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SWAT Round-Up International: Insights

Written by Jim Weiss

Fifty-two teams from all around the world competed in the 2009 SWAT Round-Up International held in Orlando, FL. Here are some insights into the events by various teams who competed this year.

Event #1 – Hostage Rescue

Because this was a blind event in which observers were not allowed, we interviewed David Arnott, Director of Operations for the SWAT Round-Up International, about the event that involves fast precision shooting, and Corporal Eric Gibson of the Pinellas County, FL Sheriff’s Office about his team’s insights and preparation.

The Hostage Rescue began at the start line where a hostage (in the form of a log) was “rescued.” The log was then carried 40 yards by team members to a wall containing window-like apertures. The team leader decided which handgun shooter would engage targets from which of the four firing lanes. The team’s sniper was assigned to the center position, which was located on a Mobile Adjustable Ramp System (MARS) elevated ramp.

After team members moved to their firing positions, the sniper engaged two targets at a distance of 187 yards. Within each handgun shooting lane were two target stands at a distance of seven to 10 yards. The target stands held one of 18 random symbols, and the symbols needed to be engaged one at a time by relay in a specific order. Four rounds were used by each handgun shooter to engage his four targets.

Handgun shooting took place from behind-the-wall apertures, and the “windows” could not be used for shooting support. Once the team completed its target engagements, they carried the log 40 yards back to the finish line.

Because the Hostage Rescue is a blind event, Gibson said it is difficult to train for it. This year the event did not use subguns, but the directions given to the team leaders the night before stated that it was going to require a one-deputy sniper element and a four-deputy assault element to rescue the hostage. Gas masks were to be worn by the members of the handgun assault element.

Selected members of the competition team trained about 40 hours for the Round-Up. Shooting was practiced using steel plates or index cards as targets. Physical training included running stairs, mountain climbers and the bear crawl. Because there was a hostage to be rescued in this event, they also practiced lifts and carries.

According to Gibson, to create physical exertion before the actual shooting requirements, all team members worked as a team to carry a log at the beginning. The log was carried again at the end of the event. Each member of the assault element had four handgun rounds and wore a gas mask. Their targets were speed targets that had to be shot in a particular order; the targets were given symbols such as a blue triangle, a circle or a number. Target identification was paramount.

Shooters found their lane and turned over a card with the symbol, color or number to be identified and engaged. Two rounds were carried by the sniper, who wore a helmet but no gas mask. The team’s sniper did not use a rangefinder to discover the exact distance of his targets.

Again, because this is a blind event, it can’t really be planned for in advance. Team leaders were briefed the night before about what equipment the team should bring. After the briefing, the entire team sat down together and came up with a plan. Everyone’s input counted. The team suggests preparing for this event by doing a lot of shooting and running, because it is usually a difficult event with small targets.

Event # 2 – Pritcher Scramble

Winter Park, FL Police Department is one of the bedrock competition teams that has been attending the Round-Up since it began 27 years ago. Its recently retired deputy chief participated in the very first Round-Up. While they currently have one team competing, Winter Park is striving to field two teams to compete in the future.

According to Officer Andy Maurer, they essentially prepare for the event all year long. However, keeping in mind budgetary concerns and restraints on training, it isn’t until about three months before the Round-Up that they shift gears and train more specifically for the competition.

The physical training can become boring; therefore, when training, the team varies it by choosing randomly from a deck of cards. Each card has a numerical value that tells them how many repetitions they will do of pushups, mountain climbers, running stairs, etc. Each card also has a different meaning to tell the officer which exercise he must perform.

At the event, when the team came out of the van, they were first met with three 4-foot wooden walls that they had to go over. This year the walls were closer together, which affected their timing because it was difficult to get everyone across the walls without tripping.

In addition, they had to carry a ram that was supplied by the Round-Up—a change from previous years when they were able to use their own ram and carry it on their body. They figured out the order in which they would hand the ram over the walls ahead of time to make passing it along easier.

Following the walls, teams climbed a fence and then dove and low crawled under two widely spaced barriers until they reached an armored personnel carrier where they put on gas masks. Winter Park decided to go over the fence with one team member to the right and one to the left. They stepped over the top (required) rather than swinging over, and then handed over the ram.

The team then ran to two free-standing doors that they opened using the ram. Because it was a different ram from what they were used to, they found it big and bulky. However, all of the teams had to use the same ram and make the adjustment. After running through the doors, the handgunners and subgunners went to shooting lanes and took aim at a running man target.

Winter Park PD decided to put its handgunners in the first positions and its subgunners at the end of the row. They did this because they figured it would take the subgunners longer to unsling their weapons, insert a loaded magazine and shoulder them to get ready. The team then ran the course in reverse, again carrying the ram.

The team’s main suggestion was to practice, practice, practice. Subgunners should practice shouldering their weapons, and all members should practice shooting with their gas masks on because gas masks can distort the target. Practice should also be done when out of breath and winded. The biggest problem the team had was making all of the shots, and they lost points because of this. Emphasis should also be placed on teamwork and communication when planning and preparing for an event.

Event # 3 – Officer Rescue

The St. Petersburg, FL Police Department SWAT team has competed in the Round-Up for the last 10 years. According to Officer Chris Goodwin, the team began training for the Round-Up six months out. The department supplies 50 rounds a month for every officer, so marksmanship was practiced on their own. While the team was able to train once at the Orange County SWAT Round-Up site before the event was held, they also spent another day practicing across Tampa Bay at the Manatee Gun & Archery Club.

