DAYTON, Ohio –
Active shooter incidents in the United States saw the highest two-year averages in the past 16 years between 2014 and 2015, according to a 2016 report by the FBI. Fatal shootings at Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, Washington Navy Yard and installations in Tennessee highlight that military bases aren’t immune to the violence. And, if it happens at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, defenders from 88th Security Forces Squadron will likely be the first to respond.
“More and more, you hear things about active shooters, bombs, everything like that,” said Staff Sgt. Heather Albright, a canine handler with 88 SFS. “Every day there’s something going on somewhere else, so absolutely this is important.”
The “this” Albright is talking about is training. Training that she, and every other 88 SFS defender, takes as part of an annual plan to keep them prepared to respond to anything.
“It’s important just to keep their skills proficient, so they don’t get lulled into complacency,” Staff Sgt. Malcolm MacDougall, an 88 SFS Unit Instructor, said. “They come to annual training and it gives them a refresher on how to use the baton, how to utilize [pepper spray], how to utilize combatives if they need to. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen. But, they will have that refresher in their mind. And, if the situation does happen, they can revert back to their fundamentals in training.”
MacDougall says he conducts the week-long course twice a month, sometimes three times, to get all 350-plus defenders assigned to Wright-Patt through the instruction that includes active shooter response, use of force, less than lethal, shoot-move-communicate, combatives (military martial arts), and basic lifesaving skills, such as CPR and automatic electronic defibrillators. It’s a mission that MacDougall has a lot of passion for.
“I love teaching. I like motivating the younger guys to succeed,” MacDougall said. “I like passing on my knowledge because I’ve been in almost 11 years now. I don’t want them to come through annual training, [not receive] good training and then they go off and get themselves injured or killed.”
MacDougall’s been through a lot of training himself. Besides his normal security forces and instructor training, he’s completed a 3-week Active Shooter Incident Response course at Fort Bliss, Texas, as well as the Army’s Special Response Team training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which MacDougall says is essentially SWAT. He says the additional training he’s received helps him better prepare defenders for whatever they may have to deal with.
“We pick and choose a lot of [skills from the advanced courses] and incorporate it into the annual training, just to make our tactics better,” MacDougall said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Staff Sgt. Kevon Chatman, another 88 SFS Unit Instructor who also has extensive advanced response training.
“These schools have prepared me for this training position because [they give me] a vast knowledge of different responses, techniques and tactics. I get to pick parts that I like to incorporate into the training we do, while still maintaining a baseline,” Chatman said.
It’s a training solution that defenders appreciate.
“Oh, I think they’re awesome,” Albright said. “They take the time to explain it to us instead of just, ‘Alright, get in and do it.’”
Albright feels the training not only gives her the confidence to handle whatever may come her way, but gives the trainers confidence as well.
“That, if anything comes down to it, we’ll know what we’re doing,” Albright said. “And, if we ever get posted out with them, we’ll have their back and they’ll trust us.”
Improving training is a continuous process, according to MacDougall. Until recently, active shooter training was conducted at the Warfighter Training Center on Wright-Patterson. Now, it’s conducted at a building formerly used by the Marine Corps here.
“The Warfighter Training Center is empty [huts], not really an actual facility where you can go in and clear rooms. Plus, if things break, it’s government property,” MacDougall said. “Out here, it’s an old building, it’s run down. It’s been shot up [with simulation rounds]. It’s been kicked in. It just gives a more realistic training scenario. You can place a lot more obstacles. We have stairs. We have a second floor. It’s dark. We can use night vision googles. It’s just a lot better.”
The students agree. Staff Sgt. Kyle Brophy, 88 SFS investigator, has completed training at both facilities.
“It’s definitely a lot better training,” Brophy said. “This facility really is a challenging obstacle to tackle. I think it sets up our Airmen for successfully learning the key fundamentals of doing active shooter training. It’s a critical asset, definitely something we need to train more on.”
For many defenders like Brophy, training isn’t about going through the motions; it’s about perfecting skills. Because, they don’t see working security as a paycheck; it’s a calling.
“I joined Security Forces because I always wanted to have a career after the Air Force in law enforcement,” Brophy said. “I’ve always liked being a cop, mainly helping out others and protecting and serving my country.”
It’s a drive shared by their trainers.
“I like interacting with different people and, especially when we get to do practical training such as this. To see the information that we give somebody and to see that they actually comprehend what we said and [are] able to apply it. I like that part,” Chatman said. ”It’s important because, it’s training right now, but people may eventually face these situations in real life at one point in their career. So, it’s important I teach them the best that I can.”