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By Joshua Cohen
On Sept. 26-27, the Vermont National Guard hosted a first-of-its-kind active shooter response training conducted at the Vermont Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho by state civilian force protection employees from the Vermont Army and Air National Guard as well as Air Force security forces Airmen from the 158th Fighter Wing.
Conceptualized by the Vermont National Guard's newly established Provost Marshal Office, the training aligns with statutory requirements to: "Serve as the primary liaison between the Vermont National Guard and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies," according to Vermont State Statutes 20 and 428.
"Which is what this training is accomplishing," explained Maj. Jessica Norris, the Vermont National Guard Provost Marshal. "It's the first time state force protection groups have come together for active shooter response training, this training helps everyone to get on the same page in terms of tactics and response, which in turn helps keep everyone safe."
Norris said patrol instructors from the Burlington Police Department conducted the training to ensure state force protection officers and Air Force security received building and room-clearing procedures instruction as taught to new police officers at the Vermont Police Academy.
"Now we have the same training as provided to state and local law enforcement, the goal is to have everyone at the same baseline so far as building clearing and how to operate in an active shooter situation," Norris added.
Active shooter scenarios involved officers acting singularly and in pairs. Responding to reports of gunfire, officers arrive at the scene in emergency vehicles with sirens blaring and lights flashing, they are soon met by a role-player acting the part of a frantic individual escaping the site of a mass shooting.
Norris explained that in a departure from past active shooter response procedures, "there is no time to wait for backup or to secure the outside of the building."
The situation requires immediate action, "the first officer to arrive on the scene must instantly react and move inside the building and start clearing rooms in order identify and neutralize the shooter as quickly as possible to reduce casualties," Norris said.
Responding officers next enter the building under threat, initially encountering simulated casualties, blood and gunfire.
Mentored as needed by Burlington Police Department patrol instructors, force protection officers cleared the building's first floor, moving room by room before proceeding to the second floor.
Again encountering simulated casualties and gunfire from multiple locations, an active shooter attacked, briefly engaging force protection officers with simulated gunfire (blank training rounds).
Depending on the scenario, the force protection officers either eliminated or wounded the active shooter, requiring the officers to report the situation and request medical support.
According to James Sides, "On the Air Guard side, we're typically following Air Force active shooter response standards, with this training we see the tactics civilian law enforcement uses to respond to active shooters is slightly different."
Sides is the state force protection supervisor for officers assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard installation at the Burlington International Airport. Sides and his staff work with 158th Fighter Wing's security forces.
"So if we can mirror our tactics with civilian law enforcement, then it allows a morphing of the teams together, it does not matter what uniform or badge, we all know the same techniques."
Sides said his officers have a first response requirement for "anything that happens at the air guard base, active shooter training helps us to develop response planning."
Joint training between force protection officers and the 158th Fighter Wing's fire department is also on the agenda, according to Sides.
"We're using this point in further developing our training with the fire department so firefighters and our security force members, military and civilian, can move together as one collective team if required to enter a high-risk area and rescue victims."
Sides pointed out the two-day event marks the first time in recent history that Vermont Army National Guard civilian force protection officers and Air National Guard civilian force protection conducted collective training.
"So if there were some catastrophic incident, we potentially could help each other so far as mitigating the effects of the emergency," he said.
According to Vermont Army National Guard Force Protection Officer Garret Crift, "this training is necessary, especially with the current state of the world."
Crift's supervisor, Michael Aher, director of force protection at the Vermont Joint Force Headquarters at Camp Johnson, said the active shooter drills also highlighted the need for de-escalation training.
As Crift explained, the training emphasized "hands-on demonstrations on how to enter and clear a room and how to deal with different types of doors, those that open outward and inward, we went through the motions time and time again until it became second nature."