50 years of SWAT: Jim Huggins

Jim Huggins joined the FBI in 1967 as a special agent who served in the Minneapolis, Denver, and Louisville field offices. The former U.S. Marine was a member of one of the original SWAT teams in 1973 and retired in 1995.

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A lot of the old timers, they were kind of, you know, not too hot about it. They're were thinking, you know, “Here I am. I'm a one man RA. I go out and make these arrests myself. I don't need a bunch of guys coming out of Denver to help me out.” We had a few people that attitude. But once they saw what kind of equipment we had and that we were trained and we knew how to use it and we were effective, that I think everybody bought into it then. And I think that's one of the best things that the Bureau ever did.

I was assigned directly up to Pine Ridge at Wounded Knee, along with another agent, two others. And we were joined by Minneapolis agents, agents from other divisions, probably 50 or 60 initially up there. And our initial assignment was to set up roadblocks on all the entrances to the reservation to keep people, other people from coming in and from the ones in there that were committing these crime from getting out. So we were kind of the in-between on these road blocks. And that was our first mission—to man these roadblocks.

This was a really new experience and we were not equipped for it, uniform-wise or clothing-wise or weapon-wise. And it was totally foreign to anything we've done before. And the roadblock duty was certainly not a duty of the FBI at that point. So we were kind of learning as we went along. And in the process we were engaged in a gun—not gun battles, little, you know, incidents where we were being fired upon almost daily and every night for sure from the subjects down in Wounded Knee, which was in a kind of a valley. And we were up on the high ground around all the way around encircling it, but within, closest, probably 100 yards from some of the subjects who were firing at us. So they would open fire nightly and we returned fire whenever we could identify a target. But it was a very dangerous situation and nothing we'd ever prepared for.

I think with the situations evolving and terrorism, the events like Super Bowl, uh, so these Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics was a real target for terrorism. So, somebody at Headquarters—another good decision—thought we really need a SWAT-plus team at the national level to respond to these major events. So I think one of the people I think most responsible for this at Headquarters at the time was the deputy director Bud Mullen. Because some of the people up there said, I don't think the FBI needs to get into this national team. It’s more militaristic. This is a thing for the military. And Bud convinced the Director and others that, no, this is something we need. Just this goes right along with our investigations of terrorism, particularly because those we're going to take off. And this would be an outstanding time to get the funding and to train a highly trained team like they have today to respond to these situations. And the Director, Webster, I think, agreed. And he set it in motion to form HRT.

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