Friday, October 15, 2010

[FIND] Travels - Washington, DC, Part One

FBI Academy, Quantico, VA

Friday, October 1, 2010, Early AM

Friday morning breaks cool and cloudy, wet streets and scattered layer of scud slowly burning off above the Anacostia River. My buddy Steve and I meet up at the Eisenhower Avenue stop, I getting off the yellow line train and he in a rented, nondescript Ford. We wheel onto the I-95 southbound towards Quantico, VA and the FBI Academy.

Our contact has arranged for us to clear security. Marines in starched utility caps, neatly creased uniforms, and not-so-modest 9-MM sidearms ask us questions, verify ID, wave us through. Steve smokes a Marlboro, we pass a group of Marines, prone facing north, aiming at targets so far away, we can’t make them out. The soothing sound of a .50 caliber sniper rifle roars through the North Virginia woods. Steve drops his cigarette in his lap.

We stroll into the Jefferson Dormitory building thirty minutes early. We’re told to sit and wait. Our good friend, the one we call Agent X, has a buddy come to the lobby to check up on us. He’s a Tennessee native too, slow drawl, familiar, comfortable. We chat, tell war stories, and wait.

In walk several retired agents. You can tell because they’re all 60ish, unnaturally handsome men with smart, good-looking wives. We make introductions and wait.

Our tour guide, we’ll call him Agent Y, walks into the lobby all smiles and charisma. He’s done this before. He’s comfortable. He explains that they usually don’t do tours on Fridays, but…well…Agent X vouched for us, introduced us as “friends of the Bureau” and we’re with a batch of 1979 graduates of the Academy, so….

The lot of us pile into a short bus and the tour starts. HRT shooting gallery, indoor sniper range, Tevocistan (the tactical driving course), all the while hearing tales told tall by the retired agents. Agent Y takes the time to explain the inside chatter to Steve and me. He also takes the time to answer all questions, and there are a lot of questions.

Why all the doors? (This one side of the building looks like a Lowe’s, 200 or so wood and steel doors stacked up like a display.) Agent Y says, “you’ll see in a minute.” As we exit the building, on the opposite side, there’s a complementary pile of splintered doors. Shattered over and over, practicing “entry techniques.” Agent Y tells us that they have a staff of carpenters who just install and replace doors. Cool.

Why the multiple building finishes? (Same building has several different finishes, brick, stone, wood, etc.) Agent Y says, “We like for our guys to practice climbing all kinds of buildings.” Cool.

We make a swing by the Lab, what I can only guess is several thousand square feet of state–of-the-art analytical ability. The campus is huge. We roll down to the TEVOC (Tactical Emergency Vehicle Operators Course), watch some newbies spin and spin.

On foot now, we amble the quiet, small town streets of Hogan’s Alley. If you’ve never seen this place on TV, just picture any small town in America; a bank, a dry cleaner, a bar. There’s a post office, a motel, even a fully functioning movie theater. There are row houses, store fronts, even a used car lot. Agent Y explains how the trainees practice their surveillance skills, learn how to do a proper “take down,” and handle almost any situation.

Just across the main entrance to Hogan’s Alley, there’s a small residential subdivision. Three brick-veneer houses on a quiet cul-de-sac, fully furnished and empty, sit waiting for the next lesson on how to breach the door on a bad guy’s house. Agents even get a taste of how to deal with nosy neighbors.

We make our way back to the main academy building, the classroom building. Watch a class full of fit, good-looking, 30ish-year-old agents-in-training repeatedly slam one another to submission, muscle memories being made. The other room has several 45ish-year-old not-so-fit cops going through the National Academy. These guys are just starting their path to becoming some of America’s best trained, most fit, and well qualified police officers. They have some pain ahead of them, but every one of them is giving 100%.

Agent Y guides us through the maze of hallways, past the weapons locker, past the wall of fame, into a memorial plaza where the names and stories of fallen agents are honored. We stop and take pictures. The class of ’79 asks us to snap a few for them. Happily, we oblige.

Our final stop, as with any good tour, is the gift shop. Yes, they have a gift shop. And I have to admit that I was a bit kid-in-a-candy-shop. Now when I go to the Y for my thrice weekly strength training, I wear my new Under Armor shorts. They’re dark blue and have a simple three-letter logo on the left leg. Cool.

Steve and I load back into our nondescript ford. He sparks a match and takes a long pull on a new Marlboro. We are, three hours later, retracing our steps to the I-95 under a brilliant blue sky. On our left, to the north, the same group of Marines lets loose another barrage of .50 caliber pain on distant targets. Steve drops his cigarette in his lap.

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