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SWAT Round-Up International: Insights

Written by Mickey Davis

Sixty teams from all over the world competed in the 2008 SWAT Round-Up International in Orlando, FL. Here various teams share their insights into the events.

Event #1—Hostage Rescue

The Hillsborough County, FL Sheriff’s Office is staffed by 1,190 law enforcement deputies and 968 detention deputies. Of these, 28 deputies are SWAT, but it is not a full-time team. The assault team trains three days a month, and the snipers train four days a month. The members of its Round-Up competition team train regularly, but they began training two weeks before the Round-Up for the Hostage Rescue.

It was a blind event and an exercise in team leader assessment and team decision making. Team members were also forced to think intelligently despite distractions and the “chemical” environment. The HCSO liked the idea of a blind event because it mirrors real-life situations—little is known going in, and they just have to deal with what they find. During their preparation, they tried to guess what it would entail and train for it.

According to Detective Rick Johnson of the sheriff’s office, a packet was given to the team leaders on Sunday night, the night before this event. In it were rules and information about what equipment they should bring and what each individual would carry. Upon entering the closed area the next day, the five-member team (four assaulters and a sniper) was given a brief description of the bad guy and the scenario. Due to the “chemicals,” all members wore gas masks. The team had a few minutes to make a plan to eliminate the threat and rescue a hostage.

All four members of the assault element of the team then had to fast rope down from a MARS platform and shoot wearing their gas masks (the team’s sniper had to carry his gas mask but did not mask).

The sniper had to engage a threat with a single shot. The four assault element members each went to individual boxes with four rounds to knock down three targets each downrange. From there they went into the shoot house to clear four rooms, one containing the threat and the other three containing “don’t-shoot” targets. They rescued the hostage, a 150-pound training mannequin, and returned with it to the finish line.

Suggestions from the team include to practice shooting small targets at off angles and in odd body positions for this event; the targets were way back in the windows. During the event, take your time because the targets are small. Also, it is good for teams to practice fast roping a couple of times yearly. The four members of their assault element had never fast-roped before the event, and it was the first time fast rope had been used at the Round-Up. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office finished fourth in this event.

Event # 2—Pritcher Scramble

Hamilton, OH Police Department has 127 sworn officers. The 33-officer, multi-jurisdictional, part-time SWAT team is made up of officers from Hamilton, Fairfield, and Miami University. When there is a callout, a page goes out to all three jurisdictions, and officers meet in Hamilton, which is in control of the command structure.

According to Sergeant Wade McQueen, the Hamilton PD begins its preparations for the Round-Up when it hosts the Southwest Ohio SWAT Challenge, a smaller event held in August in which 10 to 12 teams compete. There are several events similar to the Round-Up, so when the team begins training for its own event, it is also training for the Round-Up. The same people may not necessarily compete in both events.

They train two days a week on their own time doing cardio and shooting and then work together on circuit training. The department has a 17-station obstacle course, and they use other equipment such as weighted tires and railroad ties, as well as two sets of dumbbells and two sets of kettlebells.

When circuit training begins, they run to the equipment they want to use. Then they push and flip the tires and railroad ties end over end up an incline; or stand inside a tire, pick it up, and then climb a hill; and work in rope climbing, sit-ups and pull-ups. They train as hard as they can for three minutes, and then run. The goal is a 20-minute intense circuit, and then they work the obstacle course.

The team members are able to do some training on duty, so they try to arrange their schedules so they can work together for about an hour and a half at the end of the day. After their own challenge, they take several weeks off and then begin training for the SWAT Round-Up.

Running during the event in gas masks was no problem because the team trains in them. Their masks have one-piece lenses, so they cant the weapon to fit well against the lens. They thought the hardest part of the event was the Running Man, since there were two seconds to fire four shots; they used their MP5s on full automatic. The team took the walls sideways and planned ahead to have the gas and less-lethal gunners go over the left side and the ram over the right.

