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Sgt. Shawn Edens tests a door to see whether it is locked during active shooter training for Security Battalion April 19.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

Security Battalion trains for the evolving active shooter

5 May 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

“Don’t go into this training with the mentality that you’re just going to be shooting paper,” said Dan Bertrand, an instructor with Homeland Security Solutions, Inc. He was briefing Marines and civilian law enforcement attached to Marine Corps Base Quantico Security Battalion prior to active shooter training April 19.

“Events over the last few months have been terrible for law enforcement,” he said, referring to incidents in Prince William County, Virginia, and Prince George’s County, Maryland, in which officers were shot to death. “These aren’t cookie cutter events anymore. It’s important for law enforcement to learn from events going on around the country. We have to make sure these officers didn’t die in vain.”

Security Battalion Marines and civilians train twice a year for active shooter situations at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) facility on the base’s west side. Before the eight-hour on-site training, they watched a new video produced by the FBI about responding to an active shooter. The video detailed the different layers of response, from the first police officers on the scene, to the Rescue Task Force (teams of EMTs guarded by armed officers or military police) which tend to victims, to the establishment of elements like a unified command station, a family information hotline, an area for witness interviews and one for family members trying to locate each other.

One element the video depicted was the “stray cat” phenomenon—officers out of uniform or officers from other jurisdictions who show up voluntarily wanting to help. This can cause problems, as it did recently in Maryland when an officer shot one of his own who was undercover.

“Here aboard Quantico, we have possibly the largest population of ‘stray cats,’” Bertrand said. “That’s something to be aware of. Law enforcement is a thinking profession now. It’s not just for the biggest and strongest guy on the block.”

After the video, the Marines and officers ran through different scenarios at the MOUT facility that allowed them to practice breaching doors and clearing rooms of threats.

Bertrand explained that there are different ways of breaching a door depending on whether it opens outward or inward. A door that opens inward will have exposed hinges and requires pry bars to breach. For a door that opens outward, a battering ram is the best tool. In both cases, Bertrand said, success depends on technique, not brute strength—using the hips more than the upper body to swing the battering ram and using leverage from the door frame to pry a door open.

The Marines and civilian officers worked in teams of two to breach doors and enter and clear rooms. Bertrand stressed the importance of clear, effective communication between the two members of each team so that they would be able to move smoothly together without touching each other.

Each team member had two magazines with 10 rounds of ammunition.

“We’re trying to force you to have to reload quickly and communicate that to your partner,” Bertrand said.

After going through the scenario, the teams were critiqued on their performance by the Homeland Security Solutions, Inc. instructors. They received peer critiques as well.

“We want you to make mistakes here,” Bertrand said. “Better here than in a real situation.”

“I think we did pretty well,” said Lance Cpl. Riley Blaylock after going through the scenario with his partner, Sgt. Shawn Edens. “It was my first time using a breacher. It was interesting trying to focus on that new skill as well as the other stuff.”

“We haven’t gotten a chance to work together and it’s good to know who you are working with,” Edens said. “I think the hardest thing was figuring out our speed and pace. You get caught up in the moment but you still have to work as a team. You have to communicate.”

Cpl. Devin Kirkman, who has been with Security Battalion for three years, said the biannual training at MOUT is always extremely helpful.

“This is far and away the best training we get,” he said.

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