By Clemens GainesMay 15, 2019
Soldiers from the Nuclear Disablement Team 3, 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, and the command's 9th CBRNE (TE) Company, 110th Chemical Battalion, 48th Chemical Brigade, joined representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Air Force Technical Application Center at Prominent Hunt 19-1 from Apr. 28-May 3.
The purpose of Prominent Hunt 19-1 is to provide the National Technical Nuclear Forensics (NTNF) Ground Collection Task Force (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 allows for evaluation of the 20th CBRNE Command's Ground Collection Task Force and its 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.
Also, the Soldiers on the GCTF get the opportunity to operate and coordinate with other state and federal agencies. This exercise is part of a series of regularly scheduled biannual exercises of the U.S. government that have been conducted since 2012. Prominent Hunt 19-1 was not conducted in response to any ongoing world events.
The NDT 3 team leader is Lt. Col. Christina Dugan, from York, Pennsylvania. "The team will serve on the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Ground Collection Task Force for six months beginning June 1," said Dugan. "During that time, we will all be on a two-hour recall."
The site of a nuclear explosion, as well as the downwind contamination field it creates, is considered to be a crime scene for the FBI. In the exercise scenario, DOE scientists used computer models, factoring in local wind, temperature and humidity conditions, to predict where fallout will occur.
Once the scientists identify likely contamination areas, the Soldiers went out to collect debris samples in a careful process that demonstrated both their academic and field training from earlier this year.
"I sent out a two-person ground collection team and a two-person rescue and recovery team on each mission," said 2nd Lt. Malinda Nickel, from Columbus, Ohio, the team leader for the 9th CBRNE (TE) Company from Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington.
"We wear two layers of Tyvek suits because if the first layer is ripped or contaminated, we have a second layer of protection. We check each other for any rips or suit tears before, during and after each mission," said Staff Sgt. Dylan Eby, from Akron, Pennsylvania.
At collection sites in lower Alabama and Mississippi, the Soldiers used a hand vacuum to gather up dust and debris. Holding the vacuum away from their body to avoid contamination, the Soldiers poured the material into a sample jar that identified the exact collection location. The teams collected debris from several locations and then returned to the central operations area called the Forward Operating Base (FOB).
The Air Force Technical Application Center and DOE specialists then began the process of nuclear forensics that can identify the manufacturing sequence, individuals, facilities and geographic location of that specific debris sample. This data would give the FBI vital information to identify who attacked the United States.
"We are looking to see how well we integrate with the FBI and DOE to make the mission go smoother," said Nickel. "I need to validate that the Soldiers have the skills to provide support in the real world. Were this to happen in my hometown, I want to know that we can work together."
Safety awareness is paramount for all exercise participants. Each day started with a briefing on how to handle vehicle breakdowns, driving over unfamiliar roads, environmental hazards (snakes, spiders), operations procedures, and casualty procedures. With daily temperatures in the 80s, hydration was important with bottled water always available.
Additionally, the 20th CBRNE Command's Soldiers received support from the Army Reserve Aviation Command with two UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft from Conroe, Texas. These aircraft provided a capability to detect simulated radiation on the ground, and command and control from the air.
The FOB also included a sophisticated radio communications system maintained by radio and satellite communications Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 20th CBRNE Command.
Local cooperation included daily escorts from Alabama and Mississippi sheriffs to ensure safety as the teams drove in suburban and rural areas in vehicles (Humvees) unique to those areas with Soldiers and interagency members fully dressed out in protective gear.
Prominent Hunt 19-1 was a culminating training event in preparation for their upcoming status as part of the NTNF GCTF.
"This exercise is the third event this year, including academic training and field work at a national laboratory site, to prepare the 20th CBRNE to become the on-call GCTF," said Dugan. "Prominent Hunt 19-1 confirms that we are trained and ready."