Vol. 76, No. 4Cover stories

Thriving under hardship

Camp assesses suitability for ERT course

Skills like adaptability to unknown environments and superior map and radio skills are required to successfully complete missions like this one at a refugee camp. These skills, among others, are sought out at the National Division ERT selection camp. Credit: National Division Emergency Response Team, RCMP


Being a member of the ERT program has always been an aspiration of Cst. Dennis Silliker's. With just weeks to go before he's able to prove himself at the RCMP National Division Emergency Response Team's (ND ERT) selection camp, he's doing what he can to prepare himself, which is a challenge because he knows very little about it.

"I anticipate a lot of working until failure and bringing us to a point where they get to see our true character and whether or not our default setting is to work with the team or just do your own thing," says Silliker.

In fact, the only thing that the 16 candidates taking part in the selection process know is they'll be expected to work very long hours and perform and live in harsh conditions.

While it might seem odd that the candidates are kept in the dark about the camp, it's actually by design, says Insp. Rob Currie, ND ERT's officer in charge.

"There's a natural stress involved with not knowing what you're going to be doing," says Currie. "It continues at camp. The candidates don't know what's coming next. They don't know when they're going to sleep. They don't know how long the tasks will be."

Missio primus

The rigorous selection process makes sense.

The team responds to and resolves incidents that are beyond the response capabilities of regular police because of an increased risk of violence.

They have to be prepared to be woken up in the middle of the night and leave at a moment's notice, work on little sleep for multiple days in a row, walk for hours on end or be confined to closed quarters for days or weeks, often in dangerous situations. And they must be ready to execute the mission, in any environment.

And unique to ND ERT is its members work internationally — a recent addition to their mandate — supporting protective policing operations as well as extra-territorial operations.

"Our motto is 'missio primus' which means the mission first," says Currie. "We need people who need very little feedback. They know it's their job to make sure that the mission succeeds first. And if somebody's asked them to do something, they'll execute the mission every time."

Mental challenge

That sounds simple, but when a person's personal gas tank is low, it's a different story.

The selection camp is the first step in finding those who can perform in those conditions.

The basic ERT assaulter course, an intense eight-week course, is held once a year, so Currie needs to make sure that he sends the right person.

He's confident in the camp and feels that if someone makes it through the process, they'll do extremely well on the ERT course — someone like Cst. Clark Aitken. He was the top pick after the last selection camp and was a strong candidate on the basic ERT course.

Aitken says he loved every minute of it and is now waiting to be transferred to the team.

"It's a long and arduous eight weeks," says Aitken. "Having benefited from the selection camp, I was definitely better mentally prepared for it."

The selection camp process is built around testing a person's fitness, their ability to adapt under stress, follow directions and retain information. They also test for phobias and a candidate's personal will. Every task and drill candidates do are things that are achievable because it's all based on actual operations.

While Silliker may not know what to expect at camp, he's working on the things he can control, like being physically fit. He can't know how he'll perform at camp, but his determination is clear — the word "quit" isn't part of his vocabulary.

"Am I ready for it?" says Silliker. "Yeah, I am, because I've already decided in my mind there's no way I'm giving up."

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