Several elite anti-terror officers from San Mateo County have traveled to the Middle East to put their skills to the test at an event described by its organizers as "the Olympics of counterterrorism."
SWAT team members from the county's Terrorism Counter-Assault Team are among U.S. officers selected for a trip to Amman, Jordan, to compete in the sixth annual Warrior Competition, which begins today and continues through Monday. Hosted by the Jordanian Armed Forces, the event features military and law enforcement teams from various countries competing in mock terror scenarios at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center.
The competitors won't know the precise nature of the scenarios until they begin, but the sprawling $200 million desert facility contains dozens of buildings used for simulating incursions into everything from private homes to hospitals, and it even boasts a full-scale Airbus A300 replica, complete with mechanical hostage and terrorist dummies.
San Mateo County Sheriff's Office Capt. Mark Wyss said the county has sent eight law enforcement personnel to the competition, including a captain from the Hillsborough Police Department to oversee the team, six SWAT operators to compete in the exercises and a Central County Fire Department firefighter-paramedic to treat any injuries they might sustain. The competition is not without its risks, Wyss noted, as the scenarios involve a lot of running for participants and live ammunition is used in the shooting events.
Among the terror incidents some competitors train for are those where they may need to raid a facility where weapons of mass destruction are being manufactured, or operate in the aftermath of a WMD attack. One key distinction between TCAT members from other SWAT personnel is that they're trained to operate in environments threatened by WMDs, Wyss said. Such specialized training involves wearing breathing apparatus and other gear that protects against chemical and biological agents.
Daly City police Officer Jason Moe, who served with the Marines during the Iraq War, is one local TCAT member who said he's ready to return to the Middle East to take on the new challenge.
"I enjoyed my time in Iraq," Moe said. "It's a beautiful country and a beautiful culture."
The competition will not only test the participants' counterterrorism skills, but allow them to meet with other team members from across the globe who work in the field, Moe said. He believes the team's experience in Jordan can be a unique learning opportunity to help improve the work of San Mateo County's SWAT operators.
The competition will include teams from the U.S., Palestinian territories, Jordan, Slovakia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Brunei, Lebanon, the Netherlands, China, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Of the 38 international teams competing, almost all are from military organizations, with just a handful representing law enforcement agencies.
County TCAT member and Sheriff's Office Sgt. Al Elzey called it an honor to have the chance to compete against the best anti-terror teams in the world, regardless of who wins.
"I'll be proud of the guys if we place really well, but I'll still be proud of them just for going," Elzey said.