Hanford Patrol officers complete grueling training to serve on elite team
By Robin Wojtanik
for Hanford Mission Integration Solutions
Following a grueling training and instruction regimen, five Hanford Patrol officers became a part of an elite law enforcement squad on the Hanford site, providing enhanced protection from potential security threats.
“These five graduates are at the tip of the spear for keeping our materials and our people protected, so that the cleanup mission can occur, and the nation’s assets are protected,” said Brian Stickney, deputy manager at the site.
Hanford Patrol is managed by Hanford Mission Integration Solutions, a prime contractor to the U.S. Department of Energy, the agency which oversees cleanup work at the 580-square-mile site north of Richland.
The officers joined Hanford Patrol’s Special Response Team, or SRT, the closest equivalency to a police SWAT team.
Still, SRT instructors would argue the comparison is far from equivalent.
“I would put this team up against any tactical team in the nation,” said Hanford Patrol Col. Kyle Hiller.
Course instruction lasts eight hours a day, five days a week, for six weeks. That’s five times the amount of training compared to typical SWAT instruction in the state.
“There is a huge skill level difference between this and basic SWAT,” Hiller said. “If you are talking about who you want to save you when things go sideways, it’s these guys.”
For most SWAT members, they’re called to duty only as needed. For the SRT, the position becomes their full-time role, and the team stands watch 365 days a year.
Only the most physically fit consider applying for selection to the SRT. They also must have a demonstrated mastery of weapons.
Additionally, each officer submits a formal application and receives a supervisor’s recommendation prior to sitting for an interview or participating in a tryout designed to test physical strength.
While the application process itself is stringent, it’s even more difficult to complete the training, which often sees 25% attrition.
Of those who began the process in May, 60% made it to graduation, including Hanford Patrol Security Police Officer Robert Pofahl, a former Marine Corps scout sniper.
“I have always tried to go for the top tier programs wherever I’m at. I like the challenge,” he said. “It’s nice to work with other people who share those same qualities. We all want to be better. When it comes to operations, you know what kind of training the person to your right and left has had.”
That training often included wearing 40 pounds of gear and a helmet on many days when temperatures rose higher than 100 degrees during the summer’s first extreme heat wave. Instructors adhered to strict government safety measures to protect trainees.
In addition, DOE’s National Training Certification team visited the Hanford site during the session as part of the program’s recertification requirement, which occurs every three years.
During their visit, instructors balanced the focus on teaching their students while demonstrating the program also complies with DOE standards.
“The level of training we get here is excellent; the instructors do a phenomenal job,” Pofahl said. Training is offered only when enough spots open on the SRT, which left a two-year gap since the last round of graduates.
A video montage played during the graduation ceremony, attended by HMIS and DOE executives, provided a glimpse into the intensity of the SRT training.
“What keeps you going through something like this is that you’re not the only one suffering – so is the guy next to you,” Hiller said.
As each officer’s name was called, Hanford Patrol Chief Casey de Groof pulled off the rank insignia patch and added a new one to their chest, signifying their role on the SRT.
Some graduates also received additional awards, such as instructors’ choice or students’ choice.
New members of Hanford Patrol’s SRT include Jonathan Doncaster, Mathew Gray, Kyle James, Derik Moe and Robert Pofahl.
Described by Hiller as one of the highest-trained and most-capable protective forces with the Department of Energy, “this team is the sharpest and most potent arrow in your quiver of last resort.”