10/18/2011

To patrol the waterways, learn from the SEALs

Before jumping in the water, cops can take a page from military special ops

By Brian J. Stas

It is easy to relax and enjoy the sea or a beautiful waterway. The sound of waves crashing. Children digging sand castles or a day of fishing in a clear lake with a cold beer in hand. I’m sure we all have some fond memories involving the water. It is easy to forget that the waterways and shores of our homeland could house terrible dangers. Dangers that are brought to us by Mother Nature or the ones that come from those that would see our country turned to ashes if they had the chance. I think about these things as I stare at a purple sky sinking into the pre-dawn beach. I’m not wearing shorts though, its BDU`s. Instead of a beer in my hand it’s a rifle.

Many things have changed for law enforcement and military since the war on terror. Nowadays the need for Law enforcement and military to mesh and cross pollinate tactics are an absolute necessity. The scope of our duties in law enforcement in particular went from a protect life and property mode, to the added duties of protecting our homeland from terror attacks. It is no longer acceptable for law enforcement to believe some other entity is going to come take care of their waterways to prevent an attack, or stop criminal activity. Shared responsibility in patrolling our waters is a must.

From past to present day, there are many examples of danger berthing from the water. The pounding we took at Pearl Harbor was brought by planes sent from ships at sea. In that same war a German U-boat penetrated our water off the coast of Maine. The attack on the USS Cole reminded us of danger lurking in the sea. There is Intel that Al-Qaeda is training divers to attack our US interests as well.

As we progress toward present day we have examples of hardcore criminal elements being stopped in the water as well. Many people, such as the feared cartel leader Felix Arehano, have been taken down at sea. Submarines filled with narcotics headed to our soil have been thwarted by our water warriors on several occasions to date. This is not a history lesson, just examples that sometimes to get the big fish we need to get.
We can admit that two of our biggest obstacles for protecting our homeland are our seas and waterways. Although we have increased our presence in the water to some extent, we are far from where we need to be. The reasons are countless. They can range from lack of finances, manpower issues, equipment and properly trained instructors. In my search for more answers to our problems, I lean on the men that strive for perfection in the water everyday: The US NAVY SEALs.

Here I am cold, wet and sandy, swimming in the dark toward a shore I can barely see loaded with gear. Add the fact that a great white shark just killed a man in these very waters last week to the equation, and the “pucker factor” has been raised. I can feel every goose bump on my skin. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m immersed in a new tactical waterborne course developed by SEAL veterans John Beltran and Jason Padilla. Two men who although highly trained and combat branded were able to communicate with each of us like we knew them for years. The course was devised to help bridge the gap in law enforcement tactics and military special ops tactics in the water. It is all too common for law enforcement to look at the water as an obstacle rather than seeing it as an asset.

The others students and I work together to learn the most we can in this environment. The students come from law enforcement and military backgrounds. Although some of us have had some time in the water, the tactics taught by these two professionals are humbling.

Before moving into anything high speed, first we must be comfortable in the water environment. It doesn’t matter if it’s the ocean or a pond. Safety is always first. A poor choice in gear or clothing can lead to your quick demise, so learning about the different types of water and its effect on people with gear in this environment is paramount.

Whether protecting or assaulting in the water, stealth is always a main component to a waterborne tactical operation. Like smoke on the water operators must be able to fade in and out of this environment without detection. This can be an enormous challenge given the many different types of weather and other natural or manmade obstacles. Imagine attempting a shore landing to an observation post and a sudden storm or fog rolls in. Things can sink really fast – pun intended. We spend a lot of time just being in the water, learning how to navigate in it, be it dark or daylight. With confidence in this environment came enlightenment and a fresh outlook on the many options the water can provide to the operator.

The course enhanced the student’s ability to succeed in the many duties they have to perform in the water such as search and rescue, tactical operations, reconnaissance, navigation, port security, and ship boarding and clearing.

Another helpful section of the course was the gear and weapons instruction. Tips on how to develop a waterborne team for law enforcement, acquire boats gear selection and weapons care were welcomed. Police department budgets can be very strained these days and these tips help provide the officers with options to either birth their waterborne needs or improve on them.

Whether you like it or not, if your area of operation includes some type of water, chances are you’re going to end up in it. How deep depends on how well prepared for it you are. Maybe it’s to search for a perp who has taken a hostage at gunpoint and fled on a boat to a small island laden with booby traps or maybe it could be a team of terrorists about to try to take out a bridge in your area of patrol. Years ago I learned a term I will never for get: Not on my watch!

I pray you are all watching.

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