A routine military training session Saturday took on new meaning for those involved.
A hostage rescue training simulation involving about 45 participants from the Army National Guard, Civil Air Patrol cadets, Young Marines and the State Defense Force was conducted at the Pacific Rim Institute of Safety and Management in Kenai.
The simulation was a combined training effort designed to familiarize participants with handling a terrorist situation where hostages are involved. Hostage rescue is not the normal mission of the Army National Guard, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry -- the company covering Kodiak to Valdez. It's a light infantry unit, so its main role is being in a battlefield situation.
But an infantry unit could be tasked with a rear-area security-type assignment, which could include a hostage situation, said 1st Sgt. Wayne Floyd.
"The new battlefield is a fluid battlefield, it's not necessarily defined by lines anymore, and we're fighting a terrorist threat," Floyd said. "That's been our awareness for several years."
According to Floyd, the hostage rescue training simulation had been planned since last spring. It was not held in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., although terrorism has been on the soldiers' minds since then, Floyd said. Last month, the Guard company trained in a simulation where it rescued hostages from a house.
In the simulation held Saturday, a terrorist cell had taken control of a three-story building with hostages. Rescuers were charged with clearing the building of terrorists and rescuing the hostages. The Civil Air Patrol cadets and Young Marines acted as the hostages, while the National Guard soldiers performed the rescue operation.
The soldiers had to enter the building and clear it of people room by room. If a person was obviously a terrorist, they needed to be secured with handcuffs and removed from the hostages. Once the rescue team members had removed the terrorists, they had to remove the hostages from the building and confirm their identities to make sure there were no terrorists in the group posing as hostages.
The State Defense Force was charged with containing the hostages after they were removed from the building. Then the hostages had to be questioned and debriefed before they were released.
The simulation was run three times, with the situation varying each time so the participants would be familiarized with different hostage contingencies. The situation could be uneventful, where the team went in and arrested the terrorists without casualties, or the situation could involve the hostages being shot.
"It's done so you know how to react if an emergency flares up," Floyd said. "So you know where to go and what to do in the actual situation."
It was a crawl, walk, run process, Floyd said. First the rescuers went through the simulation at a crawling pace and faced little surprises or opposition. The simulation was run again at a quicker pace with more variables thrown in. The third execution was at the running tempo, which is more like an actual situation would be, Floyd said.
"The terrorists could go from laying their guns down when confronted to firing back," Floyd said. "Sometimes when a team enters you hear gunfire, and they need to know how to react and what to do to minimize hostage loss if it sounds like the hostages are being attacked."
Although the chance of the unit dealing with a situation like the one it faced Saturday is remote, the training does prepare the soldiers to deal an actual incident.
"It's to add some realism and sparkle to the training so that we learn something that's useful," Floyd said.
According to Floyd, such exercises prepare soldiers for assisting their country as well as the communities they live in because they do get involved in community protection and disaster relief efforts.
Floyd, himself, is a school teacher, and other soldiers in the unit work in businesses and companies on the peninsula.
"We're part of the community, but when something like this (an emergency situation) arises, we have a second hat we wear," Floyd said. "The training is extremely valuable because you're not out of control and you know what's going on when a situation comes up. My military training pays off big time in my military life because you have a better understanding of authority and a different perspective on how things work, or don't work."
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