A Look at the DOS Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County

Posted: 12:50 am EDT
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Below is excerpted from the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County.

In April 2014, the earlier DOS selection of the proposed site for FASTC at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County was reaffirmed at a reduced scope of requirements. The project would proceed as a hard skills only facility, including driving tracks, mock urban environment, explosives training, and firearms training. The reduced scope included the elimination of the dormitories and dining facilities, reducing the size of certain training venues, and the removal of soft skills training. According to the EIS, an extensive site search process evaluated more than 70 potential sites in proximity to the Washington, D.C. area including federal facilities, military bases and private properties.

Fort Pickett was established in 1942 as a World War II training camp. Fort Pickett has been primarily used to provide training facilities, maneuver training areas including live fire artillery ranges, installation operations, and mobilization support for U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard units, as well as all branches of the U.S. military. Fort Pickett encompasses approximately 45,148 acres, of which 45,008 were identified as no longer required by the U.S. Army by the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The remaining 140 acres were identified as a U.S. Army Reserve enclave. VaARNG has operational control over approximately 42,000 acres of Fort Pickett through a 1997 facility land use agreement. Fort Pickett is currently used as a Maneuver Training Center. Approximately 2,950 acres were not needed for military uses and were deeded to Nottoway County in 2000 for use in the economic development activities of the LRA (Schnabel Engineering 2010).

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As recently as several days ago, the hill.com covered this project’s struggle in Congress, Two years after Benghazi, State battles lawmakers over training site for agents.

According to the State Department, the FASTC would fill a critical need, identified in the 2008 report to the U.S. Congress and re-affirmed by two independent panels in 2013, for a consolidated security training facility.

Below is a quick chronology of the project:

  • July 2011 -Selected Fort Pickett and began Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Master Planning efforts
  • October 2012 –Released Draft EIS for full scope FASTC
  • December 2012 –Completed Master Plan for full scope FASTC
  • February 2013 –DOS decision to reduce scope of FASTC to hard skills only
  • Early 2013 –Project activities placed on hold while additional due diligence conducted
  • April 2014 –Administration decision to move forward at Fort Pickett

Here are the components of the FASTC as excerpted from the Final EIS:

High Speed Driving Track Area

The High Speed Driving Track Area would be used for driver training in various conditions including normal driving, emergency driving, and flooded conditions. Training would consist of 810 drive track operations per day with cars traveling up to 100 miles per hour and would include approximately 600 simulator (flash bang pyrotechnics) operations annually. The following facilities along with associated surface parking would comprise this area:

D02 High Speed Anti-Terrorism Driving Course – 550-acre facility consisting of three separate tracks, two lanes wide, ranging in length from 1.6 to 2 miles long. The tracks would be closed loops with a variety of turns and elevation changes to replicate different driving conditions. The course would include skid pads and ram pads.

D02a, b, c Classroom Buildings – Each of the three High Speed Driving Tracks would include a 30- person classroom building, support facilities, and a 15-space parking area for staff. Classrooms would be located close to the tracks and include covered bleacher seating.

Off-Road/Unimproved Driving Track Area

The off-road/unimproved driving tracks would be used for training drivers in off-road and unimproved road conditions. Driver training would consist of 24 operations per day (7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) plus 8 operations during the nighttime hours (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.). The Off-Road/Unimproved Driving Track Area would consist of unpaved tracks through forested areas and classroom buildings, including: an Unimproved Road Driving Course, an Off-Road Driving Course and two classrooms.

Mock Urban Training Environment

The Mock Urban Training Environment area would consist of three distinct, but interrelated, simulated urban training environments that would provide scenarios for students training for protecting humans transitioning between vehicles and buildings in a setting similar to a typical high-density urban environment. The three areas, Mock Urban Driving Course (D03), Explosives Simulation Alley (E04), and Mock Urban Tactical Training Area (T02), would be designed to function separately or together for maximum flexibility with the courses.

This will include a Mock Embassy, a compound of buildings that would be modeled on the U.S. Army’s Military Operations on Urban Terrain facilities. Buildings would model banks, restaurants, theaters, and residences. Also included is a Smoke House, a three-story, fabricated building configured as a training facility specifically fabricated and configured for training non-firefighting personnel on procedures for safe escape and evacuation of a building, as well as limited entry, search, and rescue training for law enforcement and rescue personnel. Students will practice different exercises to gain confidence in methods of escapement from a burning building.

Explosives Training Environment

The Explosives Training Environment would consist of an Explosives Demonstration Range (E02), Post-Blast Training Range (E03), and Explosives Breaching Range (E05).

