Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Piracy on the high seas! The world was enthralled with the intrigue and outcome of the abduction and eventual rescue of the captain of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship off the coast of Somalia last week.

Somali pirates not much older than high school students kept the United States Navy at bay for several days, until they were dispatched by single gunshots fired in the middle of the night by trained Navy SEALS.

The daring rescue evoked a hundred mental pictures of thriller movie scenes and special effects, but the successful outcome of the operation to liberate Captain Phillips from his pirate captors relied heavily on training – of the merchant seamen and the naval forces. The unarmed Alabama crew followed the security procedures they had trained for, including locking themselves into safe areas of the ship when the pirates boarded their container vessel. Captain Phillips, mindful of his responsibility and training to keep both the crew and cargo safe, got into a lifeboat with the pirates and, when they did not release him, still tried to escape, at his personal peril. Naval personnel from the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge offered the pirates a towline for the lifeboat, a tricky connection on the high seas, but one that allowed the Bainbridge some control over the tiny craft, and setting the stage for continued negotiations. Finally, when the SEALS, who had parachuted onto the Bainbridge under cover of darkness, got the pirates in the crosshairs of their high-powered rifles, all three shots hit their marks simultaneously, and the ordeal was over. One can only imagine how much adrenalin was pumping that night! A Navy admiral said that “we pay a lot for their training, and we got a good return on their investment…”

So, too, do Fairfax County taxpayers get a good return on the investments made in training of public employees, especially police and fire. When the Fire Department responds to a 911 call, each uniformed firefighter is trained for specific tasks – pulling hose, climbing ladders to the roof, setting up perimeters, etc., keeping in mind that the safety of the homeowner, the neighbors, and the fire crews is paramount. They do the job they trained for and work as a team, usually resulting in a successful outcome, without injuries or loss of life. Similarly, when the police respond to an emergency call, as they did earlier this week with a report of a man dragging a naked woman at knifepoint to a vehicle, a well-trained police officer fired one shot at the man. The bullet found its mark, the man released his grip, and the woman escaped. The perpetrator was killed, but the expert firearms training of the officer prevented any further injuries to officers or bystanders. CNN and other media don’t cover Fairfax issues like they covered Captain Phillip’s rescue, and I don’t expect to see Fairfax events playing out as a story line on a popular television show, but perhaps it is the intensive training that really sets these heroes apart from everyday folk. Fire fighters, police officers, and Navy SEALs all are public employees, supported and trained with taxpayer dollars, and we have made a good investment.