With temperatures in the 90s, the Airmen of the 820th Security Forces Group, members of the Royal Grenada Police Force, Grenada Coast Guard, and St. Lucia Policemen donned full facemasks, throat protection and cups to protect their vital areas.
While it may seem a bit overkill at first, safety is always their number one priority. The men of the 820th were here to share tactics with the local police forces and establish camaraderie that only is found amongst security forces around the world.
Capt Donald Bartholomew and his crew provided an exchange of ideas and a different vantage point to expand on their own training and methodology. The teams worked together in various scenarios, including the final test: a building with two hostile subjects occupying it. The teams would then have to enter the building, work together, and defeat the threat.
The Air Force team from Moody AFB, Georgia employed a tried and true method of crawl, walk, run with their demonstrations. The two-day collaboration started off simply with the Airmen showing the locals how to handle weapons, manipulate them, and ultimately transition to a secondary weapon if their primary is out of ammunition or jams…switching from the M4 to their 9mm sidearm.
After all of the teams felt comfortable with their weapons handling skills, they then did dry-runs of the scenarios with mock weapons. This allowed them to focus on tactics, communication, and working as a team to clear the building.
After that it was time to load up the M4’s with Simunitions (simulated ammunition). These specially created bullets allow the participants to realistically train without a major threat to their teammates. While they may not kill you, they sure do hurt! For example, a simple paintball from a paintball gun travels at approx 100 ft/sec, but these Simunitions travel at a skin bruising 400 ft/sec. How do I know? Keep on reading.
The scenarios concluded with an assault of the building that pitted the local forces against two highly skilled members of the 820th Security Forces Group hidden in the building. These Airmen have an average of 10 years of experience amongst them in providing air base defense, convoy security, detainee operations, and installation entry control in areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and various locations throughout Southwest Asia.
Once the day was over, the 820th allowed me an opportunity to experience first hand what it was like to run through the scenario. I was one of 5 on the St. Lucian team as we assaulted the building. Hidden inside were two “hostiles” from the 820th who were out to make sure I had the most realistic experience possible. Aka, all my trash talking and sticking my camera in their faces was about to come back and bite me. As super nice as these guys were, they were not going to pull any punches (or bullets).
With my full gear on, we approached the doorway. Inside, there were two hostiles who were hell bent on making sure we were dead before them. Outside, the other members of the 820th stood by with smoke grenades to toss into the building as we cleared each room. The smoke would make it much more difficult to locate our targets and maintain our initiative.
“Surprise, speed, and violence of action.” This was our mantra as we entered the building. We wanted to act quicker and more decisively than our enemies. I was the 4th man in the stack. We lined up and Capt Bartholomew gave us the signal and we entered the building.
One by one we cleared the room, but almost immediately we came under fire. Somewhere ahead of us I could hear shots being fired. Then I heard a muffled groan. Someone had been shot. “Man down!” Then there were four of us. As we crept up to the next doorway my heart was racing. Even though this was only a simulation, I was trembling. Countless times throughout the day I had heard the Airmen shout, “Do not hesitate! Do not stop!” So I checked my magazine (and my six) and charged forward.
BAP! BAP! BAP! What was that? I looked down at my right shoulder and I had a pink mark right where I had been shot! This just got very real. I never even saw it coming, but I sure as hell felt it. I fired off a couple of rounds down the hallway at nothing and ran into the next room for cover. Then once again I heard “Do not hesitate! Do not stop!” It was so easy when I was outside looking in to wonder why these folks weren’t moving forward, but now I knew why.
The St. Lucian who I was with looked at me, and me at him and we knew we had to re-seize the initiative. We came out of the doorway with our M4s firing and found an unexpected lull in the onslaught…our hesitation gave the hostiles time to reorganize and barricade part of the hallway with a scrap metal obstacle. In order to neutralize the threat, I had to navigate around this barrier. And in yet another poor decision, I opted to crawl under the barrier. If it worked in the movies, why not now? Well, that just gave the OpFor (Opposition Force) a prime target. My moments of weapons and tactics training just minutes before had failed me. As I crawled under the barrier, a volley of fire erupted from down the hallway. SSgt Kyle Luker and SSgt Myron Austin had me just where they wanted me. They jumped out from their corners and peppered my frame with dozens of Simunition rounds. And just like that I had been terminated.
Luckily for me, what was left of our team captured the threat.
In places a lot more hostile then Grenada, thousands of Security Forces personnel are risking their lives and leaving their friends and family behind to ensure security and stability for people they do not even know. They put themselves in harm’s way for us, asking nothing in return. The men of the 820th Security Forces Group worked with the local forces and taught them a few new skills as well as reinforced some perishable skills. From this endeavor, they took away new friendships and an opportunity to continue relations between the United States and our southern partners.
Here is the aftermath of what it’s like to get shot by a Simunations bullet, even with protection on. This is just one of the numerous ones that are peppered over my arms and legs.
A special thanks to Capt Donald Bartholomew, SSgt Kyle Luker, SSgt Myron Austin, and TSgt Donnie Gallagher from the 820th Security Forces Group for allowing me an opportunity to experience what it is like being in a fire fight and to get a better appreciation of the hard work and effort that goes into being Security Forces.