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Lackland's EST holds elite SWAT tryouts

By Patrick Desmond | 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs | Oct. 7, 2010

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — What does it take to be the best?

The newest members of Lackland's emergency services team found out Sept. 24-25, enduring 36 hours of training in a two-day tryout.

Only three out of 10 recruits completed all the training events, including a mile-run in a gas mask, six-mile run in full gear, written tests, a 9mm qualification, and a 1 a.m. recall, among others.

Dirty, sweaty, and tired, the last recruits standing attested to the arduous process that had participants dropping out the first day.

After the final event - stress training at the Lackland Training Annex J-range - Staff Sgt. George Callaway, 802nd Security Forces Squadron, couldn't compare the physical test to anything he's done before.

He was equally unsure which portion of the tryout was more demanding, saying the most challenging thing about it was "everything, every day."

Senior Airman Nathan Wilson, 802nd SFS, couldn't single out an event either.

"The toughest thing wasn't the mental aspect but the physical part," he said. "Feels like I got hit by a truck."

Senior Airman Nathan Lange, 59th Emergency Medical Squadron, is familiar with the sensation.

"It's a kick in the face," the emergency medical technician said. "It's a gut check at every corner."

And a surprise at every turn.

While aspects of the tryout may seem random on paper, EST member Staff Sgt. Adam Navin, 343rd Training Squadron, said it tests capabilities needed to join the team and candidates raw potential.

Sequences such as sending candidates into a blacked out room or having them complete a written test and then run a mile, evaluate the ability to respond and natural instincts, the sergeant said.

The reason it's so tough, he added, is so individuals will learn to rely on each other and EST leadership can see which candidates respond with a team mentality.

EST team officer in charge, 2nd Lt. Chad Hafermann, 802nd SFS, said wanting to be a part of a team is essential.

"To make it through the EST tryouts the candidates have to come together as a team," the lieutenant said. "Team-work is the fuel that drives them to success."

He added, "It takes a lot of courage just to show up for a tryout like this."

Airman Lange, who previously tried out for EST in June, said the team concept is what kept him coming back.

"The values of the team resonate with me," he said, adding the reason it's so tough is to "check that you're here for the right reasons."

The new members and the rest of the EST continue to hone their skills through monthly training on base and at civilian training courses, such as Bexar County's course and Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training in San Marcos.

The Air Force's first EST training course started at Lackland in the late 1970s and offer training for those tactical services, Sergeant Navin said.

Since then, courses have sprung up on bases everywhere to meet the demands of particular commanders, while Lackland's unit has become an awarding-winning team, earning the title of Texas' best SWAT unit against civilian units in 2007.

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Patten has been the EST's NCO in charge the past five years.

He said EST is a highly trained, specifically equipped and disciplined unit that responds to high-risk situations such as barricaded persons, and possible hostage or aircraft hijacking situations.

"The purpose of Lackland's EST is to save lives," Sergeant Patten said, adding it's also the units' responsibility to respond to emotionally disturbed persons posing a threat and sniper incidents.

Lackland's team primarily operates on base and have the ability to assist Bexar County civilian law enforcement.

Potential EST members are on probation for one year, with the majority of the members coming from security forces and other career fields such as pararescue, combat controller and medical fields.

"It's not just security forces," Sergeant Navin said. "People want to join because they know it's elite."