Area S.W.A.T. team receives special training

MARIETTA – Eleven members of the Washington County S.W.A.T. team last week underwent specialized training in New Mexico.

The program was financed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Sheriff Larry Mincks said.

“This was part of a training program that had to do with suicide bombings, explosives and terrorist activities that was funded through FEMA who paid for everything, including airfare down and back,” Mincks said.

Eight officers from the sheriff’s office, two from the Marietta Police Department and one from the Belpre Police Department participated in the training exercise at New Mexico Tech at Playas.

“It’s considered the Yale or Harvard for such training, and it’s not an easy program to get into,” Mincks said,.

Deputy Sheriff Lt. Pat Gherke filed the application for the team to participate in the program early this year. Deputy Sheriff Lt. John Underwood was among those who participated.

“The training area is a former copper smelting town that has a bank, school, a gym and other facilities,” Underwood said.

“The course was on prevention of and response to suicide bombing incidents, and included training on recognition of homemade explosives and how they’re made. I was surprised to learn that the materials used to make the bombs are very similar to the chemicals used to make methamphetamine.”

Law enforcement teams from across the country also participated in the training event which included three days of classroom time as well as “boots on the ground” exercises, Underwood said.

“The New Mexico sun was hot, especially when you’re wearing vests and other safety equipment,” he said. “But in my 22 years in law enforcement, this rates in the top five training programs I’ve seen.”

At the end of the program, the participants were awarded certificates designating them as qualified instructors on dealing with homemade explosive devices.

“This training is a tool we now have in our toolbox that we hope we’ll never need, but it’s there if we need it,” Underwood said.

Mincks said team members who took part in the training program would be sharing what they’ve learned with other law enforcement and emergency responders throughout the area.

Underwood said the training also benefits surrounding counties that don’t have a S.W.A.T. team.