Originally created 05/05/04

Training proves challenging



NEW ELLENTON - Gunshots ripped through the cool spring air Tuesday afternoon as dozens of camouflaged marksmen fired off round after round, stopping occasionally to reload or roll across the grassy field and line up another target.

The thin plumes of smoke rising from the barrels, the sound of expended bullet jackets clinking to the ground, the smell of cordite, the satisfying metallic "tink" as another target was successfully hit - all sights, sounds and smells of another day on the shooting range.

For shooting enthusiasts, it doesn't get much better than the 32nd Annual Security Police Officer Training Competition, held for the first time since 1998 at Savannah River Site. Twenty-one teams from throughout the country and Great Britain participate in a four-day tactical marksmanship challenge sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The competition involves security forces charged with guarding the nation's nuclear facilities, including SRS' Wackenhut Services, in addition to some military and local police contingents.

Officials estimate that by the time the competition is over, the 128 men and women will have gone through 50,000 rounds of ammunition.

"This is excellent," said British competitor Ian Pattinson, a member of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary. During Tuesday's individual competitions, Mr. Pattinson finished shooting his Glock 17 handgun at targets from 15 yards in two minutes, 36 seconds, rolling and kneeling to fire through various barriers. "You have to think about what you're doing," he said. "You're running, stopping, breathing, aiming."

Nearby, spectators watched as gas-mask-attired Dwayne Potter, a member of Wackenhut's security force at the Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear facility, dragged a 180-pound sled for 20 yards, then stopped, knelt and popped off several shots from his M-4 semiautomatic rifle at targets 50 yards away.

"Very challenging," Mr. Potter said later of the sled-drag, meant to simulate the rescue of a wounded human. "But it wasn't too bad - I do a lot of snow skiing, so that helped."

Marksmanship competitions like this one are "a mental game," Mr. Potter said. "It's all about focus, preparation and coaching."

The competition is held every year at various nuclear facilities, returning every other year to the central training facility at Los Alamos, N.M. The Savannah River Site's Advanced Tactical Training Academy earned high praise from visitors this week.

Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or stephen.gurr@augustachronicle.com.