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Targets and Chew Toys: Part 1

I patiently wait in the office, nerves on high alert, adrenaline flowing. I try to control my breathing without much success as I stand, clenching the 9mm Glock in my trembling hands. Breathe. Relax. I notice my wet palms as I recheck the gun to make sure a round is in the chamber. It’s ready to fire. I can feel the sweat accumulate on my forehead, a combination of nerves and heat. It must be 100 degrees but I still decide to wear a jacket. Not long before this moment I thought that any sort of protection would help and chose to put the jacket on. Now it seems like unnecessary suffering in the already sweltering heat. I finally hear the dreaded and anticipated announcement I’m waiting for.

“Chelan County SWAT. Come out immediately with your hands up. If you do not comply we will use deadly force.”

Here we go again.

My good friend Chris, who got me into this mess to begin with, immediately starts into a panicked plea after the announcement. He’s hiding behind a water cooler next to an office behind mine and doesn’t want to get shot. I can see his eyes get big as the SWAT team moves forward to detain him. I can’t see the team, but I know they’re there. Chris did what he was supposed to do. It would be my turn soon. I can hear the officers work their way methodically through the vacant offices before mine. Sounds of shuffling feet, doors being forced open and the occasional clear called out. They don’t know where I am and Chris refuses to tell them. My heart starts to pound harder. One more second. Take a deep breath. Try to relax. It will all be over soon.

I’ve shot guns many times in my life but never at a live target, let alone an entire SWAT team. The moment of truth. I step into the open doorway with the pistol raised. I know this is going to hurt. I secretly hope the anticipation of pain is worse than the actual pain. Deep down I fear it will be worse than I expect. The first officer comes into view and I take two shots. Hit. Center mass. I work my way rotating left as the second officer comes into view. Two more shots. I’m not sure if they hit. I try and rotate further to shoot a third officer but I start to hear the shots being returned from surprised and angry assault rifles. I duck back into the office to regroup. It wasn’t as loud as I had expected but this is just the start. The hornet nest is officially stirred.

I don’t think I’m hit and I’m surprised. Maybe I have taken a shot or two and can’t feel it because of the adrenaline. I hear that some people can get shot with a volley of bullets and still come at you because of adrenaline. Their body not realizing that it’s leaking fluids out of a dozen holes. I had expected to go down pretty quickly. Surprised and a little reluctant, I step back into the doorway for a second round of shots. In the excitement, I forget to check my weapon. I’m out of ammo. At this point it doesn’t matter; the first officer through the door is moving quickly and shooting accurately. He practically jump-scares me as he comes around the corner. With a pistol in his left hand he spins me around and forces me to the ground seemingly instantly.

As I fall to my knees I feel extreme pain in the back of my left elbow. He shot me, point plank in the elbow. In the elbow? Why? As he handcuffs me, he leans in and quietly apologizes for the accidental wound. Seems that even SWAT makes mistakes sometimes. I laugh and pretend like it’s nothing, but it hurts badly. That one might leave a forever mark.

The trainer comes in as the SWAT team guys check their weapons and start giving the lead guys a hard time for getting shot by a civilian. He pulls me aside to make sure I’m alright. None the worse for wear. I tell him I’m pretty hot and he laughs. It is really hot in here. One more scenario with the next team and we’ll be done. A 10-hour day in the books helping Douglas and Chelan County SWAT teams with their monthly training routine.

If you’ve never been shot by a simulation round you’ll have a hard time understanding the pain I was in. The rounds look real but instead of the standard lead bullet tip they have a combination of plastic and paint. The only way I can explain is that it feels like you’re getting shot with a rubber bullet combined with a paintball. Maybe it feels more like a high velocity BB or pellet gun. Regardless, it hurt more than I thought it would.

My friend Chris had invited me to participate as an actor for the SWAT team monthly training day. I jumped at the idea to drive the 3 hours over the mountains to join him. Most of the day was spent training with the SWAT K-9 units. We would hide out in the woods while the dogs and officers would track us. We were given glorified burlap sacks to protect our arms when presenting them to ferocious dogs once found. It was terrifying and fun in the same breath.

We also did training where we would drive an old police cruiser and simulate getting pulled over by a SUV filled with SWAT members and a K-9 unit. We would either comply, or at times not, to the officers demands. When we complied, things went smooth. When we were coached by the instructor not to comply, the dog would either run us down or jump through the car window and attack. Being in close quarters with a trained attack dog is a thing to experience. The only advice the officers gave us was not to close our hand into a fist as the dog bit. If we did, and the dog happened to bite that part of our burlap sack, there was a good chance our hand would be broken. I didn’t believe them at first but as I drove home that night the adrenaline wore off and the pain in my left arm set in. I noticed bruising. Those dogs are strong and good at what they do.

I spent the day being a chew toy for SWAT dogs and a target for their assault rifles. I couldn’t image a day spent doing something more fun. I think I’m weird. Here’s how I know. I asked no less than a dozen other guys to join me. Most had work and didn’t want to take a day off. Others thought I was flat-out crazy to volunteer, unpaid, for something like this. I would have paid money. I love stuff like this.

Some of the most enjoyable moments of my life are opportunities that were presented to me that seemed a bit crazy or reckless at the time. I think those moments are what make the best experiences in life. I love a good story. Whether it’s taking a spontaneous RV road trip with a bunch of friends to climb a mountain in winter with a film crew or being asked to learn three chords on a guitar to play music in front of a bunch of junior high kids, I always want my default response to be yes. Comfort kills us in the end. Discomfort is where we grow. Pushing past the boundaries of where we’ve been and into the unknown is where we experience life to its fullest.

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