Building camaraderie

The Correctional Emergency Response Team uses a yearly competition between Iowa prisons as a training tool

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Newton Correctional Facility staff members Dalton Mindhum, from left, Marvin Thurmond and Jamie Frits work to lift a large tire off of a spike during a Correctional Emergency Response Team competition Wednesday at Brushy Creek State Recreation Area.

LEHIGH — Correctional facility staff members from across Iowa descended on Brushy Creek State Recreation Area Wednesday to take part in an annual competition that not only tests their skills, but also improves relationships between institutions.

The annual Correctional Emergency Response Team competition pits members of each state prison’s response team against each other to see who is the most skilled among them in terms of physical strength, agility and shooting.

Capt. Steve Nelson, who is the CERT commander at Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, said the competition has many goals.

“We do the competition, one, to build our skills, give us something to train for,” he said, “but, two, to build some interactions between the institutions, to train. This is one of the only times during the year we get to actually train with other institutions.”

The prisons support each other and, if there’s an emergency at one of them, one facility’s CERT would respond to assist, Nelson said.

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari Newton Correctional Facility correctional officer Dalton Mindhum, from left, correctional counselor Jamie Frits, and correctional officer Marvin Thurmond carry a metal pole during a Correctional Emergency Response Team training exercise Wednesday at Brushy Creek State Recreation Area.

“This gives us an opportunity to train together,” he said.

But over the past few years, it’s not just the prisons that take part in the CERT competition. Nelson said they’ve been inviting other public safety agencies to train as well. Training with the prison officers Wednesday were the Iowa State Patrol’s tactical team as well as a team from the Buena Vista Police Department.

“We test the physical skills, we test the shooting skills, and working as a team,” Nelson said.

The correctional staffers also get support from their bosses.

“All the wardens show up to kind of cheer their team on,” Nelson said. “They have a wardens meeting down here and they kind of also use it as a tool to see how their teams are doing.”

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Wade Hammen, a Fort Dodge Correctional Facility staff member, crawls out during a small obstacle course at a Correctional Emergency Response Team competition Wednesday.

He added that it’s important for the correctional officers to test their skills.

“A big part of it is they get to test themselves to see where they need to improve their own skills,” he said. “They test their shooting, they test their physical stamina. That’s kind of the big one for me, and it gives them something to work towards and work better for.”

But it also improves relations between institutions.

“It builds some camaraderie,” he said.

There’s even some friendly competition among the institutions. At the end of the day, a “top shooter” award is given to the person who performs the best on the shooting range.

“It’s bragging rights,” Nelson said. “For these guys, it’s a big deal. There’s some rivals that go back and forth every year.”

Not even heavy rains and muddy grounds could stop the competition. Nelson said it’s held regardless of the weather.

“We’ve done it in the snow, we’ve done it in 100 degrees,” he said. “But we did take a little bit of the break because of the lightning.”