Border patrol trains on Range 3000

US Customs and Border Protection

Since the beginning of January, federal border patrol agents in southern Texas have been training on an advanced interactive firearms simulator tailored to unique confrontations they face.

"Our work is not metropolitan," said Agent Rey Diaz, public affairs officer with the McAllen Sector of the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. "We don't work in the city. We don't work on the highways. The majority of our work is out in the brush, out in desolate areas. So the scenarios have to be specifically tailored to situations the border patrol agent would encounter being on his own or with his partner."

This week, agents from the McAllen Sector are publicly demonstrating how the Range 3000 XP4, developed by Littleton, Colo.-based IES Interactive Training USA, helps them hone their skills. The simulator -- also used by the FBI, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Federal Protective Service -- depicts stressful scenarios agents could encounter, such as suspects with weapons.

Users stand in front of a large projection screen with untethered weapons and act -- including using verbal commands -- just as they would in real life. Such training, say advocates, helps law enforcement officials make better decisions in stressful situations.

Although agents at the McAllen Sector, composed of nine stations covering 19 counties along the Texas/Mexico border, have used simulators before, they didn't have customized scenarios depicting their particular challenges.

"We do arrest a lot of people," Diaz said. "The local police will arrest one or two individuals at one particular time. Our agents will make arrests -- 10, 15, 20 individuals -- at one single time. We make multiple arrests with one or two agents tops and then backup arrives a few minutes later."

About 1,500 agents patrol 17,000 square miles, including 284 river miles. So far they have created 15 different scenarios for the simulator, Diaz said.

The digital Range 3000 uses Microsoft Corp. Windows-powered trainers to branch scenarios and introduce variables depending on a user's actions. It is able to integrate nonlethal weapons, such as batons and pepper spray, which was a big selling point, Diaz said. It can also depict night scenarios when users will need to use a flashlight.

"There is no doubt that putting our agents through a stress course will enhance their abilities to handle high-stress situations," he said. "In fact some of them have commented...that this particular machine is much better than the previous one. They feel like the scenarios put them more in a more realistic environment and they're able to carry that into the training."

Housing the simulator in a trailer lets the bureau bring training to agents rather than having them go off-duty and drive up to two hours to receive training, which is then usually cut short. Instead, they will receive a full eight-hour course. Diaz said each agent would get training on the simulator at least twice a year. A simulator usually costs between $35,000 and $40,000.

He said he's heard of only one other border patrol sector using the Range 3000 because there is no mandate to use one system. But there is much more emphasis to use such advanced training.

"There's no doubt about it," he said. "We are part of the Department of Homeland Security and charged with stopping terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. A good majority of traffic is drug dealers. They have to move narcotics loads. That means a tremendous amount of money is being invested. That means they cannot take a loss. So we have encountered weapons in the past."

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