“The Diplomatic Security Service’s brand new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) on Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, Virginia is a disaster for those attending the academy. Incoming agents and those who have to attend advanced training should buckle up for a very rough ride due to a lack of planning, poor accommodations, and general haywire.
Most incoming students are housed at the Holiday Inn Express in Farmville, Virginia. Due to Covid-19, everyone is forced to remain at this little gem, conveniently located in the middle of an open field, for exactly two weeks. State calls it a “quarantine,” but no restrictions are enforced. So, the two-week lockdown is really just a waste of time and money for all parties involved. Since there is no way to keep anyone in their rooms, there is still the possibility that students could arrive at FASTC infected with Covid-19, begging the question: why bother with a fake isolation period?
Additionally, adults who are cooped up in a hotel for weeks on end with nothing to do seem to revert back to their college years of binge drinking and general debauchery. Class advisors at FASTC have openly complained that they have really gotten to know police officials in the rural one-cop town of Farmville.
Those who choose not to engage in such antics remain in their rooms with little to do but scan the 9 channels on the hotel-provided basic cable system. For an organization that purports to have a renewed focus on mental health and morale, this feels like a crisis in the making, particularly for those RSOs who are arriving from overseas posts and do not have personal transportation readily available. Walking anywhere from the hotel is not ideal unless you’re comfortable going for a stroll on the shoulder of a major highway.
As for food, take-out is really the only option, unless you’re comfortable visiting one of a few bar/restaurants that are no better than Applebees. The hotel provides no meal accommodations. If you’ll be there for a few months, expect to gain a little more than the “quarantine 15.” Also, if you have dietary restrictions, this place is not for you, unless fried chicken fingers are part of your preferred menu items.
Once your two-weeks of faux-quarantine are over, you’ll commute 45 – 60 minutes (one way) to FASTC. Students are required to shuttle themselves in government-issued vans each morning and evening. No more than five to a van (for Covid-19 safety reasons). However, many have reported cramming up to 10 in a van simply for convenience and split training locations.
The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center is a state of the art facility. The technology, instruction, resources, and training quality are unmatched by any agency and the Department should be commended for that. However, the logistical nightmare for the students must be addressed. This is unacceptable for those new to State but is probably tolerated because they don’t know any better. However, for those seasoned employees, this is categorically unsatisfactory. State and more specifically DS needs to get its act together soon and focus more on the employee rather than touting the perks of a brand new facility that may be more trouble than it’s worth.
DS already has retention and quality of life problems. Do we want to make it worse?”
Map of the high-speed driving track at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, Blackstone, Va. (Department of State Photo)