The $96 million facility, titled the Asymmetric Warfare Training Center, is located deep within the 76,000-acre military base in Caroline County. The 300-acre training center was officially opened on Friday through a ribbon-cutting ceremony that involved local dignitaries, such as Bowling Green Mayor David Storke. Other town officials at the ceremony were vice Mayor Glenn McDearmon, Town Manager Stephen Manster and two town council members, Mary F. Coleman and Jean M. Davis.
Fort A.P. Hill Commander Lt. Col. Peter E. Dargle was also on hand.
The center is for use by the U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG), which is based at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. Fort Meade didn’t have the space to accommodate the training facility. So it was built at Fort A.P. Hill.
The mosque is not used for religious purposes but instead is used for training. The five-story embassy building, which at 65 feet in height, is the tallest building in Caroline County. It was built like an embassy overseas and is set up with a lobby and typical embassy layout to provide training for soldiers encountering conflicts at an embassy overseas.
The subway station is built underground to scale and it has actual subway cars. Amtrak cars are on a track in the facility, which is surrounded by miles of chain-link fencing topped with swirls of razor wire.
The facility features an indoor shooting range with 14 lanes. Its walls are made of 10,000 pounds of steel capable of stopping .308-caliber bullets.
The AWG has soldiers “deployed in very small teams all over the world to Afghanistan, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait in the Middle East, but also in those places where a small footprint is better-suited, such as Africa, Asia and South America,” Col. John P. Petkosek, AWG commander, told those gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The AWG-trained soldiers serve as operational advisers “in helping the Army win the current fight,” Petkosek said. They also help “influence the human domain in operations short of war, such as peacekeeping and building partner capacity, which are critical to sustaining our nation’s strategic land power. The operational advisers observe, analyze and identify “capability gaps” or weakness among Army and joint force groups in light of asymmetric and irregular threats.
The AWG-trained soldiers develop and distribute material and non-material solutions to close gaps to “allow our military to remain the most capable force in the world,” Petkosek told the group.
The training center is a place where ideas can be developed and studied in an “environment where the technical science of application of strategic land power can be directed under the art of mission command to allow the military to innovate and adapt” Petkosek said. The Army puts the information into use. It changes “the way we train and how we organize our personal” in preparing soldiers for the next conflict.
“The things we do here at this facility at Fort A.P. Hill have a direct and lasting impact on our entire Army,” Petkosek said. “The missions of our armed forces include the ability to deter and defeat aggression, project power and counter weapons of mass destruction.” To do this, America must be “ready, robust, responsive and have regionally engaged forces operating on the land.”
The training facility “represents the future of our Army—an agile and adaptive force capable of meeting the future challenges our nation faces,” Petkosek said.
During a bus tour of the facility, Bill Mizell, director of operations the center, said the facility was seven years in the making. It has an 800-meter firing range and a 12-mile circuitous route for convoy training.
“We needed a place where smart, creative people in the Army” could work on solutions—“a place where they could think outside the box,” Mizell said. The center is “like a laboratory,” but we don’t call it that.
He noted that the FBI and Metro Police officials in Washington, D.C., have visited the facility and expressed an interest in doing special training there. With value added to Fort A.P. Hill, it is less likely to be the target of government closures in the future.
He also noted that the facility has already had an economic impact on Bowling Green and Caroline County, particularly during construction. Those involved with construction “had to eat in restaurants” and buy gas for their vehicles. Construction supplies came from many outlets from north of Richmond to Caroline County and beyond, he added.
The center allows AWG personnel to study how railroad track rails could secretly get cut up during a conflict or how a group could secretly store weapons of mass destruction in a subway station.
Along with a mosque and an embassy, the facility also has a bank building, a Protestant-style church, an ambulance building and a small school building much like those found in Iraq and Afghanistan. Underground tunnels connect most of the buildings, and the tunnels will be used for training.
The facility also has a railroad overpass to allow the study of how it might be used during a conflict.
The center has an old railroad boxcar that has wooden crawl spaces built into it that represent a heating and cooling duct system. Soldiers can crawl through them from one end to the other. This helps determine which soldiers have claustrophobia and how the soldiers can deal with it. Three soldiers did a demonstration of how they can extract a wounded soldier from a tight space. A rope is tied to the soldier’s ankles before crawling into a tight space. Using a rope, two soldiers on foot dragged another soldier backwards by his ankles while he was lying face-down in the snow.
Another group of soldiers demonstrated for the dignitaries and media how they could use a special torch to cut through a steel door in less than a minute.
“People are hand-selected to be here,” noted Mizell, who served in the Army 22 years.