By Stephen Standifird, Fort Leonard WoodAugust 13, 2016
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- The sedan transporting a Department of the Army official makes a left turn toward the intended destination. Something feels off about the cars parked on the sides of the road as the driver approaches a roadblock.
Shots are fired as the driver slows down to assess the situation. An unfamiliar vehicle approaches from behind as another approaches from the alley where the shots were fired. In a split-second decision, the driver decides to ram the barrier to escape the scene.
Scenarios like this one are presented to every student at the Antiterrorism Evasive Driving Course, a five-day course in the Army and Department of Defense provided here at Fort Leonard Wood to students who will drive for staff officers or who will deploy to the Central Command area of responsibility.
Although the course falls under the Special Tactics Training Division, Military Police School, it is not designed for military police students, said Kevin Bates, branch chief.
"We see folks from the White House Transportation Agency, general officer drivers, colonel and promotable drivers," Bates said. "In the last three years, a lot of the special operations community has come through this course as well."
(A separate training course, which can last one to three training days, is offered for general officers and their Families who are set to deploy to high-risk areas.)
The staff driver course is broken down into two main areas of focus: hard skills and soft skills. The core of the hard skills is getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and driving; the soft skills include surveillance detection, conducting route surveys, conducting vehicle bomb searches, and identifying drivable terrain.
"While they are in the vehicle, they are learning everything about vehicle dynamics; what the cars doing why it's doing it; what their limitations are and what the car's limitations are," Bates said.
Vehicle dynamics include steering and braking techniques, emergency lane changes, high-speed driving, and driving in reverse.
"We try to get across to the students in this course that, basically, you are most vulnerable to a terrorist attack when you are in transportation mode," Bates said.
"We want them to understand [that you should] never give up the fight when you are in transport mode. You keep fighting … You have to out-think, out-smart and out-drive the bad guy."
The culmination scenario on day five of the course begins with the student entering a mock suburban area. Instructors in vehicles playing the "bad guys" use everything in their power to prevent the student from making it to the "safe zone," including ramming, blocking, and forcing the car into a spin.
"We are doing everything that we can, being the best bad guys we can, short of hurting or killing them," Donofrio said. "I always tell them I'm proud to have the opportunity to teach them something that might keep them alive."
The training scenarios are all about providing situations that compel the students to apply the skills they have learned in the course.
"You don't know until you are in one of those situations how you are going to react or what the car is capable of," observed Navy Lt. Commander William Phillips, student.
Donofrio said that students often send comments back after they have finished the course, praising the instruction they received here.
"Half of the people that come here said they are alive because of this course," he said. "I know I am teaching our country's most precious resources to stay alive."