(Caution: Some photos in this post look graphic, though they are all simulations. None of the blood and gore is real.)
I hadn’t planned on going to WPA again this year. After last year in Appleton, I decided I needed to finish my work-in-progress before I went to any more workshops or conferences. But then my local Sisters-in-Crime chapter, Capitol Crimes, held a raffle in June for a WPA registration, courtesy of its founder and organizer, Lee Lofland, who is also a member. Naturally enough, when to my surprise I won, I decided that the world was telling me I needed to go to Wisconsin this summer.
With my June registration (WPA sign-ups opened in March), I was too late for any of the prior-registration-required workshops, like the hands-on driving and shooting sessions, but there was still plenty to attract my attention. My manuscript is not a police procedural, but it does contain a murder (or two), so I still want to get the law enforcement parts right. And for the next books, I’ll need a bit of fire and EMS information, so WPA had plenty for me in the formal sessions held at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), and unlike last year, I managed to keep my lecture sessions to the mornings and hands-on sessions for the afternoons, so I entirely avoided that after-lunch sleepiness.
Among the highlights:
- Jerry Johnson’s session on Defense and Arrest Tactics (DAAT) taught me something I didn’t know about the stance that law enforcement officers use in reaction to a physical threat, which I can use in contrast to the stances commonly used by fencers, so that alone made my trip worthwhile.
- In his Courtroom Testimony workshop, Kevin Rathburn gave a great illustration of how good cross-examination can shred a witness’s original testimony.
- John Flannery’s Blood Spatter workshop, where he showed us (with appropriate warnings) crime scene photos, and then took us into a homicide scene he’d set up, apparently to demonstrate to us all how much we didn’t notice when we were actively looking for what was important instead of for everything that was there to be seen.
- Hollie Bauer, who runs the Health Simulator at NWTC, and her crew gave us the opportunity to intubate and bag mannikins, stick IVs into a mannikin arm and into chicken bone (because if you can’t get a vein, you can get meds into the system via bone marrow), and even (with needle and airtube into a nice hunk of meat and a duct-taped balloon) relieve the pressure of a pneumothorax.
- The man I shall forever think of as TourniquetMan!, Nathan Riehl, completely revised my tourniquet-related first-aid knowledge (tourniquets are essential when the alternative is bleeding out within 3–5 minutes, and one should never loosen them once applied until patient is under proper medical care). We learned to improvise tourniquets with fabric and sticks or scissors, and to apply actual made-for-the-purpose tourniquets, and then got to try out our skills crawling in on an amputated mannikin in Nathan’s trailer full of simulated smoke and loud music. (I’m pretty sure my guy bled out, since I had my tourniquet turned the wrong way round and had a hard time tightening it. But fortunately, the mannikin was only bleeding water, so it wasn’t nearly as messy as it felt.) After everybody had their turn, Nathan cleared out the fog and let us take photos of the mannikin.
Hollie and Nathan turned out to be the ringleaders of what WPA fondly refers to as “announcements,” held each morning before the workshop sessions begin. On Friday morning, we got off our buses from the hotel to see a (Hollie-coordinated, we learned later) head-on collision scene, which eventually included multiple victim actors (including the corpse on the hood, who most of us assumed was a mannikin until his foot eventually twitched), two ambulances, a fire truck, DWI testing, and a life-flight helicopter. And once it was all over—in about 35 minutes, though it felt more like an hour and a half—everybody came back to answer questions about what they were doing and why.
For the Saturday morning announcements, we all traipsed into a lovely semicircular lecture hall (the NWTC facilities were uniformly impressive) for what looked to be a lecture with slides from Nathan on EMS procedure and turned out to be an active-knifer scenario. (He said later they’d originally thought to do an active-shooter simulation, but decided that was too risky with concealed carry being legal in Wisconsin.) His slide presentation was interrupted by shouting and then a man who’d been stabbed in the chest came through the door. Nathan started emergency care and then recruited volunteers and coordinated care for the additional victims as they came in through other doors as the attacker moved through the building. Then came the police, who held us at gunpoint with our hands interlaced on top of our heads until they could clear the room and ensure that the attacker was not among us (or the medical caregivers). Even knowing this was a training simulation, there was an amazing amount of adrenalin at work in that hall. And of course, once Nathan ended the scenario, everybody lined up to show their equipment and take questions.
The Sunday morning panel (“announcement”-free, which is probably a good thing, given how much info we’d already been trying to absorb) was, as was the case last year, another highlight, and a great way to top off the weekend. All of the available workshop presenters and speakers participate, both to answer questions (though unlike last year, the first question wasn’t “I need to blow up a lakeside cabin remotely, so what kind of explosive should I use?”) and reflect generally on the experience. The fabulous Colleen Belongea (a huge hit at last year’s WPA, when she was a full-time Green Bay police officer and part-time instructor, she’s now a full-time NWTC instructor) told us how much she enjoys WPA because of the difficult questions we writers always ask. “You ask questions that make me think. It’s changed the way I teach, the questions I now ask recruits, to make them think.”