Their suggestion is to train as much as you can. Shoot at moving targets. Train in gas masks to overcome the mental and physical problems of not getting as much air. The officers feel that training for and competing in competitions helps them to get to know each other better and learn how individuals handle different situations. They also feel that the stress of competition is similar to the stress of real life. The Hamilton, OH Police Department came in 33rd in the Pritcher Scramble.

Event # 3—Tower Scramble

The Winter Park, FL Police have 90 sworn officers and a 14-member part-time SWAT team. They have been competing in the Round-Up since it began 26 years ago. Their current deputy chief participated in the very first Round-Up.

According to Officer Andy Maurer, preparing for SWAT Round-Up takes a year-long commitment. He thinks training for less time can result in more injuries. About three months before the competition, the team’s usual three-times-per-month training shifts more toward preparing for the Round-Up and involves a balance of physical fitness and shooting skills.

For part of the fitness training, they use their own obstacle course, modeled after that used by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for the competition. However, they added additional obstacles to their O-course, ending up with about 27 stations. Some are similar and some more difficult than Orange County’s. Winter Park also built its course on a concrete dump, so it has very sturdy pole foundations.

In addition, the team members increase their physical fitness through exercises. To keep it interesting, they mix the number of repetitions and line-up of exercises, which often includes a 1½ mile run and training in a multi-level parking garage using the stairs and ramps. They vary it by choosing randomly from a deck of cards. The cards have different meanings, and the card selected tells them what they need to do and/or the number of repetitions.

Among the exercises are crunches, scissor kicks, mountain climbers and “prison push-ups.” The latter begin with the front-leaning prone position, down into the push-up, then back to the front leaning prone position, then moving alternating legs forward, and finally standing up. This is considered one repetition. Intensity of the training increases as SWAT Round-Up nears.

Winter Park balances physical fitness with shooting, but selection for the competition team is also based upon shooting skills since the targets keep getting smaller at the Round-Up. For example, in this event the assault element of the team had to engage 36 plate targets; these are now 4-inch plates where previously they were 6-inch.

One week before the Round-Up, they used the tower and facilities at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office where the Round-Up is held. This gave them a chance to do both shooting and the tower practice at the same time because their home range and tower are located in different places.

Of the two options for addressing this event, Winter park used Option 2, which meant that their team members engaged their targets first before addressing the cargo net and 50-foot tower. In Option 1, rappelling was done before engaging the targets. The team felt that by choosing Option 2, they used their fine motor skills for shooting before raising their heart rates and respiration by running.

They also felt there was a trade-off with the smaller targets in this year’s event—the 6-inch targets were heavier and sometimes bladed instead of falling when hit, making them harder to knock down. The 4-inch targets were lighter and generally fell down, but being smaller, they were harder to hit. There were also changes in the number of plates (36 vs. 30) and the shooting distance (18 yards vs. 12 yards).

Their suggestion for the event is to practice, practice, practice. They ran the event 7 to 8 times a day for 3 to 4 days to get the timing down. Finally, they felt that having a good relationship with adjoining departments in their local area and sometimes training with them is important because they may all be working together in real life when there is a big callout. The Winter Park, FL Police Department came in 15th in the Tower Scramble.

Event # 4—Officer Rescue

The Osceola County, FL Sheriff’s Office has 425 sworn deputies, of which 24 are part-time SWAT operators. According to Lieutenant Kevin McGinley, members of their competition SWAT team were expected to show up in peak physical condition as the team began its training for the SWAT Round-Up. The team members did months of individual running and weightlifting with progress reports.

The team members trained together two months ahead of the Round-Up, every other week, some days each week. Marksmanship was perfected in partnership with high cardio stimulation such as running. If a shooter did not do well on the targets’ rings, the entire team did push-ups. Three snipers were on the competition team; it was up to them to decide which two of the three would compete as snipers.

