MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
As military police and firefighters approach the scene of the incident, cries for help rise with the smoke emitting from a vehicle stalled near the guard house. Injured Marines lay scattered and squirming on the ground while others lie completely still.
This is not the aftermath of a terrorist attack, but rather an intricate base-wide anti-terrorism force protection exercise Combat Center Marines, sailors, employees and residents participated in July 14 to 18, 2008.
The exercise, dubbed Desert Defender 2008, was coordinated by the Department of Defense Anti-Terrorism Specialists Red Team and was designed to test the Combat Center’s coordinated response to a terrorist attack.
Over a week’s period of time, base officials collected intelligence justifying an increase of the base’s Force Protection Condition from Alpha to Delta.
Condition Alpha, which is enforced when a general threat against installations or personnel exists, warrants security measures such as random identification checks by armed sentries at base access points.
As threats escalate, an installation may need to heighten its highest condition Delta, which is enforced after an attack has occurred or intelligence suggests an attack is likely to take place in a specific area.
Combat Center personnel was observed by the Red Cell as they reacted to incidents such as improvised explosive devices, a loss of telephone communication lines in designated areas and coordination of the Emergency Control Center, said Claude B. Markham, Combat Center anti-terrorism officer.
The planning for the exercise, which began in September, was coordinated with DoD Anti-Terrorist Force Protection on a play-by-play format to ensure all who participated would gather as many lessons learned as possible, added Markham.
The exercise reached its peak July 16 when the threat of an IED was reported to the Provost Marshal’s Office, Explosive Ordinance Disposal team and Combat Center fire department.
In the scenario, a military police officer stopped a suspicious-looking vehicle at the Condor Gate, one of the installation’s main access points, to conduct a vehicle inspection. As he and other military police officers inspected the vehicle, an insurgent remotely detonated the vehicle rigged with simulated explosives, notionally injuring 10 Marines and killing three.
Insurgents driving a second vehicle, which was transporting another simulated IED, then penetrated the point of entry and proceeded on base.
Base law enforcement secured the area while base fire fighters and medical personnel responded to the casualty call with ambulances and a fire truck to douse the mock-burning vehicle.
The Combat Center Special Response Team was later called to negotiate with terrorists in a situation where they had workers held hostage.
The exercise used MP3 sound machines for weapon sound effects, smoke simulators and body make-up to simulate blood and wounds to create as realistic an experience as possible.
Although exercises similar to this have taken place here in the past, none have demanded such a large amount of involvement in one area, said Markham.
“These exercises may also include scenarios with natural disasters or other criminal events,” he said, hinting about what may be in store for future exercises.
Victor Vella, exercise director and chief of the Anti-Terrorism Specialists Red Team, said the Combat Center displayed positive qualities throughout the duration of the exercise.
“The most positive thing I can say about this command is that they took this exercise seriously,” said Vella. “They really took this by the horns. The kind of scenarios we threw at them are ones that even the most advance military instillations would have had similar problems with. We slammed them hard.”
Many participants of the exercise, like Jason Swift, Combat Center fire fighter, said the training was authentic and valuable.
“The realism during the drill was pretty decent,” said Swift. “The moulage gave a lot of realism to the patients’ injuries. And it was good for our START [Simple Triage and Rapid Transport] training since we don’t get to practice it often.”
Swift explained the START process is used to separate a group of injured people by the severity of their injuries to ensure maximum care is given to those who need it the most.
Even though the blood was artificial and the explosions were simulated throughout the exercise, the severity of a potential terrorist attack is enough to inspire ATFP to construct training exercises like Desert Defender 2008.