U.S. Customs and Border Protection trained 8,600 employees in the past year at its remote, highly secured facility in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, a sprawling campus gaining new attention with the debate over the construction of a new wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and an increase in the force of U.S. border agents.
The agency’s Advanced Training Center, which was built almost a decade ago on federal land through legislative efforts of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), provides a regimen including firearms, self-defense, tactical and rescue training. Operators built a pair of small-scale border fences next to which trainees practice how to stop assaults and rescue injured agents.
Training sessions include a virtual simulator program providing dozens of scenarios for which border agents must prepare, such as a potentially violent traffic stop and a mass shooting at a theater.
“The training center may not be on the southern border, but we have students from all over the nation,” said 29-year U.S. border agent Clark Messer, who was recently named director of the facility.
Self-defense training at the facility took on new importance amid a spike in assaults against border agents. Records and testimony provided to Congress in November showed a 230 percent increase in attacks against agents from 2015 to 2016.
Arthur Trebs, a border agent posted in Bellingham, Washington, said assaults are an increasing threat.
“For agents, help may literally be hours away if you run into trouble, so you have to be able to handle situations like that,” he told the News4 I-Team during a February training session at Harpers Ferry.
CBP uses its training center’s border fences for regimens in which agents are physically attacked by people who stand on our near actual US border fencing.
The fences are an important tool, said Chris Lein, an assistant director who helps lead self-defense training at the facility.
“(Agents) are on the border, by themselves many times, and there are offenders you can’t reach,” Lein said.
The scope of the fence and the composition of some of the training programs would change if the U.S. government follows through on proposals to erect a new wall along the southwest U.S. border, Messer said.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.