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      DEA Goes Tactical

      Bob Pilgrim
      Serious Training Void

    Since the days of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, DEA has never been able to put together a comprehensive training program that not only its agents required, but deserved. When Frank White matriculated into BNDD, via FBN, its training site was ensconced in an abandoned building adjacent to its Washington, DC headquarters. Although totally inadequate, the Suits were naively impressed, because either they failed miserably to understand what it took to train an effective agent, or worse, just didn't care. In a laudable attempt to correct these deficiencies DEA training moved to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Glynco, Georgia where they shared the facility with dozens of other agencies. While a step in the right direction and certainly a cost effective move it did not accomplish the mission. Each agency has an individual culture as well as a specific mission peculiar to itself and cookie cutter training will not produce the optimal results. After a few ! years of experimentation this was blatantly evident when the Regan administration tried to merge the DEA with the FBI. Other mission specific agencies apparently agreed and a number of them established their own adjunct schools to fill in the gaps created by generic training. The FBI's Marion Ramey, then assigned to DEA as Deputy Administrator sensed the continuing inadequacies that the one size fits all approach/attitude precipitated and in what had to be one of the greatest bureaucratic coups shifted DEA's training to the FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia.


    Frank had been to the Academy several years before to attend firearms instructor's school. The Academy is impressive and like before, Frank felt he was walking through a piece of law enforcement history. He had been directed by Administrator Jack Lawn to assemble a tactical training unit, because of the substantial number of agents being killed or wounded in a variety of arrest scenarios. In other words, DEA agents were losing in gun battles on the street and this had to change as quickly as possible. Frank was assigned several outstanding street agents. Among them was Chuck Franklin, the senior agent who was in charge of the unit prior to Frank's arrival. He had already established a successful unit and had integrated Bob Pilgrim, former Marine Vietnam graduate and now an FBI agent, who was highly respected for his tactical and firearms expertise into the electric mix of personnel. It was interesting to say the least. The FBI generally thought the DEA agents were a bunch of! cowboys and in return the "Narcs" considered the boys from the Bureau a bunch of wimps. In fact, DEA candidates dressed like Darth Vader in their paramilitary training uniforms and FBI trainees wore casual clothing that looked like it came out of the Lands End catalog. However, it didn't take too long to realize that those stereotypes were BS and the squad became a close-knit group, learning much from each other. Strong feelings were mutual and to this day, Pilgrim proclaims that Frank and Franklin were the two best bosses he ever worked for. Another of Frank's warrior acquisitions was a man that should have been dead and was considered a hero in DEA. Victor Cortez was investigating the murder of a DEA agent in Mexico City when he was kidnapped at gunpoint. Instead of the abductors being Narco-Terrorists, they turned out to be members of the "Federales" or Mexican National Police. While in captivity he was beaten and tortured. An extremely strong man, he planned to ki! ll his guards at the first opportunity and take their weapons. Just as he was ready to act, he heard familiar voices coming from a room as he was being led down the prison's stone steps. DEA agents attached to the embassy had finally located him and were demanding that the authorities release him. The Mexican authorities blamed rouge agents and allegedly took action. Victor was a hell of a shot and as tough as they come. He looked bad and was bad, but DEA had to put security on his house because of a serious death threat from a drug king pin and Victor was authorized to carry an MP 5 sub gun for additional protection. For a while it was kind of funny, because no one wanted to get close to him. After some cajoling, the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team let one of their operators join the team. Rick Warford was an athlete of Olympic caliber and a very talented sniper/observer. In fact, he was the only student in history of the US Marine Corp's renowned Scout Sniper School to get off all his shots while on an extended stalk without being detected by the ! training cadre. Warford was also a combat Marine vet of Vietnam and he and Pilgrim taught raids and close quarters battle.


    Of course there were plenty of skeptics and they were the most challenging. Many of these jaded veterans did not want to attend the training and their sourness was evident. Quite a few were used to conning their way through their careers, but in a firefight or slugfest there is no room for conmen. You either lived or died. However, the training presented was never dogmatic and as many options as possible were considered, which allowed students to choose what worked best for them. It was ridiculous to stand before massed individuals who were veterans of hundreds of raids and tell them this is how you should do it. The unit's approach was, "This is what has worked for us." The team also projected sincerity and when these hardened field icons realized that the instructors were truly interested in their welfare some were reduced to tears and publicly expressed their gratitude. While these classes were not meant to be soul bearing retreats a number of high mileage agents got! up and spontaneously warned the younger squires not to make the mistakes they made that had devastating effects on their personal lives. It was a profound experience for those on both sides of the lectern. When new skills were introduced, competition among the students was eliminated in an effort to get them to give the foreign method a fair shake. When pressure is introduced too early in the learning process, egos will force the student to revert to what he knows, because he is loathe to look bad. This is not a problem however, for most female trainees. If competition appears to be a necessary motivational component for some of the agents they were encouraged to compete with themselves rather than with the man/woman on his right or left. Nevertheless, all was not rosy. All inservice personnel re took the new agent physical training test and half of them failed it. This was a serious problem, because it indicated that either the agents did not care about themselves, didn't! take the dangers of the job seriously or were so overwhelmed by work and life that little time was available for scheduling regular exercise. Not only were they letting themselves down, but also their fellow agents and their families as well. This had to change and the FBI's field office physical training program was adopted by DEA.


