TACTICAL LESSONS FROM THE GREATEST GENERATION
What World War II paratroopers can teach us about how to respond to active shooters
By Nick Perna
The rule of LGOPS:
“After the demise of the best airborne plan, a most terrifying effect occurs on the battlefield. The effect is known as the rule of LGOPS (little groups of paratroopers). This is, in its purest form, small groups of pissed-off, 1-year-old paratroopers. They are well trained. They are armed to the teeth and lack serious adult supervision. They collectively remember the commander’s intent as, “March to the sound of the guns and kill anyone who is not dressed like you” – or something like that. Happily they go about the day’s work…”
This is what happened during the Normandy invasion almost 70 years ago during World War II. Over 13,000 paratroopers from American and British units parachuted into France and landed as far as 18 miles from their designated drop zones. The initial plan, which was essential to the success of the overall invasion, appeared to be falling apart. Fortunately, airborne soldiers from all types of units banded together and took objectives such as French cities and key road intersections. The confusion alone caused the Germans all kinds of headaches, tying up much of their manpower dealing with the mayhem the paratroopers caused. Follow-on forces arrived by sea, eventually relieving their airborne counterparts, but not until the paratroopers had seized most of their objectives and had put a significant hurt on the Nazi war machine.
This simple mantra still applied a generation later, when I was an Army paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1990s, and is still applicable today. The LGOP principle proved highly successful in parachute assault operations. Imagine the following: A group of 800 paratroopers jump out of a bunch of airplanes into a foreign land in the dark of night. They don’t land where they are supposed to, they get separated from their units, communications gear fails and key leadership is scattered to the four winds. Using the LGOP concept, paratroopers from different units band together in small groups and take objectives, even ones not assigned to them. Mission accomplished. “Happily they go about the day’s work.”
This is much the same as an active shooter situation. When the call comes out that a gunman is on campus, it is the job of all police officers to respond to that location and deal with the threat. Much like the paratrooper, the officer arrives with little or no situational awareness about what is happening or what is the threat. They only know they have been sent to a situation and they need to deal with it.
Ideally, every department would have an active shooter team on standby if just such an occasion arises—a team of heavily armed operators able to deploy at a moment’s notice. The reality is very few departments have a full time tactical team and, even if they do, there’s no guarantee they will be on call and in a position to respond.
In comes the LGOP, except in the law enforcement sense, the “P” stands for police. “Little groups of police” need to be prepared to respond to the active shooter threat. Much like their airborne infantry counter parts, the LGOP team could consist of a wide variety of officers: a juvenile detective, school resource officer, patrol officer or traffic enforcement (often the first to arrive on scene since they respond on motorcycles). Whatever the makeup is, everyone on the LGOP team needs to be prepared to respond and deploy with the team available, regardless of level of training and familiarity.
About eight years ago, I responded to a scene where an officer had been shot, and the suspect had fled into a nearby apartment complex. I can’t technically categorize it as an active shooter scenario because the shooting had occurred about 45 minutes prior to my arrival. Nevertheless, the suspect was still outstanding, the apartment building (complete with civilians) had not been cleared and no one had been evacuated. Being a SWAT guy and assistant team leader, I was chosen to lead a team into the apartment building.
The team consisted of myself and four others. I knew one officer from my SWAT team. The other three officers were from agencies outside of my county whom I didn’t know. I fell back on the training I had received in the 82nd Airborne. We formed an ad hoc “clearing team” and moved up to clear the building.
The active shooter tactic being taught at the time had the team leader in the middle of the diamond formation, surrounded by the rest of the team. In theory this sounds great, but when taken from the LGOP point of view, it doesn’t work. The military teaches leaders to lead from the front. It’s hard to do that when you are behind the lead element. Additionally, given the makeup of the team (a bunch of guys I didn’t know, save one), it wasn’t practical. They don’t know me so why would they follow me? I didn’t (and still don’t) have any rank in my agency, so I didn’t have sergeant’s stripes on my arms. I chose instead to take a position up front, next to my SWAT counterpart. This worked well, focusing firepower up front toward the direction of movement. I had a long gun and so did my SWAT buddy, so that meant two rifles facing forward. Also, instead of barking out directions, I essentially told the team to, “Follow me,” which made movement swift, smooth and relatively quiet.
I’m not writing this article to debate active shooter formations. In my opinion, this is one of the most overthought, over written about and over-discussed tactical issues ever. There are plenty of great movement formations and they all have the advantages and disadvantages. My point is this: The fluid, ever-changing nature of combat parachute operations and all of the inherent difficulties they bring to bear have made paratroopers masters of improvisation. I learned early on in the Army that no plan survives the initial execution, and you need to be prepared to constantly adapt.
When the law enforcement LGOP deploys, it needs to go with whoever is available (two officers, three officers or more), with what equipment they have at the time (handguns, off duty guns, long guns) and use whatever tactic works.
I recently took a class on active shooter response in which they taught basically that. The course was put on by the Public Safety Training Institute (PSTI) in support of an initiative by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to train line-level police officers in active shooter response through its Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) program.
The instructors had a couple of simple formations and they taught them with different numbers of responding officers. The scenario briefs consisted of, “You have been sent to a school on the report of a shooting,” and that was it. Officers had to “LGOP up” and move to the sound of the guns. Very little time was spent coming up with a plan, other than saying who was going to lead and who was going to take up the rear (with the understanding that could change at any time).The instructors also forced students to routinely change teams and leadership so they wouldn’t get comfortable with the same group. When the balloon actually goes up, you never know whom you are going to be working with.
So what is the LGOP key to success? First and foremost is flexibility, responding to your threat rapidly and aggressively, taking the initiative and disrupting the bad guy’s tactical cycle. The other key is knowing the basic steps in the dance prior to arriving. When I was a paratrooper, we practiced our basic small unit tactics and battle drills until we were blue in the face. We did them so often and with such frequency that they became second nature, like a reflex response to a stimulus. We developed simple standing operating procedures (SOPs) to deal with every situation. We didn’t think about it, we just did it.
The same is true in the law enforcement LGOP. Officers need to practice with great regularity. The practice should not only be with officers from their own agency but from other agencies as well. Administrators need to coordinate with other agencies to practice together and to use similar tactics. Much like the paratroopers in the French interior many years ago, who found themselves in a strange place with soldiers with whom they had never worked, they took the initiative and brought the fight to the enemy. Law enforcement needs to do the same.
The Devils in Baggy Pants, taken from the following entry found in the diary of a German officer killed at Anzio during World War II:
"American parachutists...devils in baggy pants...are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can't sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere..."