SWAT School Tips: Excellence Not Mere Survival!

Our regional SWAT School kicked off in March.  It is a two-week course highlighting teamwork and tactics.  My agency sent three student/officers and three full-time instructors.  We will also send other SWAT members as part-time instructors.

SWAT School will have over 30 students and a large cadre of instructors, called Red Shirts, from various participating agencies.  In service for 22 years, the school has trained hundreds of local, state, military, and federal operators.

In preparation for the school, the FNG’s (fill in the acronym as you like) who are on my squad asked for advice.  I attended this school as a student and have instructed there as well, so I have a few opinions.

SWAT school

SWAT School in our locale simulates the stresses of an operation by integrating physical exertion with the daily blocks of tactical instruction.  Instructors are then able to evaluate the students under some “difficulty.”

In this line of work, you cannot see how a potential team member will react under pressure unless some is introduced.  Student behavior not suitable in the team environment will come to the surface and be addressed.

Grueling individual and team challenges are interspersed throughout the day.  Discipline and attention-to-detail are demanded by the instructors.  Some students cannot focus on mental tasks during the relentless physical requirements.  Some will quit.

SWAT paramedics are on hand at all times.  Student safety is closely monitored.  It is not unusual for medics to give IV’s to students and send them back into the fray after a medical evaluation.

Two of our students are great big guys.  The third is of fairly average stature.  To the Bigguns, my counsel was to stop hitting the heavy weights.  Both of them are plenty strong.  One key to succeeding at the game is cardio.

The students spend much of their ten to twelve hour days wearing SWAT body armor (the Turtle) and a ballistic helmet.  They will be carrying door rams, ladders, and sometimes each other.  Cardiovascular fitness will help you through the long day.

I told the FNG’s that they should focus on sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, and distance running in the weeks preceding the school.  Cross training is good if the sport is endurance based.

As they learned during SWAT tryouts, we strongly urge students to hydrate with water, not energy drinks or designer beverages so popular with the younger guys.  During long training days, electrolyte replacement drinks should be cut by half with water.

SWAT training

A good healthy diet before school is needed. During school, a student should increase his or her caloric intake, but stick with the same healthy foods.  Fad diets, extreme eating habits, and “supplements” are discouraged by the older instructors.

The goal of school is to excel, not just survive.  The less pressure your body is under, the better your mind will react to the changing tasks.  Bottom line:  you will learn more if you are not exhausted.

A student’s ultimate goal in SWAT School is to master basic tactical skills and acquire the necessary mindset to participate in dangerous operations.  Good preparation will lead to success.

Randall is a twenty-three year veteran officer of a mid-size Florida police department.  He served as a SWAT team officer for 21 years, to include 12 years as a team leader.  His other duties included Police K9 handler, FTO, and Detective.  Currently serving as a Midnight Shift Sergeant, he is also his department’s SWAT Coordinator.


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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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