    Frank tried to instill the warrior spirit, the will to fight and win and not only survive only to spend the rest of their life in a wheel chair. This required honing of mental as well as athletic skills. All this was very ambitious for forty to forty eight hours of training. The unit was able to gain many converts, but in the majority of cases could only expose them to the "truth" and show them the way for self-improvement. Case studies and visualization were employed to put the trainee in the shoes of the agent involved in the incident. This vicarious "inoculation" of been there, done that was an attempt by Frank to pre program the agent for the proper response to deadly force directed at them. The unit was fighting "brain fade, battle blinkers and brain freeze" by increasing the agent's confidence and decision making skills. Hesitation based on self-doubt was often fatal and had to be reduced to a minimum and Frank was the agency's most experienced apostle in that area.

    Since this profession is not for the squeamish, Frank focused on what it took to put a bullet into an attacker. He advocates the use of sights and has the ability under stress to clearly see them and keep track of the subject. For him, he actually narrows his focus and keys in on a specific point on the assailant's body. He doesn't shoot at his opponent's weapon. This visual aspect is supported by a "firm-gorilla grip" and in spite of temporarily tunneling in on his sights, he also remained conscious of his surroundings. With the sights, he had complete confidence that his bullet would strike his attacker. All were taught that the first round was the most important and to be sure of it.


    Square ranges and the 360-degree environment of the shoot house were critical and the FBI contingent pushed the training hard. Like it or not, DEA was still employing dynamic entries as a raid method. Shields were being introduced by the agency's Firearms Training Unit, but were not yet in widespread use in the field. Since DEA was not authorized to employ diversionary grenades, the Bureau team members concentrated on two and three agent "SAS entry" techniques. The legendary commandos developed the MOE (Method of Entry) in the aftermath of the successful hostage rescue at "Princes Gate." The Iranian embassy consisted of over 80 rooms and the assaulters eventually ran out of "flash bangs," so out of necessity this alternative MOE was developed. While not as "safe" as other MOEs, it fit into the DEA's raid M.O. and was a significant improvement in their usual "last resort tactics." Law enforcement or safety clears were not neglected and slow methodical entry and clearing in Ho! gan's Alley actually preceded activities in the tire house. Accidents and injuries occurred. After "unloading and clearing" their pistols, one veteran agent shot himself through his hand when field stripping his pistol. In another incident, a trainee stepped off a building's ledge in the Marine Combat Town after recoiling from being hit by a paint ball. Instructors wrongly assumed that experienced personnel needed less supervision, but at the same time had to be treated with appropriate respect. Total concentration was emphasized whether it was making a head-shot or standing down from a day's intensive live fire training. Another critical element of tactical success was inculcated and that was teamwork along with team pride. Team success is the sum total of excellent individual performances and team pride or esprit, results from individuals possessing justifiable pride.


    The unit needed a philosophy and although much of the trade-craft was dedicated to the destructive arts, it was decided that the instruction imparted would be dedicated to preserving life wherever possible. In addition to weapons and tactics work, fitness, job stress, health and other survival issues were also addressed in a effort to prevent burn out and increase law enforcement officer odds for a long and productive career and life.

    Most classes were one week in length and they were held at the academy and on the road. The training was extremely realistic and became so popular with veteran operators that eventually it was expanded to include new agents. Whenever there was any down time, unit instructors sought out the leading private sector police training entities in the country. Some of the most thought provoking and cutting edge ideas and skills came from these professionals, because they were unencumbered by the old rant, "Well that's the way its always been done." For generations, the "not invented here" syndrome prevailed at the academy, but Frank's boys never let ego get in the way and stole all the worth while concepts that they were exposed to. Post school debriefs were conducted and the team collectively determined how these newly acquired skills could be applied to DEA's mission. As a result, DEA training was galloping into the 21st century.


    Frank understood that it was not enough to train the troops, but administrators and decision makers also had to be "brought on line." Administrator Jack Lawn began to send mid level managers and police task force commanders to the unit's "Narcotics Commanders Course." The rudiments of operations, troop leading, planning and execution were taught including the military's Five Paragraph Order. Rapid raid planning was also addressed to give them the tools to exploit "hot" intelligence. Three dimensional urban and rural table-top terrain models were constructed that included clandestine labs and airstrips to create realism for planning exercises.


    The program was revolutionary for DEA and was well underway when headquarters tapped Frank on the shoulder again. The Latin American cocaine interdiction program was a mess. Know as "Operation Snowcap," ill prepared agents were being tortured and killed by the narco traffickers. The program was in crisis and DEA's best trouble-shooter hopped a plane and headed to Bolivia, but that's another story.


    * The key to any organization's success is not only sound selection but also excellent training.

    * An agency is derelict if they do not provide this essential.

    * An agency's hierarchy must, in every way possible, look out for its personnel.

    * A headquarters' primary function is not only to coordinate but also to do everything possible to facilitate the job of the agent/officer at the tip of the spear.

    * Agents and officers owe it to themselves, their fellow officers and families to maintain a reasonable level of fitness.

    * Realistic training incurs risk, but close supervision will keep accidents to a minimum.

    * Do not compromise on staff instructors. It is better to go with quality than quantity.

    * Seek outside expertise otherwise your program will stagnate.

    * Involve people with imagination. They will move you forward.

    * Don't force training. Examine all options and point out their pros and cons.

    * New techniques should be introduced without competitive pressure.

    * The front sight will more frequently guarantee hits.

    * Once new skills are accepted and learned, functioning under stress should be included.

    * Personal and institutional egos coupled with false pride can be our greatest self-imposed enemies.

    * Training should never be "politically correct." Cultural politics get people killed. Without exaggeration, address the often-brutal realities of law enfrocement.

    * When it comes to deadly force, mental mindset preparation is more important than physical preparation.

    * Trained personnel are a tool, but useless unless decision makers know their officer's capabilities and limitations and how to employ them.

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