What comes to mind when you hear the word symposium? Perhaps you are like me, it conjures up pictures in my mind of students falling asleep while some boring professor type drones on endlessly on a subject of little interest to anyone.
When my friend and technical advisor of Minute of Angle newsletter, Stuart Meyers called and invited me to attend the Operational Tactics National SWAT/Sniper Symposium held in Maryland, on January 6th through the 8th of this year, visions of my boring college days flashed through my mind. Happily, I ignored them and consented to attend. It was a very wise decision, while falling somewhat short of exciting it was extremely interesting, even fascinating.
Aside from his obvious skills as a writer and instructor, Stuart Meyers is a master at organization. Registration which most of us know can be a trying experience for everyone, went like clockwork. This was only the beginning; all of the scheduled speakers were prepared and well organized. None of the instructors went over their allotted time; although many of them could have, such interest did they generate. Near perfect organization, highly qualified interesting instructors, and a guest of honor everyone was anxious to meet. Former Marine Sergeant Chuck Mawhinney, what more could anyone ask for? Absolutely nothing!
Lt. Colonel Norm Chandler USMC (Ret.) and President of Iron Brigade Armory, spoke on the need for standardization of sniper training and tactics. Col. Chandler is one of those gifted individuals who are able to speak extemporaneously. Irrespective of that fact, he also has a great speaking voice and his wonderful presence supports his knowledge of his topic. His love for good weaponry is obvious and he almost, but not quite made me want to look for a recruiter and do it all over again.
One of the instructors I found particularly fascinating was former Los Angles Police Sergeant Ron McCarthy. Sgt. McCarthy is from my own era of policing, the 1960s. This was a time when the Los Angles Police Department actually set the standards for other police departments to emulate. A time even before the idea of SWAT teams, Los Angles was one of, if not the first police departments to form a SWAT team and Sgt. McCarthy was a part of that history.
Sgt. McCarthy is a gifted speaker, able to hold an audience captive. He has great humor and an intimate knowledge of his subjects. He spoke with great authority on the Integration of Snipers/Entry Team Personnel and later on Suicide By Cop. Sgt. McCarthy mixes in stories of past operations so well that he truly makes the audience feel as though they were there. He also includes his audience in the presentation by asking questions of individuals that he knows. Suicide By Cop is an interesting psychological phenomenon that seems to be on the rise everywhere in America. Police departments are becoming more aware of the harsh realities of dealing with an increasingly litigious public.
A speaker who held everyones attention completely was Cpl. Greg Hall of the Pennsylvania State Police. There was a hostage situation just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which sounds to me as though it was or should be a classic in miscommunication. Space does not permit me to tell the story. It will be much more effective coming from Greg himself anyway. In any case, Greg was cut off from assistance, stranded all alone and between a burning building and the sniper who started the whole mess. Greg shot the sniper, did not kill him, but effectively ended the incident. The whole story was quite gripping and everyone could sense the same emotions that Greg was feeling. It was a fine job and Greg did exactly what he should have; he acted and acted properly.
John M.P., a former Special Forces Sergeant and heavily experienced field trooper, gave a fascinating talk on defeating night vision devices. He is an excellent speaker and extremely knowledgeable, though overly modest. I seriously doubt there are many people around that have more knowledge than he does on Special Warfare subjects and fieldcraft in general. John is also the senior instructor for Sig Arms Inc. John is young and energetic, so his enthusiasm is infectious which is only a part of what makes him such a good instructor. He is one of those people who make themselves available for questions after hours. This is very typical of all the instructors that are involved with one of Stuart Meyers productions, and only a very foolish child would believe this to be an accident.
Officer William Rogers, a retired Police Officer from the Rochester, New York Police Dept. and the former senior sniper, analyzed a hostage incident in which he was involved. He had been ordered not to shoot a robbery suspect who had given a deadline for executing a hostage. The hostage was subsequently executed and another deadline given for the execution of a second hostage. Before the second deadline arrived, Officer Rogers shot and killed the suspect, ending the incident. Officer Rogers had impressive documentation showing the physical layout of the incident and photos showing locations of everyone involved. Everyone was riveted in his or her seats for the duration of his talk. To see and hear the officers involved in shooting incidents, such as this one and the prior incident in Gettysburg, PA, is one of the very best learning tools that SWAT/Snipers could possibly experience.
Former Police Captain Vincent Faggiano, also from the Rochester New York Police Dept., spoke very knowledgeably on Critical Incident Command and Control. Captain Faggiano, besides being an expert on his subject, is also a very modest man. He was himself somewhat of a hero in the incident involving Officer Rogers. He risked his own life to recover a wounded officer. The significant part is he made no mention of this. We all heard this from Officer Rogers, after the fact. I have always felt that modesty is a good policy, how about you?
Early in the symposium, Stuart told a little story about the intensity of his former team sergeant, although did not at any time name a specific individual. However, one of the speakers was Captain Drew Tracy, who not surprisingly, was a very intense individual. Captain Tracy is one of those who are always superbly prepared and who speak with authority and believability. He spoke about ethical issues on emergency response operations. While these are issues that police officers are very familiar with and are used to dealing with, they are relatively unknown among upper level management. This always causes me to wonder if we do not have the cart before the horse.
While I have covered most of the speakers, I certainly have not covered them all and none of them is in the order in which they spoke except for Stuart Meyers. The last speaker is the most famous speaker of anyone there. He is former Marine Sergeant Chuck Mawhinney. I was forced to leave before Chucks presentation, a fact that I regret, but for me it was not the end of the world. I am one of the lucky ones; Chuck is friend of mine.
I have been fortunate enough to hear Chuck speak on several occasions. I also have spent time in Europe and New Mexico and even in an old slave cabin in Alabama, maybe it was a moonshiner's cabin anyway it was old. What I am trying to say is that we have had private conversations and I have heard him speak publicly several times. If you were not there, you missed something special. I have never heard Chuck speak when he did not receive a standing ovation.
Chuck speaks direct from the heart, so he reaches everyone and can communicate with literally anyone. I personally think he could speak to a group from another country who neither speak nor understand English, without an interpreter, yet somehow still get his message across. His has an honest and genuine concern for the difficulties faced daily by our police and military officers. I reckon that is what makes me a fan of Chuck Mawhinney.
The bottom line here is if somehow or other you missed the Operational Tactics National SWAT/Sniper Symposium, you missed an event that could have considerably enhanced your own operations wherever they may be. The good news is, you will get another chance. Stuart A. Meyers is already working on the next symposium, which will be held January 14-16, 2000, in Baltimore, Maryland. Minute of Angle, and I am sure Southern Lawman, will make certain that everyone has advance notice. Try not miss it again.
Sergeant Major David Marion USMC (ret.) is the editor of Minute of Angle newsletter. A former police officer with the Grand Rapids, Michigan Police Department, he retired on a disability pension after 15 years of service. To comment on this article or for information on Minute of Angle newsletter, please email him or call 480-983-8325. All inquiries are welcome.