By Wilson Ring, The Associated Press
JERICHO, Vermont (AP) - The big guns came out.
The military M-16s, AR15s, carbines and exotic firearms like the Belgian-made P90.
For much of the year these heavy weapons are locked in the trunks of police cruisers or in the back rooms of police departments, ready for the fight that few officers ever experience.
But this past week about 20 police officers from across Vermont spent hours in the cold at the Vermont National Guard's Ethan Allen Firing Range, firing off thousands of rounds, improving their marksmanship, learning what to do if their weapons jammed in a fire fight or what is the best firing position for different situations.
"Vermont is not the community it was 10 years ago," said Williston Police Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain. Several times a year officers need the big guns when they go on ever-more volatile drug raids. "Unfortunately, we are starting to use these more and more."
The four-day training course was courtesy of the Federal Protective Service, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for law enforcement in 84 federal buildings in Vermont.
"We are training for a worst case scenario," said Inspector Paul McManus of the Federal Protective Service. "It's better to have the skills and not need it than need it and not have it."
Even though the FPS is responsible for the security in the federal buildings when an alarm goes off, most of the times the first people at the scene are the local officers.
Originally the course was only intended for federal officers in Vermont.
"We opened it up to the state and local (departments) we work with to do some joint training," McManus said. "We want to build some camaraderie. We have some very good working relationships with all the departments."
McManus spent the time on the firing line with the others. There were 17 state and federal law enforcement officers as well as two National Guard members on the firing line Wednesday.
"This is a lot of fun," McManus said, outfitted in a black jumpsuit, magazines to his AR15 rifle strapped to his chest, and a black hood over his head.
But it's work they spent hours outside in the cold, firing shoulder to shoulder. More than one of the officers received minor burns from the hot shells that were ejected onto their necks from their neighbor's weapon.
The course was taught by two retired military men who work for SHD Consulting Inc., of Kerrville, Texas. They spend most of their time on the road, teaching similar courses across the country.
"They all came here with a variety of skill levels," said SHD's Don Alexander. "We are trying to give them new tools with which to do their jobs."
Alexander said he hadn't been to his home in Clarksville, Tenn., in three weeks.
"It's picked up a lot since 9/11," said Alexander's partner Harry Fleming of Kerrville.
All police officers are required to stay proficient with their weapons, but some only visit the firing range once a year and in many cases the training isn't as intense as that offered courtesy of the FPS.
"Any hands-on training you can do with rifle is beneficial," Chamberlain said.
Other than the cost of the ammunition they shot off, the course didn't cost the local departments anything.
For part of the afternoon Wednesday, the officers learned what to do if their weapons jammed during fire fight.
They would stand on the firing line, shoot three rounds at the target, tap the magazine to free a caught spent shell. If that didn't work they would pull the action to try to eject the caught bullet. Then they would take the magazine out of the gun and reload it, hoping it would be ready to fire.
In a shootout with a drug suspect the split second training could save their lives.
"I have learned a lot," said Chamberlain, the Williston officer. "One of the benefits of when you are out here for two days is you can do the repetitions. It takes three (thousand) to five-thousand repetitions to embed it in your long-term memory, so you don't have to think about it."