Story by 1st Lt. William J. Benner III
The setting sun began to shine through the window of the post exchange, silhouetting a man wielding an AK-47 assault rifle. Next to him was the store's manager, bound and gagged, tears rolling down his face.
"Target acquired," whispered a hidden sniper. "Engage," replied the officer in charge.
CRAAACK! A single shot pierced the dusk silence, eliminating the criminal. Next, six black-clad, heavily armed soldiers swiftly but quietly approached the building. A battering ram crashed down the door, concussion grenades exploded inside, and minutes later the team emerged, the hostage safe and two criminals in custody.
The incident had begun several hours earlier when the exchange's silent alarm sounded in the Fort Myer, Va., military police station. An MP sent out to the scene reported seeing several individuals with weapons. The post provost marshal was immediately notified and the hostage negotiators and the special reaction team were called in. The negotiators were unable to coax the gunmen into releasing the hostages and surrendering, and the final decision for an assault was made.
Fortunately, the incident was part of the semiannual readiness evaluation by the Fort Myer provost marshal. "These annual alerts give us a chance to take all the training we do all year long and combine it into a full alert that's just like an actual mission," explained Cpl. David Stallsworth, one of the two SRT snipers. "It makes all the training worthwhile."
The SRT is the Army's version of the civilian special weapons and tactics team. The SRT members respond to high-risk situations on Army installations, said 1st Lt. Craig Blessinger, the team OIC. These situations could include such things as barricaded criminals, hostage situations, snipers, counter-terrorist actions and VIP protection.
The Fort Myer SRT is different from most other Army SRTs. It responds to incidents on four installations -- Fort Myer, Fort Belvoir, and Cameron Station in Virginia, and Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C. Also, various contingency missions require the team to maintain a high degree of readiness for possible response to crises at the residences of the chairman and vice chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, the chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force, the Sergeant Major of the Army and other senior Army leaders.
Fort Myer's 10-member SRT consists of a six-person assault team and two sniper and observer teams. They work on the light infantry assault and support team principle with the two sniper-observer teams covering the entry of the assault team.
"The Fort Myer SRT's composition differs from the normal five-person assault team that doctrine dictates," Blessinger said. "The team uses an extra person to carry any extra equipment that would aid the team in accomplishing its mission. This extra person allows greater flexibility if the entry team needs to split into two separate elements."
The SRT uniform consists of the standard battle dress uniform augmented with black Kevlar helmet, black hood to camouflage the face, bullet-proof body armor, tactical leg holster, protective mask, soft-soled boots and tactical communication equipment. "The equipment not only affords the soldier personal protection, it also provides a certain shock value for an adversary the team may encounter," Blessinger said.
Each team member carries specific equipment. The sniper and observer teams are clad in "ghillie" suits, carry binoculars, and are armed with the M-24 sniper rifle. The entry team carries a battering ram, anti-ballistic shields, glass rakes to break windows, rappeling gear, hydraulic door-opening devices, flashlights, first aid gear, and various smoke and concussion pyrotechnic devices. The entry team is armed with 9mm pistols, shotguns and will soon carry the MP-5 submachine gun.
The newest addition to the SRT is a van that serves as the team's command center and transportation vehicle. "In the military, we always want to have everything organized and this van gives us that ability," said Sgt. Scott Owens, the team leader. "It serves as a mobile office to operate out of 24 hours a day as long as the situation continues."
To the SRT members, responsibility, team work and trust are a way of life. "Teamwork is important to cover each other's life," said Sgt. Elizabeth Siplin, an observer. "It is basically a one-man concept -- if one man goes down, the next man can take his spot. If the team is not tightly knit, then the team will fail in its mission."
This responsibility and teamwork are direct reflections of the SRT's extensive and rigorous training and military education curriculum. Military schooling includes the SRT school, the SRT sniper course, and air assault school. Additional training is obtained through the Prince George's County, D.C. Metropolitan Police and U.S. Park Police SWAT schools, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's mock training city, Hogan's Alley. Joint training exercises are conducted with local, state, and federal agencies, including the hostage rescue team at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.
The team's proficiency is continually tested in civilian law enforcement and SWAT competitions which feature top SWAT teams from the United States and Canada. The team finished second in the officer-rescue event in the 1995 D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's SWAT competition. The team also placed sixth of 35 teams in the 1995 Prince William County SWAT competition. Both finishes are the highest a Department of Defense team has ever placed in either competition.
"The Fort Myer SRT is successful in these competitions due to intense training, dedication of the soldiers, and the knowledge that we have a critical mission and reputation to uphold. All three provide a consistent motivating factor for us," Blessinger said.
First Lt. William J. Benner III was a platoon leader in the Fort Myer Military Police Company at the time the article was written.