Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
  • SWAT uses simulations to train for real-life scenarios

  • As hand signals are thrown in the air, eyes dart back and forth in the shift of light between the darkened hallway of a local middle school. The area is silent, but for the footsteps of a team of SWAT members who, with rifles raised, prepare to enter a classroom.

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  • As hand signals are thrown in the air, eyes dart back and forth in the shift of light between the darkened hallway of a local middle school. The area is silent, but for the footsteps of a team of SWAT members who, with rifles raised, prepare to enter a classroom.
    As the team storms through the door, stepping on paper littering the floor, the muzzle of a black rifle is placed around an odd corner in the room. A hand reaches up, grabbing the muzzle and pushing it to the ground.
    “Stop!” the man attached to the hand yells.
    Instead of firing a gun, the man holding the end of the rifle only scowls and in exchange for bullets, the SWAT member holding the weapon returns embarrassment.
    The lesson for Kansas law enforcement officers, Wednesday, wasn't just “lead with your eyes” but to put what they have learned in training to a simulated test.
    The members of Southern Kansas SWAT, along with some officers from other jurisdictions, are taking part in the week-long basic SWAT course. Some officers are taking the course for the first time, while others are taking class as a refresher course.
    Students have come from as far as Hutchinson and Reno County to learn how Southern Kansas SWAT operates, with officers from Oxford, Arkansas City, Caldwell, Cowley County and McConnell Air Force Base joining in.
    An entire day of learning how to breach rooms and hallways, stairways and confined spaces will be key to the students’ success on Friday during a fake scenario known as simulations run by the leaders of the group.
    As Wednesday started, groups were divided and placed on all three floors of the old Wellington Middle School, learning different methods of clearing rooms of dangerous suspects, both fast and deliberate and slow and methodical.
    Dressed in body armor from head to toe, the men worked their way for hours through various scenarios working up and down hallways, finding fake suspects in rooms and learning how to properly communicate both through language and signal.
    Covering each room, mistakes were made and corrected as the officers’ knowledge of proper breaching techniques expanded. Current members of the Southern Kansas SWAT team were placed in charge of the groups.
    “It gives them ownership over the guys and gives them a different perspective on what these guys are doing,” said SWAT Commander, Capt. Mike Yoder of the Sumner County Sheriff's Department.
    As the groups grew closer together in the scenarios, mistakes melted away revealing smooth moving teams. Though flaws still remained.
    In the final scenario of the day, three fake suspects were placed on the first and second floors of the middle school with two groups sent in to weed them out. The group on the second floor found their suspects, but the group on the first had to go through the scenario twice to find their suspect. Hiding in an off-room beneath some cover, the team learned to search more thoroughly.
    Page 2 of 2 - “They are trying to do it too quick,” said Yoder of the last scenario. “When people are hiding from you and we are trying to go through quickly and stealthily to find him from a hidden or barricaded position, it has to be nice and slow and deliberate and very, very complete. They just got in a hurry,”
    Throughout the day, the men sweated through their gear, but most found the exercise helpful.
    “Training went excellent. I thought it was an excellent opportunity for our guys, McConnell guys, to come out here and do what we are trained to do and it went very well,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary Balentine. “We have trained in the past and we do have a fair amount of experience so coming out here was excellent in solidifying those skills so getting out there and operating in a structure we don't know and don't have any actual intel on gave us the ability to get in there and work on our skills and tactics and I think it went really well.”
    Yoder agreed, stating he's seeing a difference in how the 21 members of the basic SWAT training class move and work together.
    “I think they are doing an excellent job,” said Yoder.
    The payoff for the students won't be passing the simulations test on Friday, but with every successful SWAT situation they are placed in.
    “This is the time and the place to mess up because we can fix it and make it less likely that we are going to do the same mistake in a real-life situation we are in,” said Yoder.
    Thursday morning, the SWAT students will be learning how to complete vehicle and bus assaults with rifle and handgun skills worked on later that same afternoon with a combat stress course.
    Friday will be the big test for the men, as simulations ammunition, much like paintballs but smaller and faster, will be used in an already planned scenario. If a mistake is made and a suspect has the opportunity, the student will be shot with the ammunition, losing not only points, but pride in the process.
    “If they mess up, they get shot. It's kind of a pain discipline type of thing, a pain penalty,” said Yoder.

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