Categories: Business

New business turns mall basement into military training ground

The dim red light shines on the faces of the soldiers as the armoured personnel carrier rattles through the streets of the city. Suddenly gunfire starts up, the machine gun goes off on the roof, and grenades explode nearby.

The carrier backs into a collapsed building and the people inside know that soon enough the ramp will go down and lead them into battle. They are faced with a decision: run into the streets, or break through a door on the side of the building, not knowing who’s waiting inside.

That’s the scenario Scott Collacutt and Frank Williamson had in mind when building Force on Force Tactical Training Ltd., a facility focused on military and police tactical training, but also for recreational use.

The red light is real, the ramp is real and so is the carrier, though this one’s built from wood – a square box with benches on each side seats about eight people. The sound comes from loudspeakers.

Frank Williamson walks through the dim-lit room in the basement of Grandin Park Plaza, where they set up their business. Everything in here is made from wood – a small town, a church, an office complex and a prison with cells.

“It’s basically house-to-house training. It keeps you sharp because around every corner someone could be waiting for you,” Williamson said.

“We have doors you can kick off and we can simulate day and night time, make fog and sounds.”

There’s a wall mural displaying a French cafĂ© and shops. In another corner, a painter will eventually create New York’s skyline, missing the twin towers, and a Middle Eastern scenery.

Williamson and Collacutt were both members of the forces once – Collacutt a trainer for 21 years, with seven tours under his belt. He retired from his position in 1991 and said that’s when he first came up with the idea for the indoor training facility. By now the facility has six partners sharing the finances.

“There is a need for training, yet training as Canadians is sort of frowned upon because we are such a peaceful country,” Collacutt said.

“When I was first in, there was an endless budget for blanks, some grenades, stun grenades… and by the time I released we were running around going bang, bang, bang and pointing at people. It is pretty embarrassing.”

It is not only military and police personnel who can train here. Collacutt remembers taking a journalist through sniper alley in Sarajevo and constantly reminding him to stay with the group of soldiers.

Essentially, he said, the training is important for everyone – from Corrections Canada, to security services and firefighters. Making them nervous by playing loud sounds is only part of preparing their senses for what’s to come in real life.

Collacutt said he and Williamson are both tired of watching young soldiers and police officers die or finding themselves unable to act right due to a lack of training.

“The people who come here, we want to show them the better skills for entering homes, for crawling through spaces, for looking for explosives,” he said.

“There’s people who do certain jobs that have to be trained and these people do what no one else wants to do. Not everyone can be a firefighter and we need to have these people trained.”

About 20 people at a time can use the facility for training purposes. Hostages and enemies can be provided to give the training a more realistic feeling. Force on Force even employs a number of former military trainers who can come in to teach.

Instead of paintballs, participants can use either reusable balls or airsoft guns – replica firearms that fire plastic pellets – and can be trained in close quarter battle, security and other non-lethal training.

Williamson said while some people already use the facility, the official opening is planned for Oct. 12. That’s when they hope to invite military and police personnel to view the grounds, he said.

“We intentionally have not approached the training officers yet to give us a chance to make a good impression. But some actual soldiers have already come in to train,” he said.

For those looking to get a sneak-peak, recreational players and trainees can already book appointments at 780-569-5181. The cost for someone without gear is $25. With gear, the first hour costs $15 and $10 for every following hour.

Generally, the owners advise groups to be between 10 and 20 people.

Viola Pruss: