DRIVING: it's the portion of training that CID special agents and students in the Protective Services Training Course at the U.S. Military Police School, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., both look forward to and dread the most.
But the driving instruction students receive in the various courses offered at the school is anything but typical. They learn to ram other vehicles without causing injury, stop or turn their cars while driving at high speeds, and drive in reverse at 50 mph.
They are taught to use their vehicles-from police-packaged sedans and SUVs to an armored Humvee-as weapons, important tools to keep their protectees safe.
The school also purchases 'clunkers' students can use to practice ramming and moving other cars. Airbags are removed and students wear helmets and padding for safety, while an instructor rides shotgun, ready to grab the wheel at any time.
'Each student will have a car that they hit another car with and ram them out of the way, in front and back (going straight and in reverse),' said Rodney Larson, lead instructor for the Anti-terrorism Evasive Driving Course. 'If you get the technique, you can get them out of the way before you drive straight through them. You're using your car and your engine as a weapon, versus stopping and trying to get out and have a gunfight. You're mobile so you stay mobile.'
The cars lose headlights, bumpers and other pieces as the training progresses, and according to C. William 'Bill' West, chief of the Protective Service Training Branch, the regular cars go through a set of high-performance brakes every class, and high-performance tires every two or three classes.
The school does have an armored car with four-inch thick glass (it weighs about 12,000 pounds), which provides extra protection and time to get away.
'Lets take the position of a security driver and a chauffer,' said West. 'When a situation arises, the chauffeur is going...to get scared because he won't know what to do. The security driver is going to find out what to do and fast. When...someone is shooting at his car, or tries to block it, a chauffer may slam on the brakes or panic.'
But, West added, the security driver or Protective Service agent will take immediate action, using a number of different tactics and techniques they learn to protect the 'principals,' and get them to a safe location.
Students can use their new driving skills in real life as well, Larson pointed out, especially accident-avoidance techniques. In fact, he was able to use a controlled ram to keep both himself and another driver safe when a collision in his private vehicle was unavoidable.
'You learn so much here that you just don't get anywhere else,' said Special Agent Jason Herndon after undergoing the training. 'We have a lot of guys, Reservists, who come in and they're police officers and they admit, 'We never had any of this driving.' So they can take it back to their units in the civilian world and train them as well.'