MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- Six military policemen in flight suits, kevlar helmets, goggles and utility vests crept toward the Inspector-Instructor staff building. The two front MPs carried a shield, and held 9 mm Beretta pistols to the side of their shields, watching the buildings door and windows. The four rear MPs also carried their Berettas ready to fire. They moved slowly and cautiously toward a man lying on the ground outside the door.
Gunfire and shouting came from inside the building. The MPs, already alert, focused on the window where the shots had been fired. Little did the terrorists inside know that a sniper had also zeroed in on them from 150 yards away.
The MPs did not return fire. Their priority was to retrieve the wounded hostage lying on the ground. The four MPs in the rear picked up the wounded hostage, as more shots come from the window and a pink splotch appeared on the shield where a bullet would have hit.
The shot was a simulation round used to make training more realistic than blanks. The tips of the simulation rounds contain a pink powder inside a thin plastic skin. The powder marks the point of impact.
That was the scene April 18 when MPs from the base Provost Marshals Office conducted annual terrorism training with the cooperation of the I&I staff.
The training scenario called for three terrorists to enter the I&I building and take four people hostage. The mock terrorists then contacted PMO by phone and MPs responded.
The first MPs on scene set up a perimeter. An operations center was established and the base Crisis Management Team, hostage negotiators, Special Reaction Team and personnel from the MCLB Fire Department, the Navy Medical Clinic and the Family Service Center were called in.
When the exercise began the MPs knew only that a terrorist situation involving hostages had developed.
They learned that information from the phone call from the terrorists.
All other information about the hostages and terrorists had to be learned through research, observation and information provided by the terrorists and released hostages.
"We try to make the training as realistic as possible," said 2nd Lt. Jeff Stiff, deputy provost marshal. "We need to be prepared for anything; training equals preparedness."
According to Stiff, the Marines who played terrorists were given mission parameters. They were told basically how to play their roles, and they were provided four hostages, two pistols, two rifles and a mock sarin gas bomb.
They were also told to release some of the hostages in exchange for food, water and other items, even though the situation lasted only four hours.
Stiff said the mock terrorists were also given the freedom to resist negotiations, arrest, MPs efforts and the SRT members actions in any way they could.
The mock terrorists were very creative in how they conducted themselves.
At one point a terrorist, played by Staff Sgt. Richard Cochran, a military police watch commander, surrendered.
The SRT members ordered him to walk backwards toward them with his palms facing upward.
He held his hands out, walked backward toward the SRT members and then changed his mind and attempted to escape. His escape was prevented by the MPs, however he ran back into the building and was not captured by MPs until the end of the exercise.
In another improvised action, a terrorist stood at the door holding a gun to a pregnant womans head and told authorities if the terrorists demands were not met, there would be two casualties, threatening the lives of the woman and her unborn child.
According to Maj. William Harkins, base provost marshal, the main goals of the exercise were to practice working with the units involved in this sort of exercise and to identify any problems in various parts of the exercise.
"I wanted the command center to practice filling requests and handling problems," said Harkins. "I wanted all the elements to be comfortable with their part of it. I wanted the on-site command center to make one phone call to request food, water, personnel or something else, and the rear command center to make it happen. I think everyone did a very good job."
There were some events in the hostage taking scenario which would have been different in real life, according to Stiff. The situation would have lasted much longer, possibly days instead of hours; the SRT members would not have been called in until all other avenues of resolution had been exhausted; and a much greater emphasis would have been put on negotiating a peaceful solution.
"The SRT unit is a last resort," said Stiff.
"They are the people we call when negotiations have totally failed.
"Normally, what we would try to do is find a nonviolent solution through negotiations so everyone wins," he continued.
"This was a training situation, and we wanted all our units to get some practice.
"So the SRT unit went in, and the situation was established to require that. In real life, however, we would make every effort to avoid a confrontation, Stiff added.
Harkins said the training taught lessons about what works and what doesnt in a real situation.
After the drill was complete the coordinators sat down and discussed it in detail, going over every event or scenario to try to improve their actions.
Harkins also said the lessons learned through the terrorism scenario here will be sent to Headquarters Marine Corps so other units across the Marine Corps can take advantage of the MPs experience here.
Although terrorism training is only required once a year, Stiff said he anticipates another drill in a few months to apply the lessons learned from this exercise.
"You can't train enough," said Stiff. Training equals preparation. "You can't train for every scenario, but the more you train, the better you will be able to handle things."