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Homeland Defenders Lack Proper Training 

11  2,002 

by William I. Oberholtzer 

The war on terrorism is not only fought by U.S. military forces overseas, but also by a significant number of “homeland defenders” in this country. They are dressed in police blue, firefighter’s turnouts, emergency medics’ whites, doctor’s surgical gown or, in some cases, a suit and tie.

The military services receive extensive training in all aspects of warfare. That is not necessarily the case with civilian homeland defenders. The enemy here at home is no less elusive as those in the Afghan desert, possibly more so. They are among us. We may have encountered them unknowingly, during our daily routines, perhaps sitting next to us in the subway, beside us on the bus, at the table next to us in our favorite restaurant, or even on the same bench at the little league game. They may have been polite, courteous and unassuming.

They seek any opportunity to exploit the openness of our free society and have the advantage of striking at times and places of their own choosing. If anyone doubts the extent to which potential adversaries have studied our military strengths and weaknesses, one need only read “Unrestricted Warfare,” by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui.

The United States should train and equip homeland defenders like an army and leverage the lessons learned from conflicts in the past.

The police and fire academies are already doing an outstanding job. The actions of the first-responder community during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the gut-wrenching events of September 11 are proof of their professionalism and training.

However, they are still not resourced properly. Only a fraction of the billions of dollars appropriated for defending against terrorism has reached the first responders. The lion’s share has been shortstopped by government agencies that have contributed little to either training or preparedness at the local level.

The nation’s armed forces have combat training centers. The homeland defenders need those capabilities as well—to train fire and police chiefs, public utilities directors, chiefs of surgery, town mayors and those who may be responsible for supporting incident commanders. Whether they are from a major metropolitan area or a small town, these are front-line troops. They will be the first to grapple with an outbreak of disease or the carnage of a man-made disaster. What they do in the first hours of a terrorist incident may mean the difference between containment or a domino effect. They need a place where they can train.

The military adheres to the tried and true adage, “the more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” Combat training centers are specifically designed with this in mind. Battle captains receive hands-on training in large-scale, realistic environments. These are environments wrought with uncertainty, where mockups can be configured to replicate any type of incident in a wide variety of settings. They provide training which, unlike tabletop exercises, taxes the physical and emotional limits of all participants.

It is one thing for emergency responders, particularly incident commanders, to make decisions in a pristine classroom setting. It’s quite another to have to make those same decisions while sleep-deprived, in a noisy, hot (or cold) disaster scene—complete with broken glass, exposed rod iron, broken water pipes, intermittent communications and other distractions.

Grappling with the enormous complexities of a weapons-of-mass-destruction incident requires training in areas such as interagency coordination, resource allocation, containment, crowd control, media relations, evidence preservation and historical documentation. A whole litany of concerns can be introduced into scenarios to challenge participants.

Time-tagged audio and video coverage, for use in after-action reviews, eliminate arguments by participants as to what they think happened, and allows trainers to focus on the lessons learned from the exercises. This not only saves valuable training time. It lends credibility to the instruction, as well.

In addition to training, such a center could serve as a focal point for industry and researchers to aid in the development of tools and equipment that can help in the prevention or mitigation of terrorist incidents. Additionally, the center would, with the help of the intelligence community, facilitate analysis of emerging international and scientific developments so as to avert technological surprise.

Finally, such a training center could serve as common ground where policy and decision-makers—from all echelons of government—could interact, exchange ideas and simplify policies and procedures, so that they are easily taught and comprehended.

At least one or more training centers for homeland defense exercises should be in place as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, it might be useful to recall lessons from past wars.

At the beginning of the Vietnam conflict, American aircraft losses were roughly 1 to 1 against the North Vietnamese. It was noted that survivability rates among pilots increased dramatically if they survived their first engagements. In response, the U.S. Air Force instituted Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, north of Las Vegas.

They trained and equipped an opposing force to fly and fight like the enemy. In short, they provided U.S. pilots with a sparring partner who was at least as good, and in most cases, better, than those deploying overseas. The result was a dramatic increase in survivability and an improved aircraft loss ratio of 14 to 1.

In response to the Soviet threat in Europe, the U.S. Army established the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The objective was to create, as closely as possible, a combat environment in which American ground forces could practice air-land battle doctrine against a sophisticated and numerically superior force.

To achieve this end, they stationed and equipped a full-time opposing force (OPFOR) in the middle of the Mojave Desert. They were equipped with captured Soviet material and American equipment visually modified to look like enemy vehicles. Additionally, the OPFOR has home-court advantage over the visiting units. For 21 days at a time, the OPFOR and visiting units spar relentlessly, without let up, in a fully instrumented maneuver box covering an area of roughly 55 km by 55 km.

The fruits of their efforts were reaped during Operation Desert Storm, perhaps the most one-sided victory in the annals of mechanized warfare. Soldiers frequently commented that conditions in Saudi Arabia were not as demanding as those of the NTC.

William I. Oberholtzer is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and vice president of Vector Corporation. He is a consultant on civil and military preparedness and training.

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