Officers from all over the State of New Mexico and even parts of Texas came to White Sands Missile Range the week of April 21 to learn about responding to active shooter events outdoors.
The training event, hosted by the WSMR Directorate of Emergency Services, DES, saw officers using the Range’s training areas north of main post to learn advanced tactics and response procedures under the Exterior Response to Active Shooter Events, ERASE, training program. WSMR is gradually becoming known for its support of law enforcement training events like this due to its central location, extensive ranges, and training areas developed to support both Soldier training and the training of WSMR’s Police and security forces.
Active shooters are becoming a problem throughout the country, and as such, military and federal police need to be trained on how to respond to such an event. While many installations are already seeing training in urban police operations that address this scenario, WSMR, as well as other local and state police, operate in a more rural environment. It’s this open sky scenario that the trainers came to provide instruction in. “We like to say it’s a world without walls. When you open those angles up to extreme distances, a lot of things change. Once you get outside, a threat might be 150 or 200 yards out,” said Randall Watkins, an instructor and tactical logistics coordinator with the ALERRT program.
While mass shootings are the kind of active shooter events that typically come to mind, this course addresses the more broader scope of an active shooter scenario, to include armed suspects moving through open areas and even directly targeting law enforcement officers.
The course included actions, like response to ambush, tactical movement as a group, and engagement of hostile suspects. While the tactical portion of the event saw lots of play, the instructors also stressed the importance of basic team skills, like communication and supporting the rest of the group.
One of the highlights of the training was the joint nature of the event. Officers from all over New Mexico and parts of Texas were included in the training event so they could all learn the various tactics and techniques together as a team. “It’s multiple jurisdictions responding to an incident, those true first responders don’t all work together, so only one department will train and be on the same sheet of music, but only two of those (trained personnel) will be on shift today so you’ll have constables, and sheriffs, and other agencies showing up, so a big part of our program is to get everyone on the same sheet of music,” Watkins said.
While a normal day might see little interaction between personnel from groups like the Anthony Police Department, the Las Cruces Sheriff’s office and WSMR’s game wardens, an active shooter scenario might require a response from any or all of these forces. By training together, these different law enforcement groups can get to know each other and share information while learning the same block of tactics and procedures. “That’s what it’s about. Building bridges, getting people working together and networking,” Watkins said.
The ERASE training event was provided by instructors from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, ALERRT, program run out of Texas State University. “After attending an FBI training event last year, the opportunity presented itself to coordinate with State and local departments and have this training brought to New Mexico. So we teamed up with DASO, made contact with the ALERRT program coordinator and made it happen,” said DES Capt. Thomas Benavidez. “We wanted to make sure this was the type of training we wanted to provide for our officers, so WSMR’s Chief of Police, Jackie W. Cates, attended one of their previous training events.” After attending the ERASE course, Cates decided to have DES partner up with the locals and host this training, Benavidez said. As ALERRT is a mobile operation and funded through a grant program, the instructors were able to deploy a mobile field training package to WSMR and conduct the training at no direct cost to the range or training participants. The program currently has a waiting list with about 200 agencies or event planned.