Thursday, March 22nd, annual training and readiness scenarios were on display at NAS North Island as Exercise Solid Curtain/Citadel Shield was held. The exercise involves devising and executing a different threat to each naval base in the nation.
As Naval Base Coronado Commander Capt. Yancy Lindsey explained to media members present to cover the exercise, "What you will see today is something that could happen. It’s not the detection, but how we respond. One of the most important parts of the exercise is determining what went right and what went wrong at the local and national levels. This scenario is challenging and realistic."
The North Island portion of the exercise was devised by NAB Coronado Training and Readiness Officer Dave Busby. It started at 9 a.m., with the cruiser USS Princeton sailing in the San Diego Bay and being ‘attacked’ by a speedboat filled with five terrorists. According to Lindsey, the cruiser’s participation in the exercise, "Was a normal ship movement which was made part of the scenario. It’s cool to have a ship as part of this."
As the scenario unfolded, the speedboat was grounded by an armed harbor security patrol boat, which forced the "home grown, violent extremists" to land their vessel on the shore, just below the NASNI’s real-life recycling center. The five terrorists became two active shooters in the recycling center, with one additional shooter encamped in another building across the street.
To a civilian observer, the action looked realistic. Gun shots were fired on the USS Princeton that could be heard from the pier. After the speed boat landed and the terrorists disembarked, an improvised explosive device was detonated, which created a large explosive sound, followed by a mushroom cloud that hovered over the boat. From the base’s security perspective, the goal was for the appropriate base personnel to respond in real time.
Lending realism to the event was Combat Training Coordinator Brian Howe of the firm Strategic Operations. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Stu Segall Productions, one of the largest independent television and movie studios in the U.S. "We provide hyper-realistic training," said Howe, a retired member of the military. "They call us in and tell us what they would like to see. We help them set up the scenario. We provide the next generation of tactical training."
Part of the scenario was a wounded terrorist, in full faux bloody makeup, who spent the better part of half an hour writhing and moaning on the ground in close proximity to the fighting at the recycling center. Howe estimated that the makeup applied to the wounded terrorist took between 30 minutes and an hour to apply. Howe had an interesting morning, as he piloted the terrorist speedboat that attacked the USS Princeton and landed the vessel on-shore. Then he spent the next hour answering questions from the media about the exercise.
After the terrorists were neutralized, base ambulances arrived to take care of the injured. The wounded terrorist, as an example, had a tourniquet applied to his arm, was placed on a gurney and carted away in the ambulance.
According to Brian O’Rourke from the Public Affairs Office at Navy Region Southwest, all bases are tasked annually to hold a media day, so the exercise served a dual purpose. Providing some context to other training scenarios used in the region, O’Rourke said that last year’s exercise at NAB San Diego included a swimmer who attached a bomb to a ship, but was detected by dolphins in the water.
The media photo-op involved a bomb being detonated that was placed there by a second swimmer. The resulting ‘explosion’ wasn’t overly impressive, hence the addition of the good folks from Strategic Operations so they could produce a bigger, more realistic explosive device.
This year’s NAB San Diego training exercise revolved around a disgruntled worker who turned into an active shooter near the base commissary.
A press release on Solid Curtain/Citadel Shield provided some insight as to the scope of the exercise. The release said in part, "The Navy will be working this year with other military and local, state and federal agencies to enhance the training scenarios. The Marine Corps, Coast Guard, City of San Diego Office of Homeland Security, the Port of San Diego, San Diego Police Department and the Red Cross are just some of the organizations participating."
Capt. Lindsey and Naval Base Coronado Executive Officer Capt. Gary Mayes were both active participants in the training exercise, assessing the threat to the base and making decisions as to whether or not to restrict access to NAS North Island. Lindsey said of the exercises that concluded Saturday, March 24th, "It’s a chance for us to work on our tactics, techniques and procedures."