‘Trained to take a bullet for VVIPs’: Inside SPF’s Counter Assault Unit which welcomes first female officer
SINGAPORE: A minister arrives for an event when gunmen open fire. The minister’s Personal Security Officer (PSO) quickly shields him and pulls him towards his car, crouching as they go.
From the rear, two black unmarked sports utility vehicles switch on their sirens and charge forward, forming a barrier between the gunmen and the minister. In the vehicles are officers from the Singapore Police Force’s (SPF) Counter Assault Unit (CAU), decked in full tactical gear and armed with assault rifles.
They swing open the door as cover and return fire, allowing the minister’s car to move off safely. They do not stop until the gunmen are dead.
This hypothetical scenario could well be out of an action movie, but it is exactly what CAU officers train for.
The CAU is deployed during major events in Singapore and abroad to protect local and foreign VVIPs, or very, very important persons. CAU officers can double up as the already elite PSOs, but are trained to do more than protect VVIPs and get them to safety.
CAU officers go on the offensive to neutralise the threat, and are adept at creating a safe route for evacuation, including breaking down doors and clearing rooms. Unlike PSOs, CAU officers are deployed to specific events and are not tagged to a single VVIP.
The CAU was deployed during the Trump-Kim Summit in 2018, at National Day Parades and during the recent opening of Parliament on Aug 24. The unit was formed in 2006 following the 9/11 attacks and a string of terror incidents that followed worldwide.
On Friday (Aug 28), reporters were given a rare look at the unit’s officers and equipment, which can weigh up to 20kg and include shields and door breachers. Officers’ names and details of their operations are classified.
“They are trained to take a bullet for VVIPs,” said CAU commanding officer Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Bros Leong.
“We look for teamwork, professionalism and last but not least, discipline.”
On Aug 20, five out of eight trainees graduated from the eighth CAU main course, including its very first female officer. The gruelling three-month course teaches tactical firearms, close-quarter battles like room clearing, as well as methods of entry such as lock breaking.
Trainees also go through scenario-based missions, which can involve working as a team to take down a threat who is played by a fellow trainee.
The CAU holds a selection once every two years, and is only open to officers from the Police Security Command, which PSOs fall under.
Training ranges from carrying heavy loads like logs and hoses, to shooting at outdoor ranges or out of a moving car. Trainees who cannot work in a team or break down enough doors within several minutes are at risk of failing.
“You must have the discipline to come for training and even more individual discipline. When they’re free we expect them to do their own physical training,” ASP Leong said.
“Then you have professionalism. Because we work with foreign dignitaries, when we are deployed we are so-called the representative of Singapore. So it’s a kind of pride, (be it) how you stand. The way you behave will affect Singapore.”
With such high standards expected, it is no surprise that ASP Leong described the CAU as a “small and dedicated” team – fewer in numbers than the PSOs.
“Although the selection and training for CAU are both physically and mentally challenging, we are proud to witness the first female officer graduate,” he added, calling it a “significant milestone” for the unit.
FIRST FEMALE OFFICER
Newly minted CAU officer Sergeant (SGT) Anna (not her real name) grew up playing first-person shooter games with an interest in tactical movements. One day, police officers visited her home after her mother reported a suspicious person loitering.
“I saw them in uniform and was very inspired, so I decided to join the police force,” the 28-year-old said.
SGT Anna entered the force four years ago before joining the Security Command two years later. Then she found out about the CAU.
“I was very interested to join it,” she added. “As I was younger, I used to play first-person shooter games. Now I get to do so in reality.”
SGT Anna said she was not afraid of the demands of the course and was “very motivated” to graduate with her male counterparts, describing them as brothers.
“We went through everything together,” she said. “We always cheered each other on and never gave up. Whenever one of us struggled with something, we always helped one another.”
ASP Leong said he was impressed by SGT Anna and the effort she put in, adding that she never complained and continued to encourage her team mates, even as she ran around with the heavier weapons and extra ammunition that CAU officers have to carry.
SGT Anna said it is an honour to be the first woman to pass the course, pointing out that she did the same training and was held to the same standards as the rest.
“There were no exceptions for me,” she said.
But perhaps a prouder moment was her first real-life deployment at the opening of Parliament earlier this week. SGT Anna called it a privilege and an “eye-opener”.
“I have to draw a different set of equipment and weapons, and the responsibility is different,” she added. “I hope to motivate other aspiring female officers that they too are able to join the unit as long as they believe in themselves.”