Feature   Defense News

Sailors Keep Skills Sharp During COVID-19

May 19, 2020 | BY ROD HAFEMEISTER

A "protestor" approached the gate at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, wearing an inert personal-borne improvised explosive device — a fake bomb vest — during a security training exercise.

With or without the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected this May 12 exercise, the station's security forces need to be able to respond to any emergency.

Navy base security training exercise.
Sailor Watch
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Austin Madrid keeps watch on the suspect’s vehicle during a simulated gate-runner exercise at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, May 12, 2020. Madrid’s mask is part of the protection measures against COVID-19. NAS Kingsville is continuing to conduct security exercises in preparation for a Final Evaluation Problem under the Navy’s Shore Training and Certification Cycle for installation emergency responses.
Photo By: Rod Hafemeister, Navy
VIRIN: 200512-N-WO852-016M

Naval Security Forces personnel ordered the simulated protestor to halt, drop the vest and walk backward toward the gate.

A guard holstered his blue training pistol and handcuffed the suspect.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Cannon, the drill evaluator, called a temporary halt to conduct "reach-through" training.

After removing the handcuffs, Cannon demonstrated how to make the suspect lock his hands behind his back and bend forward — after which Cannon grasped his fingers.

"This way you have more control over him," Cannon said. He then demonstrated the most effective way to handcuff the suspect.

Cannon demonstrated all this while keeping his face mask in place — such is the way of training during COVID-19 — working for realism while also protecting personnel from potential exposure.

"That's the reality of training. They're not always going to maintain 6 feet of separation because they have to handle people," Randy Foust, the base training officer, said. "It's their job."

The gate protest was part of a series of six anti-terrorism training exercises conducted on NAS Kingsville that day. Other scenarios included a simulated unmanned aircraft system crash on base, a driver who failed to stop at the entrance gate, an active shooter situation, a bomb in a car and a hostage situation.

Firefighters training.
Protective Procedures
Firefighters at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, use COVID-19 protective procedures while they treat a simulated gunshot victim during an active shooter drill, May 12, 2020. NAS Kingsville is continuing to conduct security exercises in preparation for a Final Evaluation Problem under the Navy’s Shore Training and Certification Cycle for installation emergency responses.
Photo By: Rod Hafemeister, Navy
VIRIN: 200512-N-WO852-056M

Besides base security forces, the exercise included Fire and Emergency Services personnel responding to simulated injuries, and role players acting as representatives of city and county emergency agencies, hostage negotiators, explosive ordnance disposal experts and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents.

To facilitate a comprehensive training evolution, the base Emergency Operations Center, which used multiple conference rooms with video capabilities to ensure compliance with Navy physical distancing mandates, was activated.

Joseph Richardson, the base anti-terrorism officer, said such drills serve two purposes.

"They not only let us train our watch standers, they also let us validate our plans and see if we need to make changes," he explained.

The COVID-19 safety measures are an additional challenge, he continued. "Sometimes we do not have time to take extra precautions when responding to an incident," Richardson said.

The exercises were conducted in training mode. This provides the opportunity to correct mistakes on the spot or in briefings immediately after a particular drill, Richardson said. 

There is also an evaluation mode.

Sailors following COVID-19 protection guidance during training.
Training Exercise
The staff at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, Emergency Operations Center staff follow COVID-19 protection procedures during emergency training exercises, May 12, 2020. In addition to wearing masks, staffers were assigned to various conference rooms with video conferencing connections enabling social distancing measures. NAS Kingsville is continuing to conduct security exercises in preparation for a Final Evaluation Problem under the Navy’s Shore Training and Certification Cycle for installation emergency responses.
Photo By: Rod Hafemeister, Navy
VIRIN: 200512-N-WO852-031M

"That's where we evaluate how well they perform and if they've retained their training," he said.

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 safety measures, such exercises are essential to keep the base ready for actual emergencies. They also ensure the base remains on track with the Navy's shore training and certification cycle.

The 18-month cycle, managed by Navy Installations Command and U.S. Fleet Forces Command, begins with a Command Assessment of Readiness and Training, or CART.

A successful CART is followed by a regional assessment nine months later. The last part of the cycle is the Final Evaluation Problem — success results in certification that is good for 18 months before the cycle begins again.

In 2017, NAS Kingsville was the first installation certified under the program, and in January 2020 it completed its second regional assessment. Scheduling for the Final Evaluation Problem is pending due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

In the meantime, similar exercises will occur on a regular basis, Foust said.

"Our goal is to be ready," he added.

(Rod Hafemeister is assigned to Naval Air Station Kingsville.)