Security-training center proposed in Homeland
Press Enterprise (2007-03-19) Kimberly Trone
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More Info: Blackwater, Procinctu Group
The boulder-strewn hillsides of Homeland that he roamed as a child remind John Choate of the terrain in Afghanistan, where the former Navy SEAL served after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Now, Choate and seven other former special operations military personnel who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars want to turn 194 acres of Choate's family property into a private training center for military, police and government professionals, which would be called The Ranch.
Although he has been approached by developers, who want to turn the site into a residential subdivision, Choate said building the center would allow him to preserve most of the landscape he loves, while fulfilling a growing demand for such training.
A request to expedite the land-use permits for the center southeast of Perris is scheduled for consideration at 9 a.m. today by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors at 4080 Lemon Street, Riverside.
Supervisor Marion Ashley said he believes Choate's center would be the first of its kind in Southern California.
"This is a very valuable asset to have in the Homeland-Romoland area and in our county," Ashley said.
The center would bring an added benefit of an increased military and police presence that could help curtail crime and illegal dumping in the rural community, said Ashley, whose district includes Homeland.
Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said the state and federal governments provide his department with materials for homeland security training. But Doyle said deputies also could benefit from the training Choate offers.
"It's something we will definitely look at," Doyle said.
Plans for The Ranch call for an indoor firing range, administrative buildings, a gymnasium and covered pool, several mock streets to simulate a town and a tactical driver-training track of about 3½ miles.
The first phase of The Ranch will include construction of the driving track. The track has been designed to reflect the types of dangerous street conditions that troops in Iraq confront everyday, Choate said.
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department has a driving track. However, Choate said, it is often booked several months in advance. Navy personnel from Coronado are being sent to Texas for their training, and Choate wants to provide that training closer to home.
The layout is designed for smaller groups to teach survival in dangerous security situations. In contrast, larger urban warfare scenarios like the ones at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center accommodate hundreds of people and large weapons such as tanks, Choate said.
Story continues below
David Bauman / The Press-Enterprise
Former Navy SEAL John Choate displays a scale model of The Ranch, the private police, military and governmental agency tactical training center he plans to build on 194 acres of his rural property. "Our focus is homeland security. This is our passion," Choate says.
Rob Moran, Riverside County's economic development manager, said the center is projected to cost about $20 million and would create at least 25 permanent, full-time jobs at an hourly wage of about $40.
Choate, 33, is naming his project The Ranch, because that's what his family has always called the bucolic weekend getaway his grandfather bought 50 years ago, the Navy veteran said.
A couple of third-generation donkeys currently share the property with an old farm house, the rusting hulls of old cars and storage containers filled with items that Choate said his late grandfather couldn't part with.
Training Under Way
On Sunday, about a dozen khaki-clad special operations personnel from the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base near San Diego were on The Ranch, receiving training from Choate's staff in navigating unfamiliar territory.
Choate said his center will not be used to train overseas contractors, mercenaries or fringe groups. He said it could be used to train security professionals how to safeguard possible terrorist targets.
His company, Procinctu Group Inc., shunned outside investors because of concerns the center would be viewed as merely a profit-making enterprise, Choate said.
"There is a lot of money in the marketplace and a lot of weirdoes out there," Choate said. "Our focus is homeland security. This is our passion."
Procinctu obtained a loan for service-disabled veterans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Staff of Veterans
The company's seven full-time and three part-time employees are all combat veterans with honorable discharges, Choate said. Most have combat-related injuries, though none has been shot.
Procinctu currently trains about 175 Navy personnel a year in basic equipment and combat skills at the Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center near Riverside. When his center opens, Choate estimates a minimum of 400 people will receive training there each year.
Chief Deputy John Gollogly of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said Choate's group has been using the Clark center for training for the past 18 months.
"We are going to stay connected to them for our homeland security purposes," Gollogly said. "These guys have real expertise that we don't have and can provide training to us."
Ashley said there would be plenty of opportunity for the public to express its concerns on the project and that he would ask Choate to speak to local groups about the project as it unfolds.
"They will realize this is a significant project," Ashley said. "I think they will be good neighbors."
Reach Kimberly Trone at 951-368-9456 or ktrone@PE.com