SEAL Cop Cool, Brave and Heroic Under Fire

reprinted with permission from "Soldier of Fortune", October 1990

Ron Relf

"Whereas it is realized that the great bulk of police work is done routinely by good police officers, let it be known that the officer named herein displayed initiative and alertness decidedly in excess of the norm in this particular instance...Technician Ron Relf's heroic act while under fire demonstrates true professionalism on his part and reflects credit to all members of the Denver Police Department."


When Ron Relf saved a woman and her baby while he was under direct fire, he credited both his SWAT and his SEAL training for his level-headed response.

"Every time we do a no-knock warrant, we're going into a combat zone," says Ron, a Denver, Colorado, SWAT team member and former SEAL, "Our uniform is different, our rules of engagement are different, but just like in the military, it's the nature of the work that you're going to confront armed suspects, and you have to make the right decision at the fight time."

Just after midnight on 25 January 1990, Ron made a decision that saved three lives: those of a pregnant woman, her unborn baby and the two-year-old child in her arms. Ron was on the entry team that burst into a dark house on a no-knock search warrant. It was business as usual: a suspected cocaine dealer who was "armed, possibly dangerous, who wouldn't hesitate to shoot a police officer." Moving down a dimly lit hall, Ron noticed a door his teammates had passed.

"I figured it was a closet or stairwell," he says now.

Instead, it opened into a tiny, pitch-black bedroom where a man waited with his 9-shot .22 revolver. When Ron entered the room, a round whizzed by him, narrowly missing his head. At the same time, the dark form of a woman with a baby came running directly into the line of fire.

"My first thought was to protect the baby," he says. "You get innocents caught in a gunfight, what do you do? Get them out of the way so you can continue."

His assailant cracked off another round, and Ron felt it whiz by his cheek. But even under attack, he held his fire for fear of harming the baby.

"I realized then that I was silhouetted in the doorway," Ron says. "I knew I had to go for it. If I backed out, we'd have a barricade situation with hostages.

With his left hand, he pushed the woman and baby out of harm's way, dropping his flashlight in the process. Then, he lifted his 9mm SIG-Sauer P226 and shot where he had seen the dim light of a muzzle flash. In the muzzle flash of his own gun, he could make out the shape of a man kneeling on the bed firing at him. The man fired a third and possibly a fourth time before his gun dropped.

Ron quit shooting and retrieved his flashlight. In its yellow light, he could see the bleeding man's defeated look. He stepped forward and brushed the revolver out of his reach. Then, Ron's cover and other team members stepped in and took care of business: cuffing the man and moving the woman and baby to the living room. A search of the house revealed $8,000, half an ounce of cocaine, and a shotgun and high-powered rifle under the bed.

"I was worried about the woman and baby," Ron said. "They were screaming, but I checked them over, and there was no blood. So I went outside and sat on the step."

Outside in the frigid night air, Ron thought about his days as a SEAL. From 1970 to 1979, he served on UDT 12 and then SEAL Team I based in Coronado, California. He was one of the first 14 men to work on the counterterrorism SEAL platoon "Contingency Team," which became Team 6. SEAL training was thorough and tough.

"Some nights, I felt like packing it in, but I always figured I'd wait till morning," he recalls.

By morning, he always figured he could make it one more day. Of the 1 14 who started training, Ron was one of II who finished. He received the Navy commendation medal when he helped rescue 16 hostages on 20-22 December 1977, during a bank robbery at Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines.

"What I liked was the closeness of the team and our ability to work together without egos," he says.

A SEAL hospital corpsman, Ron applied to medical school, planning to become a Navy doctor, but med school interviewers said he was too old for the program at 27. He joined the Denver Police Department in 1982 and Metro/SWAT in 1986. Of the nearly 800 busts Denver's Task Force has executed since 1987, Ron has worked point on some 70 percent of those done by SWAT on the night shift. In 1989, he responded when a woman barricaded herself in a motel room. When she shot at the police negotiator, Ron shot at her but missed. Then he leaped through an open window and disarmed her.

"You can't function daily as a policeman thinking like you did as a soldier," he says. "But SEAL training gives you a real advantage because you learn to perceive danger - to see things before they come at you."

When Ron's supervisor arrived at the scene, Ron traded his SIG-Sauer for a replacement and made a statement to the District Attorney. Then he went home to bed.

"I thought, 'Well, the taxpayers got their money's worth tonight. I earned my pay," he told me.

The Denver Police Department believed he deserved more: Ron received its Medal of Honor - and is the Colorado Police Protective Association's Police Officer of the Year.

"Because of his superb training, prior experience and professionalism, he was able to act quickly to neutralize the suspect while preventing injury to others," wrote Denver D.A. Norman S. Early, Jr. and Assistant D.A. Chuck Lepley after their investigation of the incident. "This sound judgment, courage and quick action allowed Relf, while under direct fire, to push the woman and young child to safety and return fire."

Ron shrugs and quotes the acronym "FIDO" - Forget It, Drive On. He says he was just doing his job, that any of his team members could have done it.

"It's the Blue Knight syndrome," he says. "For eight hours, you protect the world.

"Besides," he adds, "every night you have a call out and you go home afterward, you've won some kind of award."


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