With a pistol in each hand, the gunman stood in a cold room, waiting to begin his assault.
For him, death was a certainty, but he fired off a round anyway. His three victims, all suffering from superficial wounds, cowered in the abandoned building.
Suddenly, three armed sailors burst through the western door.
And the exercise was on.
Security forces at the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station held drills Tuesday to practice their response to the possibility of a lone gunman on base.
Part of a weeklong series of exercises called Citadel Shield, which simulate various terrorism scenarios, the drill was one of many across the nation's naval bases.
“What you’re going to see today is not a show,” said base spokesman Gregg Smith, addressing a handful of reporters, photographers and videographers outside the facility. “We’re there to train our sailors.”
It’s the second time the media have been allowed to watch the annual exercise.
Inside the darkened training center near the middle of the base, strains of Bach’s "Toccata in Fugue"—the song that often accompanies an evil villain in an old movie—drifted through the building.
According to instructor Dave Randolph, trainers use the music to disorient the seamen who are there to save the day.
It’s not the only thing in the Navy’s arsenal of confusion at the training site.
The building was decked with posters of gun-toting bad guys and grocery-toting civilians. Although the Tuesday exercise didn’t make use of them, the walls have spinning police lights. The windows are also easily covered and can make the already dim room close to pitch black.
Despite the distractions, sailors focus on “helping the good people and taking care of the bad people,” Randolph said, adding the simulation prepares participants for worst-case scenarios.
"Like the incident that happened at the , that’s just what we’re preparing for,” Randolph said.
Ten minutes before the simulation, Jessica Reed, master-at-arms second class, sat in a side room nursing a fake injury to her right arm. A flat TV screen on a wall nearby showed video feeds from at least eight cameras recording the exercise.
Later, instructors reviewed the footage with participants and provided tips for improvement.
Reed said she was not afraid of acting injured in the exercise and catching a stray bullet.
“I know what it feels like to get shot with a sim round,” Reed said. “I know what to expect. “
Longtime naval officer Lt. Chris Ambrosi, who has participated in dozens of similar exercises, described the experience as intense.
“There’s a lot of adrenaline, especially when you hear they’re shooting rounds right back at you,” Ambrosi said about five minutes before the exercise.
Media that wanted to witness the exercise donned bulky black helmets, neck protectors and orange vests to avoid being shot by simunition—also known as "sims”—a round that's part rubber bullet and part paintball. The ammo isn’t lethal, but it does hurt.
About two minutes before the exercise, journalists spread throughout the building and waited for the simulation to begin.
A plastic body with a “gunshot wound” to the stomach rested on the concrete floor.
The three victims waited too.
The active shooter, dressed in black mask, black pants and a green camouflage jacket, checked his weapons, spoke with one of the instructors and then fired a round to begin the exercise.
The instructor then simulated a call to base security.
Soon, three gun-wielding Navy personnel entered the room. Two of the victims moved toward them, pleading for help.
The trio held its fire, and the victims escaped the building. The sailors found the third victim later, “injured” but alive.
But first, they hunted for the enemy, hurrying through the building with photographers and videographers following closely behind.
After a tense 15 seconds or so, gunfire rang out. The Navy seamen had killed the shooter but, just in case, put handcuffs on him.
Ready For Anything
The active part of the exercise takes only 30 to 40 seconds. Afterward, the three participants stood near a stairwell beside their downed foe.
They’re successful, dazed and trying to listen to instructors impart a little more advice.
“Where are your victims?” asked instructor Steve Hill about the wounded.
“I guess they're outside,” said Eddie Meneses, master-at-arms, seaman apprentice.
“You guess?” Hill responded.
They spoke a few more seconds and Hill added, “Make sure you can account for all your victims."
Taking care of the victims is important, Hill said later, but the first goal is taking out the shooter to prevent additional casualties. Eliminate the threat.
With the exercise completed, the “wounded” sat outside in the sunlight, facing inspection by base emergency personnel.
Instructor Patrick Harding rated the trio’s performance as “pretty good.”
“They flowed smoothly,” he said. “No one got shot, they took out the active shooter."
Although the scenario was hypothetical, naval security forces must prepare for all possibilities, which is what Citadel Shield is all about.
“The ‘what-if’ went out the window," Harding said, "when 9/11 happened.”