Fort Lee, Va. (Sept. 10, 2009) – The crucial time had arrived, the court martial of a Fort Lee Soldier for an alleged hate crime.
In the preceding months, the trial had drawn the attention of supremacist sympathizers and their equally vocal rivals. Then news came from anti-supremacist groups planning a protest at Fort Lee. Supremacist groups began calling in support for the trial’s defendant. The two opposing groups planned to converge on Fort Lee and given one group’s history of violence, steps needed to be taken.
As the hours passed, and the threats seemed more likely, the garrison increased force protection measures on post to counter any possible threat.
On Sept. 1, protestors began to march outside the Lee Gate. As they approached official government property, groups of Fort Lee Military Police, Department of the Army Civilian Police and augmentation forces from the 49th Quartermaster Group and 23rd QM Brigade began employing crowd control tactics to ensure the protestors remained off-post.
After the protest broke off, Fort Lee continued its heightened force protection measures as the court martial was due to take place the next day and indications were that both groups intended to return.
During the trial on Sept. 2, a different scenario played out. Instead of protestors at the gate, a shooter gained access to the installation and injured five personnel outside the courthouse before being taken down by law enforcement. While this was taking place, several observers inside took over the courthouse and held hostages captive until the hostages’ releases were successfully negotiated.
It was indeed an action-packed couple of days, but it was all part of annual anti-terrorism and force protection training.
Although the exercise is an annual event, anti-terrorism and force protection measures occur on post throughout the year, said Ken Towery, Fort Lee anti-terrorism officer. Towery served as an observer/controller during the exercise to evaluate responses and keep the scenarios moving.
“Anti-terrorism is the proactive measure put into place to stop a terrorist attack – that’s why we train and exercise, and throughout the year, there’s always stuff going on,” said Towery. “We exercise awareness and implement localized force protection measures to mitigate possible scenarios such as domestic terrorism, international terrorism, hate groups, militia, or anything that could possibly attack or jeopardize the installation and the personnel within the facilities.”
Training to protect the personnel inside the gates is vital to the installation, said Col. Michael G. Morrow, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Lee commander.
“One of the most important things we do as a garrison is protect Families and Soldiers and this kind of training exercise gives us the ability to do that better,” Morrow said. “We can train how to react to things by running scenarios. It gives our folks an idea of what they may face if something goes wrong.”
The two-day event provided many training opportunities for the different aspects of Fort Lee’s forces, said Towery. The protest, or civil disturbance, involved the Provost Marshal’s Office and the augmentation forces and tested their ability to control a demonstration that could turn into a riot or allow illegal access onto the installation. The active shooter and courthouse hostage situation called for the activation of the incident command post by PMO and Fort Lee’s Fire and Emergency Services, and caring for the wounded by F&ES.
Volunteers were instrumental in making the exercise more realistic, said Towery. Volunteers played the part of protestors and casualties.
“The volunteers from the Army Volunteer Corps were a huge help to us,” said Towery. “They really got into the role and looked like they were agitated and acted like real demonstrators.”
The exercise also had some outside participants. Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s SWAT Team, the Chesterfield SWAT Team and the Chesterfield Police Department acted as role players during the courthouse scenario or observers in the overall exercise.
“It adds an unbiased opinion – they said we did a very good job,” said Towery. “The whole point was to evaluate Fort Lee’s responses to demonstrations, civil unrest, active shooter, hostage situation, hostage negotiation and freeing the hostages.”