The “protestor” approached the Naval Air Station Kingsville entry gate wearing an inert personal-borne improvised explosive device – a fake bomb vest.
Naval Security Forces personnel ordered him to halt, drop the vest, and walk backwards to the gate. A guard holstered his blue training pistol and handcuffed the “suspect.”
Master-at-Arms Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Cannon, evaluating the drill and wearing a protective facemask, called a temporary halt to conduct “reach-through” training.
After removing the handcuffs, Cannon demonstrated how to get the suspect to lock his hands behind his back and bend forward – after which Cannon grasped his fingers.
“This way you have more control over him,” Cannon said, as his mask started to slip a little. He then demonstrated the most effective way to handcuff the suspect.
Such is emergency training in the time of COVID-19 – working for realism while also protecting personnel from potential exposure to the coronavirus.
“That’s the reality of training – they’re not always going to maintain six feet of separation because they have to handle people. It’s their job,” said Randy Foust, the base training officer who oversees such exercises.
The gate protest was part of a series of six anti-terrorism training exercises on board NAS Kingsville May 12. Other scenarios included a simulated unmanned aircraft system crash on base; a driver who failed to stop at the entrance gate; an active shooter situation; a bomb in a car; and a hostage situation.
Besides base security forces, the exercise included Fire and Emergency Services personnel responding to simulated injuries, and role players acting as representatives of city and county emergency agencies, hostage negotiators, Explosive Ordnance Disposal experts, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents.
The exercise also included activation of the base Emergency Operations Center, which utilized multiple conference rooms with video capabilities to reduce the number of people in any one room, ensuring compliance with Navy physical distancing mandates.
Joseph Richardson, base antiterrorism officer, said such drills serve two purposes.
“They let us not only train our watch standers, they also let us validate our plans and see if we need to make changes,” he said.
The COVID-19 safety measures are an additional challenge, he said.
“Sometimes we do not have time to take extra precautions when responding to an incident,” Richardson said.
The exercises were conducted in training mode. This provides the opportunity to correct mistakes on the spot in briefings immediately after a particular drill, Richardson said. There is also an evaluation mode.
“That’s where we evaluate how well they perform and have retained their training,” he said.
Despite the challenge posed by COVID-19 safety measures, such exercises are essential to keep the base ready for actual emergencies. They also ensure the base remains on track with the Navy’s shore training and certification cycle.
The 18-month cycle, managed by Commander, Navy Installations Command and U.S. Fleet Forces Command, begins with a Command Assessment of Readiness and Training (CART).
A successful CART is followed approximately nine months later by a Regional Assessment (RASS). The last part of the cycle is the Final Evaluation Problem (FEP) – success results in certification good for 18 months before the cycle begins again.
NAS Kingsville in 2017 was the first installation certified under the program and in January 2020 completed its second RASS. Scheduling for the FEP is pending due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
In the meantime, similar exercises will occur on a regular basis, Foust said.
“Our goal is to be ready,” he said.