The team set up its own traverse cable, which unfortunately broke this year, and also trained with a 150-pound training mannequin. In addition, they made their own running man target. The fact that it wobbled when used made for difficult shooting during practice, but also made hitting the real running man target easier at the Round-Up. And 10 years ago they built their own obstacle course, copying Orange County’s at the time. However, they have not updated the various obstacles as Orange County has made changes on its course.

During the event, team members drew lots to know who would use handguns and who would use subguns. The course began with a marked, muddy trail through the woods which they said was like running and sinking in soup or pudding. Then came a cyclone fence with a water-filled hole going under it and a space of only about a foot between the fence and the muddy water.

The Officer Rescue event is a big part of the activities. After the various obstacles, all team members, including the downed officer, had to traverse a water-filled ditch using the pre-rigged line. Only two members of the team had experience in doing this, which had not been part of the Round-Up for several years. The team used a pulley device they had designed instead of hooks, which allowed them to push themselves a good way across the ditch by sliding across the cable using their free hands. A hook was worn on each member’s back.

At one point during the Round-Up event, the cable broke and a new one was used to replace it. St. Petersburg was the third team to use the new cable, which turned out to be thicker than the old one. Their device worked better on the old cable, and they had to make adjustments to it before their team ran the event. They were also worried that the device might bend. While one team member did have to duck walk on the surface a bit to get across, no one went into the water.

They decided that two officers would go across the ditch first and wait for the downed officer. The other two officers then carried the downed officer down the ramp and hooked him onto the cable. When they pushed him, he went across perfectly. At the end of the ditch traverse, one member carried the downed officer to the finish line. The team felt they were lucky that the member drawing the “downed officer” role was one of their lighter members.

Cardio fitness is important in preparation for the Round-Up. The team spent every training day doing calisthenics and stress shooting. Among their exercises were military push-ups, crunches, sit-ups and mountain climbers. They also practiced unarmed self-defense training and ran about two miles. The team admitted that the most difficult part of the event was handgun shooting.

Event # 4 –Tower Scramble

According to Sergeant Darryl Blanford with the Orange County, FL Sheriff’s Office, the team has competed in SWAT Round-Up all 28 years. They previously had two teams that competed, but this time they fielded only one.

This year they said the Round-Up was more competitive than in previous years. Their team was made up of all new deputies, most in their second attempt at the Round-Up, so they looked upon the event more as a learning experience rather than competing for the win as in previous years. So while they did train to win, they said they entered more for the experience.

The team began training for the Round-Up two weeks out, and they simulated all of the Tower Scramble elements that the event would require. They coordinated their training to include preparation of all five competing team members for all of the jobs; both subgunners and handgunners trained as assault elements for most of the events, although subgunners were not used in the Tower Scramble.

For shooting, the team’s handgunners trained to shoot 6-inch steel plates at 20 yards, in preparation for the event’s 4-inch plates at 15 yards. The team’s rappelling gear was standard, as outlined in the Round-Up rules, but members carried both of their rappelling ropes in one bag instead of two as some other teams did.

Each team was to choose one of two options for this event. In the first option, the assault element went up the tower and rappelled before shooting. Orange County’s team decided to go with the second option, with its handgunners moving to their shooting boxes and shooting first before going up the tower cargo net and stairs, and then rappelling.

The main problem they had with this event was that they left too many steel plates upright on the stands, leading to 30-second penalties for each missed handgun shot. They felt the team’s strengths were that they worked well together, and their snipers have not missed in many SWAT Round-Ups.

According to Blanford, the SWAT Round-Up has changed recently. He feels it is no longer about fast guys running the events, but rather about precision shooting. This means teams can’t outrun the mistakes from a few missed shots. He suggests teams train for good shooting and for getting the team members off the tower quickly.

Event # 5 –Obstacle Course

The rope climb and the A-frame obstacles were eliminated, possibly due to the inclement weather. An additional change from past years was that the event now began with a run of about 100 yards. Largo, FL Police Department’s SWAT team leader, Officer Joseph Coyle, felt that smaller, wiry-built people tended to do better in the obstacle course at the Round-Up than those who were larger and more muscular. Individual officers on the Largo police team trained in weight-lifting and full body workouts, with additional emphasis on cardiovascular-oriented aspects such as running. 

This team’s preparations for the SWAT Round-Up began four months before the competition took place. The competition team trained at various area ranges (Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Clearwater Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office), each with an obstacle course. Coyle and individual SWAT team members also worked out at various gyms.

After the run, the first obstacle was the Jacob’s Ladder in which each member was required to weave his body over one rung and then under the next one without touching the ground. When Coyle first competed at the Round-Up in 1994, this obstacle was not part of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office O-course. He called it a tough obstacle and said conquering it is all about technique that includes swinging the legs and arms together in rhythm; if you don’t, muscles will burn up on this obstacle.

The Attic Entry was done in various ways by different teams, but the most common entry was accomplished by putting the hands up on the sides of the attic entry, pulling the body up, and popping feet and legs through the entry with the individual’s back coming through facing the attic floor, which happens to be the recommended way to tackle this feat.

The team agreed that while participants may think they are in shape, cardio fitness is the conditioning element needed to counter the actual stress of this event in the competition—it’s about technique, not muscles.

Weather was also a factor in the competition this year. It was dry and pleasant on the days they trained on the various obstacle courses, and they commonly wore running shoes or various tennis-type shoes. But on the day of the Round-Up Obstacle Course event, it was raining, and running shoes tended to slip. Coyle slipped twice doing the Dirty Name obstacle and suggests wearing tactical boots under such conditions.

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, OH Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER.

Mickey Davis is a Florida-based journalist.

Published in Tactical Response, Jan/Feb 2010

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