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Partnership brings about firing range agreement

Plans are underway at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center for a firing range on a 14-acre tract of land in the Ceres Industrial Park — the result of a combined effort on the part of Warren County and ERDC officials.

It was a project that began with a conversation about two years ago between Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace and Hank McDevitt, deputy to the commander at ERDC, about the center’s security guards needing a place to train and meet new training requirements set forth by the Army.

At the time, ERDC was leasing property along the Big Black River from the county for a range. The county gave the sheriff’s office a place to train, but it was not developed due to lack of funding.

More recently, McDevitt discussed the status of the county property, which had still not been developed.

“I asked about the possibility of ERDC leasing the property from the county,” McDevitt said.

During the April 17 meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, the approved leasing the site to ERDC for a range with the provision that the sheriff’s office also have access to the range.

McDevitt said he plans to make arrangements with Vicksburg Police to also have access to the range.

ERDC, McDevitt said, will be responsible for the range’s operation, safety and security, adding the range will be operated according to Army standards. It will not be open to the public.

He said sheriff’s deputy Maj. Randy Lewis, worked with Bradley Wilkes, with ERDC’s antiterrorism and force protection office, to determine the requirements of the sheriff’s department and ERDC, and took those requirements and adjusted them to the amount of available land to setting up the ranges, which includes a rifle range.

ERDC, McDevitt said, requires its officers to qualify with pistols and shotguns. Sheriff’s deputies, he said, are also required to qualify with rifle.

“This is a good situation between ERDC and the sheriff’s office as far as cooperation,” McDevitt said. “This happened to be where they had the land and we had the capability to help develop it, so it worked out as a good partnership.

“The sheriff’s office has always worked well with ERDC and this is taking it to the next level. We’re very appreciative for what the county and their attorney did. We have an MOA (memorandum of agreement) with the sheriff, and we are interested having an MOA with the police department.”

Presently, McDevitt said ERDC wants to get the property cleared and install a fence around the perimeter of the property.

Once completed, the range will be open with a cover. It will have 10 stations to qualify with pistols, five stations to qualify with rifles and an operations trailer for meetings, safety briefings and protocols.

Besides a final barrier, the range will also employ 12-foot tall compressed rubber blocks capable of holding up to 10,000 rounds behind each target. When one reaches its limit, he said, it is removed and recycled and another put in its place.

Wilkes said the pistol targets are computer-operated and programmed to turn, “So it gives a realistic approach. A paper target will be clipped on top and turn 180 degrees. When it turns toward the officer, that is when they shoot.”

Part of the reason for the targets, he said, is to meet new Army requirements, which require more movement by the officers during qualifying.

“You shoot and move on to the next target,” he said. “You reload while you’re moving, draw and fire. It’s more realistic.”

The shoot and move training, Wilkes said, requires that officers communicate with each other.

And having deputies and police officers training with the security guards, McDevitt said, will get the officers more familiar with each agency’s tactics.

“Both the sheriff’s office and the police department respond to calls out here,” he said. “It will allow our guards, and the deputies and police to cross-train so we would have a reasonable idea of tactics, so if something was ever to happen, they would have a similarity with each other.”

“This is a good step that will foster familiarity working relationship (between ERDC and the sheriff and the police department),” McDevitt said. “For us it (the agreement) answered big need, because we didn’t have the land, but we had the opportunity and experience to build a good range. The sheriff had the expertise to help us and help foster with the county the agreement for the property, so the timing worked out well.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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