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Selections vs. Qualifications Training

Selections vs. Qualifications Training

During a scouting mission, students get physical conditioning and some practical hands on training.

Michael E. Witzgall / SWAT Digest

Back in 1985, when I was a not-so-young U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant, I found myself attending a grueling two week school called the “Army Air Loader” course. As I originally understood it, this course would teach me all about loading my battalion’s equipment on to an airplane for deployment somewhere overseas. To this day, I am still trying to figure out what running several hard miles a day in full combat gear, climbing an obstacle course at 2 a.m., and suffering through numerous impromptu inspections had to do with loading an airplane with beans, bullets and band-aids. When I finally decided to ask the instructors why we were doing all that extra work, the only reply I was given was that, “only the best can be army air loaders!”

One thing I should mention before I go on is that by the time I was sent to that goofy air loader course, I had already done a six-year hitch with the elite U.S.M.C. Recon Teams. To earn a position in that type of unit, I had successfully completed an ungodly long list of schools (i.e. Reconnaissance Indoctrination, Jump school, SCUBA – the list goes on). Each school was an intense test of my inner strength. The daily question was – How bad did I want it?

Though it was difficult – even humiliating at times – I knew that the training was for a reason related to combat. Conversely, at the air loader course, other than allowing instructors with obvious latent drill instructor tendencies to treat soldiers like dog meat, I saw no purpose to what was being done to us. I still don’t.

(Fast-forward 22 years) Last year, I was contacted by a representative from a local police department and asked if I would consider teaching a Basic SWAT school in the north Texas region. My initial response was to decline on the premise that I only teach the more advanced tactical subjects. Left unsaid, but in the back of my mind, was that I really did not feel like writing yet another curriculum, then organizing the logistics for a school. Besides, I was still recovering from a near fatal illness that had taken my left leg above the knee.

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Taking the caller’s number, I told him that I would do some networking and find him (and his team) a Basic SWAT course. Little did I know that by the end of the day I would receive a dozen other phone calls asking me for the same type of training. Evidently, these officers had recently attended (and failed) the same Basic SWAT School. In their collective opinions (much like my experience with the air loader course) they had been treated like military recruits attending boot camp rather than the professional police officers that they are. I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case. Over the last 12 months I have spoken with numerous officers looking for not only Basic SWAT, but also intermediate and advanced levels of tactical training.

During these conversations the officers complained about previous SWAT schools that they failed to pass. Or worse, completed, but felt that they had learned nothing. Based on these conversations, it seems that some tactical trainers are using the military style “Selections Course” concept instead of assuring that their SWAT students are well qualified for their jobs when they graduate.

The military uses the selections phase (or process) of training to weed out those individuals that do not, for whatever reason, meet the criteria to be in Special Operations. Military wide, there are thousands of such applicants every year. Conversely, a qualifications course is just that – it is designed to assure that the graduate has the necessary qualifications (training & skills) to fulfill a job or an assignment. In the Special Operations world of the military, qualifications training generally follows some type of grueling selections process.

This methodology yields about a 75 – 80% washout rate. I emphasize three points here (i) the military has the numbers to tolerate this failure rate; (ii) the selections phase is not run congruently with qualifications training; and (iii) most military schools of this nature are several months long.

In law enforcement, individual SWAT teams are responsible for selecting an officer for SWAT duty. The appointment is based on departmental policies and team standards. Once selected, officers are sent to basic, intermediate and advanced tactical schools to be trained up (and therefore be qualified) for an assignment in SWAT.

By virtue of the fact that an officer is attending a tactical school, the instructors should understand that the officer has already been selected for tactical duty by his department. At that point, an instructors’ job is to train the officer in all things SWAT. Our goal should be to turn out (graduate) the best-trained tactical novice we possibly can.

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