By Sam Campbell (Leonard Wood)March 15, 2019
Non-commissioned officers with the White House Transportation Agency participated in the Anti-terrorism Evasive Driving Course March 7 to 8 at Training Area 210.
The training, which is unique to Fort Leonard Wood, teaches basic motorcade operations, protection of VIPs and high-speed extraction from mobile aggressors.
WHTA Commander Maj. Brian Fiddermon, whose agency coordinates transport of the first family and their guests, said he hopes his Soldiers can come away from this training better equipped to take on the responsibilities entrusted to them.
"Certainly what we hope they walk away with here is a broad understanding of how operating a vehicle can play a pivotal role in our mission's success," he said. "That's critical to what we do on a routine basis."
The AEDC's exclusive status has attracted participation from other highly prestigious groups in the past, including the U.S. Army Rangers, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance, according to AEDC Instructor Gary Donofrio.
"This is the only course DoD-wide that does this, here at the Military Police School," he said. "The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines are all coming here because this is the only place it happens."
With the exception of some government agencies' in-house training, he said, all others are for-profit programs.
The highly-specialized course includes straightaways, dirt and paved roads, a mock village and plenty of sharp curves. Donofrio said the instructors push the cars and the students to their limits.
"We're pedal to the medal," he said. "A typical student in our Crown Victorias will go 62 mph backward."
"In a situation where (someone is) shooting at us or trying to blow us up, we have to teach them how to back out of situations effectively -- and that means not creeping out of a parking place, not backing out of your driveway," he said.
The AEDC practices dealing with situations such an ambush scenario, Donofrio said, forcing trainee drivers to maintain their composure and plot an escape.
"The way we attack (trainees) is with paintball guns," he said. "The paintballs striking the car make a very distinct sound that they recognize as an attack, and then they start executing the drills and commands that we've taught them to get away from the bad guys."
While driving well under stress is a designed result of the course, he said, trainees are also tested on their ability to take turns at extremely high speeds.
"They're going to have do a lot of big steering," Donofrio said. "While they might be used to going 70 (mph) in a straight line, we're going to get them up to 90 (mph) and have some curves in the way."
Sgt. 1st Class Ismael Escobar participated in the training. "I never thought I'd go 90 (mph) especially around curves like that," he said. "Not only is it exciting, but you learn a lot of skills doing it."
Counterintuitively, trainees are taught to have a relaxed grip, Escobar said.
"They actually want you to shrug your shoulders - they tell you to wiggle your fingers while you're driving at 90 (mph) just so that you're not white-knuckling it," he said. "Otherwise, that's when you start jerking the steering wheel, and you don't want to jerk the steering wheel because you'll flip (the car)."
WHTA Master Driver Sgt. 1st Class Fernando Abreu Fajardo, who completed the AEDC last summer, said the training has benefitted him every day.
"It's one of the best trainings that I've ever received in my whole military career, because it's real," he said. "You have to get in the driver's seat and you have to do it yourself."
In the past, Abreu Fajardo was involved in two automobile accidents that resulted in the inversion of his vehicle. Despite prior traumatic events, the high-speed characteristic of this training remains one of his favorite parts.
"That gets in your mind, so every time you drive fast, you kind of get scared," he said. "But after I came to the training here, and I (drove) 90 mph, turning like that and doing the training, it made me really confident."
He added that it has benefitted more than just himself.
"When I drive with my family right now, they feel more confident with me than what I used to be before, because of this training," he said.
Donofrio echoed the sentiment that this driving is taught not just for the benefit of the driver, but in the interest of those in their care.
"We are very passionate about what we're doing, because we know what we're doing here is saving lives somewhere, especially in all those mobile environments," he said.