Yours truly is learning to play the guitar. More precisely I’m attempting to learn to play the jazz guitar. Jazz on the guitar is arguably one of the more difficult aspects of this form of music, but I plunged in anyway.

I listened to a program by the great Wynton Marsalis on jazz and the theory behind it. Wynton likens jazz to a train. The locomotive drives the train, yet everything else must work in concert with the locomotive in order for any of it to make any sense. Each section of the train needs to listen to the others, cannot drown out the others, and must know when to take a backseat. Rhythms flow in and out of each other and all members must adhere to them, otherwise nothing much is accomplished.

SWAT-Team-RhythmIf this rule is followed, what is produced works well, flows and sounds great. He also refers to being “hep,” which I took to mean that a player has accomplished a level of proficiency that allows his/her playing to flow naturally and produce a unique style readily discernible to the listener. This “hepness,” Wynton explains, only comes after a long, long time as a musician. You cannot learn it from a book. It must come from within the individual after reaching a certain level of experience.

In many regards, the same can be said for a SWAT team and its members. Each member must complement the others at all times. If one member is out of sync with the rest of the team, the results are predictable. This means that each member must be able to stand on his own irrespective of the weapon system he is employing. His individual tactical skill, movement and decisions must also stand on their own yet blend into the team when necessary. When working in concert with one another, individuals must know when to take a backseat and when to lead.

If you have ever been with an established tactical team for an extended period of time, you are well aware of the flow that a highly proficient team can apply to resolve a problem.

An inexperienced team, or one whose members have not developed a high level of individual skill, will not work as smoothly, and many mistakes will result. Live-fire shoot houses will almost always reveal the weakness in a team’s ability to work together. They won’t be so hep.

LAPD’s “D” platoon, commonly referred to as SWAT, has this so-called hepness. I know because I was one of them. It always amazed me that, when we were faced with both real-world and training evolutions, the team worked well together, with each member doing what he was supposed to do.

Yes, there were mistakes, yet overall, regardless of the problem, we resolved it. The cover people were where they were supposed to be, the entry team split as they were supposed to, and when things went south, members plugged in and shored up the problem.

Another aspect to all of this is tenure. Imagine listening to a great jazz guitarist, asking him how long he’s been playing, and hearing his reply: “Two years.” I doubt that has ever happened, and yet there are departments that limit the time one can spend on a team.

Whoever came up with this harebrained concept of time limits completely misses the big picture. You’re dealing with real people’s lives and decisions with serious consequences in life-or-death situations. Two years is just about enough time to realize that you really don’t know what you’re doing and that you’ve got a long way to go. You cannot buy experience and you cannot “make rank” into experience.

When you have well-tenured individuals on a team, invariably someone has past experience with the particular problem the team is facing at the moment. This is very much a, “Hey guys … we had this problem about 15 years ago and this is how we tackled it” ability that can only be realized through tenured SWAT members.

Here’s another aspect of SWAT teams you might find amusing. Imagine a jazz musician showing up only at the show and never at practice. You’d have a lot of disappointed listeners walking out and demanding their money back. When you have individuals either in a supervisory role or as operators who consistently cannot perform with their weapons or tactics or rarely show up to training to “tune up,” you need to “cank” them.

I’ve come across this “He’s never at training, but he’s on the team anyway” syndrome from time to time in my travels. That’s probably the guy whom everything will hinge upon when Murphy shows up and it all goes wrong. Get rid of him so he can push graphite or help little old ladies across the street—not kill the wrong person or get someone else killed due to his ineptitude.

It is also something to marvel at how an experienced and highly trained SWAT team can clear a house in either a covert or dynamic manner. This applies to any SWAT operation, for that matter. It is the smooth-traveling train of which Wynton speaks. Discipline and efficiency without ego will get you to your destination in style.

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