Two police officers from Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) recently completed a grueling two-week tactical training course designed to increase the ability of installation security forces to respond to a variety of complex threats, such as active shooters.
The course was led by Robert Brooks, chief of the NSASP Police Department and included instructors and students from local, federal and military law enforcement agencies. While most who serve on NSASP installations in Dahlgren and Indian Head only encounter police officers at the gates, the advanced training is molding NSASP's first responders into a highly-trained and capable response force.
Accredited through the Rappahannock Criminal Justice Academy, with whom the NSASP Police Department serve as a partnering agency, the course has helped NSASP police become one of the most professional law enforcement departments in the Department of Defense. More than 20 percent of NSASP police officers have now completed the advanced tactical training and other courses from the Rappahannock Criminal Justice Academy.
It was a proud moment when NSASP police officers Andre Roy and Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Graby received pins signifying their achievement Oct. 19.
It was also a hard-won moment: the course included classroom time, live-fire range training and stressful practical application scenarios, complete with role-playing opponents. To add extra realism to the training scenarios, instructors incorporated Simunition, a type of ammunition that fires a plastic bullet filled with paint. While getting shot with this training tool is not a pleasant experience, it was only one tough element of training designed to help basically-trained police officers respond to the ever-changing threat environment.
"The tactical training that the officers received in this venue of training prepares them for a higher level of threat response," said Brooks. "For example, terrorist, active shooter or hostage barricade incidents all contain elements of danger and complexity that most average police officers are neither trained or equipped to respond to."
Teaching police officers advanced tactics and allowing them a venue for realistic practice is a way to not only enhance the individual skills of officers, but also the ability of the department as a whole to keep the community safe.
"Advance tactics, any type, makes a more capable police officer," said Brooks. "The majority of police departments, if they have a tactical team, have part-time teams. These officers often volunteer much of their spare time to ensure that their tactical team is the best and most prepared it can be for any number critical incident call outs.
"The skill sets taught at this course," emphasizes Brooks, "such as advanced firearms training, leadership and decision making process, and advanced tactical skills not only make a better trained police officer, they provide an officer who can return and train others in the skills they learned in the course, even if they are not assigned to a tactical unit."
NSASP police officers, including the two who trained as part of the course, spent several months preparing, often on their own time. The desire to self-improve through work and hard training is palpable among the officers. Throughout, Graby and Roy stayed motivated while they endured the training regimen.
"I knew it would be an intense course but the physical part was lot more than I thought it would be," said Graby.
"I knew that this [course] was going to be hard but I had no idea it was going to be so mentally challenging," said Roy. "Everyday something in my mind was telling me to quit. I had to fight myself to get through every obstacle they threw at me."
Graby and Roy both agreed that the most challenging part of the course was CrossFit physical training. "I never did anything like that before," said Roy. "This is where you can see how good your team works together, because without your team mates, nobody would pass it."
Graby called CrossFit "one of the hardest work outs" he has ever done. "If I could get through it, I could make it through anything."
One of the course's highlights was learning how other police officers from other departments handle challenges. Comparing notes is more professional chatter to police officers: the variations of strategy and tactics incorporated by different law enforcement agencies provides officers with fresh professional perspectives.
"It was great working with other police officers with different backgrounds," said Graby. "They [showed us] a lot of different tactics that their teams use. They also had a lot of different gear and tools."
No matter which department or agency students hailed from, they were pushed to their limits by course instructors. While such training may not be easily understood by outside observers, the stress is highly structured and intended to help officers cope with crisis.
"Realistic training better prepares an officer in many areas," said Brooks. "Increased stress, both physically and mentally, works on many levels, from self confidence to stress inoculation. The synergistic effect of working and problem-solving as a team benefits everyone."
Whether or not that big picture perspective was evident to Graby and Roy during the challenging course, the police officers learned valuable lessons about their profession and themselves.
"I learned that you never quit," said Roy. "Even if your mind is telling you that your body is tired and you can't move anymore. Don't give up; you got a lot more in you so keep going."
Capt. Pete Nette, NSASP commanding officer, attended the pinning ceremony and praised Graby, Roy and the NSASP Police Department. "I think what you guys did was great. What it does for us [as an installation], is it adds a tremendous amount of capability that a lot of places don't have," said Nette. "I want to congratulate you."
"This makes me extremely proud," added Dave Fredrickson, NSASP security director. "Since Chief Brooks got here, we have become as competent and as capable as any other department in our neighboring jurisdictions.
"The guys and gals wearing this pin are the pointy end of the spear for law enforcement," said Fredrickson. "But in this line of work, that point is never sharp enough. We have to train, train, train and this pin is not the end of it. My hat is off to you."
Perhaps no one, however, was more proud of Graby and Roy than their chief.
"I was extremely proud of both of our officers who attended this course," said Brooks. "They have been training with our tactical responders who have previously completed this course and have put in many, many volunteer hours in preparation to attend this course. Both officers showed great heart and dedication in their efforts and I feel that both are better officers because of this experience."