Firearms Training Environment

Students would train in the Firearms Training Environment in the use of firearms including pistols, rifles, machine guns, and shotguns. Total estimated activity at all the firing ranges would be more than 6 million rounds annually, normally between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Firing range buildings would be designed to ensure acceptable noise levels in adjacent areas inside and outside of the buildings.

Service Area

The Service Area would consist of support facilities for centralized delivery, storage, and maintenance needs related to internal infrastructure and operations throughout FASTC.

Driver Training Maintenance Area

The Driver Training Maintenance Area would provide centralized vehicle storage and maintenance facilities supporting all of the driver training activities for FASTC.

Ammunition Supply Point

The Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) would provide storage for ammunition and explosives used at the Explosives Training Environment, Firearms Training Environment, High Speed Driving Tracks, and Mock Urban Training Environment.

Proposed Timeframe for Development of FASTC

Due to the substantial size of the entire project, FASTC would be designed in five separate packages and constructed in three to five phases, depending on funding, over a five-year period. Package 1 would include venues essential to commence operation of the FASTC training program and construction would begin in the summer of 2015, prior to the expiration of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding in September 2015. Package 1 would consist of construction activities that completely avoid impacts to regulated wetland areas and could be constructed prior to completion of the ongoing wetland permitting process. Training venues would begin to operate in 2016 with approximately 10% of training operations underway. Construction of Packages 2 and 3 are estimated to begin in the fall/winter of 2015/2016 and Packages 4 and 5 are estimated to begin in the fall/winter of 2016/2017. By 2018, all training venues fundamental to the FASTC training program would be in place, and 90% of the training program would be operational. By 2020, 100% of training would be operational. Phasing schedules continue to evolve and would ultimately depend on timeframes for design and appropriated funding from Congress, but they are estimated in this Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for purposes of analysis.

Proposed FASTC Student and Staff

During the first year of training operations in 2016, average attendance at the facility would be approximately 60 students daily, and approximately 1,000 students would be trained annually. Sixty percent of the training would occur between May and September. The number of students would increase as FASTC becomes fully operational. Between 2018 and 2020, at full operation, average daily attendance would increase to 600 students, and approximately 9,200 students would be trained annually. The average training duration would be approximately 14 days.

Concurrent with the increase in the number of students, the number of staff would also be anticipated to increase over the five-year construction period. Beginning in 2016, the transfer of the Security and Law Enforcement Training Division with limited administrative support and tactical training support from other facilities would occur. With anticipated movement attrition in present staff levels, plus the need for additional facility support staff, DOS estimates that approximately 21 already filled positions would be relocated in 2016. Approximately 12 positions, including information technology specialists, contract  and finance specialists, budget officers, program officers, and security would be filled locally. Service contractors would provide buildings, roads and grounds maintenance, housekeeping, and repair.

Between 2017 and 2020, an additional 191 staff would relocate and 115 employees would be hired for a total staff of 339. Some transferred employees would include administrative and technical support, and instructional systems management staff. Other employees, such as physical fitness, information technology, instructors, and maintenance would be hired locally.

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9 responses

  1. How are DS Agents doing out of cone FSO tours absurd? They happen quite often, especially amongst tandem Agent couples. And what about ARSOI’s? I’ve seen them work the line like every other Consular Officer. Head on over to post profiles or google the current Ambassador to Botswana. He has a relevant bio.

  2. Agreed with BDG about the DS “drop in” on FSO roles is both absurd and snobby. Unfortunately, it’s a pervasive, yet extremely faulty belief. I’ve seen great agents, and I’ve seen horrible ones. Very much the same with FSOs. Sorry. I love the camaraderie each “side” may have, but to disparage the other serves zero purpose and is absolutely false.

    Disagreed regarding the stance on the subject of DS agents being trained too much (at a high cost) on skills that are rarely used. The fact is that you want those that are responsible to carry out such tasks to be trained. You’re talking about life safety. I don’t want an operation to save my life (or loved one) to fail because an agent was not trained in the required skill. Just like firearms, agents don’t fire live rounds outside the training environment hardly ever, but that does NOT mean agents should not be trained on firearms at a much lesser degree. Makes no sense. If we’re talking about life safety, then we must train those responsible on all aspects they “may” have to utilize, to include guards and local personnel overseas.

  3. Last I knew, and when I went through, DS Agents participated in “CITP,” the Criminal Investigator Training Program, at FLETC…the same uniform program all 1811’s attend (??). In fact, I believe most other 1811’s stay there longer than DS Agents as they conduct add on training there.

