A Falls Church philanthropist and the son-in-law of former president Gerald R. Ford said yesterday they plan to build an antiterrorism school in rural Culpeper County that would teach executives and government officials how to fend off surprise attacks.
George Kettle, a wealthy real estate broker who recently promised to put 60 District sixth graders through college, and Charles Vance, a former Secret Service agent who married Susan Ford, hope to open an elaborate $1 million self-defense academy that would teach such things as firearms, explosives and evasive driving.
But even before the first practice shot has been fired, the school has made enemies. A dozen reluctant neighbors went before the Culpeper County Planning Commission last night and told officials they had many unanswered questions about the school. The commission postponed action on the school's request for a special use permit until September.
Culpeper is about 50 miles southwest of Washington.
"Once they get their foot in the door, what's going to come next?" asked Thomas Osbourne, a farmer who lives near the school's proposed location. "My son used to live near a firing range, and he and his neighbors wound up with bullet holes in their houses. Once they get started here, we're worried about where those bullets are going to go."
Vance, who has been in the private security business for about eight years, countered concerns of neighbors. "This is not a real shoot-em-up, bang-em-up thing," he said. "We're teaching people how to protect themselves, not how to attack. There's a basic difference."
According to Vance, the school would include a small-arms firing range, a mile-and-a-quarter oval track for driver training, an area for detonating small explosives that resemble car bombs and a classroom. The campus would occupy about 117 acres, he said, and the site's remaining 263 acres would remain undeveloped as a buffer between the school and surrounding farms.
The school's potential students include high-level businessmen and diplomats assigned to foreign countries where terrorism is a threat, Vance said. He said the school would not enroll members of paramilitary or mercenary groups and would not teach offensive combat techniques.
"There already is some misconception about what we're going to be doing based on bad information that has been circulated," Vance said. Paramilitary training "is not our expertise and we don't want to get involved in it."
Vance, who met his wife while he served in the Secret Service detail protecting her father, first opened a private security firm in 1979. He said his current business, Fairfax County-based Vance International, employs about 125 people and provides security services for the embassies of several "friendly foreign governments." Vance said he has provided antiterrorism training at temporary sites in West Virginia and Maryland.
Kettle garnered widespread attention last month when he promised to pay for the college education of 60 sixth grade pupils of Winston Educational Center in Southeast Washington.
Kettle said he had known Vance for some time, but only recently joined Vance in the proposed antiterrorism venture. Both Vance and Kettle estimated the cost of the school, including land, to be at least $1 million.
If the school is to be built, a special use permit must be approved by the Culpeper County Planning Commission and the county Board of Supervisors. County Planner Christopher Mothersead has recommended that the permit be approved, but said yesterday that opposition from other residents poses a serious threat to the proposed facility.