And for those of you who share my reluctant fascination with the carpet patterns used in public spaces, Green Bay was full of them:
Four decades ago, way back when we got the latest news only each evening from avuncular anchors like Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley on the big three broadcast networks, I knew I was living through the kind of history that would show up in schoolbooks within a few years. Every evening we’d tune in to see what the latest Watergate revelation was, who’d said what at that day’s hearings, which administration official had been the one to scoff or rage at the most recent accusations. And every morning we’d scour the newspaper for more gory details.
Every few years, I’ve thought back to Watergate and how engrossing and important and historic it all felt. In 1999, its 25th anniversary, I thoroughly enjoyed watching all those documentaries with my daughters and trying to explain to them what it was like.
But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve thought about one specific bit of the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings that’s stuck with me—indeed, I consider it part of my DNA as an American—through all those decades. It echoed for me through both conventions—but especially resonated through the Democratic convention, which I kept wishing she could have seen.
(The video is about 13 minutes, but if you don’t have that long, at least watch from 0:45 to 1:50)
James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman can only aspire to the majesty and grandeur with which Barbara Jordan invests the word “Constitution.” Hers is the voice I hear in my head when I read its Preamble.
But this is the single most American moment I will see in my lifetime:
I first became aware of Gerrie Baumgart during the 1999 Summer Nationals in Charlotte, when my older daughter, competing in her first national tournament, signed a pool sheet that showed her winning one bout fewer than she’d actually won. Gerrie was the person who met Kate and her coach at the bottom of the stairs to the BC stage (like all good fencing parents, I was across the room, though paying close parental attention) to explain that verifying that her scores were correct was part of what Kate had done when she signed her scoresheet and that the scores would stand as entered. Gerrie was nice about it, even sympathetic, explaining that this was something most young fencers did once and only once, but Gerrie was clearly not someone who would be moved by piteous looks from fencers or rants by angry coaches.
When I began working as a bout committee trainee the following year, Gerrie was even more intimidating. She understood that some of us were new and just learning the ins and outs of running events, but she also expected us to pay attention and learn quickly. Making a mistake was regrettable but forgivable, as long as any regret didn’t interfere with the smooth running of the tournament and was not repeated. Repeated errors were likely to earn the offender one of Gerrie’s ferocious but discreet little chats in an out-of-the-way corner.
Gerrie was almost always head referee at the March NACs, back when they were the Division II/III/Veteran combination and always the tournament that brand new half-trained bout committee chairs—including me—were handed. I may have been terrified of Gerrie but I recognized immediately how much she could—and did—teach me about running strips, handling complaints and protests, and managing my crew. More than anything else, she taught me how to think not just two or three rounds ahead, but through the entire day, to make sure I knew when bottlenecks could occur and to assign strips to allow for possible double-stripping or other impromptu rearrangements as conditions changed throughout the day.
Mostly, though, Gerrie was a referee, and a developer of new referees. One of the most fun talks I ever had with her (after five or six years, I wasn’t scared of her anymore, and she seemed to think I’d become acceptably competent) was when I was writing this article about referees for American Fencing. She had great stories to tell from her decades fencing and refereeing—more than I could use—and we laughed a lot. With fencing daughters, including one who herself became a referee, I especially appreciated her stories about becoming one of the earliest women referees with an international license.
Baumgart says attending an engineering school for college got her used to bias against women. She wasn’t happy with it, but it wasn’t so unexpected to find it in fencing, too. “But I’m competitive and wanted to be better than I was, so I worked at it.”
“Ralph Zimmerman was good at seeking out younger referees and taking chances on them,” she says. “Women were chancy assignments. He asked me if I was willing to do whatever I was asked to get to the Olympic Games. I said yes.”
It turned out to be a huge commitment. She worked 17 world cups in about a year and a half to build her reputation as a suitable selection. But in 1996 in Atlanta, she became the first American woman to referee at the Olympic Games.
Occasionally—and considerably more than occasionally in recent years, at least when we were done in time—Gerrie would join the BC gang for dinner. Especially on the last night of a tournament, she liked a good steak, often followed by an Irish coffee—and stories and laughter and more stories and more laughter.
The last couple of years were pretty rough on Gerrie, with the death of her husband, along with her declining health. Though it might have been better for her, she wasn’t the type to abdicate what she viewed as her responsibilities to the fencing community. I hope that same fencing community recognizes how much Gerrie Baumgart gave us.