Military Training Center Eyes the Flathead Valley

The facility, if developed, would offer a full slate of opportunities for training for military and first responders

By Dillon Tabish
Michael Vaden, founder and CEO of the Gryphon Group, presents to a group at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell on Oct. 12, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Two private companies devoted to training U.S. military and first responders have teamed up for possible plans to develop a training center in the Flathead Valley.

Company officials with Advanced Airborne & Counter Operations Group (AACOG), a Montana corporation established in 2016, and Gryphon Group, a North Carolina-based military training company, have expressed interest in leasing local land and building a large facility that could offer specialized training to the Army, Navy, Air Force and other federal agencies, as well as local search and rescue crews and first responders.

Gerald Auch, who formed AACOG with his fiancé, Pamela Lande, said the Flathead Valley provides ideal accommodations for their work, including weather and geographical conditions.

“When it came to the Kalispell-Marion area, it all fell into place,” he said last week during a presentation at Flathead Valley Community College facilitated through Montana West Economic Development.

The facility, if developed, would offer a full slate of opportunities for training, including advanced airborne free-fall operations, wilderness advanced medical training, a military tactical base, tactical rock climbing and swift-water crossings.

Auch said he would hire five to 10 full-time employees in the first year.

Michael Vaden, the founder of Gryphon Group who served in the U.S. Marine Corps’ special operations team and intelligence units, said his company has trained more than 30,000 American warfighters and federal agents in the last 16 years.

He said the goal of the company is to help increase mental and physical preparedness for the men and women going into combat and serving their country. This includes focusing on decisions made under fire and under combat stress.

Gryphon Group currently runs a 500-acre “full-spectrum” facility, called the Fort Bragg Combat Training Center, in North Carolina. Vaden said the group has nearly 3,000 people registered for training this year and he has wanted to expand to the Western U.S. with a new facility, which is why he is planning to team up with Auch and Lande to look at developing a site in the Flathead.

Vaden said last week’s informational meeting was intended to be an introduction to the community and the first step in a process that could hopefully lead to the emergence of a local training center. The group is open to new investors and is looking into possible land for the site, as well as studying necessary zoning permits.

“This is just the beginning of the conversation,” he said.