YORK — Shots rang out across Naval Weapons Station Yorktown around 9 a.m. Wednesday.
A few seconds later, a sailor burst through the front doors of the medical clinic just inside the base's fences off Yorktown Road. On a cell phone he alerted base security officials that the shots were part of a training exercise.
"Exercise, exercise," he said. "This is an exercise. One female and one male came in with assault rifles."
Capt. Paul Haebler, who assumed command of the weapons station earlier this month, said the scenario was designed test the base's ability to contain and capture a gunman or gunmen opening fire. It also allows them to practice working with the York-Poquoson Sheriff's Office, York Emergency Services and the Nightingale Air Ambulance.
The exercise is part of a Navy-wide training called Solid Curtain-Citadel Shield. It is done annually and often with the assistance of one or more of the five localities surrounding the weapons station.
"You can't wait until an event happens to hope that you're prepared," Haebler said.
The base has never experienced a real-life situation to match Wednesday's training, Haebler said, so he wanted to make it as realistic as possible.
Two U.S. Navy police officers arrived with masks and assault rifles. As they rushed into the clinic, where at least one of the gunmen was holding hostages, simulated gunfire rang out and people screamed.
The radio Haebler had slug over his shoulder crackled to life. The military police inside the clinic reported there were six injuries.
Calls went out to York County, the mutual aide responder in Wednesday's exercise, and to Sentara's Nightingale helicopter in Norfolk.
Around 10 a.m., a group of York tactical officers arrived in an armored truck from the Newport News Police Division. As they exited the colossal vehicle, a third gunman, who had been hiding in a car parked outside the clinic, fired blank rounds at the officers. One fell as if he was hit.
The rest of the group rushed into the building with guns raised and carrying stretchers.
In the meantime, the helicopter had circled the scene and landed in a field just inside the Yorktown Road gate.
The gunmen were captured, then released — their part in the exercise was complete.