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NEWS | Aug. 2, 2006

Abandoned state hospital reborn as Guard training center

By Sgt. Jim Greenhill National Guard Bureau

MUSCATATUCK, Ind. - An abandoned mental hospital that might be a good setting for a B-grade horror movie is actually a unique Indiana National Guard asset that leaders say has world-class potential.

You'll not find a training venue that provides these capabilities and these opportunities to train a brigade combat team in an urban environment," said Lt. Col. Ken McAllister, site manager for the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC). "This is a top-rank facility, not just for the Indiana Guard but the National Guard as a whole."

The 70-building training center started life in 1919 as the Indiana Farm Colony for Feeble Minded Youth, later renamed the Muscatatuck State Developmental Center.The sprawling, art deco-influenced complex in south-central Indiana was one of the venues for XCTC 2006.

XCTC is the Exportable Combat Training Capability that National Guard officials expect to make it possible to train entire battalions for combat duty in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan without having to go to one of the Army's three permanent combat maneuver training centers in California or Louisiana or Germany. XCTC 2006 was the second proof-of-concept exercise for the new training. The first was held last year in Kentucky.

During XCTC 2006, units from the Indiana Army Guard's 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team spent three-day stints at the MUTC, tackling scenarios that included snipers firing from rooftops, bomb makers holed up in buildings and encounters with civilians on the battlefield.

Camp Atterbury – a National Guard training and mobilization center about 45 minutes north of the MUTC – was the main base of operations for the XCTC. The distance between the two was perfect for practicing convoy operations, commanders said.

Meanwhile, with Jefferson Proving Ground perhaps an hour's drive east, trainers have used all three venues together, McAllister said. Helicopters take off from the proving ground, a former weapons testing facility.Troops are inserted at the MUTC to practice urban warfare. The helicopters fly on to Camp Atterbury for separate exercises, later returning to one of a half-dozen MUTC landing zones to extract the troops.

Marshall Townsend was deputy exercise director for the XCTC.

When he saw the MUTC, Townsend saw training opportunities: an on-site power plant, 2,900 feet of tunnels connecting buildings, and nine miles of roads.

The MUTC has all the characteristics of a small town. Features include the 180-acre Brush Creek Reservoir, 487 acres of forest, 115 acres of abandoned fields and 1.2 miles of the Vernon Fork of the Muscatatuck River.

"It's a great asset," Townsend said. "It's unique. We're able to turn this into a city. You can isolate it. You can create your own training environment."

As a trainer, Townsend can use buildings as varied as a school, hospital, church and detention facility to create scenarios.

Many of the buildings have basements. Buildings vary from single-story to up to five floors and construction types vary from mobile homes to brick and concrete. The elevators still work. The uses of the more than 2,000 rooms amounting to more than 860,000 square feet of indoor space are limited only by a trainer's imagination. Much of it – including the hospital and school – includes original furniture that adds to the realism.

"You've got all levels of urban warfare you can train," Townsend said. "You don't find stuff like this, this complete and extensive."

The complex has been used by other agencies, including special operations groups, law enforcement agencies, emergency responders, civil support teams, special tactics squadrons, weapons research groups and others.

More than 16,000 people have used the facility since the Indiana National Guard took it over in July 2005.

"A company just doesn't have an impact," said Townsend about the size of the facility. "You could train a brigade combat team here."

At its peak in the 1950s, the MUTC was home to more than 2,100 residents. Gov. Frank O'Bannon closed it in 2001, and the last resident left in 2005.

In 2004, the cost of leveling the facility was estimated at up to $60 million. But the Indiana National Guard saw the potential for it to become the nation's premier urban warfare training facility.