An elite group of Navy SEALs secretly crossed into Pakistan May 2 aboard stealth helicopters and raided the walled mansion of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Usama bin Laden.
Before the raid, the SEALs reportedly practiced on a near replica of the compound that was specifically built to prepare them for the dangerous mission. The results of that painstaking preparation are clear. Within 40 minutes of hitting the compound, bin Laden was dead, and no U.S. casualties were reported.
It’s certainly not surprising that the U.S. military practiced on a mock-up of bin Laden’s compound before conducting the raid in a far off, war-torn land. It is surprising, however, that similar training might be taking place right here in Ashburn.
Nestled within the warehouses and office spaces just off the Loudoun County Parkway, the Silver Eagle Group’stree-lined facade appears unassuming enough. But inside, the 65,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility contains firing ranges, self-defense training areas and a warehouse-sized “scenario house,” where federal agents and other “clients” practice a wide-array of tactical assaults in real-world situations.
As I entered the SEG facility for the first time last week, I noticed many of the sights and sounds that are common at any other gun range. The constant report of muffled small-arms fire could be heard through the lobby walls. Numerous people of all ages, races and genders walked around carrying guns as they bought ammunition, rented firearms or prepared for their range time. Several bearded Range Security Officers (RSO) patrolled the facility, both instructing and keeping a watchful eye on those shooting.
My tour guide was SEG supervisor Cecy Totten, whose petite physique, pleasant demeanor and lack of a beard belied her own abilities with a firearm.
Totten, a National Rifle Association RSO herself, first showed me the SEG ranges. All three ranges are open to the public including a 25-yard Tactical Range and a 50-yard range and can handle almost any lead you want to throw at them. Each range is certified to handle .50 Browning Machine Gun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M2_Browning ) rounds, a bullet originally designed as an anti-aircraft weapon.
The reason the SEG ranges can withstand such heavy firepower is the state-of-the-art backstop.
“Our backstop system is the best available,” said Totten as a nearby shooter unleashed a round from an AK-47 assault rifle.
The backstops are constructed of steel plates that are precisely angled to prevent ricochets and trap the incoming rounds. A specialized liquid waterfall flows over the trap to prevent sparking and capture tiny lead particles as the bullets hit the backstop. The waterfall and steel plates work together to direct all incoming rounds to a fully automated conveyor belt that carries the lead to large drums to be recycled.
SEG also employs a sophisticated range ventilation system, which significantly reduces smoke and lead dust in the air. Inside the ranges, a forced air system sends smoke and particulates downrange and through a ventilation system that utilizes High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. SEG is serious about keeping the facility as clean and lead free as possible.
“It’s not smoky in here like other ranges,” Totten said. “We had a ventilation problem one day and shut down the facility. That’s our policy.”
SEG is also serious about safety. There are strict range rules enforced by the ever-present RSOs. Each firing station is separated by bullet resistant glass and features a computerized targeting system that allows the shooter to position and retrieve targets with the push of a button without having to venture downrange.
The targeting system also allows shooters to adjust lighting levels and effects, and can be timed to simulate qualification shoots for law enforcement. Shooters can purchase targets at SEG or bring their own, with some exceptions set forth by Totten.
“We discourage people from using pictures of cute little puppies or ex-spouses as targets,” she mused.
Don’t own a gun but want to try shooting? Not a problem at SEG, where you can rent a wide variety of pistols and rifles, including the aforementioned AK-47.
Even with its high-tech firing range, SEG prides itself on being more than just another shooting range. Firearm training courses are available for beginners and experts alike, and SEG continues to expand its training sessions in other self-defense disciplines.
“We are a complete and total self-defense academy,” Totten said. “What if you lose your gun or your assailant takes your gun from you? We want to prepare you for those situations.”
SEG recently celebrated the grand opening of its mixed martial arts studio that features classes in boxing, muay thai, jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling, mixed martial arts and combat conditioning courses.
If that’s not exciting enough for you, SEG will be hosting an edged-weapons training course in June that promises to provide an obstacle course of knife versus knife fighting and techniques for taking on knife wielding assailants with your bare hands [Note: I just suffered a paper cut while writing this and thus am disqualified from the knife versus knife course].
But what really sets SEG apart as a total defense academy is its mammoth scenario house, which is currently not open to the general public. Inside, law enforcement, military and other SEG “clients” can take part in tactical exercises using simulated ammunition.
The facility’s 60-plus rooms are designed to replicate numerous real-life surroundings, such as schools, homes, night clubs and commercial aircraft, and can be used for training in tactics such as close-quarters battle scenarios, vehicle assaults, low-light assaults and rappelling. The scenario house is even equipped with closed-circuit television surveillance so that instructors can provide real-time feedback to those on the course.
After watching so many other people shoot for an hour, I sheepishly suggested to Totten that it would be really great for the article if we had a picture of someone using one of the ranges. After receiving a safety briefing from one of the RSOs, I was quickly on the range taking a few shots from a borrowed 9 mm handgun.
The range and computerized targeting system worked perfectly, and despite a couple flyers, Totten filmed as I put together a decent grouping on my first magazine (check out the video and judge for yourself!).
“You didn’t tell me you could shoot!” Totten said only half-sarcastically, I think.
Anyone interested in shooting and self-defense should take advantage of this great resource right here in Ashburn. For more information about SEG, including range fees and class schedules, please visit _www.silvereaglegroup.com.
About this column: The Ashburn Outdoorsman is an occasional column that focuses on news, information and stories about hunting and fishing for folks in the Ashburn area. The goal is to provide information to those who are, or may become, interested in hunting, fishing and related topics.