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Warfare center now operating

What could be the tallest building in Caroline County looks like an embassy clad in glass and concrete.

Nearby is a subway station, buildings you’d find in a typical town, and strangely, a mosque.

This make-believe but realistic “city” is not on any map, and the only inhabitants wear camouflage green. It’s the $96 million Army Asymmetric Warfare Training Center, which officially opened Friday at Fort A.P. Hill.

Spread over 300 acres, the battle laboratory is devoted to helping troops survive, and finding quick solutions to ever-evolving threats in an age of global insurgency.

Army officials and staff, joined by local dignitaries and visitors, gathered for a briefing and tour of the training center, the newest addition to the 76,000-acre fort in Caroline and Essex counties.

Col. John P. Petkosek, commander of the Fort Meade, Md.-based Asymmetric Warfare Group, said the occasion was to “reflect on the importance of this facility” as the war in Afghanistan draws down and new threats loom on the horizon from the Middle East to Asia and Africa.

“The timing of the opening of this facility is so critical,” Petkosek said. “This kind of defines what the Army needs for the next conflict. …This is a place where we can be creative, and come up with solutions for problems we don’t even know we have yet.”

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came to define asymmetric warfare: conflicts between nations and groups with disparate resources and strategies.

The Army began preparing for the training center seven years ago in response to improvised explosive devices taking a deadly toll on U.S. troops. As insurgents’ weapons and tactics changed, soldiers had to adapt.

One example early on: Troops were especially vulnerable when they left their vehicles.

“So we had to think of solutions,” Petkosek said, “for them to be more cognizant of their surroundings when they exited the Humvees.” A simple scan of the landscape from five yards to 25 yards out proved to be effective.

More recently, in Afghanistan, valve stems on the tires of MRAPs—Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles—were breaking off on patrols, exposing crews to enemy fire during repairs. An aluminum fitting solved the problem.

Those kinds of scenarios led to the formation of the Asymmetric Warfare Group, and ultimately, the training center at Fort A.P. Hill.

“We needed a place where smart, experienced people in the Army could come, be creative and not be hampered by not having a facility to do what they needed to do” said Bill Mizell, the center’s director of operations.

“This is, in essence, a place where you can do things over and over, extrapolate data, put things on paper and see if it’s the best way to do something.” Along with training, AWG dispatches operational advisors to combat zones to look at problems first-hand and report back.

Among the training center components: a recreated subway platform, complete with Metro cars; an urban complex of buildings that can be reconfigured to function as stores, businesses, banks, a gas station. There’s a schoolyard and soccer field and a bridge built to Virginia Department of Transportation specifications for demolition calculations.

The mosque building includes an underground tunnel connecting with the minaret. There’s a cargo container in another spot fitted with narrow wood passages to mimic tunnels. The site also includes administrative buildings and barracks.

During a training demonstration on Friday, two soldiers used a welding torch and pry bar to cut through a steel door; another showed a harness developed to extract a soldier from a confined space.

Construction began on the training center more than two years ago; parts of it have been in use for several months. There are 12 AWG staff overseeing the training center, which will be available to other branches of the military, along with the FBI, other federal agencies and police departments.

Mizell said there are other, similar training sites, but this is one of the most comprehensive and true to life.

“We want to make the operations environment as stressful and realistic as possible.”

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431


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