By Cpl. Ryan Walker
CENTRAL TRAINING AREA, Okinawa, Japan -- Outfitted in ballistics gear, a team of Marines slowly moves toward their objective waiting behind a protective shield for the command from their unit leader to explode through their entry point to arrest their suspect.
“We’re a S.W.A.T. team for the Marine Corps ” said Staff Sgt. Steven Rowe, commander, Special Reaction Team, Provost Marshal’s Office, Marine Corps Base. “Our mission is to train, practice and rehearse for any situation, such as hostages, barricaded suspects, and felony arrests.”
A military policeman is selected to be a member of SRT after he completes an indoctrination, which is an evaluation of how quickly he can learn the unit’s special tactics, Rowe explained.
“Once they become SRT, we send them to SRT School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.,” Rowe said. “After SRT School, their training is endless; there are so many schools we can send them to.”
As the only military SRT on Okinawa, the unit constantly trains to hone the tightly knit team’s skills, often training six or seven days a week.
“Today we’re going over basic entry and room clearing,” Rowe said. “These guys do this a thousand times, and they know how to do it, but as a team, you’re not a really well-rounded team until you do it a thousand times together.”
Once the Marines get into their building, either by kicking it in or using one of their many sophisticated breeching methods, they wait for the commands from the “shield.”
“The shield is the ‘hall boss’ who runs the team,” Rowe said. “He’s the man up-front in ballistics from head-to-toe and can take a couple of rounds.”
“I wear a lot more protection than the other team members, so my job is pretty much to get shot,” said Cpl. Eddie L. Tesch, who serves as the SRT’s shield.
After receiving the command to enter a room, two or more Marines buttonhook or cross into the room to either locate their objective or ensure it’s clear.
“Once we dump into a room, we take it over as quickly as possible,” Rowe said.
With danger around every corner, many men may not be fearless enough to be a member of such an elite squad.
“We expect to get shot in every structure,” Tesch said. “Around every corner, every angle and every door I think the bad guy is waiting for me. That’s how I psyche myself out, so when I turn that corner or open that door, I’m ready to pounce on him.”
Though the SRT has not had a real-world situation to respond to for many years, that hasn’t stagnated their training.
“We haven’t had a situation in years, which is good because we don’t have those problems here, and we have more time to train,” Rowe said. “We also send our guys out to all the search and rescues here.”
Regardless of whether or not the Marines have had a real-world situation to respond to in recent years, the team considers themselves a group of elite Marines.
“We take pride in ourselves for what we do,” Tesch said. “It’s just the pride of being the best of the best.”