    I would deny the frat boy thing but admit to being insular…how could you not be when your job often puts you at odds with the rest of the community (understandably so…we have to tell folks ‘no’ a lot) and may require that you investigate folks and know personal information about them? Also, cops know cops and unless you work with/near them day in and day out, the culture is foreign and vastly different than the rest of the Department, good or bad.

    I would also echo what both prior commenters say…that the EER process doesn’t recognize value in demonstration of hard skills/tactical prowess or planning; doesn’t mean DS Agents are over trained. Flip side is that the ARSOs will typically be doing a lot of work in which they utilize that tactical training….either training local staff, managing response plans or conducting security operations themselves. They also do a lot of desk work, which may be highlighted in the EER…not too sure about just making stuff up or finding EER projects…not any more than an ECON Officer or GSO. Also, that is typically baseline training and the training an Agent receives changes throughout a career.

  4. The fact that Amb Lippert uses security provided by GOK is supporting my point, that DS receives training and then are not allowed to use it because they are preempted by other agencies/governments from doing so. From a cost perspective, they are over-trained.

    DS agents can not just “drop in” and be FSOs, that’s an absurd thing to say and speaks to not understanding what FSOs do. And rather snobby too. But one commonality is that DS falls prey to the same thing FSOs do, pandering to the EER by choosing to focus on tasks that support it as opposed to doing a job thoroughly. That’s a huge flaw of the review process, not a slam against doing it since it’s rational to do so. But for DS it means a lot of focus on things that are “check off the list building security/get the brakes checked on the suburban tasks” rather than true security measures. Tasks that don’t take advantage of all that expensive tactical training, i.e. there’s that overtraining thing again.

    DS receives an exceptional amount of training (and they are at FLETC longer than a lot of other 1811s), and I still contend that they don’t get to use it, that unless they come with a tactical background and a cool head, it often is misused/substandard. Building a new training center is a cost – and a large one if it’s just for FACT (unless that cost is offset by charging other agencies for using FACT for their employees) … but still, that’s a huge cost just for FACT and for more tactical training for DS agents that are rarely called upon/allowed to use it.

    And the frat boy atmosphere on agent-heavy assignments is real. I’ve lived it, witnessed it, been a victim of it. Just think, what if I’m a DS-affiliated person commenting? Does what I say then carry more weight?

  5. What Domani S says – Different details for different locals.

    As a very low crime, low threat post, Lippert was provided security by the Government of Korea.

    FASTC is for all DOS employees including DS agents and local embassy staff. Additionally, foreign security personnel participating in the Anti-terrorism Assistance program will be trained there as well.

    DS Agents do not spend more time at FLETC than any other federal agent. They do spend more time in training (7 months in Basic Specia Agent Class, a part of which is at FLETC) and an additional 11 weeks in high threat training. DS agents have a wider, more varied work portfolio than any other federal law enforcement agent. As far as frat-boy atmosphere, as with many military and law enforcement agencies, DS agents become brothers and sisters. It doesn’t take many near misses to realize that while the rest of the embassy is locked in the safe haven, you will be out on the street.

    As far as EERs go, I would note that DS agents do do everything that FSOs do. You could drop a DS agent into the role of any FSO but not the opposite without all of that training (and some might argue even then). What are the differences between DS agents and FSOs? guns and PT.

    I might agree with BDG that there are some DS agents who came on long ago and don’t have the desire to fulfill the tactical requirements at a post. If that is the case at your post, look at the DS agents assigned as ARSOs. They are doing the planning behind the scenes, guaranteed.

  6. The focus (and money spent) on training DS agents kills me given how limited their ability to use any of this tactical training beyond basic PSD work (which they aren’t that good at, look at Ambo Lippert in Korea or the frat-boy atmosphere of the Secretary’s Detail). They spend longer at FLETC than most 1811s, have to have college degrees unlike many other LEO agencies, have all this DSTC training, have an entire overly tactically trained MSD section of teams to deploy to high threat situations and then …. in high threat situations the DoD makes them stand down and it’s all for naught. As for the normal day to day work? They are oriented towards pursuing tasks that look good on their EERs and reporting back line item tasks to DC just like FSOs, not towards tactical responses at Post.

    • That hill.com news is misleading. My understanding is that the FASTC is for training of DOS employees/family members and related trainees and not just DS agents. Also on the Lippert incident, COMs in typical non-high threat posts have different security detail. Whether we are at the stage when that should be revisited is a conversation for the agencies and Congress; it’ll cost money.