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By Philip Carter, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 27, 2016
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Master Sgt. Craig Hatcher, Vosler NCO Academy former director of operations, plays an assailant during an active-shooter exercise at the VNCOA on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 21, 2016. Hatcher attempted to enter a classroom looking for more “victims” during the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Chief Master Sgt. Robert Woodin, Vosler NCO Academy commandant, addresses students after the conclusion of an active-shooter exercise at the VNCOA on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 21, 2016. This was the first time the VNCOA conducted this type of exercise, which received high marks for how well they handled the situation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Master Sgt. Craig Hatcher, Vosler NCO Academy former director of operations, enters an open door as he plays an assailant during an active-shooter exercise at the VNCOA on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 21, 2016. Hatcher searched the entire building looking for more “victims” during the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)
With a history marked by terrorist activities and active-shooter incidents in the U.S. and around the world, military installations and service members need to remain constantly vigilant.
To remain ready for real-world situations, an active-shooter exercise took place at the Vosler NCO Academy on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 21, 2016.
Chief Master Sgt. Robert Woodin, VNCOA commandant, had just come from visiting units with people affected by active-shooter incidents. After talking with those involved, he came to the conclusion there are very few people prepared for a real-world situation.
In April, Woodin put together a group of NCOs from his staff and challenged them to develop an active-shooter exercise for the students, staff and faculty at the NCO Academy.
Leadership from the NCO Academy and 21st Security Forces Squadron positioned themselves around the building to observe the exercise and how students and staff reacted to the situation. Others followed the simulated assailant Master Sgt. Craig Hatcher, VNCOA former director of operations.
The assailant went through the side door near the commandant’s office, pushed his way into the room and started to yell at the commandant.
At the time, there were two student leaders in the office who got between the assailant and Woodin to stop any confrontation. Woodin told the students to leave the office. Shortly after they left his office, simulated shots rang out and instead of fleeing, the students decided to come back and end the situation.
Exercise officials told the two students to let him go so they could continue the exercise. The scenario continued with the assailant running down the hallway, checking each room for his next “victims”.
Because the assailant was a former VNCOA employee, he had access to keys and combinations to training rooms and offices. Simply closing and locking the doors wasn’t enough to keep the VNCOA students safe.
As he made his way down the hallway, the assailant found a door that was locked, which he unlocked and forced his way in, pretending to shoot several of the individuals inside. The rest of the students were able to subdue him and took his weapon.
To ensure everyone had the chance to experience the exercise, the assailant was let go to continue his simulated rampage. He finished checking every room in the building and found one more faculty member in an office and simulated shooting her. Ending in the auditorium, the assailant didn’t find anyone else and the exercise was terminated.
“We were really trying to do an assessment,” said Tech. Sgt. Alex Elliott, VNCOA course logistics team member. "The group came up with a plan to fight against such a threat and safeguard themselves by locking doors and things like that.
“Going through this event was to find the shortfalls that we couldn’t predict and fix the things that can be fixed, so that in the future it will be a safer workplace,” he said.
Exercises like this allow VNCOA personnel to identify areas for improvement and be prepared for any type of contingency.
“We have to get away from this mindset that we just treat exercises like an exercise. We need to treat them as if it is real world," said Woodin. “If something like this had been installed in the VNCOA, in this scenario six out of the 10 people might have not been shot.”
A unique aspect about exercising at the VNCOA is the students who participated here at one location will impact 30 bases since each student will take what they learned back to their home unit.