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Navy VA Clinic In Key West Holds Active Shooter Drill To Test Readiness To Respond

Naval Air Station Key West held an active shooter drill at its VA clinic Monday.
Nancy Klingener
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

All across the Navy, bases are holding drills over the next two weeks to test their security. In Key West, they started out with an active shooter drill at the VA medical clinic on Monday. 

Security officers from Naval Air Station Key West responded to the report of an active shooter, with a VA police officer playing the part of the bad guy.

Outside the clinic, sailors with fake injuries were lying on the parking lot and lawn around the clinic.

"I want to make sure that my officers are able to respond the way that they're supposed to respond without having to think about what they're doing," said Lt. Travis Bachorski, NAS Key West's security officer. "It becomes muscle memory."

A Navy dog helps clear the VA clinic in Key West after an active shooter drill.
Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
The Florida Channel
A Navy dog helps clear the VA clinic in Key West after an active shooter drill.

The Veterans Affairs Police force out of Miami brought not only the bad guy and a training officer to watch, but also firearms with simunition - ammunition that's kind of like a paintball that actually hits the target.

"It's probably as realistic as you can have without actual rounds coming toward you," said Martin Sizemore, chief of police for the VA South Florida region, from Broward through the Keys. "You can feel, the anxiety level goes up. It really tests whether or not you're going to freeze or respond, and respond as you were trained."

The drill is part of a nationwide, Navy-wide anti-terrorism exercise. Sizemore said he was very happy with the way the Navy security officers handled the drill.

"Just as the military trains for warfighting, we train for the protection of our own bases and assets," said Trice Denny, public affairs officer for NAS Key West.

The VA Police Force does not provide daily security for the VA clinic here, since it's on Navy property.

The Navy has seven properties in the area, including the airfield at Boca Chica, and is the largest landowner in the Lower Keys, with 27 miles of shoreline.

"Quite frankly, it's almost impossible to just man every inch of shoreline," Denny said. "So trespassing is a real threat to our installation here and we practice to that, we train to that."

In the last year and a half, four Chinese students have been arrested after going onto and taking photos on Navy property in Key West. In all the cases, they went past fences or gates that clearly marked the bases as restricted areas.

In one of those cases, prosecutors implied that the student could be a spy photographing military installations for the Chinese government, even though he claimed to be a tourist who got lost. Zhao Qianli was sentenced to a year in prison last February.

The exercise is scheduled to continue through Feb. 14. Navy officials say anyone on base should be "extra-alert" about what they see around them, and people who need to come onto the base should leave extra time to clear security.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.