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“When We Shoot, We Know” Zeroing In on the Enemy with the Corps SWAT Team

By Cpl. Uriel Avendano | Marine Corps Air Station Yuma | April 9, 2014

To expect the unexpected.

For some, it is an absentminded saying. For others, it is a constant frame of mind.

Due to the highly active nature of their domain, the Provost Marshal’s Office houses some of the Marine Corps’ best shooters. Their job description demands utmost professionalism and constant readiness.

On Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., the surgeons of close-quarter armed combat come in the form of PMO’s Special Reaction Team (SRT). Currently made up of eight members, the Marines of SRT are highly trained and skilled in precision armed tactics.

“As long as there’ve been barricaded suspects that police have had to go into quarters to apprehend or kill, there’s been SWAT [Special Weapons and Tactics] teams,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Bernard Coe, the provost sergeant for the MCAS Yuma PMO, part of Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron. “It mainly originated with some of the federal agencies, like the FBI and the CIA. Some of the job enforcement missions they went on, going in to apprehend someone who’s a fugitive – It kind of trickled down to the local level where the local PD [police department] started forming their own teams for local SWAT missions.”

For Coe, the specialized military police training in the Marine Corps dates as far back as he’s been around. His extensive background with SRT training began at the original, now-defunct schoolhouse at Fort McClellan, Ala., and eventually took him to Japan.

“I was a team leader there [Okinawa, Japan] for about two years where we did a lot of customs operations; a lot of training with the army, a great time. I left Okinawa, Japan, to MCRD [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] San Diego in California where I was also a team leader for a part-time team,” recalled Coe, a native of Lamar, S.C. “Did that for five years, then I went to Camp Pendleton, where I was a gunny by then. I was the team commander there for three years and that was the last time I was on a full-time team …You get promoted out of a good job, but I deployed and did a lot of tactical, SWAT-type training with the Iraqis for a year with a police transition team.”

Considered the go-to unit for high pressure situations when clearheaded judgment and pin-point accuracy is required, SRT is renowned for their close-knit cohesion and professionalism. Moreover, their situational awareness is more than just a footnote in the foreground of their minds – it is an embedded part of their senses that is developed during their training at their SRT School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

“I initially made contact with SRT around September [2013] and I started OJT [on the job training] with them in October,” said Cpl. William Gilmer, an SRT team member, with H&HS PMO. “I was originally going to go to school that same month but, due to the shutdown, our schoolhouse lost seats, so I didn’t end up going until January.”

The first two weeks of SRT training, known as Phase 1, is not only a physically challenging course, but it also entails classroom instruction and practical application. Knowledge is specifically tailored to enhance the Marines’ tactics in marksmanship, weapons handling, clearing and breaching procedures, responses to different hostage situations and advanced firearm training.

“The toughest part is probably the amount of knowledge you have to observe, learn and retain,” said Gilmer. “A short day would be, like, a twelve-hour day … we go over different tactics and situations. We also go over the different equipment we have to use, like entry tools as well as your gear – personal gear as oppose to team gear.”

A test and full-on simulated recall evaluation ends the first phase of SRT school. For those who make the cut, Phase 2 marksman observer course is made available. While not required, it is considered an added specialty in SRT’s unit arsenal.

“The second phase gives you the ability to share responsibility within your team,” said Gilmer, and a native of Brunswick, Ga. “The toughest part of Phase 2 was our graduation day cold-bore shot. That’s when your bore is completely clean and hasn’t been fired in 24-four-hours or longer …You have to hit a pretty small t-box target. It’s definitely a one shot, make-or-break test.”

For the members of SRT, training does not end after SRT school. It is an ongoing part of their day-to-day lives. Instruction and classes on techniques and different situations are on constant rotation. Different monthly and quarterly shooting drills at the MCAS Yuma range also help the team hone their skills for any incident that may occur.

One particular shooting drill tests their dexterity from different yards. It allows members to determine their draw, speed and accuracy on a target with 10 small circles on a single sheet.

“We use [the dot drills] to re-emphasize the aim small, miss small concept,” said Sgt. Louis Henriquez, the SRT team leader, H&HS PMO, and a native of Brooklyn, NY. “Each dot represents a different drill – like a trigger reset drill, hammer pairs…It gets us in the habit of speed shooting accurately and understanding the importance of point shooting.”

Much like the cold-bore shot, the monthly training and quarterly qualification trips to the range for SRT Marines focus in on the importance of accurate shots per the training and readiness manual of the 5816 military occupational specialty.

Their weapons of choice?

The M-4 carbine, M16A4 service rifle, M1014 combat shotgun and their desert Colt Defense M1911A1 pistols.

Sustainment training at the range helps the perishable skill of point shooting with varying weapons stay sharp for all SRT members. It also serves as an opportunity for the team to groom newer brothers-in-arms on the finer details of their marksmanship and their field specialty.

Night shoots are also par for the course with SRT Marines, building their confidence with multiple simulated ambient-light scenarios.

“On night shoots, we familiarize ourselves with the weapons under low light situations,” said Sgt. Rodney Nez, an SRT team member, H&HS PMO, and a native of Fort Defiance, Ariz. “We use light off-center from the shooter or the light coming off of the truck. At any point lights can go out, so this gives us an opportunity to re-familiarize ourselves with the weapons under low ambient light to identify a target.”

In SRT, striving to improve is never an individual goal. They are a team, through and through. Range day scores are not tallied up solely individually; they are accounted for as a group. Depending on one another and building the trust necessary to accomplish their delicate and dangerous mission is paramount to singular achievement.

“We want to train our younger members for when I, and more senior guys, get out or leave to go somewhere else – We want to make sure we leave a good team behind,” said Cpl. Eric J. Harris, an SRT marksman observer with H&HS PMO, and a native of Mechanicsville, Va.

Team cohesion and constantly striving to improve are the benchmarks of a solid military police unit. For SRT, the goal is always 100 percent.

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