Imagine having to take on drug cartels, human traffickers, child pornographers, gang members -- that's what an ICE agent has to deal with. It's complicated and potentially deadly work.
Friday I had a rare opportunity to train with ICE agents and get an inside look at how demanding their job is.
It's a sweltering day in Castaic, where ICE special agents do their training.
"This is our special response team, which is our tactical team," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Claude Arnold. "They do all our high-risk enforcement operations and they are simulating doing an entry in a 'shoot house.'"
The vest weighs about 50 pounds. Loaded up with weaponry and ammunition, it adds up to about 70 pounds, plus the helmet. Some of the guys carry sledgehammers. There's the firearm as well. It's a lot of weight, and especially on a hot day, these guys have to be in shape, well-trained and well-hydrated.
"We'll be serving a high-risk warrant on a violator in this house. They are known to have arms. They move high volumes of cash," said the training leader describing the simulation.
In the drill we will be penetrating a house with armed suspects inside. We're using simulated ammunition: paintballs. If there's a threat, there will be shooting.
"If you see anything in the house, you deal with it accordingly. If it's a threat to your life, you deal with it as you should," said the trainer. "If it's an unarmed person, uninvolved, you still have to deal with that person. OK?"
One personnel formation is called a "stack." I'll be the second man in. Number one goes one way, I go the other, making quick judgments along the way.
Squeezing the shoulder ahead of you says you are ready. We make our entrance with a flash-bang grenade.
I immediately see a person, not yet a threat, until he begins reaching for a pistol on the ground. I have to immediately assess that he is a threat.
I fire twice, hitting him in the chest and head.
After we work our way through the other rooms and clear the house, we debrief about what happened.
"Your adrenaline gets rushing and you feel like you are in an actual situation, and that's kind of what we want, because people respond differently when they have high adrenaline, when they are under stressful situations," said Arnold. "So this helps simulate that."
And we should point out that all the guys I trained with aren't just brawn -- they are investigators as well, tasked with actually tracking down the bad guys. So they have smarts too.
My thanks to them for Friday's invitation. It was an awesome experience and I appreciate the opportunity to train with them.