Thursday, July 21, 2005

Big Mistakes, Not Small Ones

Yesterday I led my team on a hostage rescue exercise. The exercise was primarily intended for CNT (Crisis Negotiation Teams) from our agency and another local agency. The Tactical Team's role was to provide security, gather intelligence and be prepared to breach immediately if it went bad.

Our response was good- the entire team responded to the page and arrived before the evaluators were ready to start evaluating. They had to call the scout team back because there was nothing to scout yet.

Things started rolling and I was coordinating elements at the site, updating the tactical plan and maintaing commo with all the units. I eventually had to go to the scene and go hands-on, rearranging the perimeter and doing some tricky scouts. I've been team leader for a long time now and I miss just being one of the stack. It's sad when sometimes the first tool I reach for in a call-out is a pen. So I loved the scouting: low crawling silently while covered with gear so that I could send a fiber-optic lens under the doors.

Negotiations were going well, but part of my job is to keep the Incident Commander (IC) apprised of when we could make an entry with least risk of injury to the hostages and update him on any windows of opportunity. There were several, but we didn't get the 'green light'.

When we got to a place where I expected rough spots in the negotiations (only the two hard-core threats and the civillian hostages remained) I put my team in position and advised the IC that we were ready to go on his command. It was a double entry, the first element composed of a small snatch team under my supervision to secure the hostages and a larger element to make entry into a big open space and lock the area down, partially as a diversion, partially as pure firepower.

The IC called me on the radio. The transmit button for my throat mike is velcroed to my chest. I hit it with two fingers and said, "Miller. Go."

I looked up and my first element was breaching. Thinking, "Shit shit shit" I signaled the other element, gave "Go, Go, Go!" over the radio and sprinted after first element. (They were in, pulling them back would have given everything away and provoked the threats, not following them in would have left them with too many threats and too big an area to secure).

We covered and searched the area (a prison kitchen) and had both threats and hostages proned out in a matter of seconds. They had been so shocked that no one had been able to move- a perfect entry. All four were searched, handcuffed and removed, we repeated the search of the area and set perimeter security for a crime scene. When it was clear, I turned on the point man for the first element, "Why'd you make entry?"

"You ordered me to."

"I did not, no way."

Then the rest of the stack chimed in. "You did sarge. You said 'Go' and gave a thumbs up. We all saw it."

Yup. When I pushed the radio button, my thumb was in the air. When I said "Go" to the incident commander, they all heard it. Thumbs up and go...

The first lesson- if you have really good people who you trust absolutely, you can sometimes make a huge mistake and come out looking great.

We later found out that this was supposed to be a CNT training and the Tactical Team was not to enter at all. The role players had been instructed that if we entered or they suspected we were about to they were to kill the hostages. They never had time. Both bad guys were played by SWAT members from a neighboring agency. One said it was the best entry he had ever seen.

It worked out well, but it was still a huge mistake.

Training is the best time for mistakes.

No comments: