Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Oregon National Guard Counterdrug team completes inter-agency training with local SWAT members

Members of the Oregon National Guard’s Counterdrug Support Program put their light armored vehicle through its paces at the Rilea Training Site, in Warrenton, Ore., May 5. Soldiers and airmen trained on the LAV with members of the Salem Police during an inter-agency event.

Soldiers and airmen from the Oregon National Guard's Counterdrug Support Program trained alongside officers from the Salem Police’s SWAT unit at the Rilea Training Site in Warrenton, Ore., over the past several days.

Organizers are calling the inter-agency training event a huge success.

The highlight of the training, May 4-8, were the Oregon National Guard’s two Light-Armored Vehicles, or LAVs.

While Oregon soldiers and airmen went through initial and refresher vehicle driver’s training, law enforcement officers from Salem trained on tactical procedures related to the arrest and apprehension of high-risk offenders.

The four Counterdrug trainees learned basic vehicle operations maintenance, and participated in some inter-agency training with members of the Salem SWAT team.

According to Oregon Air National Guard Master Sgt. Keith Moen, Oregon National Guard Counterdrug NCO, the LAVs allow law enforcement access to high-risk offenders they might not otherwise have.

“A lot of law enforcement agencies cannot afford armored vehicles,” Moen said. “We provide that service to them.”

The two all-weather, all-terrain vehicles, which cost the state $630,000 each, were delivered to the Oregon National Guard in 1996. They're designed to protect occupants from small-arms weapons with a thick metal shell. Moen said the vehicles have been used in over 200 law enforcement-related missions.

The vehicle can carry up to eight passengers in addition to a driver and a tactical commander, or “TC”. While many refer to it as a "tank" (and it does look and sound like one), the vehicle can reach freeway speeds of 65mph, and is quite agile considering its size and weight--nearly 25-tons.

Moen said the eight-wheeled, armored vehicle, can be driven just like a large truck, once drivers master some basic procedures.

Master Sgt. Chris Sewell, Intelligence Analyst for the Counterdrug Support Program, and vehicle tactical commander for the training exercise, says Rilea is the perfect place to conduct this training.

“The wide-open spaces, different types of terrain, and the MOUT site give us lots of opportunity to practice,” said Sewell. “Rilea covers everything for us.”

Sewell, who is a member of the Oregon Air National Guard's 142nd Fighter Wing, said the LAV acts as a ‘force-multiplier,’ providing law enforcement with a very effective visual deterrent to high-risk individuals. While it looks like a tank, it’s strictly a defensive vehicle, he said.

“It’s there to provide protection and support to law enforcement,” Sewell said. “But then again, it’s very intimidating."

Pausing for effect, he added with a laugh, "You know it’s going to be a bad day when this vehicle shows up on your property.”

Oregon Air National Guard Master Sgt. Chris Sewell, Counterdrug Intelligence Analyst, guides the Oregon National Guard light armored vehicle through the trails at the Rilea Training Site, in Warrenton, Ore., May 5.

Sewell said there have been instances where dangerous suspects have simply given up as soon as the LAV drives onto their property, even with the SWAT members still inside.

“Law enforcement hasn’t even exited the vehicle, and the bad guys are already giving up,” Sewell said with a chuckle.

Sgt. Mike Johnson, Team Leader, and 16-year member of the Salem Police Department, said working closely with the Oregon National Guard has been rewarding for him and his fellow officers.

“When it comes to the LAV and the crews that drive them, their motivation and professionalism is second to none,” he said.

He adds that the ability for Oregon soldiers and airmen to train alongside local law enforcement officials is important to officers’ safety and to the success of their missions.

“If we didn’t have access to this equipment, we would be putting a lot of our guys at risk,” Johnson said.

Moreover, the ongoing training has built a solid relationship between the agencies, Johnson said. Because training time is so valuable, every minute counts, he added.

“We understand each other’s training regimen, so there’s very little down-time,” Johnson said. “Because we train together on a habitual basis, (the Guard) knows exactly what we need to accomplish.”

Johnson can’t help but highlight the added intimidation factor of having an armored "tank" at their disposal.

“It brings an element of confidence to us, and a little bit of fear to those who are looking out their windows as us,” he said. That’s definitely an advantage to us, and we’ll take any advantage we can to the battle we fight.”

In addition to law enforcement, the LAVs have also been used extensively for search and rescue. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the two LAVs were sent to New Orleans, La., to assist with 9-1-1 emergency calls and rescue operations.

The Oregon National Guard Counterdrug Support Program is also involved in drug abuse awareness throughout the state, and a highly successful Drug Demand Reduction effort in Oregon's middle schools, known as The Guard Adventure Program. To read more about the DDR program, visit here, or see the blog post on March 3, 2009.

Story and photos by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager

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