SANTA FE, N.M. - The 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command's Nuclear Disablement Team (NDT) 3 and Soldiers from the headquarters, headquarters company out of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and the 68th CBRN Hazardous Response Team out of Fort Hood, Texas, deployed with the National Nuclear Technical Forensic Ground Collection Task Force (NNTF GCTF) as part of Exercise Prominent Hunt 17-2, conducted in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, September 18-22.
The multi-agency exercise is part of a series of regularly scheduled biannual training exercises of the U.S government's NTNF GCTF that have been conducted since 2010.
The NTNF GCTF is comprised of operational components from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Defense (DOD), each assigned with specific roles and responsibilities to capitalize on the strengths of the respective agencies.
The purpose of the exercise is to provide the NTNF GCTF with an opportunity to practice and enhance their operational response readiness in the event of a terrorist initiated nuclear detonation anywhere in the United States or abroad. It also allows for evaluation of the 20th CBRNE Command's Ground Collection Team and the NTNF GCTF's capability to efficiently mobilize, deploy, plan, collect material and debris samples, and process and prepare those samples for transport to designated analytical laboratories in a post detonation environment - in addition to operating and coordinating with other state and federal agencies.
The exercise does not use actual radioactive materials and poses no danger to the public.
Preparing for such an event can take anywhere between six months to a year of constant communication between the agencies involved, according to Tim Brochu, training and exercise planner with the 20th CBRNE Command.
But how does an exercise such as Prominent Hunt, prepare CBRNE soldiers for a possible real-world event?
"Responding to an emergency like a nuclear detonation is not the time to exchange business cards," said Lt. Col. Patricia Roach, NTNF GCTF exercise director and Nuclear Disablement Team chief with the 20th CBRNE Command. "The Ground Collection Task Force exercise allows rotating DoD personnel to build working relationships with our interagency partners, as well as familiarization with this unique early post-detonation mission."
The knowledge and expertise from each of the agencies involved in the exercise is necessary in order to accurately and effectively determine the origin of a terrorist initiated nuclear detonation. The specific capabilities of the 20th CBRNE teams are no exception.
"20th CBRNE's NDT 3 is a nuclear specialty team. It deploys with nuclear engineers, nuclear operations officers, a health physicist, an ordnance officer and CBRN soldiers," said Roach.
The other team is 4th platoon of the 68th Chemical Company, a CBRNE Response Team out of the 48th Chemical Brigade. Both units join with communication and mechanical support elements from 20th CBRNE Command headquarters, said Roach. This combined team of specialty Soldiers provide the NTNG GCTF the expertise needed to complete the mission.
As with any type of training, there will always be challenges and room for improvement. One of the goals for PH 17-2 was to make interagency coordination better than it was in PH-17-1, said Maj. Erik Lewis, nuclear operations officer, NDT 2, 20th CBRNE Command. "As well as improving the ways we work and operate within the 20th," said Lewis.
Lewis was also a participant in Prominent Hunt 17-1 which took place in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia earlier in the year.
"While the overall mission of the exercise was the same, there was more emphasis on working with our international partners and strengthening our partnership with the State department," said Lewis.
"Many government agencies have their own vocabulary for the same thing and this can prove to be a challenge when working together in any training exercise," said Maj. Patrick Bradley, nuclear operations officer, NDT 2 of the 20th CBRNE Command. "I try to convey what I'm talking about in terms that everyone will understand when explaining a mission or specific procedure during the exercise."
Another challenge is working side by side with Soldiers and civilians, said Bradley.
"Soldiers tend to be more direct whereas, with our civilian counterparts, I sort of need to get a little more feedback from them because they are more mission oriented. There are a lot of standard operating procedures that Soldiers follow, but on the civilian side, I think many times they are learning. It also depends on the experience of the team," he said.
Prominent Hunt 17-2 was successfully conducted in coordination with the 244th Aviation Brigade/Army Reserve Aviation Command (ARAC), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Domestic Nuclear Defense Office (DNDO), National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center (NTNFC), DOE Remote Sensing Lab (RSL), Consequence Management Home Team (CMHT) and Aerial Measuring System (AMS), law enforcement from the New Mexico State Police Department, the New Mexico National Guard, and the FBI Albuquerque Field Office.