Gun fire erupted from a classroom inside Fort Jackson’s Pierce Terrace Elementary School June 16. Shouts of demands and pleas for help were shouted from those trapped inside the rooms.
It is the sound that evoke nightmares for parents.
It is the sound and sights of invaluable training for Fort Jackson Department of the Army civilian police and military police assigned to the 17th Military Police Detachment.
“We are conducting active shooter training,” said John Hughes, Fort Jackson’s Chief of Police. “It’s difficult to do this training in a school. In partnership with the Department of Defense Education Activity training here is absolutely critical. Especially with what just happened in Uvalde.”
Not many people can say they have not read or watched a school mass shooting unfold in the news. The latest involved the killing of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022.
“It’s scary for everybody,” Hughes said. “Kids today are faced with fears that we, growing up, didn’t have to face. We were worried about bullying and being popular. Today, kids are worried about someone bringing a gun to school or worse.”
Hughes and those who serve and protect the Fort Jackson community have committed to training that will prevent this nightmare scenario from becoming a reality within the installation gates.
Hughes explained how each officer is required to complete 10 days of law enforcement training once a year according to standard, but this training is offered once a quarter on Fort Jackson. He also explained how additional training is available to the force through a working relationship with South Carolina law enforcement and includes updated active shooter training.
“We have upgraded our training standards. We are now training to national standards using the Federal Bureau of Investigations Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Model for active shooter response,” Hughes said.
Each officer faced the mock incident alone. Each entered the room occupied by the shooter and several victims. Their mission is to end the violence under the watchful eyes of Observer, Controller, Trainers, commonly called OCTs.
After each officer completed the gauntlet, the OCTs provided feedback on their performance.
“Stop the shooting, stop the dying,” chanted Lt. Tyler Corstange, OCT and training officer for the Fort Jackson Provost Marshall Office. “Rapid casualty evacuation.”
The chant is part of the ALERRT Model training Hughes spoke about. It lays out the mission for each officer during the training event; neutralize the shooter, treat the injured with basic first aid and rapidly move the victims to the nearest medical treatment facility.
Once officers completed the scenario, they were moved to a waiting area as the remining officers take their turn to experience and react to the simulation. They talked amongst each other about their performance and necessity of the training.
“Remember when kids had to learn stop, drop and roll,” said Andrew Stone, a Department of the Army civilian police officer. “Now they have to learn run, hide and fight even here.”
Hughes explained that Fort Jackson is shielded from the local Columbia community by the installation’s gates and Soldiers who tend to adhere to the Army values. He explained how it can lend to the idea that Fort Jackson schools are less likely to be the target of an active shooter incident.
“It doesn’t stop at the gates,” Hughes said. “It’s not something we can ignore and not continuously be prepared for.”
Hughes went on to explain how training inside the school is valuable for many reasons, not just dealing directly with an active shooter. Officers get an intimate look at the school’s floor plan and areas that could make a good hiding spot or strong hold for wrong doers.
“Schools are challenging environments to operate in,” Hughes said. “Officers trained in this school will give them a huge advantage if we ever had to respond here. It’s one thing to tour a school, it’s another knowing all the angles and environment of that school.”
While the training may be a surprise for some parents who saw the officers inside Perce Terrace while picking their children up, Hughes and his team hope parents know they are training to ensure their children’s safety.
Hughes said in closing, “I hope someone reading this will know that it may be sad we have to do this training at all, but I hope you feel reassured we are preparing for something we hope we never have to do.”
As the annual law enforcement training for the second quarter comes to a close, quarterly and additional training events are being planned for the remainder of the year to help ensure the safety of the Fort Jackson community and their visitors.