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
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
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
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.