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Navy vet hopes training can prevent another Newtown

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Jeff Crouell has helped detonate discarded World War II-era bombs off the coast of California. He ensured the safety of both President George W. Bush’s inauguration route and his ranch in Texas. And he did a tour in Baghdad, trying to solve the deadly puzzle of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Now retired after 23 years in the Navy, Crouell is taking on a new security challenge, one that’s become frightfully common in the civilian world: mass shootings in public places.

It’s the latest iteration of International Threat Management, the company Crouell founded with fellow ordnance techs and now co-owns with his wife, Kathy, a 22-year Air Force veteran.

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“We started looking at, unfortunately, the future,” he said last week.

The past is well-known; dates and details from mass shootings in recent years, from Columbine to Newtown, make for a long list in the company’s informational packet. Crouell said the Charleston area is lucky to be absent from that catalog.

“And, hopefully, it stays like that,” he said, sitting in the living room of his Summerville home, where an idyllic Thomas Kinkade painting hangs over the fireplace.

Crouell, 48, acknowledged his experience has been more with explosives than shooters, but he believes the same risk management and situational awareness principles apply.

Even if businesses, schools or individuals don’t pick International Threat Management for training, Crouell hopes they’ll take some action.

In the wake of last month’s shooting in Connecticut, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has proposed placing a police officer in each elementary school, setting off a debate on that topic.

And on Tuesday, Scopus Security Solutions will conduct an active-shooter drill at the West Ashley Jewish Community Center with Addlestone Hebrew Academy and local law enforcement.

“I think it’s a safety need that has to be met,” Crouell said.

A San Antonio native, Crouell enlisted in the Navy straight after graduating from that city’s John Marshall High School in 1982.

He was a “worker bee” hydraulic mechanic on the USS America when, while waiting for the ferry to take him into the port of Naples, Italy, he noticed the explosive ordnance disposal unit had their own “little rubber boat,” saving them from the tedious wait.

“That’s what I’m going to do,” Crouell decided, and put in for training as an EOD technician.

After learning how to handle torpedoes and other underwater munitions, his first station assignment was in Napa Valley, Calif.

One day, the team got word of a shrimper who had happened to dredge up the nose cone of a bomb in Monterey Bay. It still had its packing slip, dated 1941. Crouell blew up the antique off the coast, which was standard operating procedure when the explosive device could be moved.

Later, Crouell dive-checked boats in Bahrain to avoid a repeat of the attack on the USS Cole and swept the Bush compound outside of Crawford, Texas. He did more reconnaissance ahead of the president’s visit to Charleston a couple of years later. The team Crouell supervised made sure there wasn’t anything dangerous lurking in the pluff mud and marsh grass beneath it.

Crouell eventually retired from the Naval Weapons Station in North Charleston as a master chief and launched International Threat Management (as well as the Brass Pirate, a nautical novelty shop, in the little arcade next to Wild Wings on Market Street, which he still owns).

The company won a few contracts, doing skills training for prisoners at the brig on the former Navy base, but not enough, and Crouell’s business partners bowed out for more stable jobs.

It was last spring that he decided the active-shooter incidents weren’t going away and that the company might be able to do well by doing good.

So Crouell set to work on a training curriculum and bought an arsenal of infrared simulation weapons, which he hopes to rent to law enforcement for their training. He claims using the programmable infrared guns, MP5 and XM7s with names like Rambo, along with sensors that can be attached to the head or body, are cleaner and cheaper than paintball guns and protective gear.

“It’s all here,” he said, gesturing to the simulation guns and sensors displayed on his kitchen table. “It’s one package.”

Crouell has pitched the idea to agencies throughout the state, including the Dorchester County sheriff’s department. He has high hopes for the next budget cycle.

Derek Petit, founder of Adventure Sports, the manufacturer of the “taggers,” as he likes to call them, said Crouell is the only person using his company’s equipment for that purpose. Petit, an Army veteran, has granted Crouell an exclusive license to market his equipment for security exercises in the Southeast.

“He’s overqualified to do this,” Petit said. “I have 110 percent confidence that he’ll be successful.”

In the meantime, Crouell is renting out the infrared devices for recreation, such as for the Seacoast Church Christmas party. He said there is no conflict between the simulation weapons being used for fun and for serious practice.

Crouell, a gun owner himself, believes the recent violence has much more to do with the perpetrators’ parenting or mental illness than simulated shooting in video games or laser tag.

Therefore, the other aspect of the business is the situational awareness training for businesses or families.

“Think for a minute,” Crouell suggests, “if something happens, where am I going?” He noted children regularly do fire drills at school but active-shooter or “bad guy on campus” drills are far less common. “When was the last time a kid was killed in a fire in a school?”

 

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