and “bringing our guys back safely.” And that’s how he judges technology. Does it help the operator in the field? If it does help the troops, he believes they should have it. One of his major points was that when possible, we shouldn’t be putting guys in harm’s way. Instead, we should let technology do the job.

Yet, Mack also cautions against over reliance on gadgets and gear, correctly stating that tactics are what prevail. Complacency kills and micromanagement interferes with tactical operations.
When asked how we can prevail, Mack referred to Sun Tzu’s time proven philosophy: Attack their plan. Mack adds that we need to “get into suspect’s head.”

As I listened to Mack’s presentation, I realized he’s a man on a mission. It’s the same mission he was on as a Navy SEAL, the same mission all noble warriors subscribe to, protecting the innocent and prevailing against the bad guys.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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