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Reporting for duty

Wednesday, Feb. 5 | By Julie Taylor

Photo by Adam Goings
During a simulation, reporter Julie Taylor enters the building with her team and seeks out her impending task during an active shooter training event with local law enforcement using Airsoft pistols in place of real guns.
The holster pressed into my hip, even though it was empty. It gave a subtle sting, but I'm not sure whether it was obstructing normal blood flow, or because my subconscious felt the weight of what it represented. The Airsoft gun fit comfortably into my hand. It rested securely against my chest when the situation was static. It separated from my body, supported by my other palm, when the scenario intensified.

I participated as a student in Active Shooter Training. Reserved for law enforcement only, they invited me so that I could report to the community how our local cops train. I went from journalist to student when the first drill began.

In one scenario, I was rear point, which meant I was back-to-back with a line of men. We each had our duties; mine was to walk and run backwards as I brandished my handgun, waiting for a suspect to sneak up from behind. My team placed their confidence in me to do my job, so they could focus on theirs.

The positions were constantly changing, but no one wasted time squabbling about who should stand where. The middle might step out to check if a door is locked, then assume rear guard. An intersection may split the group, and a new point guard steps to the front.

The mask obstructed my vision and it added confusion. I was breathing hard from physical drilling and the intensity of the scenario. The fire alarm screamed, along with recorded voices, filled with terror.

Columbine; Sandy Hook; Fauquier. The training showed me the horrible reality of a local threat.

A T-intersection was before us, and the dynamic changed as our group broke into two. I was now in the middle. I called out instructions to the point guard, who was responsible for keeping us safe from the front. I bounced left to rattle a doorknob, and called out that it was locked as I fell back in line. We moved forward again, everyone held their gun in one hand, their other hand extended, touching person in front of them.

"I'm here. I'm with you," was a common reassurance as an outreached hand gave a solid pat then grasped the bullet proof vest.

The scenarios had been intensifying drastically throughout the weekend, and this one had skipped a few notches. The pressure disoriented me. Our team was working with another team to flank the suspect on both sides. I suddenly found myself in the position of point guard as we narrowed down the suspects location to three adjoining classrooms.

We arrived to a closed door when my partner, a man who had 20 years of experience, but looked like he was in his early 30s, told me he was going to "slice the pie." He quickly stepped to the other side of the door frame, and counted us in, "1, 2, 3. . ."

I remembered back to training: "If he slices the pie, he's responsible for opening the door. That means I enter first, exposing myself to gunfire."

"Go!" he shouted as he threw the door back with all his strength. I rushed forward two steps, and the first thing-the only thing-I saw was a man standing straight in front of me, feet planted firmly apart, gun protruding forward.

I heard shots being fired. I pulled the trigger repeatedly only to be faced with further bewilderment when nothing happened. Somewhere along the way the sensitive safety switch had flipped up—my gun might as well have been a banana.

I had committed a fatal flaw—I paused in the doorway, blocking my team from entering, and got pegged because of it. This all happened in less than five seconds.

My partner realized something was amiss, shoved me out of the way, and took down the suspect.

At first I thought I had bashed my hand against the door as it bounced back from the wall, but the welt that later appeared told me I had been shot in the knuckle. If the situation was real, I would have lost a digit.

A couple of the lieutenants and sergeants asked if I would be interested in joining the team if there was ever an active shooter incident. I assume they were joking, but their straight faces gave me pause. They were kind enough to give me a Certificate of Award, detailing my completion of training hours.

My biggest hurdle throughout the drills was to rapidly advance toward the sound of gunfire. I unwillingly froze on two occasions, but my team had been trained so effectively that they never hesitated.

Ultimately, I saw first hand how the force will protect and depend on their team members as being vital, even if the membership only lasts two days. I saw that when danger is present there's no time to waste in assessing differences like uniform color, skin color, or gender.

And I can say that because I'm a journalist and not a cop, I was by far the most different member on the team.

It's simple. This is what happens when the decisions you make determine if someone will live or die.

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