News: Nuclear Disablement Team prepped to assume national mission
Story by Maj. Carol McClelland
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- A Nuclear Disablement Team from 20th Support Command (CBRNE), Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., proved their readiness during an exercise that included live radiation, July 24 – 28, at Idaho National Labs.
Nuclear Disablement Teams, or NDTs, are units made up of nuclear experts trained and equipped to disable nuclear weapons of mass destruction infrastructure; package, transport and safeguard nuclear and/or radiological materials that pose a threat to friendly forces; collect and transport samples of radiological material or nuclear WMD intelligence for forensic analysis; and conduct sensitive site exploitation operations on nuclear sites. The NDTs pull six-month rotations as part of the National Technical Nuclear Forensics task force which is made up of many different agencies including the Department of Energy, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Air Force Technical Application Center and the intelligence community, among others.
The exercise, held at the Idaho National Laboratory complex outside of the city of Idaho Falls, took place at a nearby forward operating base with limited facilities in a desert environment. Surrounded only by scrub vegetation, NDT 3’s training led them to this exercise, the final validation test before assuming the mission from NDT 2 this fall.
“The exercise went very well especially considering this is the first time we’ve used real radiation and not stimulant materials,” said Lt. Col. Michael Nelson, a nuclear engineer and team chief of NDT 3. He said the team went to the collection site and acquired samples using radiation detection equipment before bringing the samples back to the forward operating base. After turning the samples over to Department of Energy experts for analyzing, they peeled off layers of protective clothing and went through screening to ensure radioactive contamination was removed.
These specialized teams are made up of officers and non-commissioned officers in nuclear science, health physics and chemical fields. Their primary functions are command and control, planning, and running the decontamination lines. The team is augmented by soldiers who have other skill sets like communications, vehicle maintenance or sample collecting. Sgt. Ricardo Herrera, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear specialist with the 22nd Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort), is one of 11 people from his company augmenting the NDT to make up their total team of 22.
“We finally got to rely on our pieces of equipment and we’re even more confident,” the 27-year-old from Round Mountain, Nev., said about the different kinds of equipment used to detect alpha, beta, gamma, or neutron radiation. This time, rather than having someone next to them stating the equipment was calibrated, the readings actually showed what was being detected.
After gaining certification with this exercise, NDT 3 still has more internal training missions and another exercise ahead that will refine the team’s procedures and techniques before they assume the NTNF mission in October.
“I think my team is well prepared and we’re excited we got selected to do this mission,” Herrera said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity; something we can look back on and say that we did.”