New Mexico Bomb Squad School

SOCORRO, N.M. -- A large basalt mountain just off Interstate 25 marks a frontier in America's war against terrorism. Marked with a large chalk "M" for a former mining school in the foothills below, Socorro Peak sits on former lead, silver and copper mines. Behind it is a 40-square-mile no-man's land of juniper and pinon trees that are on the front lines of America's high-stakes security drama.

For the firefighters and police officers who go there, their mission is clear: learn to investigate bomb explosions and related mayhem that could become part of the American landscape.

It's a future laden with payback for any American attack on Iraq that, according to one military columnist, "will surely activate thousands of Arab kamikazes coiled like rattlesnakes, waiting to strike us from 'sea to shining sea.' "

In case of reprisals, the battening down of hatches has fallen to several agencies, including the Response to Terrorist Bombing school in Socorro, directed by principal investigator Van Romero.

"What's happening in Israel is what we're looking at here," he said. "The suicide bomber is a very real threat. It is something we are planning for in the near future."

There is a yearlong waiting list for these weeklong classes in New Mexico's sagebrush country. Training sessions for the country's only large explosives-training program have increased fourfold since the September 11 attacks for droves of "first responders"