Tester staff writer
W ith the certification of the most recent class May 8, all four law enforcement shifts at Naval Air Station Patuxent River have now completed the revamped Active Shooter Academy.
“[Commander, Naval Installations Command] developed it to standardize training and put it out to all installations,” said Capt. James Williams, Naval District Washington police training officer assigned to Pax River. “Everyone in the region does the same thing now and we can all work together.”
The academy, whose participants this session were a mix of security department police officers and masters-at-arms (MAs), involved 16 hours of training comprising classroom instruction and practical active shooter scenarios.
“The training incorporates lessons learned from the Navy Yard shooting,” Williams explained. “Lessons can always be learned from after-action reports and the active shooter world constantly transforms.”
Training begins slowly and then progresses — in crawl/walk/run phases — allowing participants to build knowledge, confidence and teamwork along the way.
The earliest scenarios start out with mock handguns, known as red guns, which have no trigger pull or projectile, allowing a team to focus on their movement and communication. Paper targets represent threats instead of real people, enabling a team to retry something that doesn’t click with them initially.
“We start with very slow deliberate movements so they can see what happens with their weapon. For example, when they turn a certain way, where is the muzzle in relation to the person in front of them,” Williams said. “Or, if they enter a doorway and don’t like the way it feels, they can go out and come in again in a different way.”
The initial scenarios are purposely designed for teams to have a winning outcome if things move in the right direction.
“We want to build confidence by focusing on small wins,” Williams said. “Let’s get through the door; that’s one win. Let’s clear a room; that’s another win. We don’t want to immediately put them in overwhelming scenarios. That way, they’ll accept increasing challenges more rapidly and they’ll work hard for each win.”
And the challenges do increase, eventually culminating in scenarios that involve multiple rooms in an unfamiliar building, real people posing as threats shooting plastic BBs from Airsoft guns and the split-second determination of ‘friend or foe’ in the event the team encounters an individual along the way.
“In our A-school, we go through some simple team tactics but this training was more in depth with multiple different scenarios using as-close-as-possible live weapons,” said Master-at-Arms Seaman Zachary Weeks with Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ) 4. “You can run through rooms with paper targets all day long, but the moment you put [an armed] person in there, it’s a completely different style of training.”
Fellow VQ-4 Sailor, Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Michael Arnold agreed and said he was not expecting the rush that accompanied the training.
“There were two active shooters in the scenario and I didn’t think I’d be that pumped up,” he said. “The adrenaline rush definitely kicked in when I went through the door. It was a great experience and I learned a lot. I want to come back again.”
Williams said the biggest improvement he sees from the academy’s beginning to end is in the teams’ communication.
“By the end, they’ve developed their own communications procedures through talking or hand signals,” he said. “Once you can communicate, your team movement becomes more efficient. You’re not scattered or searching for your own people. Everyone has a job to do and once a team has meshed, they know where each other is and don’t have to guess what the other is doing. That streamlines tactics.”