Think back to last year. We saw hundreds of law enforcement officers stand and wait while Texas school children were being murdered in their classroom. Remember back a few more years, and we saw innocent victims murdered while police waited outside of a bar in Florida. We saw police sit and wait outside a Florida high school. It took me a while, but I think I finally understand why. These officers were not trained to stop a mass-murderer. They had not practiced stopping a killer who wanted a body-count. The officers didn’t respond by instinct when they heard gunfire. Now, I know better. I recently attended a training course for volunteer first responders in Arizona. I’ve met the heroes who trained to protect our kids and our neighbors from a murderer who wants them dead. They are my heroes. This is what I saw.
We know how to defend our schools and our churches. The attack at the Sandy Hook Elementary School happened over a decade ago. We asked the experts how to stop murderers who want to become celebrities by killing innocent victims. The experts gave us very clear answers about what to do. They said that time is what matters. The solution to stop a mass-murderer has to be inside the building before the shooting starts.
Ohio was one of the first states to set up a program of volunteer school staff. These vetted and trained volunteers are the first responders who stop the threat and then stop the bleeding until the police and EMTs arrive. The program they developed is called FASTER, for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response. They built the FASTER program based on the experience of millions of man-years of school resource officers being on campus. Today, we have millions of days of experience with armed volunteers at school. The program has trained teachers in over 20 states and over 300 school districts. We have never had a mass-murder at a school with a public program of armed staff.
As I said, I was lucky enough to see one of the first FASTER classes in Arizona. This class south of Phoenix was a mix of school teachers, church security officers, school resource officers, and of uniformed patrol officers. The cops and the civilians trained side by side. They did remarkably well. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.
This is the fourth FASTER class I’ve seen. Every single teacher I’ve met in these classes talked about protecting “my kids”. The School Resource Officer in this class used to be an elementary teacher before he became a policeman, and finally became an SRO. The school custodians talked about defending “their kids” at “their school.” I saw the way they trained at the range and at a school where we ran simulated force-on-force drills. They are amazing. I was proud to be there with them.
When it comes to defending the children, these volunteer defenders are not merely involved:
they are committed! They are all in.
I watched them during the force-on-force drills. They did not sit at a distance and give reports on the radio. They moved toward the unknown disturbance. They ran toward the sound of gunfire. They sprinted toward the man with a gun. They shot a lethal threat until the threat stopped. They defended our children.
I was surprised that some of the students who struggled on the shooting range excelled in the simulated force-on-force training at the school where we practiced. Lions and lionesses come in all shapes and sizes.
You should know that the class did more than teach volunteer first responders to stop a murderer and treat the injured victims. In some of the scenarios it was appropriate not to shoot. These volunteer defenders practiced both responses; both to stop the threat, and to recognize when someone isn’t a threat. That experience is invaluable.
The staff who taught the class included both older instructors and experienced instructors who were relatively new to the FASTER courses. This particular class was an opportunity for the experienced FASTER instructors to share what they knew and to see how the newer instructors in Arizona conducted themselves. As a student, I thought we got the best that both had to offer. I am hard pressed to name better instruction.
That doesn’t mean the class was easy. I struggled to pass the shooting qualification test. Law enforcement officers drill for two weeks to pass the same test. We did it in a day-and-a-half. I met the shooting standards required to be a sworn law enforcement officer in Arizona, but I failed to qualify at the higher level required to be a police shooting instructor. Other teachers, church security members, police officers and school resource officers qualified at that higher level. Well done.
We have not talked about the most important lesson. These students will go back to their schools and their churches. They will see the places where they work and the places where they pray with new eyes. They will study the people they protect as a defender would, and that is a lesson for all of us. The first responders look the same, but they came back as different men and women.
It is desperately important that we know these heroes are there. The plain-clothed school teacher who is armed can’t tell the parents about what she learned. She can’t tell them what she does every day. It is important that she remain anonymous so an attacker is always in doubt.
I’ve seen what they did and I am sure about what they can do. These brave men and women volunteered to defend our children and our neighbors. They are wonderful. We need thousands more like them, both in Arizona and across the country.
I gave you 900 words. They cost me some blood, toil, tears and sweat. Please leave a comment and share. RM