|North Carolina Department of Public Safety|
Pamlico prison plays part in military exercise
By Keith Acree
BAYBORO, Mar. 20 – For two days in March, Pamlico Correctional Institution found itself behind enemy lines, while fighter jets roared overhead, tanks and missiles stood guard outside the prison and Navy SEALs lurked in the nearby woods.
It was all a part of a joint training exercise involving U.S. Navy and NATO forces. The grounds outside Pamlico were one of many locations across coastal North Carolina utilized during the two-week exercise involving about 26,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines.
To people driving down the road past the prison, things certainly looked strange. Two Soviet-made T-72 tanks, a truck-mounted Scud missile and two SAM-6 surface-to-air missile launchers were visible peeking from the trees. A large antenna and mobile radar site were erected in the field in front of the prison.
The tanks and missiles weren’t real, they were full-scale fiberglass models called targets, equipped with propane heaters to simulate the exhaust heat generated by the engines on the real thing. The targets were the ‘mice’ in an elaborate military cat-and-mouse game designed to exercise the reconnaissance capabilities of the U.S. naval fleet. The 'friendly forces' were coordinated from aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, underway with her battle group about 300 miles off the Carolina coast.
The ‘enemy forces’ were civilian contractors who moved the targets around Eastern North Carolina, attempting to elude the ‘friendlies.’ "We move from day to day, we run and hide," said Paul Needham, an electronic warfare specialist from Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. "It’s fun to be the bad guys, it’s all part of the game."
Needham operated the radar outside the prison and also transmitted ‘enemy’ radio signals, potential intelligence to be intercepted by the fleet. "When I see the jets coming over, I’ll turn on the radar and ‘light them up’ to simulate a hostile action from an enemy missile site," he said. "They’ll have to react to that. We try to make it as real as possible."
From offshore, the fleet was conducting its reconnaissance on three levels, trying to locate the targets and determine the strength and position of the ‘enemy’ forces. Satellites in orbit passed hundreds of miles overhead using infrared cameras to penetrate the heavy cloud cover and detect the heat given off by objects below. In the air, Harrier jets made frequent passes over the prison, circling and taking photographs. Navy SEALs parachuted into the nearby countryside and moved through the woods to conduct close-up surveillance on the ground.
"The commanders told us we wouldn’t even know the SEALs were there," said Pamlico Superintendent Steve Muller. "But they wanted to know about it if we did spot one of them." Since the entire operation took place outside the prison’s perimeter fences, it was business as usual for Pamlico's inmates and staff inside the facility.
"It’s unique for the State of North Carolina and the Department of Correction, to take part in something like this with the Defense Department," said Muller. "But we’re glad to help in any way we can."
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