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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Caution and commitment: Sheppard's response to a real world active shooter

by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs


4/28/2014 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- What was supposed to be a regular exercise on base turned into a real world active shooter response April 24.

An active shooter exercise, meant to simulate the scenario of an individual engaged in the shooting of people in a confined space or populated area, aims to prepare military installations for the real thing should it happen.

The drill itself involved a base lockdown and the use of blank ammunition in a controlled area to simulate gunfire.

As the active shooter exercise took place, law enforcement personnel on base got the call that gunshot-like sounds were being heard on a side of base where the exercise was not supposed to be taking place. It turned out to be the sound of a jackhammer, but out of an abundance of caution, the base was shifted to a real world lockdown.

Those who initially responded to the call however, did not know at the time what the source of the noise was.

When Jeff Button, 82nd Security Forces Squadron civilian police officer, came to the scene, the shift to a real world scenario surprised him.

"Just for a moment it caught me cold because I was thinking 'wait a minute, this is Sheppard Air Force Base.'"

Pulling into the north end of the building, he proceeded to find an entrance and clear each room one-by-one. As the first officer on scene it was protocol for him to go in first. Having spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and an additional three as a police officer for the Air Force, he relied on his military training as instinctive muscle memory to help get him through the situation as it unfolded.

"You get to the room and you just follow how you've been trained and just do it," he said. "So at that point I kind of go on automatic."

Col. William Peterson, 82nd Mission Support Group commander, commended the actions of Button and the security forces personnel on base.

"It's his job and it's what they're (police officers) trained to do, but still, it's incredibly heroic and brave-- to actually go into a facility knowing there may be an actual threat in there takes a lot of courage," he said.

"Courage and determination are critical," Peterson said. "If you're a member of the security forces team I don't think you could do your job without them."

Peterson attributes the amount of caution shown to the important mission of making sure the base is secure, no matter how unlikely the potential threat is.

"I want those spouses and parents to have the most confidence that we're going to keep their loved ones safe and we have a great team to take care of that," he said.

With the stakes running high, Peterson knew the consequences of inaction could be dire if the worst came to pass.

"Until we knew for sure, we couldn't declare the base safe," he said.

The 82nd MSG commander wants security forces to instill that confidence through strong actions and the professionalism that comes with it.

"They're dedicated, they believe in what they're doing, they're loyal to each other and the team," he said.

Peterson also lauded the assistance the city of Wichita Falls provided during their response to the real world scenario.

"We had some outstanding support from our downtown partners in law enforcement... they were ready to come on and help out if they needed to," he said.

As soon as the all clear was given, a sense of relief swept the base and those it had affected. While the worst fears did not come to bear upon the military installation, those who stood at the ready kept an ever watchful eye.

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