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Servare Vitas

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Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the FBI's HRT (Hostage Rescue Team). In celebration of three decades of service, the FBI released a series of articles and a video on their website. Reminded of this by some recent time spent with HRT personnel, RECOIL staffers thought it apropos to post a link and some background.

“There is no greater mission we have than to save somebody’s life.” Kevin Cornelius, a former HRT member and commander

Servare Vitas - FBI HRT 1

Servare Vitas - FBI HRT 3

HRT is just one part of the FBI's CIRG (Critical Incident Group), which also includes regional Bureau SWAT teams, crisis negotiation units and surveillance/intelligence/aviation support assets. They're headquartered in Quantico, VA and deploy (OCONUS), i.e. overseas, as well as to exigent incidents within the United States. Less than 300 FBI agents have served on HRT in its entire existence.

Servare Vitas - FBI HRT 4

Servare Vitas - FBI HRT 2

Creating the Hostage Rescue Team
In 1983, when the Hostage Rescue Team was formed, the U.S. had no civilian counterterrorism tactical team—and officials realized they needed one. That’s because preparations were underway for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and planners were keenly aware of the tragedy that occurred at the Munich Games in 1972, when terrorists shocked the world by taking 11 Israeli athletes hostage and later murdering them.

“When Los Angeles won the nomination for the 1984 Olympics, the question was, ‘Who would handle an event such as Munich?’ And there weren’t a lot of good answers,” said FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce. By law, the military cannot operate within the U.S. without presidential or legislative approval, so officials needed other tactical alternatives. “That’s how the idea of a Hostage Rescue Team evolved,” he said.

Today, the HRT has a broad mission that goes well beyond hostage rescue. Operators support high-risk arrests, dignitary protection, and war zone deployments to assist our military partners. But the HRT’s motto, servare vitas (to save lives), still represents the team’s most important role.

Servare Vitas - FBI HRT 5

If you want to learn more, read Danny Coulson's book No Heroes or Cold Zero by Christopher Whitcomb.

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