Training Day

Covert-ops fantasy camps used to be shoot-em-up playgrounds for upwardly mobile businessmen with itchy trigger fingers. Since September 11, the war games have turned painfully real.

(Details, 2001. Photos: Alex Tehrani)

“GO AHEAD,” hisses the man with the .40-caliber Glock. “Make a move.” My arms are raised above my head; a gun is inches from my face. If this were a stickup, I’d just hand over my wallet. But this maniac isn’t interested in money. In the next few seconds I have to make a choice: Fight back or take a slug in the skull. Hesitation is the killer. In a flash, I slap the gun with my right hand, pivot, and thrust the barrel up and in with my left. By the time my assailant pulls the trigger, my body’s out of range, and I’ve snapped back his wrist – nearly breaking a fat little finger – just as the gun goes CLICK. “Not bad,” sniffs Dennis Hebler, a 58-year-old Army Special Forces vet with more confirmed kills than a Rambo double feature. Hebler, who’s just played the part of Mr. Terrorist, now has a gun pointed into his considerable gut. “Now you can squeeze it,” he says flatly, “and take me out with my own weapon.”

Good thing the gun isn’t loaded.

On a former Army Air Corps base in the desert outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, disarming a murderous hijacker is all part of a day’s work. Here, over the next three afternoons,  I and 47 fellow students – many of whom are big-time CEOs or eat-or-be-eaten entrepreneurs – will engage in hand-to-weapon combat, target shooting, evasive-driving maneuvers, and more than a dozen other lethal skills that make up the anti-terrorism crash course known as Covert Ops.

These days, Covert Ops is one of the few American businesses that are actually booming. Until recent events, the operation was basically a goofy Arizona spy-fantasy camp for lawyers, doctors, office-bound bankers, and other warriors willing to pay $3,795 for a James Bond weekend. Today, with rumors of more attacks still to come, this fantasy has taken on a decidedly less escapist feel. It seems that steel-belted cojones may be required to survive in the post-September 11 world. The Covert Ops folks understands this.