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Arkansas has one of the top training centers in the world, one that equips students to deal with and overcome every conceivable threat.

The graduates of this intensive training include select military, Special Operations Forces, law enforcement tactical units, and other first responders. The goal is to prepare graduates to eliminate all threats, from a lone active shooter to complex coordinated terrorist attacks.

Direct Action Resources Center (DARC), a 750-acre facility, is nestled on an oxbow lake in central Arkansas, with only one very secure entrance. It's earned its reputation through a combination of purpose-built facilities and courses that utilize advanced teaching techniques and stressors that dramatically increase human performance in real operations.

DARC is more a human performance lab than a range. For example, a helicopter is mounted 40 feet above an authentically constructed north African village, which allows participants to fast-rope into training scenarios in the dark--wearing night vision goggles--to secure the village and manage casualties while incorporating explosive breaching on doors, windows, and walls.

Every aspect of the training is designed to replicate a situation that ground forces might encounter in real life. The center is unique in the multiple courses offered, such as sniper training or hostage rescue from the fuselage of a DC-9.

Realistic shoot houses with multiple rooms linked together by overhead walkways give instructors a bird's-eye view of trainees as they breach doors, maneuver, engage threats, and secure rooms. Every trainee has a zone within a room to cover; graduates learn to react properly to prevent criminals and terrorists from inflicting more casualties.

You're probably wondering how this facility happened to be located in Arkansas. It's a long story of determination and action that resulted in a training center where highly experienced Special Forces and SWAT personnel who, after completing the course, walk away amazed at the intensity, detail, and thoroughness that is packed into a six-day 96-hour program.

It's owned and operated by a man recognized by his peers as having one of the top training facilities and some of the best training programs in the world. He's known for his brutal 90- to 100-hour training weeks that reach an unheard-of level of sophistication and difficulty.

Want to enter a fortified building by going through concrete or brick walls? Well, just be sure your earplugs are in and stand back, because gaping holes in brick walls will happen quickly, and in real-life situations, there are many times where entryways aren't available and entry to stop a terrorist attack and save lives means getting to the bad guys as quickly as possible.

There have been a number of recent active-shooter situations around the country in which casualties would have been reduced if first responders had been able to breach walls when trying to confront the shooter.

Numerous organizations regularly train with DARC, realizing they must be able to respond to any conceivable threat, from a shooter running around in a school to a barricaded group of terrorists on a murderous rampage. The focus is to equip graduates to save lives when faced with large complex issues while under extreme stress.

DARC also has courses that are more classroom or gentlemanly oriented, like night vision instruction, counter-terrorism operations planning, and tactical supervisors' course (commonly and affectionately referred to as "spreadsheet sniper"). Rumor has it that spreadsheet sniper is one of the most difficult courses taught by DARC, due to the amount of detail covered and sheer volume of work required to complete it.

It takes a special individual to commit to achieving such a performance level, and the owner is one such person. After attending the University of Arkansas, our training facility founder became a Green Beret.

Joining this elite group of soldiers is a lot more than just signing on the dotted line.

Earning the right to wear the Green Beret requires some of the toughest training, performance testing, and selections in the world. Selection is three weeks of grueling physical and mental stress, which culminates with a timed marathon road march while carrying an 80-plus pound rucksack. Acceptance into final training has a 90 percent failure rate because of its intensity and performance standards.

As the founder of DARC was starting the last week of his selection, a large metal litter filled with over 200 pounds of sand plus a lot of rainwater was accidentally dropped on him--twice. This was during Hurricane Hugo, so conditions were extreme. Both of his feet were broken. He ignored his broken feet, finished selection, and was chosen to attend the Special Forces qualification course.

After his Green Beret training was over and he was assigned to a team, he completed other training programs like advanced urban warfare, explosive breaching, military free fall and mountain warfare school. He also graduated from scout swimmer school at Coronado, Calif., where he was attacked by sea life twice during an offshore drop far off the coast in the middle of the night. He said it had something to do with swimming through chum and a kelp forest.

The background of this seasoned veteran includes the long Afghan war where he was assigned as the commander in eastern Afghanistan. From direct action to hands-on contact with our enemies, he returned home determined to share some of the hard-learned lessons and experience to help others who go into harm's way.

Not all of his assignments were halfway around the world. When Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, the current CEO of Murphy Oil, Claiborne Deming, called him to lead a rescue of trapped Murphy Oil employees with varying degrees of medical issues and injuries.

A book has been written about his deployment to Afghanistan, titled The Warlord's Daughter by Susan Grant. The story is fiction, but it recounts some of his actual missions. Wondering which missions are fictional and which ones are real is an enjoyable aspect of the book.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm writing about my son, an El Dorado High School graduate, who collaborated with me in writing this column, providing military language, abbreviations, and relating real-life situations. I'm sure you realize it makes Vertis and me very proud parents of Richard Ashley Mason.

What he has chosen to do with his life is making not only our country but the world a safer place.

Email Richard Mason at [email protected]

Editorial on 01/12/2020

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