Back to Basics: A 17-year law enforcement veteran goes back to basic training
March 11, 2022
This week was the most stressful by far, and full of bullets, burpees and blisters.
We left the classroom and took our firearms skills to the range, this time with live ammunition. We conduct our firearms training at Academi in Moyock, N.C. It has state-of-the-art ranges of all types and attracts law enforcement and military agencies from across the world. The Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office and Virginia Beach Police Department share a training building on site with classrooms, firearms storage, and gun maintenance and cleaning areas.
Many of my fellow recruits had little to no experience with firearms before joining the VBSO, and they were a bit nervous about getting on the range and shooting their duty weapons. But we weren’t alone. The VBSO range staff guided us every step of the way, helping each recruit learn the proper stance, proper grip, sight alignment, sight picture, and, of course, one of the most important skills, the slow trigger pull.
Practice makes perfect, and I have the blisters to prove it.
On the first day, one of the range instructors was Sgt. Mark Matheny, who you may remember from one of my
previous blogs as our unofficial expert in small group dynamics. We have been in the “storming” phase for a while, and I’m happy to report that we are finally moving into “norming,” which is when we begin to know what to expect, establish unsaid rules and figure out how to deal with problems.
This week has been the most stressful by far and we must qualify with our handguns today. It was encouraging to hear Sgt. Matheny commend us on the high level of teamwork we displayed on the range. Each recruit cheered on their teammates when they were struggling. Those with more firearms experience helped their teammates load their magazines with target rounds once they finished up their own, without anyone even having to ask for help. Taller recruits helped the shorter ones with hanging up their targets and frames. Everyone pitched in to gather the equipment needed for each firearms rotation, set up barricades for training drills and accomplish our other tasks.
In law enforcement, any situation that requires you to draw your firearm is going to be high stress. In training, if we miss our target, we only face some corrective burpees. In real life, the consequences can be life-or-death.
So on Tuesday afternoon we worked on high-stress shooting. In pairs of two, we did various exercises, donned “eyes and ears” (eye protection and ear protection) and ran around the corner to the range to react to whatever shooting drill the instructors had set up. As each group left the line of recruits for their turn, they called out an exercise for their teammates to do while they’re gone. The class patiently waited for each pair to return and completed the “prescribed” exercise nonstop until they got back. With our hearts racing and being slightly out of breath, we each had to fire either two or three rounds, depending on which rotation we were on, and any missed shots meant one burpee for the whole class. We were shooting on steel targets, so from over the berm our class could hear the “ting ting” sound of rounds hitting their targets.
My partner and I were the last team to go on the line. On our final rotation, we were each expected to hit the steel target down range three times. No pressure, right? We knew we would singlehandedly cause the whole class to have to complete burpees if we missed. I made my three hits and holstered my firearm as my partner finished her shots. She is a new shooter and, when I heard all three rounds hit the steel targets, I was ecstatic! She did it! As we ran back to our class, the whole group was cheering us on and high-fiving us for acing the drill. Everyone was excited for their teammates’ success, and there were no grumblings when we completed our leftover burpees. This is a huge step for our group’s bonding. I really feel like we are working together at a much higher level. “Norming" is a more comfortable time than the first two phases and, with hard work and a good leader, we will work toward the final phase: “performing.”
Thursday was far less fun, and the weather turned against us once again. We completed numerous
marksmanship drills in the freezing rain and mud. I felt like Ralphie’s brother in the movie ”A Christmas Story” with six layers on my upper body and two layers of pants and socks. The range is like a wind tunnel, making it feel at least 20 degrees colder. The rain soaking our clothes didn’t help either.
We finished the day with a mock qualification to help prepare us for today’s real one. We’re all feeling the pressure looming over us. We have two separate daytime pistol qualifications, and we must achieve two back-to-back passing scores. The VBSO has higher standards than the minimum requirements set by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, which is good, but also challenging. After we finished yesterday, everyone was exhausted and ready to go home and get a hot shower. I found mud everywhere when I got home!
Today is a big day for all of us. The good news is that the forecast predicts that it will be dry and about 10 degrees warmer, so we are all hoping that this time the meteorologists got it right! Wish us luck and check back next week for our results!
Photos by VBSO Public Information Officer Toni Guagenti and Deputy Recruit/Public Information Officer Margie Hobbs