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NTOA Conference

The Orange County, FL Sheriffs' Office, Orlando Police, and Florida SWAT Association co-hosted the National Tactical Officer Association convention in Orlando. The NTOA is under new management, with John Gnagey at the reigns. The previous 10 tracks were more than doubled this time to 24 courses and 17 seminars with students numbering somewhere around 450.

New courses included Explosive Entry, Rappel Instructor, Shoot House Instructor, Low Light Shooting, Night Vision Operations, Operator Defensive Tactics, Linear Assaults, Counter-Terrorist Surveillance, and Tactical SCBA. These courses were one, two, or three day events involving practical field work and firearms training, conducted either at the OCSO Range or at the nearby naval base.

Seminars were also available for the students and conducted all week long, varying from two or four hours, and a special one day terrorism course. Up-to-date information was offered on such subjects as Officer Survival, Suicide Bombers, CNT Ops, Asymmetrical Warfare, and Criminal Terrorist Interdiction. A special one day Terrorism seminar was also offered as was the Shoot House Instructor Certification course.

The trade show is the focal point of the conference. Here, one can get a first hand look at all of the state of the art equipment and high-tech systems being developed for special operations. Companies with their wares on display were both new and old vendors, such as 5.11 Tactical, Armor Holdings, Asia Paintball, Blackhawk Industries, CTS, Dyncorp, FN Herstal, Galls, H&K, Michaels of Oregon, MK Ballistic, NSA, Omni, PACA, Point Blank, Royal Arms, S&W, SRT Supply, and US Armor.

The Orange County Sheriff range has a large indoor training building with multiple classrooms, an outdoor covered picnic area, 10 plus ranges, and a steel enclosed 2000 square-foot shoot house with a catwalk and covered roof. My course, Shoot House Instructor, began in the classroom.

This is basically Close Quarter Battle (CQB) or Close Quarter Combat (CQC) course, i.e. live fire, room to room, clearance drills. The emphasis was not so much on tactics as it was on how to safely conduct this type of training at a range facility. That is, supervising and coaching multiple students of varying firearms skills, levels, and abilities who are shooting 360 degrees with live ammo, and not hazarding those inside or out. It is not as easy as it sounds.

Class began with OCSO Instructors Deputy Bill Blackton and Cpl. Isaac Lopez at the helm. Students were given a course handbook as a guide which contained several methods of clearance techniques, safety drills, and sample admin reports for this type of range work. After about two hours, we went to the shoot house for a familiarization and some slow, walk-thru dry fire exercises. Safety was always a priority, and no one had a loaded weapon until the RSO's (Range Safety Officers) were ready.

The most important lesson learned this day was that all involved are RSO's. Safety extended to equipment, as body armor, eye wear, and ear protection were required for personal protection. And most important was a whistle for alerting others to safety violations. When you have students geared up, loaded for bear, and ready to fire upon dynamic entry with a team, there is lots of adrenaline pumping, and a whistle is the only way to get attention diverted from a focused mindset if you have an emergency or need to stop the action.

Our class progressed from dry-fire to basic two man drills with live ammo, to more complex four man drills to multiple room clearances. Both days, students took turns in being both participants and in coaching as an instructor. The structure also had a catwalk above the first floor to observe students and to facilitate safety. We handled classes as instructors, under the scrutiny of Deputies Blackton and Lopez, and they showed us how to teach others with safety in mind.

Jim Stinson, an advisor to the government on terrorism, shared his expertise. Stinson is a former Green Beret and now a counter-terror specialist who treated us to an extremely lively, dynamic, and articulate presentation fueled by a photographic memory. His knowledge and expertise of Al-Qaeda is second to none.

He argued that Al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organization, it is a worldwide revolutionary insurgent movement bent on the complete destruction of America and the formation of a unified radical Islamic World. Their means to accomplish this is through 4th Generational Warfare, where civilians, i.e., innocent women and children, are considered legitimate targets.

Their current objectives are to develop a permanent base in Iraq, export covert teams, unite Islamic Fronts, and to attack the USA and pro-western supporters with WMDs. For example, in April 2004, Jordanian Police narrowly averted a dirty bomb plot that would have killed up to 20,000 people.

Current tactics utilized by Al-Qaeda groups are hitting multiple targets, sometimes for a second time in a row, not just to induce fear, but also in order to show the government is incompetent, inept, and unable to protect its citizens. Al-Qaeda has been operational in over 95 countries, with bases or organizations in almost 40 nations.

In 2004, they conducted 53 attacks worldwide with a 98% success rate. They are learning from their mistakes, and getting smarter. For example, the Chechen terrorists who attacked the Beslan school in Russia learned from the previous Moscow Theater incident. This time, to neutralize the use of any knockout gas, they had gas masks and vented the building by blowing out windows and holes in the walls.

They used guard dogs for patrols against commandos, and utilized a 'dead-man' trigger for the suicide bombers. This way, if the suicide bomber was killed or knocked unconscious, the explosives would still detonate. Another inhuman strategy for Al-Qaeda is that they are training their young to be suicide bombers. Children as small as three to five years old are now indoctrinated into wearing suicide vests and photographed with the family, convincing the young that it is normal behavior.

The keynote speaker at the awards banquet was US Navy Vice Admiral Eric Olson, the Deputy Commander of US Special Operations Command. The Admiral began his address by showing a video of US SOCOM capabilities, including Delta, Seals, Rangers, and the other combined services. Admiral Olson commented on the similarities between law enforcement and military special operations, and reaffirmed the audience that we will win the War on Terrorism. The Lafayette, LA Swat Team received the NTOA Unit Citation for Valor award for actions under fire during a barricaded gunman incident.

Officer Challans recently received a degree certificate in 'Terrorism and National Security Management' from Kaplan University. He is an active patrol officer in downtown Denver, Colorado and may be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, Nov/Dec 2005

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