Originally created 10/09/01

Military training site proposed for Florida



ESTIFFANULGA, Fla. - The next batch of terrorist-hunting U.S. soldiers could be trained in a remote north Florida forest.

Officials from a defense contractor want to open a sophisticated military training facility along a 100-mile stretch of the Apalachicola River in the vast Apalachicola National Forest about 45 miles west of Tallahassee.

The Gulf Marine Assistance Center would be a place where special operations forces from the Army, Navy and Air Force would be trained to operate in harsh, junglelike conditions. In an unusual twist, about 30 of the deer hunters and worm grunters who use the national forest would be paid a small stipend to act as a mock opposition force that could ambush and capture military trainees and hold them as hostages until other trainees could rescue them.

Once open, the center could annually train as many as 43,000 Army Rangers, Navy Seals and elite Air Force Combat Patrol Team members, said Bruce McCormack, a spokesman for EER Systems, the defense contractor proposing the training program.

Although the graduates of the training site would be unlikely to use their jungle and river warfare skills in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, they could be deployed to root out and eliminate terrorists in wetter climates in South America, Africa and the Philippines, Mr. McCormack said.

But the proposal will face some local opposition, particularly from people who want to protect the Apalachicola River, which has faced decades of abuse by dredging and manipulation of water levels resulting from a tri-state battle over the river's water.

"There's been so much damage to that river, and this won't help," said David McLain, the head of the Apalachicola Bay and River Keepers.

The only thing holding up the proposal is funding from the U.S. military, which would have to spend $1.4 million to get the program started and another $3.8 million annually to operate it, Mr. McCormack said.