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By Steve Cañon

It’s common for aviators and fishermen to tell “war stories” at the bar. Most yarns begin with something like, “There I was…”, or “Hey, this is no s—t, I swear….”

While this isn’t a tale of extraordinary flying skills or the huge sea creature I managed to land, since I was in the military at the time, it does qualify as a “war story” and it revolves around a single .38 snubbie, and about ten M4s.

The episode unfolded as I neared the end of “my turn in the barrel” as a command post controller at a semi-large air base. Now, the term “controller” is misleading because the only thing controllers actually controlled was access into the command post (a secured room requiring badges and security clearances to enter).

Besides that, our job was to take and receive messages, passing them on to appropriate agencies and senior staff as required. We also relayed messages between aircrews, maintenance personnel, and sometimes the security force on base (which is part of the story).

The command post in question had a duty component of one officer and two or three enlisted specialists. Officers were all aviators of one kind or another, while the enlisted were mostly long-term professionals in the command and control specialty code. At any rate, they were to be only the assigned staff inside the “cab” where there was yet another controlled door, two large consoles of telephones and radios.

There was a long desk provided for the two to three controllers. Essentially, for security purposes, everyone in the “cab” (including the random approved visitor) had to maintain sight lines to everyone else.

To reinforce the seriousness of the security requirements, command post controllers each carried issued sidearms (that .38 snubbie revolver). Because this was the military, the snubbies were carried holsters intended for revolvers with four-inch barrels. We often felt like we were Barney, and Sheriff Andy only gave us half-guns.

One other oddity of the command post will set the stage for the events that unfolded. There was a panic button located on the floor under the controllers’ console to be used if and when the command post was assaulted, and there was no time to actually use a phone or radio to signal base security forces of the threat.

At our base, however, that panic button was subject to random auto-initiation for some reason. After two years in the “cab,” I has been lucky and had never dealt with that. I was looking forward to being one of the few controllers to totally escape my time of duty without an auto-initiation of the panic button.

As an added bonus, the controllers had no indicator when an auto-initiation happened…except the sudden appearance at the front door of the equivalent of a SWAT team leader demanding complete evacuation of the command post.

As it happened, one afternoon while I was on duty, the “SWAT team” leader announced his presence, along with a ten-person squad, all armed with M4 carbines. The procedure was for everyone to evacuate the command post, be detained, and the potential hostage location searched.

We sent three people out of the command post while the one enlisted controller and I remained. The command and control security procedure prohibited abandoning the post entirely, as two armed controllers were required to be present to safeguard classified information and equipment.

But that created a stalemate. I asked the other controller how things worked in other episodes when the panic button auto-initiated, but he had no experience to guide us. I informed the SWAT team leader that we couldn’t leave the command post and invited the team leader to send his people into the area to confirm there was no emergency at hand.

The team leader refused, and demanded we evacuate. After about five minutes of seesaw demands (me out, him in), I instructed the enlisted controller to contact headquarters and locate the senior commander on base to explain the situation. At that point, I proceeded to the front door to confront the SWAT team leader and dare him to attempt to penetrate our secured location.

Arriving at the door, I unlocked it and kicked it hard to open it. There, I faced the SWAT team leader with his pistol drawn, and ten squad members in various defensive positions, all with M4s pointed in my direction. My half-gun was a poor counter to what I was facing.

The event finally unwound when the SWAT team leader received a radio call from the senior commander on base ordering him to stand down, and have the team leader’s unit commander front and center, immediately. The SWAT team then de-camped and I returned to the command post “cab”.

The enlisted controller looked at me in amazement, commenting that it took some big ones to take on a SWAT team with only a .38 snubbie. I explained that what it really took was a whole lot of stupid, not big ones.

Within a few months, the base security office finally re-wrote its procedures to line up with the security procedure for command posts. An entirely new (and I guess more reliable) panic button system was installed. I haven’t heard from anyone who rotated out after I did, telling tales of any more security stand-offs.

Gun handling lesson of the day? When the SWAT team leader demands you present yourself, don’t violently kick open the door while armed. My good fortune was that the team was highly disciplined. That could have quickly turned ugly…and painful.

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  1. {A bunch of guys with big guns}

    “That could have quickly turned ugly…and painful.”

    Well, not for long, anyways…

    *snicker* 😉

  2. I enjoy reveling in the past also. However this story was a tad lame, had I been there I’m sure it would have been more exciting.

    • “… had I been there I’m sure it would have been more exciting.”

      Lead would have been flying? 😉

      • No, I’d have probably had to clean my drawers. What I meant was someone telling you about facing a gun is not like having the gun in your face.

        • *That* is true.

          While I have never had one pointed at me with mal-intent, I have personally experienced a dumbass ND by someone and heard the bullet ‘flutter’ by about 3 feet over my head.

