The scene: A woman and a man lie on the floor of a poorly lit subway
station, victims of a terrorist bomb. Think London or Madrid. Slowly,
from a hole in the ceiling above, two rescuers are lowered by rope
to render first aid and to lift them to safety.
event is just a training exercise at West Virginia’s Center
for National Response, located in the mountains just outside of
Charleston, the state’s capital. The casualties are locally
hired role-players, and the rescuers are members of the U.S. Army’s
Wolf Pack Platoon, part of the Military District of Washington’s
Engineer Company at Fort Belvoir, Va.
“We’re here for a week of training,” said the
platoon leader, 1st Lt. Von Gretchen Beard. “I have a lot
of new soldiers, and they have learned a lot.”
The center is the showpiece of the West Virginia National Guard’s
emerging network of military and homeland-security training facilities.
Azimuth Inc., of Morgantown, W. Va., has operated it since June
under a five-year contract worth up to $20 million. The center does
not charge other agencies for use of its facilities, said a Guard
spokesman, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Michael K. Pitzer. “All
they have to do is show up,” he said.
Another training site is Camp Dawson, located near Morgantown in
the northern part of the state. With more than 4,000 acres, it accommodates
military units of any size, from platoons to brigades, from all
services, active-duty as well as National Guard and Reserves.
Dawson offers several bivouac sites, a 40-foot rappelling tower,
helicopter landing zones, small-arms ranges, an enemy prisoner-of-war
compound, a mock third-world village and other vacant buildings
that are used by military police, engineers, special operations
forces and FBI hostage-rescue teams.
It also features an abandoned manganese factory—with a full
set of vats and other industrial equipment—which is used for
decontamination training, Pitzer said.
Bridgeport, W. Va., just off Interstate Highway 79 near Clarksburg,
is home to the Fixed Wing Army National Guard Aviation Training
Site. It provides flight lessons, using both in-air flying time
and simulators, to aircrews of the C-12 Huron, C-23 Sherpa and C-26
Metroliner transports flown by the Army Guard.
In southern West Virginia, the Guard is assembling a vast, 46,000-acre
range for live-fire, urban-combat training, complete with its own
airport and control tower, said the state’s adjutant general,
Maj. Gen. Allen E. Tackett. The range is expected to be ready within
two to three years, he added.
“It could be used by regular military units, special operations
forces or civilian law enforcement and first responders for consequence
management exercises,” Tackett said.
The Center for National Response is a 2,800-foot-long highway tunnel
that was a part of the West Virginia Turnpike until 1987, when it
was bypassed by Interstate Highway 64/77. After the 1995 sarin gas
attack in Tokyo, Tackett recognized the tunnel’s potential
as a training site for first responders.
“Before 9/11, people thought I was a fool,” Tackett
said. “They thought, ‘why do we need a tunnel.’”
Since then, he said, opinions have changed.
The tunnel contains seven major training venues equipped to expose
trainees to a variety of scenarios, including:
The tunnel is strewn with surplus, abandoned automobiles that can
be populated with dummies or live role-players. The cars, considered
expendable, often are cut up with blowtorches to rescue make-believe
To make the training as realistic as possible, the tunnel’s
floor is often littered with artificial human body parts and sometimes
real animal remains.
“What I was trying to put together was scenario-driven training
that would be more difficult than first responders were likely to
encounter in real life,” Tackett said. “If they can
work in that tunnel, they can work anywhere.”
The tunnel attracts more than 7,500 first responders, Red Cross
workers, law enforcement officers, National Guardsmen, special operators
and other military personnel from as far away as New York, Atlanta
and Seattle and from such countries as the United Kingdom, Germany
The facility “is unique,” said the center’s deputy
director Ronald E. Thomure. “There’s nothinglike it
anywhere in the United States, or for that matter, in the world.”