Lodi Police Department's SWAT team traversed a grueling four-mile obstacle course at Lodi Lake Thursday, weighed down by fatigue and heavy combat boots.

They carried 200-pound logs up and down steep, slippery hills.

And at 4 o'clock that morning, focus was key as they dropped marshmallows from seven feet high into a narrow opening.

"It was pretty rough," said Detective Carlos Fuentes, a five-year member of the SWAT team. "It's a team thing, not just an individual thing. So you have to make sure your team members finish, as well. No man gets left behind."

Members of Lodi's 14-person SWAT team endured a demanding two-day training exercise Wednesday and Thursday, completing numerous challenges designed to test them physically as well as mentally. Precision was as important as strength, and team members prepared for situations that could arise on the streets.

"The purpose of these drills is to prepare us for real-life events," said Lt. Chris Jacobson of the Lodi Police Department and SWAT team. "We can never recreate the stress mentally that we are under when we're conducting our operations, so the only thing we can do to put stress on our bodies and see how we function is to do it physically."

Jacobson, who's been a member of Lodi's SWAT team for 14 years, said training has changed drastically over time.

Jacobson said when he first joined the team, training wasn't always mandatory. Officers would run one or two miles, without obstacles, train with one type of firearm and were allowed to come and go.

Today, SWAT is more rigorous.

Training is mandatory.

The physical standards have changed. Members are required to be better conditioned and practice on courses of greater difficulty.

They train with more advanced equipment.

They're required to be well-versed in multiple types of firearms, including the pistol, MP5, M4, shotgun and pellet gun in order to shoot out lights.

And once a month they must score at least 90 percent accuracy with a handgun to stay on the team.

"When I first started, the training was very basic," Jacobson said. "Back in the day, the physical standards were different. But the training is more realistic now. It's much more difficult today, physically, and there's better overall preparation."

This week's two-day training featured several unique challenges.

Team members, who receive a 4.5-percent salary bonus for being a member of SWAT, practiced hostage rescue situations and prepared for an array of scenarios that could occur on a city bus.

On Thursday, the team woke up at 4 a.m. for precision practice.

Though tired and struggling to concentrate, team members focused on dropping a marshmallow covered in chocolate syrup from the top of a 7-foot ladder into a teammate's mouth.

"We don't get to choose when we're called out, and we're generally called out in the wee hours of the morning and we have to perform," Jacobson said. "This is a fun way for them to follow orders and execute those detailed orders."

Team building is also an important part of the training. The challenges are complex as well as physically demanding.

Officers must strategize and also become motivators if a teammate falls behind.

"We're ready for just about anything," Fuentes said. "When we do these obstacles, we don't know exactly what's in front of us. We have to come up with a game plan, come up with a strategy as a team.

"It's about team work," he added. "It's about accomplishing things as a team."

Jacobson said SWAT is constantly evolving.

Every incident within the department or throughout the country is a learning experience. So practice is key, because team members know the possible price of a mistake.

"Incidents occurred where officers weren't in shape or didn't have proper equipment," Jacobson said. "We learn from our mistakes, and unfortunately our mistakes are very, very costly. They cost people's lives.

"As we've evolved in the SWAT and police community, we've learned what we shouldn't do," he said. "And in my career, I've seen a lot of changes that way."

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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