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    Soldiers, Airmen train for nuclear forensics mission at interagency exercise in Houston

    Soldiers, Airmen train for nuclear forensics mission at interagency exercise in Houston

    Photo By Marshall Mason | Sgt. James Thomas from the 11th CBRNE Company (Technical Escort), gathers nuclear...... read more read more



    Story by Walter Ham 

    20th CBRNE Command

    HOUSTON – Highly specialized U.S. military units trained for nuclear forensics missions with interagency partners during Exercise Prominent Hunt in Houston, May 1 - 5.

    Soldiers from the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command’s Nuclear Disablement Team 1 and 1st CBRNE Response Team, 11th Chemical Company (Technical Escort), qualified to serve on the interagency National Technical Nuclear Forensics Ground Collection Task Force during Prominent Hunt.

    Airmen from the Patrick Space Force Base, Florida-headquartered Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) also qualified for the task force during the exercise.

    As a part of an FBI-led interagency task force, the NTNF Ground Collection Task Force gathers and packages samples of radioactive fallout that enable partner agencies to determine the source of the radiation.

    The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Agency also provides technical expertise during Exercise Prominent Hunt.

    U.S. Air Force Capt. Bryan V. Egner, a nuclear engineer from the Air Force Technical Applications Center, said AFTAC detects and responds when an event involves radiological material.

    Airmen from AFTAC conduct assessments on the ground and in the air and then forward the samples to a network of laboratories for analysis.

    “Being a part of this exercise allowed me the opportunity to apply the skills I have learned during my Air Force career. It also gave me the chance to put my doctorate research in nuclear engineering to work, not just in theory, but in a real-world environment,” said Egner, a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a Penn State graduate who earned his master’s degree and PhD from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

    “It was a privilege to collaborate with some of the nation’s top nuclear scientists and Army experts to provide our senior decision makers with the information they need during a major crisis that impacts all Americans,” said Egner.

    An Air Force surveillance command, the Air Force Technical Applications Center monitors nuclear treaties of all applicable signatory countries. The highly educated center has more than 1,100 personnel with 226 associate degrees, 262 bachelor’s degrees, 274 master’s degrees and 68 doctorate degrees.

    AFTAC routinely participates in national-level exercises to test its global nuclear monitoring capabilities and technical applications expertise when nuclear events occur.

    “We provide the messages that initially identify the event as having radiologic characteristics, which may include details on the time and specific location of the detonation and an estimate yield of the weapon used,” said Egner. “This information is not only critical to our law enforcement partners but also to our airborne collection operators so they can coordinate potential sampling missions more accurately.”

    Egner said teamwork, integration and training are the keys to success in joint and interagency missions like the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Ground Collection Task Force mission.

    “Prominent Hunt brings members from multiple agencies with diverse backgrounds and experience levels together to exercise a highly technical mission during what would be a national crisis filled with chaos,” said Egner. “For such a stressful mission, rapid critical thinking and collaborative problem solving, along with an open-minded yet persistent social demeanor, is needed to ensure effective teamwork and integration between multi-agency assets.”

    From the U.S. Army, Nuclear Disablement Team 1 and CBRNE Response Team 1 are part of the 20th CBRNE Command, the U.S. Department of Defense’s premier all hazards formation.

    Headquartered on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the 20th CBRNE Command is home to 75 percent of the active-duty U.S. Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear specialists, as well as the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity, five Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordination Teams and three Nuclear Disablement Teams.

    From 19 bases in 16 states, Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from the 20th CBRNE Command deploy to confront and defeat the world’s most dangerous hazards during joint, interagency and allied operations.

    CRT 1 is part of the 11th Chemical Company (Technical Escort), 110th Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort), 48th Chemical Brigade and 20th CBRNE Command. The deployable team is based on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

    U.S. Army CBRNE Response Teams tackle a variety of challenging missions, including initial sampling, limited decontamination, packaging, escorting, detection, munitions assessment, explosive threat mitigation and contaminated sensitive site exploitation.

    CRT 1 Team Leader 1st Lt. Toy Nguyen said her team brings CBRNE crisis and consequence management expertise to the interagency exercise.

    “The validated ground collection task force executed the critical function of physically collecting nuclear debris from the fallout plume that has settled onto the ground,” said Nguyen, a University of California-Irvine graduate who immigrated to Los Angeles from Saigon, Vietnam, and earned her Juris Doctorate from Whittier Law School before joining the U.S. Army.

    “The highlight of Exercise Prominent Hunt was watching the interagency team come together and support the Ground Collection Team to successfully collect 18 nuclear fallout samples to analyze and present to the agency leads in order to make an informed decision,” said Nguyen.

    As the U.S. Department of Defense’s nuclear subject matter experts, NDTs serve as an informed interface between the CBRNE Response Team and the Department of Energy technical experts. The U.S. Army’s three Nuclear Disablement Teams — NDT 1 “Manhattan,” NDT 2 “Iron Maiden” and NDT 3 “Vandals” — are all stationed on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

    NDTs directly contribute to the nation’s strategic deterrence by staying ready to exploit and disable nuclear and radiological WMD infrastructure and components to deny near-term capability to adversaries. The NDTs also facilitate follow-on WMD elimination operations.

    Maj. Aaron J. Heffelfinger, the deputy team leader from Nuclear Disablement Team 1, said NDTs bring unique expertise to the task force.

    “We have a large number of Nuclear and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction officers, a health physics team and CBRN specialists, meaning that we have an in-depth understanding of nuclear-related issues, to include forensics and sampling, making the team a natural pick for this mission,” said Heffelfinger, who is originally from Moore Township, Pennsylvania, and previously served as an Air Defense Artillery officer.

    “Our team consists of fairly senior officers and noncommissioned officers, so we bring a lot of mission planning and execution experience, crucial to getting samples collected on time and thriving in uncertain and chaotic environments like a post-detonation scenario,” said Heffelfinger.

    The NDT 1 deputy team leader said Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, was a great location to hold the exercise.

    “Because the size of the city, we were able to utilize vast resources of local law enforcement, such as aviation assets for route recon and radiation mapping and law enforcement officers for escorts to the collection points,” said Heffelfinger, who has served in the U.S. Army for 19 years and deployed to Jordan.

    Heffelfinger said U.S. military units operate in support of the Department of Justice during the FBI-led exercise.

    “The NDT and CRT ensured we were always ready to push out collections on time and provided sound advice, along with the Department of Energy, to the FBI lead so the agency had the required information and courses of action to make critical decisions,” said Heffelfinger. “It proved to be a great system and the experience provided by the Army personnel on the interagency team was crucial to mission success.”



    Date Taken: 05.11.2023
    Date Posted: 05.11.2023 11:14
    Story ID: 444533
    Location: HOUSTON, TX, US
    Hometown: HARRISBURG, PA, US
    Hometown: LOS ANGELES, CA, US

    Web Views: 307
    Downloads: 0