Interagency Training: Training Outside the Box

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Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.  ~ Aristotle

As a Navy SEAL, I’ve done a lot of interagency training. I often find myself looking back on how we did certain things and looking ahead to see how I could implement changes now to shape the future of the program for the better.  Everything you do today for training should be directly linked to setting up the future operations of your unit for success.  I’ve already talked about making your training realistic and how it should be more difficult than the actual operation, so I won’t dwell on that topic.  Instead, I’m going to help you think outside the box, and sometimes that means training outside the box.

One Team, One Fight!

When it comes to training, there is one thing we rarely do unless the mission calls for it, and that’s cross training with other units, departments, and agencies. I’m not talking physical fitness; I’m talking about taking advantage of cross training with similar units from various agencies and departments.  I’m talking some good old-fashion interagency training.  Units normally reserve this only for when some upcoming mission or operation involves outside units in order to meet the mission objectives.  Even then we likely don’t train with the other guys as much as we could or should.  I’ll tell you what; all it takes is one phone call from one Training Officer to another and you’re in business.  Unless, of course, you try to get your boss to approve it, but you should know by now he’s just looking for a way to say no!  Do the training and then send him a report about how well it went…then of course, he’ll take the credit, but who cares…you got the training!  Planning your training at the lowest level possible is the best way to make sure nobody shoots it down. Nothing breaks up the monotony of day-to-day training (or worse yet, working in the office) than working with other motivated operators.  I really enjoy working and integrating with other units.  I’ve learned so much from just shooting, running through shoot houses and even just sitting around sharing information between runs or during breaks.  Cross training and learning from others is good for operators; it keeps us on our toes and keeps the most important weapon finely honed…our brains!  A training environment where I’ve always enjoyed doing interagency training is the flat range.  Nothing brings a bunch of “Type-A” operators together like destroying things with firearms!

Building Bridges, Not Burning Them

When you do interagency training, there are some things you have to keep in mind.  The first is that the team you’re training with may be more experienced or qualified than yours, or vice versa.  Don’t be snobs if you’re the more qualified team.  Nothing is worse than cross training with a bunch of prima donnas who think they’re better than you and constantly let you know it.  If you’re the better team, you should be helping out the other guys and showing them how you “do work.”  If you’re the higher functioning operators and you don’t think you’ll learn something from the less experienced team, you should pack up your kit and go home.  Part of being a good operator is being a leader.  A leader knows when and how to lead, and more importantly how to follow.  Let the other team know you’re ready to learn from them as well.  It’s like a marriage (or bromance); both sides have to show respect and interest if you’re going to make it work.  Remember back when you were “green” and learning?  What you do during interagency training in front of less qualified operators could have a profound impact — negative or positive — not only for them and you, but the respective agencies you represent.

Capability Conundrum

Another critical factor is knowing the capabilities and limitations of the team you’re going to train with.  One unit may only be trained to a basic level for a specific mission.  This doesn’t mean that one team is necessarily better than the other.  An important part of this is knowing the other unit’s mission, capabilities, and SOPs, especially the Use of Force (UOF) continuum.  Every agency has different tactics, techniques, and procedures including weapons and regulations to meet their specific UOF objectives.  I’m not suggesting you need to know another department’s or agency’s SOPs or UOF continuum verbatim, but nothing kicks off training better than knowing who you’re training with and how they operate.  It’s the golden rule to running training — KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!

 WIIFM (What’s in It for Me)?

The results of interagency training aren’t just learning from other agencies, but the key takeaways are the development of working relationships, opening lines of communication, and simply showing mutual respect for fellow law enforcement operators.  Don’t forget that other agencies have resources and training facilities that may not normally be available to you.  Training with other agencies can get you access.  If you’re a federal agency, don’t just focus on training with other federal agencies.  Reach out to military, local and state agencies and involve them.  If you’re heading up the training plan, don’t forget to actually have a plan.  I’m talking hard copies with recommended dates, times, locations, training curriculum, etc.  Have handouts readily available so everyone can take notes.  Think of what you would want answered or presented to you and do the same.  Don’t present scribbled notes and garbage, and don’t show up to a meeting with another agency to talk about training looking a complete mess.  Represent yourself, your team, your unit and your agency with pride.  If you’re going to play or live the part, you damn well better look the part.  That first impression says it all in everything we do in law enforcement.  Whether it’s meeting a training contact for the first time to set up some training or your team making an entry in full kit to do work, it’s about confidence, proficiency, and skill.

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Advantages to Interagency Training:

  • Meet new contacts
  • Learn new or different skills
  • Advance your skills by training others
  • Open lines of communication between units
  • Increased training opportunities
  • Increased training locations or assets
  • See new equipment or new ways to set up your kit
  • Fire new weapons
  • Get out of the office
  • Be better prepared for future operations
  • Line up a future job
  • Get out of a ticket when you’ve trained with the guy pulling you over!

There’s going to be that time you or another agency may really need something, and it’s a good feeling knowing exactly who to call.  Nothing is worse than trying to get something when you’re in extremis and relying on another agency who barely knows who you are or what you do, and you’re only calling them because you need something.  They likely aren’t going to put the same emphasis on your emergency as you are.  So set it up now and be the one to open the door to another agency.  Remember that we’re all out there to ultimately do the same thing — protect the sheep from the wolves!

Chris Sajnog