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Firearms facility taking shape

July 22, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Firearms training will be only one part of the instruction that will be conducted at a federal firearms facility that is expected to open near Harpers Ferry in 2004, officials with the project said last week.

The facility will be used to train U.S. Customs agents, who work at airports, seaports and border crossings to protect the country from drug smuggling, money laundering, child pornography and, to an increasing degree, terrorism, federal officials said.

There will be a variety of scenarios set up at the U.S. Customs Service's Advanced Training Center to prepare agents for the threats they will see in the field, according to Thomas Trotto, who will oversee the facility.

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To simulate threats agents could face on waterways, a four-acre lake will be created on the grounds of the facility that will include boat ramps, Trotto said.

There will be similar efforts to re-create an airport scene, a border crossing and a warehouse, Trotto said.

"They call us firearms guys, but there's so much more to us," Trotto said in a meeting with the Jefferson County Commission last Thursday.

Members of the public who attended Thursday's commission meeting were invited to attend an afternoon meeting to hear details about the facility, which will be built on 104 acres near the Americast plant off U.S. 340 between Charles Town and Harpers Ferry.

Federal officials have said the facility will be an expansion of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which currently has operations in Glynco, Ga., and Artesia, N.M.

A firing range at the facility will use mechanisms to control noise, county officials and U.S. Customs officials said.

It will be semi-enclosed with four walls and a louvered roof, officials said.

Agents receiving training at such facilities prefer the semi-enclosed gun ranges because it provides fresh air during firing, Trotto said.

Bullets from the guns will be caught by a steel trap, Trotto said. The ammunition will decelerate as it spins around a container and drops into a holding tank, Trotto said.

"Everything is contained and nothing goes into the environment," Trotto said.

About 30 full-time employees will work at the center, and up to several hundred trainees will be there at a time, according to a fact sheet handed out at the commission meeting.

Although the center's firing range has received most of the public's attention, Trotto said it is important that agents receive thorough training on every aspect of their job, even something as routine as handcuffing a suspect.

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