ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Soldiers from the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological,
Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command and various government agencies came together at Aberdeen Proving Ground to train for the National Technical Nuclear Forensics (NTNF) Ground Collection Task Force (GCTF) mission during the first two weeks of March.
In addition to the 20th CBRNE Command Soldiers, the GCTF members include personnel from the Air
Force Technical Applications Center, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The NTNF GCTF Academics is a two week training program designed to prepare new task force members for mission assumption.
"The Soldiers learned the background of the NTNF mission, and their roles as GCTF members," explained Maj. Ted Stephens, a nuclear operations officer on Nuclear Disablement Team 3, and the DOD lead planner for the academics. "They learned their functions, as well as those of other task force members. We then trained the Soldiers specifically on their responsibilities during ground collection missions."
The mission of the GCTF is to collect samples from a detonation site for forensic analysis, which allows the U.S. Government to determine those responsible in the event of an actual attack.
"The purpose of this training is to be able to determine attribution in the event of an improvised nuclear device (IND) detonation by an entity who may not claim responsibility," said Stephens, who is from Benicia, Calif. "This is important because it ensures that the U.S. Government maintains a rapidly deployable and highly-skilled task force that can collect the required forensic evidence, which will enable a swift and effective response."
Stephens also oversaw the training with other members of the current ground collection task force such as Sgt. Ivan Franco, a decontamination team leader for a chemical response team assigned to the 68th CBRN Company (Technical Escort), 2d CBRN Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas.
"My role is teaching the incoming GCTF team ... to ensure they are doing it correctly, they are following proper procedures and maintaining their PPE (personal protective equipment), ensuring they get sufficient enough evidence and making sure everything goes well," shared Franco, a native of Houston, Texas.
The two-week training program included a week of classroom instruction on subjects such as roles and responsibilities, equipment familiarization, ground collection techniques, and chain of custody; followed by a week-long field training exercise allowing for a hands-on portion.
"We had academics last week in Aberdeen. They actually explained to us what every agency's part was and their responsibilities and how the mission functions," said Spc. Charles Babcock, a sampling team leader for 2nd Platoon, 51st CBRN Company, 83rd CBRN Battalion assigned to Fort Stewart, Georgia. "This week we got the hands-on for the FTX - I really liked the experience we got, this was great.
"This is the first mission that I got to run and I felt it went really smooth," continued Babcock, who is from Omaha, Neb. "I tried my best and I felt my team did really good."
Stephens agreed with Babcock's assessment of the exercise and emphasized the importance of the actual ground collection training.
"While all of the training that we do is important, the ground collection training is among the most valuable. This training provides our ground collection team members the opportunity to work together, refine their TTPs, implement best practices, and establish competence in their skills, which will ultimately contribute to more efficient and effective operations," he said. "This training was extremely successful. We were able to take personnel who had no previous exposure to the NTNF GCTF mission and train them to a high level of proficiency in their specified tasks."
While Stephens was the lead planner for the DOD, he worked with multiple agencies and was quick to recognize the importance of having experts from the other organizations involved in the planning, instruction, and execution of the NTNF GCTF Academics.
"The participation and support of our interagency partners contributed a significant level of experience and expertise to this exercise. They provided valuable insights and feedback from their perspective, which greatly benefitted our Soldiers and the task force in general," shared Stephens. "Our interagency partners are consummate professionals, and we look forward to maintaining the excellent working relationship that we have established with them."
Everyone was impressed with the overall training and the development of the incoming task force.
"The Soldiers' performance was superb. They had a great attitude and exhibited willingness and eagerness to learn new concepts," said Stephens. "The progress that they made during the training cycle was tremendous, and we have the utmost confidence in their ability to execute their required tasks."