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Byrd cuts up at firing range ceremony

May 30, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. -- "Shoot!"

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's command Friday afternoon inside the firing range complex at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Center on any other day could have sent bullets flying inside the new 65,000-square-foot facility.

Instead, one of Byrd's parting words at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the building was aimed at a cameraman taking pictures of the longtime senator, who played an instrumental role in appropriating millions of dollars for the project.

"Really, this is his day," W. Ralph Basham, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told a crowd of about 200 people seated in the largest of five ranges. "This facility was and is his vision. Without Sen. Byrd, quite frankly, this facility would not exist."

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The newest component of the 124-acre training campus also includes classrooms, weapon-cleaning areas and firing-range control rooms. Opened in August 2005, the training center provides environments and facilities that are comparable to land, sea and air ports of entry into the U.S., among other amenities.

"Since the center was simply blueprints on a drawing board, the senator has been responsible for securing more than $122 million dollars for all that you see," Basham noted.

"That's a lot of money," Byrd interjected, prompting laughter and applause by the center's staff, local law enforcement and community leaders gathered.

Shortly after beginning his speech, Byrd urged everyone to look around where they were seated.

"Stand up, take a look. I will," said Byrd, who then rose from his wheelchair. "Look around you, look around you. Enjoy the results of teamwork and cooperation."

Just prior to cutting a red ribbon unfurled in front of where he sat, Byrd and everyone gathered were shown a video presentation of the groundbreaking ceremony a Leadership Academy, the next phase of the training center.

The shovels used then were presented at Friday's event, which was culminated with Byrd's signing of a beam lowered from the firing range ceiling.

After meeting with dozens of well-wishers and supporters, Byrd was taken to a small room in the facility, where he steadied one hand with the other to add to his signature in blue marker to the gray steel beam already coated with signatures.

"It doesn't take much room for me," said Byrd, who was told he was the last to sign it.

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