July 5, 2006

Homefront guardians

Editor's note: This was a really fun assignment. I got to spend a few hours with the Fort Polk Special Reaction Team while they were conducting a joint-training with local law enforcement agencies. It is amazing the intensity level that there was for me either walking in behind them or waiting on the inside for them to make entry. I have to say "thank you" to each of the groups for their patience with me. Photography in the dark is not the best and the repeated flash pops blinded them a time or two, but they were accommodating.

-- Published in Fort Polk Guardian (June 30, 2006) --
By: MICHELLE LINDSEY, Guardian staff writer

As night falls, families throughout Fort Polk prepare for bed, but members of the Special Reaction Team, 91st Military Police Detachment, 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Combat Support Brigade (ME), ready themselves for the unknown.
The military police desk has received a report that a female, wanted by the Houston Police Department, has been found in bldg 7209 on North Fort. It is verified that she is wanted for the murder of her 4-year-old son –– a murder committed to appease her boyfriend who did not want to be “saddled with a child.”
SRT members are advised the female is a drug user and prone to rapid mood swings. After receiving notification that the Leesville Police Department and Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office are assisting, members of the three units gather their gear and set up a command post outside of bldg 7209. Team members don protective gear and enter the building. Moving as one, they slowly and methodically clear each room on the first floor. Then they move to the second floor where things change.
“We have two males and a female in two rooms at at the rear of the hallway,” one team member calls out, as the females began yelling at them to leave.
“Drop your weapon and get on the floor,” another team member shouts. One male complies and crawls on his belly towards the officers. He is checked for weapons, handcuffed and taken into custody as team members tries to talk the others into surrendering.
“Get out of my house. I don’t want you here,” a woman screams as team members advance down the hallway clearing each room. Once officers reach the room, the subjects are given a second chance to comply but choose to resist. After a brief struggle, both subjects are subdued and taken into custody.
Though the events that unfolded June 20 were a joint training exercise conducted by the three organizations, the scenarios they used were real with the exception of location and names.
“The Special Reaction Team is just that,” said 2nd Lt. Kenneth Murray, SRT officer in charge. “We respond to all special threats that may occur on Fort Polk.”
Those situations may include barricaded suspects, armed subjects and hostage situations, he said. “Situations that the typical road military police may not be equipped to handle.”
The SRT is called once all other measures of defusing the situation have failed, Murray said. “The MPs and Provost Marshal’s Office make every effort to calm the subject, but if they are unwilling to cooperate with the Provost Marshal’s Office or CID negotiators, then we are called.”
Murray said that they approach every situation hoping it will be resolved without incident, but are prepared for resistance.
“Our primary goal is to remove any hostages, the individual who caused the threat and team members without harm,” Murray said.
Training is an ongoing process for the SRT including Army and specialized training to deal with close quarter, hostile situations.
“Our marksmanship, for example, is at a higher level than what Soldiers take part in. Soldiers are required to qualify with their weapon once every six months. We qualify with our weapon systems every month,” Murray said. “We conduct advanced marksmanship training ranges where we set up scenarios and barricades. We have threat targets. There are life-sized photos of people with and without weapons.
We also have shoot no-shoot scenarios –– as team members come around a barricade there are multiple targets. Some will be friendly and others hostile. Team members must determine the threat using the see, evaluate, eliminate (SEE) method,” Murray said.
Team members are required to go through SRT phase one training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where they learn techniques and tactics. Three Fort Polk SRT members have also completed phase two, the marksman observer course.
Most team members are also combat lifesavers or medics because once in the building, they must rely on each other even in the event of injury to hostage, threat subject or team member, said Murray.
“There is so much training involved,” he added. “You have to be able to plan for the event, which is important. However, sometimes there is little time to plan and the team has to gear up, respond and devise the plan enroute. They have to think on their feet and react at a moment’s notice,” Murray added.
“The SRT team trains to save lives,” said Staff Sgt. Herschel Green, SRT team leader and observer/controller for the training exercise. The background and prior acts of hostile subjects are used to identify potential problems, but the goal is to defuse the situation as peacefully as possible, without harm to anyone. Training with civilian agencies allows the chance to learn from each other.
“It gives us the benefit of their (VPSO and LPD) experience,” Murray said. “They are able to impart to us what has happened to them in real life events. Every situation is different based on how individuals react to the SRT being there.”
“Training with other agencies helps with the exchange of tactics, techniques and procedures,” Green added. “It is somewhat of a SWAT/SRT seminar.
“The ways a department moves, enters a building, prioritizes threat areas and eliminates hostile subjects are as numerous and unique as the teams involved. It is not a case of how one technique may be better than another but how applicable one tactic is in a given situation or floor plan.
“It allows combined learning from actual experience derived from real world operations. There is no better way to learn a lesson than actual field experience,” Green said. “A city's demographics and situations will differ from the parish. We as a combined law enforcement community are smarter and more proficient as a whole than we are individually.”
Team members agreed that continued training and help from outside agencies help them work as an efficient, cohesive unit.
“As a Soldier, especially a military police Soldier, SRT has taught me many training aspects and movement techniques on building clearing, hostage situations and barricade suspects,” said Pvt. Daniel Gotschall, SRT member.
“My tactics and confidence with weapons have significantly increased since I have been on the team. Twice a month I qualify with my M-9 and my M-4 as expert.
“I have been trained on weapons tactics, combatives, repelling, building clearing, health and welfare searches, occupancy control, moving techniques and hostage negotiation.
“I know a lot of new military skills and weapons tactics that have been moved down range to keep Soldiers alive, but there are (those of us on the homefront) who use them as well,” Gotchall continued.
He said that being a member of the team has increased his confidence and pushed him to a new level. “I now know what kind of stress I can be under and still complete the mission. It will push you to the limits emotionally, physically and mentally. It lets you really know where you stand as a Soldier,” he added.
“Remember why we are here,” said Green. “We are training to save lives.”

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