By Tim Franklin moose Lake Star Gazette July 3, 2014

Some residents of Pine County are questioning Sheriff Robin Cole for taking part in a non-government training exercise in southern Minnesota last weekend.

A total of four members of the Pine County SWAT team were in Morristown last weekend with their MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) troop carrier for an event called Outbreak: Omega 6! at a Z.E.R.T. event.

Z.E.R.T. stands for Zombie Eradication Response Team.

According to its website, it is an organization that uses the Zombie as a metaphor for any natural or man-made disasters that will occur. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, criminal attacks, or any type of situation where being prepared, trained and, most importantly, armed with the proper mind-set, is required to see you and your family through to safety.

The Zombie Apocalypse theme is a bridge to many people who otherwise may not seek out traditional training courses, its website said. Through being a part of Z.E.R.T. they are exposed to many different opportunities for enhancing their skills. Participation in Z.E.R.T. training courses also creates safe students with a foundation in the basics that can be applied to courses and activities anywhere in the shooting/training world.

Members of Z.E.R.T. now span 35 different countries with over 4,000 members.

Outbreak: Omega 6! was the brainchild of DPMS (Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services), the website said, which designs and manufactures AR-15 rifles.

Training included rifle and pistol training.

The organization thanked the Pine County SWAT team for letting members use the MRAP at the team shoot it held.

According to Cole, they traded out with the organization to bring the MRAP down in exchange for working with instructors, who typically charge $1,000 per instructor. Cole said the training they received was valued at $4,500 in exchange for “a couple tanks of gas.”

Cole said the training they received was from special forces type of people and they were required to sign all appropriate waivers limiting the liability of Pine County in case something went wrong.

“We came out better on the deal,” Cole said, who spent two days in Morristown. “It was a good deal for the county.”

Some of the training they received included tactical training with the MRAP.

In a letter to the editor today, the letter writer said she saw some Facebook photos of “half naked women” and “guys drinking” at the event.

“If there are such photos, I would be highly interested in seeing them,” the sheriff said.

In October, Cole was able to acquire the MRAP from Fort Riley, Kansas, at a cost of $3,000 through Minnesota’s Homeland Security. Brand new, the machine cost $600,000.

At the time, Cole said he planned to use the diesel-powered vehicle, which has an 18,000-pound winch, for aiding search and rescues and supporting deputies in Pine County’s swampy, wet, backwoods areas, according to a newspaper article at the time. He is also planning to use the heated, air-conditioned MRAP when needed during winter storm emergencies.

The maximum speed of the 20-ton MRAP is 67 mph. It carries 80 gallons of fuel and gets 3-5 miles per gallon.

“This is like a gift from heaven,” Cole said at the time. “We could never have afforded this. It’s a pie in the sky wish.”

He is hoping for sponsorship of the vehicle to help pay for maintenance and fuel. Those wishing to sponsor the vehicle should contact the sheriff. He is planning to have names of sponsors displayed on the MRAP.

Cole said the SWAT team members said it was one of the best trainings they have gone through. The sheriff said the training budget is $20,000 per year, which doesn’t go far.

“If we can do some horse swapping, we do,” the sheriff said.

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