It’s an annual training staple aboard NAS Pensacola, but this year’s exercise is different than past ones – because of a real-life event there 14 months ago.
Exercise Citadel Shield-Solid Curtain 2021 is being conducted by the Navy during the first 12 days of February at all naval bases in the continental United States. Spokesman Jason Boortz says they’re working a number of scenarios, mostly involving security and first responders.
“We had a scenario where we had a barricaded suspect who had a hostage; we had an active shooter incident at one of our medical clinics,” Boortz said. “We had a mock drone that was landed on our base and we had to investigate and make sure there wasn’t anything suspicious. And then on Friday we’ll do additional training as well.”
In December of 2019, a Saudi Air Force officer opened fire in a base classroom, killing three sailors and injuring 11 others before he was killed by law enforcement. Boortz says training exercises before the attack helped prepare for it. The shooting also appears to have changed some attitudes about the exercise, and those who were there are passing along their experiences to the newcomers.
“You looked at training as, ‘Oh, we have to do this,’” said Boortz. “And now, 14 months since the terrorist attack – now when we do this training we’re more focused. This is something that really could happen; we could really enhance the training now and say, ‘This isn’t just something we have to do or just a check in a box. This is something that’s going to save lives.’ That’s what’s changed.”
Residents living near the base have been advised to expect unusual activity and noises during the exercise, including simulated gunfire. Boortz says the idea is to avoid neighbor interference.
“We have our loud-voice speakers on base; we’re making announcements with ‘Exercise, exercise, exercise,’” said Boortz. “That lets people know [there’s] training going on.
And it’s not just boots on the ground going through their paces.
“The air wings are involved as well; on Friday they’re going to be doing an active shooting training,” Boortz said. “So this is all-hands-on training for the next two weeks.”
Exercise CS-SC21, according to its Navy organizers, is not in response to any specific threat, but is a regularly scheduled exercise. At the end of the exercise, Boortz says it will be time to crunch the numbers.
“We evaluate ourselves; it’s all about evaluation,” said Boortz. “Every time we do a scenario, afterwards we have a ‘hot wash’ where we sit around and talk about what we did and what we could have done better. And then after these two weeks are over, we’ll do a very in-depth review. We’ll go back and say, ‘This is what we did right, this is what we did wrong, [and] here’s what we can improve upon.”
Meanwhile, NAS Pensacola and its attractions, the Museum of Naval Aviation, Lighthouse and golf course, remains closed to the general public but for a few exceptions.
“The base right now is open for anyone with a Department of Defense ID card – active duty or retirees,” said Boortz. “They can bring guests onto thee base – they can escort them on. But if you don’t have an escort, if you don’t have a DOD card, unfortunately the base is still closed to guests.”
And there’s no word on when that may change.