In early April, a North Carolina man by the name of Frank Arthur Janssen was kidnapped from his home. Within a few days, law enforcement agencies pinpointed the victim’s location through a coordinated search effort. Janssen was ultimately rescued from an Atlanta apartment by an elite counterterrorist unit, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.
The HRT evolved to handle any extreme situation
The Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) was created in 1983 as part of the preparations for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. At the time, the U.S. had no full-time counterterrorism tactical team to provide emergency response for terrorist strikes or extreme hostage situations. With the kidnapping and killing of athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics still fresh on their minds, the HRT was established to fill this gap.
In the 31 years since its founding, HRT’s purpose grew to encompass a wider range of operations. After 9/11, the FBI began actively recruiting agents with specialized knowledge and unique skills to round out the team. The unit’s tactical duties on the ground are supported by other teams providing transportation, intelligence and communications.
Including Janssen’s rescue, the HRT has been assigned to nearly 800 missions around the world. HRT agents stormed a bunker to rescue a teenager from her kidnapper and deployed to East Africa in the wake of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings, where they successfully captured the man believed to be behind the attacks.
Rigorous training remains a staple of the HRT
Before beginning the extensive training needed to fill these roles, agents must have at least three years of military or law enforcement experience and meet a long list of physical fitness requirements. The FBI then selects the best candidates from a pool of recommended applicants to continue on to the eight-month training program.
The physical and mental requirements are so demanding that only about 300 officers have completed the program, according to Time magazine. Through intense training, they improve their marksmanship, learn how to handle explosives, and practice parachuting and scuba diving. Agents are taught skills to respond to a wide variety of emergencies.
“As an elite counterterrorism tactical team for law enforcement, the HRT is one of the best—if not the best—in the United States,” said Sean Joyce, deputy director of the FBI and former HRT operator. “They are elite because of their training. But they are FBI agents first and foremost, and they have the ability to perform special agent duties—whether it’s obtaining evidence or interviewing an individual—anywhere in the world while being able to operate in all types of environments, no matter how inhospitable.”
Training for the HRT may be extreme, but the knowledge gained allows agents to fulfill the promise of their motto: servare vitas (to save lives). These FBI agents can go to emergency situations where they are most needed, regardless of the environment or extenuating circumstances. Whether thwarting acts of terrorism or local kidnappers, the Hostage Rescue Team agents are armed with the knowledge and ability to succeed.
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