‘It felt very real’: First-hand look into Jonesborough high-risk security group extraction training

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JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – As technology changes, heightened security measures are sometimes needed for dangerous and challenging situations. News Channel 11 had the opportunity to get a first-hand look at how Harrell Group Security Solutions prepares for mission-specific, mitigation techniques.

“There’s live ammunition. There’s a helicopter there are people…communications, scenarios happening. A lot’s taking place…so, a bit overwhelming,” said Jeremy Ross, Thursday’s client in Harrell Group’s extraction simulation. “I could hear the communications, the timing, they could tell me exactly what was going to happen, when it would happen, and the coordinated parts and it instilled a lot of confidence.”

The situations they practice are something no one hopes for. Thursday’s scenarios: Principle Recovery and Evacuation.

“We’re a security solutions group that can do stuff as intensifying as what we did today or we can do fixed-site security, we can do security concerning all different aspects,” said Vince Salas, one of the co-owners.

During the first one at ETSU, the team practiced recovering and securing a subject from a building before calling a helicopter to evacuate them.

“We needed a helicopter to conduct this training as we did an ex-fill for some VIPs simulating a semi-permissive environment,” said Gregory Coker, the group’s air coordinator. “It’s very detailed planning and it’s literally weeks of planning to bring all the assets together and to set up the training, coordinating with local city officials, law enforcement, dispatch or 9-1-1, we used the parking garage at ETSU.”

The scenario was based on the person’s vehicle and security detail becoming disabled in a high threat environment. The PRE-Team was called in to get the person and the rest of the team.

“We’ll spend several days doing what we call ‘dry runs’ and we’ll set up different scenarios. We try to go to the objective area or the target or in this case the parking garage and we just simulate the aircraft landing, then getting off, then getting the principal or the VIP, securing them,” said Coker.

Thursday’s simulation was the first local training that included a helicopter.

“We really haven’t had a need but as our world continues to change, the helicopter asset is definitely a good tool for our tool bag so to speak. In the event that we need it, we trained on it and everybody’s familiar with it,” Coker said.

The company offers worldwide security solutions and mitigation techniques, based in Jonesborough, two of the owner’s hometowns.

“We’re mostly former military, mostly based out of the special operations community. We don’t have the exact training as law enforcement…nor do we need it,” said Mike Lewis, the company’s COO. “Law enforcement has a particular role to serve and protect. We’re just totally protect.”

Although they travel around the world providing protection, the owners take pride in working with law enforcement in the Tri-Cities.

“We are able to do a service to our hometown and we think that is very good and needs to be done,” Harrell said. “We’re not the sheriff’s department. We are not the police department but we do coordinate with them very very closely.”

While the pandemic has slowed many down, the Harrell Group has had one of it’s busiest years.

“There are a lot of folks who are scared about COVID for a lot of different reasons and they’re also worried that with this pandemic, they are subject to extra threats that they might not otherwise have,” said General Major Gary Harrell, the CEO.

Within the last year, the group has been called on to work several high-risk situations. Here are a few within the last year.

  • May 2020, Evacuation of College Students from Trinidad and Tobago.
  • May 2020, High-Level Executive Escort in La Paz, Bolivia
  • May 2020, Protection of a Fox News Correspondent in Wisconsin.
  • June 2020, Minneapolis, MN secured a High Valued Building in the City during rioting and protests.
  • June 2020, Medical Evac out of the Caribbean.
  • June 2020, Principle Recovery and Extraction out of a business in Johnson City TN during protests.
  • Aug 2020, Evacuation of a Lawyer in Santiago, Chile during civil unrest.
  • Sept. 2020, Armenia/Azerbaijan for High Threat Executive Protection and secure transportations services during a border dispute between the two countries.
  • November and December 2020 secured a local CEO’s residence.
  • January – May 2021, Provided Operations Managers, Logisticians, Security, and Paramedics to the State of Florida in an effort to manage, deliver and administer the COVID 19 Vaccination.
  • March 2021, Provided Supervisors to manage the Texas Juvenile Migrant Holding Camps.
  • April 2021, Provided security support to a local business during a protest.

“In the past year, we’ve been called up on…so many different things — everything from [medical evacuations] from the Caribbean to actually kidnapper/ransoms out of South America,” Lewis said. “Most of it involves a client maybe being seized in a building or a couple of different things could have happened they needed protection for and we provide that. Our main goal as Harrell group is security.”

The jobs are also statewide, including recently providing security for a Fox News correspondent.

“We get called up on VIP protection details and this particular client was down in Nashville, covering Nashville and they picked us up to provide close protection for their correspondent.”

While Thursday’s extraction took days of practice and preparation, it’s a situation the team is now ready for when the call comes.

“It felt very real. I don’t know how I would feel if it was but the adrenaline would be flowing. I think I would be relieved to be with the people I was with today,” said Ross. “I hope it’s never real. It’s one thing to simulate it but I will say for our region if we needed this, not just the ETSU, but anywhere in the region to know that our different agencies and people like the Harrell, group, police, and public safety departments are all coordinating is comforting.”

Scenarios like the one Thursday are only practiced a few times a year. The next one is expected to happen sometime in the fall.

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