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Posted on 10/07/2001 10:54:02 PM PDT by mykdsmom
Northeastern N.C. center in high demand since Sept. 11 attacks
MOYOCK -- At an unusual 5,200-acre compound tucked away four miles down a dirt road on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp in the far northeastern corner of the state, the phone has been ringing nearly nonstop since Sept. 11.
With "counterterrorism" now the buzzword for law enforcement and the military, the low-profile Blackwater Lodge and Training Center -- which bills itself as the largest private firearms training facility in the world -- is in heavy demand.
"Everybody has people they want to train all of a sudden," said Jim Sierawski, 42, the center's director of training, a former member of a U.S. Navy SEAL counterterrorism unit. That includes the SEALs, which have a base in the nearby Tidewater region of Virginia; Special Operations units from Fort Bragg; the U.S. Coast Guard; harbor security forces; and federal agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration.
Blackwater is poised to help with the expected boom in air marshal training. Already, most of the center's business had come from the Special Operations teams that are likely to play central roles in the nation's new war on terrorism.
The SEALs, for example, literally live at Blackwater, having received permission after the terrorist attacks to stay there overnight to maximize training time.
An Air Force unit that had been scheduled to visit two weeks ago canceled without explanation. It's likely that the unit was sent to central Asia, said Blackwater president Bill Masciangelo, but the extra business that Blackwater is expecting -- several new training contracts are under negotiation -- will more than make up for that.
Air marshals may be trained
In normal times, about 5,000 shooters a year -- 70 percent of them military personnel, 20 percent federal agents or SWAT team members and 10 percent civilians -- train at Blackwater. They are drawn by computerized shooting ranges, specialized buildings for indoor tactical training and an entire mock town for urban tactics.
After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, Blackwater trained more than 600 SWAT team members from across the nation at "R.U. Ready High School," a clump of buildings set up in the faux town to simulate a 16-room high school, complete with halls and classrooms.
Now the focus is on a different threat.
A federal official said last week that Blackwater is on the short list of potential firearm training sites for the FAA's upcoming wave of new air marshals, Masciangelo said.
An FAA spokeswoman declined to comment, however, on where the agency will train the agents, how many agents it has now or how many it will add.
Some experts have said that there may be fewer than 30 marshals flying now, although there are more than 24,000 U.S. airline flights daily. Now, under a plan proposed by President Bush, the FAA is poised to hire hundreds and perhaps thousands of new marshals, but the agency is unlikely to have the firearms facilities to train all of them.
Blackwater was started by several ex-SEALs in 1998, and it quickly became Camden County's largest employer, with 22 workers, said Masciangelo, a former infantry officer with the U.S. Marines.
The idea was to create a place for government to outsource firearms training. With the tightening of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, closings of bases and the shutting down of police ranges because of urban sprawl, the demand for big, private ranges has been rising for years, Masciangelo said.
The remote site, four miles from the nearest house and surrounded by 30,000 acres of soybean fields and wetlands, was relatively inexpensive and also convenient to several large military bases in Virginia and to Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, he said.
Blackwater has three or four rivals scattered across the country, Masciangelo said, but none offer overnight stays or some of Blackwater's other features, such as its massive long-distance range, which is more than two-thirds of a mile long and perfect for sniper training.
Besides instruction in shooting, there are specialty courses, including high-risk warrant serving/ hostage rescue, tracking armed suspects and high-intensity K-9 handling. Civilian wannabe-commandos can sign up, too, but it's not cheap: Most classes last three to five days and cost $675 to $895, plus lodging.
For indoor training, there are two bulletproof steel buildings, one of them a two-story, 4,100-square-foot structure where the interiors can be set up for different types of instruction, such as how to deal with T-shaped halls, different stairwells and rooms that open onto other rooms.
This is a place where doors are for blowing up or kicking in, so they are bought by the dozen ($728.40).
There are ponds that soldiers can shoot into from hovering helicopters or use for water-to-land exercises, trails and a host of junk cars, trucks and buses, which can be moved around and used for practice shooting.
If a customer calls and wants something different, Blackwater can set up practically any custom- training area imaginable, Masciangelo said, right up to building a new range.
The latest addition at Blackwater: a makeshift airliner cabin in the larger steel building. So far, it hasn't been used much except for when Sierawski used it last week to show air marshal-style close-range firearm skills to several network TV news crews and "America's Most Wanted."
In his standard demonstration, Sierawski sits like a passenger until four would-be terrorists surround him. Then, within a space of two seconds, he jumps from his seat, draws a 9 mm handgun and fires eight rounds, knocking down the "hijackers."
Sierawski said he has seen the firearm training standards for air marshals, and, he said, they're tough.
Because hijackers have surprise on their side, honing a quick reaction time is crucial, he said. Then there are unusual problems, such as having to deal with the potential of panicked passengers suddenly rising between the marshal and the target.
In addition to the various facilities for shooting, Blackwater also features a helipad, a lodge, dining hall, pro shop and 60-bed bunkhouse, including some private rooms, where the SEALs and FBI agents can catch a few winks after a hard day behind the machine gun or blowing up doors.
The center has a shop that makes its own line of computerized target systems, and since the terrorist attacks, sales of those have jumped. Last week, Masciangelo said, the FBI ordered 30 of them to be shipped to 16 U.S. cities. (The Raleigh Police Department already owns seven of the systems, he said.)
On Friday, about 70 shooters were using the ranges at Blackwater, including several groups of SEALs, who were scattered around the compound with their unmarked white trucks.
Most of the SEALs, who were training in full gear, with helmets, flak jackets and boots, appeared to be in their mid-20s. None would talk to a reporter or allow themselves to be photographed.
Nor would the Coast Guard unit on a nearby tower that was simulating shooting downward from a cutter's deck with massive .50-caliber anti-sniper rifles to knock the outboard motors off speedboats.
But the other squad at Blackwater on Friday talked. The York County (Va.) SWAT team was training with various weapons and practicing entry into buildings that contained "armed suspects," in this case targets of people with weapons mixed with "good guys" without weapons.
"This is a great facility, and for us it's really helpful since they've got things we don't have on our normal range," said Des Donnelly, an investigator with the York sheriff's department and leader of the SWAT team. "For one thing, the moving targets are a big help, and also, most of what we do is entry so the buildings are a big help."
'A new sense of urgency'
Since the terrorist attacks, said Masciangelo, the Special Operations teams using Blackwater have become noticeably more purposeful.
On Friday, several four-man SEAL fire teams spent hours taking turns on a course in which they had to move in pairs from barricade to barricade and up and down the stairs of a pair two-story mock buildings, firing all the while at three dozen moving and stationary targets arrayed on an area the size of a football field. Each team had to hit all the targets. The continuous hail of fire the teams created left it hard to imagine anyone on the receiving end doing more than scrambling for cover.
"That was 71.22 seconds, best of the day so far," said a SEAL who was timing each group. This drew a couple of faintly cocky grins but no other sign of emotion. The next team was already taking its place to start again.
"The Special Operations guys are pretty serious to begin with," Masciangelo said. "But since September 11, you can really see a new sense of urgency. They want more training in general, more night stuff where they can use their night vision equipment, more running and gunning, and they're going 16 hours a day sometimes. You can really tell they want to be ready."
Hey, they did say 10% civilians.....you can never train too much for home security.
Christmas gift idea?...Just a thought.
Stay safe !
I guarantee an angry Navy will make much more destruction!!
I like the way you think, ma'am.
These terrorists are INTO suicide.
Methinks the proprietors would welcome, with open arms, all attempts on their facility.