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Saturday, July 8, 2017

FBI Special Agent Joseph Astarita indicted on federal charges related to the killing of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum – Illegal Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.



W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the FBI’s vaunted Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) has been indicted on multiple counts for ‘Making False Statements’ and ‘Obstruction of Justice,’ relevant to the killing of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum.

The incident is beginning to fade from public memory, but occurred when Finicum attempted to evade a law enforcement roadblock. It’s been more than a year - the illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon.  Finicum was shot and killed by an Oregon State Police Officer when he (Finicum) exited his vehicle and attempted to reach for a holstered gun – as was alleged and seemed to be convincingly portrayed on a video.

Years back, when I was a young Agent, the FBI realized that they required a force of Agents better suited and trained to deal with particularly dangerous situations.  I was one of the first Agents from my division to be selected for, what was called at the time, SWAT training.

As I recall initial preference in selection was given to former military types who volunteered; but additionally they would be required to pass a very intense physical test.  It included, but was not limited to, a two mile run, shooting and what they called ‘gladiator skills.’

Gladiator Skills consisted of a large ring, maybe 25 feet in diameter, holding two teams of five each.  The teams were required to sit back to back in the center of the ring.  When the instructor gave the signal, the fight was on.  The object was to continue fighting until one team had dragged or thrown every member of the opposing team out of the ring.  There were no particular rules.  However, for the most part, members on the opposing team were associates, even friends, so it was mostly wrestling and pushing.

As one of the bigger guys on my assigned team, I was back to back with a former collegiate football player.  So, my thought was that this is not going to go well, and would almost certainly be over rather quickly.  And, actually it was.  They blew the whistle and we all jumped up.  I backed away weighing my next incredibly inadequate move on this guy.  He came at me as if to tackle me or push me out of the ring.  Hitting me in the stomach with his shoulder, I was able to momentarily lift him off his feet and turn.  Surprisingly during this process, he stepped out of bounds; and an instructor called him “out.”  The instructor laughed like he couldn’t believe what had just happened.  It couldn’t have been more than five or ten seconds.

I was selected for one of the SWAT teams and later sent to Quantico to endure two weeks of very difficult and demanding training – lots of running, obstacle courses, orienteering, shooting, as well as all manner of physical hell.

I did excel at one test – swimming.  I had been on the swimming team in high school and always loved to swim.  It was only 100 meters (a fifty meter pool, once up and once back) – not a big deal – I first thought.  There were four or five teams from around the country.  All team members would start at the same time.  To win this particular contest, and everything was a competition between the SWAT teams, the entire team had to finish.  My team leader, who had been raised in Texas was a heck of a guy, but not a very good swimmer – an understatement.  He told me he had done all of his swimming in a ‘horse trough’ – jokingly of course; but I could see he was shaking.  The instructor yelled, “If any of you sissies feel like you might drown during the swim, you can wear a life jacket.”  Sissy or not, my team leader decided to wear the life jacket, as did maybe six or seven others.

There were a couple of additional little tweaks to the competition.  We were required to put on a fatigue shirt and pants over our swim suits.  Additionally we were required to swim the 100 meters with a shotgun attached to a strap around our necks.  Surprisingly, if you kept your head down in the water, breathing with every other stroke, the shotgun didn’t seem like that big of a deal.  The fatigues were another matter.  Nonetheless, I managed to finish first.

I was then able to take off the shotgun and fatigues and dive back in the pool to assist my team leader who, at that point, reminded me of a wounded duck, thrashing away, and making little progress.  I got a hold of him and pulled while he kicked.  Dragging his exhausted body out of the pool, one of the instructors said, “Way to go big fella.”  It made my day.  The training mission, throughout the two weeks, was to act as a team; that together the team would be stronger than the sum of any five individuals.  Team effort and spirit were often praised.

If you passed and most did, you went back to your division to continue your training; and to be utilized in the more dangerous assignments.

The point here is that, if SWAT training in my era was the equivalent of grade school or junior high, the modern HRT members are college graduates.


To be continued…

True Nelson

To visit my blog and many previous posts on various subjects, go to:  TrueNelson