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Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski shows off a medal that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had just presented her.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski shows off a medal that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had just presented her. (Ian Duncan / The Baltimore Sun)

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski came to the Secret Service training campus in Beltsville on Wednesday to receive an award. But first the Secret Service put on a quick show for the outgoing lawmaker.

After Mikulski arrived the guests piled outside into the cold and put on protective goggles and earplugs. Soon, sirens blared and a caravan of black SUVs pulled onto a mock downtown street lined by buildings. Then a man started shooting.

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The scenario was what the Secret Service calls "attack on principal." That is, an attempt to kill the president.

Agents leapt from cars, rushing to the side of the street with rifles raised. They fired a barrage of shots at the attacker in the street and other men who appeared from windows.

Once the simulated emergency was all over, everyone went inside and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson presented Mikulski with his department's Distinguished Public Service Medal, which he said was the highest honor he could bestow on a civilian.

Mikulski said she was "deeply touched" to receive the award. She was initially reluctant to accept it, but agreed to do so if the ceremony was held somewhere outside of Washington.

"I don't want it in a room with a lot of rococo ... and looking like the gilded age, looking like, you know, a Downton Abbey movie set," Mikulski said.

And so she spent her Wednesday morning in a distinctly un-rococo auditorium with bare walls and harsh lights that doubles as a space to train Secret Service agents on how to deal with crisis in a hotel lobby.

Johnson said the last time he was in the building was just before he was sworn into office and got his protection detailed assigned. The Secret Service wanted to demonstrate their skills for him by way of an introduction and Johnson volunteered to play himself in an exercise.

"I'll never forget, the scenario happened and my feet literally left the ground as the Secret Service carried me away before I realized what was happening," Johnson said. "My son and my daughter thought it was very cool."

Among the other training facilities, where future Secret Service agents and uniformed officers spend more than three months being put through their paces, is another Main Street where trainees have to determine what's a threat and what is innocent behavior. Nearby is a re-creation of Air Force One. Or at least part of it — everything from the wings on back is missing.

There is one thing missing from the campus: the White House. At the end of the street where the demo from Mikulski took place is a building that serves as a stand-in, but the boxy structure doesn't look anything like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Secret Service is hoping to remedy that and plans to erect a real fake White House soon.

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