10 Things Every New SWAT Operator Must Know

Being a SWAT operator is a privilege & responsibility that seasons with time

By Ed Allen  |   Nov 17, 2015
Photo Courtesy Georgetown (Texas) PD.

[Publisher’s Note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2011 issue of the National Tactical Officers Association’s professional journal, The Tactical Edge, and is reprinted with permission. www.ntoa.org]

I never truly appreciated how much I knew about life until I began teaching “life lessons” to my own children. I’m the proud parent of three, and as I watch my oldest reach adulthood this year, I find myself lecturing him on all of the most basic skills that I think he’ll need in his first years on his own. Balancing a checkbook, how to succeed in a job interview, changing oil in the car, and so many other basic skills that we as adults take for granted.

While I hate to make the comparison between young adults and new SWAT operators, I can’t help but making it between parents and SWAT leaders. We expect so much from our newest team members and often thrust them into extremely complex and difficult training environments, yet we fail to make sure they know the basics.

So if you are a new SWAT operator, I hope you will take heed of this advice, and also ask as many questions as you can of your fellow team members. If you are new to SWAT supervision, take heed as well: Never assume that just because a new operator made it through your selection process, they also know all of the basic skills that you expect of them.

10 Things Every New SWAT Operator Must Know

Know your weapon system. That means know everything about it. How to field strip it, clean it and operate it. Know how to clear malfunctions and fire with both your strong and weak hand. Check your batteries regularly on your lights, lasers and sighting devices.

Know your uniform. You should be able to get dressed, don your ballistic vest, drop holster, helmet, communications gear, gloves and eye protection in a matter of minutes and in total darkness. If you need to, practice at home on your own time. You never want to be the guy the rest of the team is waiting for to dress out.

Know what light discipline is. Yes, you were given a light on every weapon you were assigned. But that doesn’t mean you have to have your hand on it every second. If it worked four times during briefing, it will likely work when you stack up on the door. Don’t light up your teammates.

Know how to tie a knot. Before you ask to fast rope out of the helicopter, you better have at least mastered all of the basic knots. Start by learning to tie a figure eight, a Prusik and a half hitch. And quit stepping on the rope at rappel training! You’re grinding sand into the rope, which degrades it.

Know how to sharpen a knife. Yes, it came sharp, but it won’t stay that way forever.

Know that you need a watch. We realize your iPhone has a clock on it and only old people wear watches, but just humor us. Timing can be critical in the execution of tactical operations. Buy a simple watch that you can see in total darkness. And unless your team is doing HALO operations, you probably don’t need the watch with an altimeter or one that is submersible to a 1,000 feet. Minutes, seconds, light. Keep it simple.

Know how to write an operational plan and an after-action report. You may not get tasked to do this in your first year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an understanding of the information that needs to go into each of those documents. Your team leaders and commanders will appreciate it if you ask to learn how to do them.

Know what’s going on. Keep your pager or cell phone close and never count on one form of communication to notify you of call-outs and training. Have a buddy on the team call you every time a page goes out for a call-out. Do the same for him, just to confirm you both got the message. Again, don’t be the guy who has to be tracked down because you left your phone on vibrate or in the house while you’re cutting the grass.

Know your place and what humility means. You should be proud that you made it on the team. But understand that even if you have seniority in your agency, you don’t on the team. Your teammates have made many sacrifices and learned many lessons over the years. They deserve your respect. You will earn that right as well, but with time. Willingly accept the less glamorous tasks assigned to you and offer to help whenever possible. Plan on being the target of many jokes and choose your rebuttals wisely.

Know your value. You were selected for a reason. You are highly motivated, enthusiastic and probably demonstrated tactical skills that the other candidates did not. You will offer a fresh perspective as to how your team should operate. You will improve your team’s capabilities. You will become a leader in the law enforcement community. Be patient and your value will reveal itself.