The first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 introduced the American public to a previously unthinkable reality: Terrorism was not limited to America’s overseas interests; we could be attacked on our own soil. This event, combined with other terrorist acts during the turbulent 1990s, led West Virginia National Guard officials to take a hard look at their program.
Adjutant Gen. Allen E. Tackett and his staff developed a two-fold plan to be proactive when dealing with potential threats to national security. Brig. Gen. James Hoyer, who initially served as a part-time adviser to Tackett before joining his staff in 1997, describes the plan this way: “Adjutant General Tackett had two primary goals for the National Guard. One was to get the National Guard to the top of the rankings for our traditional operations, including fighting missions and Special Forces. The second was to be relevant in dealing with the threats the country was then facing and envision new threats that might come to light.”
This plan, combined with the fact that West Virginia consistently has one of the highest numbers of veterans per capita in the nation but has no full-time military base, led to the concept of “Fort West Virginia.” Officials not only sought peak performance and top rankings, they also wanted to give soldiers opportunities to participate in missions without having to move out of state.
To prepare for present and potential threats while creating new jobs, the West Virginia National Guard established the Center for National Response (CNR) near Standard, W.Va. Making use of a bypassed two-lane tunnel that was originally part of the West Virginia Turnpike, the National Guard established a state-of-the-art training facility for military and civilian first responders. CNR offers frighteningly realistic training scenarios that range from a collapsed structure, aircraft fuselage, cave and bunker to a chemical spill and even a meth lab. In December 2000, well before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the National Guard conducted its first training exercise there.
“West Virginia was ahead of the curve on 9/11,” Hoyer said. “The program’s primary focus was on weapons of mass destruction, consequence management and counterterrorism support. We continue to develop other capabilities in the areas of protection, continuity of government and operations.”
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Price, CNR’s commander, says that the facility’s year-round environmental stability makes it a national resource for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) training. “We have an indoor, weather-resistant facility that is perfect for our training scenarios. In addition, we control environmental factors like lighting and we can add other elements such as smoke and fire as needed.” Price says that individual training scenarios can be manipulated to fit the client’s needs, including the use of mannequins or live role players.
Training opportunities are not limited to the CNR complex; mobile training teams travel from West Virginia throughout the nation. “Currently, there are 60 to 65 employees at CNR. They conduct 57 percent of their work at the tunnel complex and 43 percent throughout the other 54 states and U.S. territories on mobile training teams. Since December 2000, CNR has conducted 1,224 exercises and trained 54 of the 57 nationwide CBRNE support teams.”