Part of the Officer Rescue Event included paddling a Zodiac-type inflatable boat around obstacles and down a water canal. To prepare for this event, rowers were selected on the basis of who was best and also who worked well together. They began training without wearing their gas masks, and then trained with gas masks since that was what was required in the event. They honed these skills on a lake with an inflatable boat owned by a sheriff’s office captain that was similar to the one used at the Round-Up. Assault element members of the team did one entire day of inflatable boat training.

The downed officer was a 150-pound training mannequin. The team tried several methods of carrying the agency’s mannequin, including a one-deputy carry. They finally decided that three assault element members, one on each arm and one carrying the legs worked best.

As for suggestions, the team members came to the Round-Up well prepared and were fortunate to have time allotted by the sheriff’s office and the administration for training. They said it takes more than eight competition team members to run a team at the Round-Up because the other deputies supported them and covered their duty assignments for them.

Lieutenant Kevin McGinley was 2008’s Super SWAT Cop winner, a voluntary, individual part of the SWAT Round-Up experience. This was the 13th year he competed in the competition. The prize was a law enforcement-relevant firearm. Over the years, he has earned seven such prize guns.

Event # 5 - Obstacle Course

Two police departments gave their insights regarding the Obstacle Course event. Lower Saxony, Germany, has about 19,000 officers, with 90 full-time SEK (SWAT) officers and was one of the largest departments at the Round-Up. Lake Mary, FL Police Department was the smallest agency with 39 sworn officers, 9 of whom are part-time SWAT.

According to Polizeihaupkommissar (Captain) Oliver Jansen with the Lower Saxony SEK, his team did only three days of training especially for the Round-Up. However, the members’ regular training is strenuous and keeps them in shape. Most days they train for 2 ½ hours. They begin by riding an indoor bicycle for 15 minutes and stretch their large muscles (legs, chest, and arms), holding each stretch for 20 seconds. Then they run, swim, climb, do weight room and circuit training, and practice self-defense. Twice a month they run an indoor obstacle course.

They do a lot of exercises to exhaustion. For example, they may swim for an hour without a break, run for an hour, and then play soccer for an hour. This helps them become aware of their mental state and what their body can do. In addition, they also compete in triathlons and run very long obstacle courses. Their Round-Up training consisted of their normal physical training, push-ups, crunches, and sit-ups, and also running 10 kilometers. Running up and down stairs isn’t common there, so they do a lot of long runs and sprints three to four times a week.

Their suggestion for preparing for the obstacle course is to run many other obstacle courses. They also suggest healthy eating so supplements other than vitamins are not necessary. While they were somewhat nervous and stressed when competing at the Round-Up, they feel this is positive because it helps improve concentration and preparation for the event or a real-life mission.

According to Lieutenant Mike Biles with the Lake Mary, FL Police, the department has a required annual physical that involves a timed mile run, sit-ups, and push-ups. In addition, they also re-qualify with their weapons. Since all of the events at the Round-Up last only 4 to 5 minutes, they felt that training for intensity was important. Biles said he tries to push himself to run the fastest mile that he can so he can go full blast at the events. He also did the Spartan 300 Workout—a circuit training workout with six exercises, 50 reps each for 300 total reps.

He goes to the gym four times a week. Another member works out at home or at the gym every day, depending on his work schedule, as well as runs 3 to 4 miles on his work days. They don’t do any stair training as a group, although some members use the stair climber at the gym, something especially good for the tower event. Others on the team don’t concentrate on training as much during the year but pick it up as Round-Up nears. However, they do run as a team at some of their training sessions.

They stretch individually as needed per person before training. They feel the calf muscles can take a beating on the obstacle course, probably due to the climbing, so they are careful to stretch those muscles before the event. In preparation for the obstacle course, Biles said doing as many push-ups as one can helps with the course, as well as with obstacles in other events. In addition, pull-ups and running are the most beneficial exercises.

The SEK Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) Germany finished 14th in the obstacle course. The Lake Mary, FL Police Department finished 30th in this event.

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 writer and author. They can be reached at jweiss2109@aol.com and mdavisfla@aol.com.

Published in Tactical Response, Jan/Feb 2009

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