          Dumbass me speculated to the guy I was talking to that it sounded like a .38 cal.
          He headed straight indoors…

  3. “Gun handling lesson of the day? When the SWAT team leader demands you present yourself, don’t violently kick open the door while armed. My good fortune was that the team was highly disciplined.

    No kidding.
    If you'd done that to a LA County civilian team, they'd have lit you up like you were a middle aged Hispanic woman trying to deliver the LA Times.

  4. My favorite Giant Voice page of all time:
    ‘This is the Command Post. Command Post out.’
    I lol’d for a few mins in my car.

  5. Command post controller, here, for SAC, 1987-88. Your experience far different from mine, suspect you weren’t in SAC. No secret floor button, revolvers were Combat Masterpiece with 4″ barrels, fit the holster fine, and an entrapment area with bulletproof doors and 3″ glass (bulletproof) windows. Some armed jackass arrived at the door (WTF does SWAT mean, that is civilian cops?) and demands literally anything, I’d have had him surrounded by around 100 military folk with M-4s within seconds, he would be welcome to enter the entrapment area anytime he liked, but it may be a day or 2 before I let him out, I could wait till he lost consciousness if need be. We controlled the application of nuclear weapons, your pissant machine gun is not a player here.

    • “(WTF does SWAT mean, that is civilian cops?)”

      Initially a California thing, “Special Weapons And Tactics”.

      It wasn’t long before every local PD just had to have their own to kick down doors to serve warrants.

      Were you a BUFF driver, Larry?

      (The dreaded seven-engine landing…)

      • Yeah but in the above story what does it mean? It usually refers to a civilian police department but this sounds like it was a military team.

        • “……except the sudden appearance at the front door of the equivalent of a SWAT team leader…”

          I sure the .mil has specialized MP training for nuclear security needs.

          I doubt the level of training that ‘Airman Jones’ at the main gate of every .mil facility has qualifies for guarding nukes.

          If they did, every enemy we have now knows the full layout of the bunkers…

      • BUFF? Big ugly fat fcker or chick in the newd? Yah can’t have it both ways, error- – California

  6. I worked in the Command Post at JBMDL for about two years. They don’t give out guns anymore 🙁 [sad face]

  7. “There I Was, Facing a SWAT Team With a Snubbie”

    That’s nothing. I once shot an elephant in my pajamas.

  8. I’ve heard quite a few .38 SPL snubbie stories from other folks in ammo bunkers while I was in.

    Mini-guns are on the list of “highly pilferable” items, so we all had to wear `em, and in some of those long hallways the was the occasional, but highly against regulations, “quick draw” contest.

    There have also been occasions, I hear, where trigger discipline was not adhered to and an inadvertent cook off occurred, and discharged into an unoccupied office, say f`rinstance. Not that I was ever involved with such hijinks, no, no…

  9. I’ve had a gun pointed in my face – 9mm semi-auto held by a cop. I immediately relaxed, and slowed down my reactions so I didn’t do something stupid with my hands. You do tend to get very alert when this happens as well. But I was already alert as the situation had been building for several minutes.

    Possibly my reactions are a consequence of having been in Vietnam and having my facility under attack (albeit a quarter of a mile away in another section of the facility) with myself armed with an M-16 in concert with my squad of petroleum specialists at Vung Ro Bay. That was the most interesting time of my time in the military. I was alert mentally and physically but still calm and I had an evacuation plan outlined in my mind should our part of the facility be overrun (which never happened – our area was never actually attacked.)

    Everyone reacts differently. How you will react probably depends on whether you’ve actively been confronted with the situation in the past and whether you’ve previously considered how you will react should the situation arise. I recommend the latter before you have to find out for realsies. Having a plan also means you’re more likely to concentrate on executing the plan rather than surrendering to emotion. This is why people train.

  10. Hmmmm…. I’m smelling a lot of something… I’ve been on that “SWAT” team before; it’s comprised of USAF Security Forces personnel. Weird that you didn’t say Security Forces responded. I’m sure in reality this whole thing was far less dramatic.

    • ” I’m smelling a lot of something… ”

      I used “SWAT” because it is the most recognizable term for type of unit involved. Many people on the blog do not know “Security Police”, even many former members of other service branches. Using “Tactical Neutralization Team” does not quickly translate to the common understanding of the term “SWAT”.

      I was trying to reduce confusion.

  11. I was one of those “SWAT” (We called it a Tactical Neutralization Team TNT) team types.

    For years we were referred to with derogatory remarks for being dumb cops. A Utah patrolman once asked me why I didn’t get out of the Mickey Mouse Club and join a real police department. In another case, an LAPD Psychologist called the civilian cops in the course “real police”. We did the same jobs as civil police officers; dealing with drunk drivers, speeders, dopers, burglars, bank robbers, and duress alarms, just to name a few.

    I’m happy to see that at least one person recognized the hours and hours of training we put in to achieve the highest level of discipline.

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