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‘Raven’s Challenge’: Bus explosion just one intense part of state’s largest law enforcement training event

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It’s 53 bomb squads from 23 states, and it’s called “Raven’s Challenge”, named for the 81st infantry of  the National Guard and historical ties to George Washington.

Special Agent Brennan Phillips is an explosives enforcement officer with the ATF and oversees this enormous operation. “We have a number of scenarios here, some of them are transportation related, so a bus scenario, a mass casualty, how we would deal with that, and of course that’s happened around the world,” said Phillips. It’s here they share intel and techniques learned from across the globe.

Trooper Mark Soper is a bomb squad commander for the Washington State Patrol and explains his part in the varying scenarios, and one very intense device. “It’s called a “boot banger.” The reason they call it that is because over in England, what we usually call a “trunk”, they call it a “boot” over there,” Soper explains. It allows bomb squads to disarm an explosive using water which has less heat. The device helps preserve evidence. It’s a technique that law enforcement officers can teach military personnel and in turn, agents get some important information of their own.  “The kind of cross training between the different units, so we want to capture all of this great knowledge that the military E.O.D. guys bring back from overseas. So if they’ve served in Afghanistan or served in Iraq or both, they’ve become quite the practitioners in dealing with high-risk I.E.D. situations as opposed to the law enforcement guys who are very attuned to dealing with hazardous situations in urban environments among our communities to get in there without causing much disruption.”

And training like this allows for operations to run more smoothly when worst case scenarios play out in the real world. Brigadier General Chris Fowler with the Washington Army National Guard explains. "We also have responsibility here at the  homeland for domestic operations, natural disasters, terrorist events, and so it’s in those capacities that we really work well with local law enforcement  and other first responders and that’s where this training really becomes necessary.”

It’s a week of intense drills designed for safer outcomes and better response in the most critical times.

Special Agent Phillips adds, “If we have to do counter-I.E.D. operations on any kind of scale, we’re going to need to work together because that’s a fairly limited resource, but we can really maximize it by training together."