BLACKSTONE, Va. (WWBT) - The U.S. Department of State opened its doors to the Diplomatic Security Service’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) Thursday morning.
"The premier counter-threat training of the entire U.S. Government is done here in Blackstone Virginia,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Training Wendy Bashnan.
Managed by the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the 1,350 acre training campus at Fort Pickett provides integrated security training in a way that leaders say has never been done before for the foreign affairs community.
"I am extremely confident that when people leave FASTC they will leave with a training unmatched by any other country in the world," said Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao.
The training center aims to improve and secure diplomacy in the changing global environment overseas.
“We hope our team never faces danger, but we know in our hearts with certainty that some will,” Bulatao said. “It's realistic rigorous training that leads to real life preparedness."
Diplomatic Security Service agents, foreign service personnel and other U.S. government employees assigned to embassies and consulates overseas will have the opportunity to receive training in potentially dangerous situations.
“In 2013, if you recall the terrorist attacks that attacked the U.S. consulate in Herat, Afghanistan detonated a car bomb and fired on the consulate in a gun battle,” Bulatao said. “State Department personnel used their high-threat operations training to keep the attackers out and saved the lives of all our personnel in the consulate.”
The center includes three high-speed driving tracks, off-road and improved tracks, explosives ranges, tactical structures to simulate various risk situations and two smokehouses for situations when fire is used as a weapon.
“This enables people to experience that bad day and then know that when they're forced to react, they know what to do,” Bashnan said.
The State Department looked at 70 other places across the United States before selecting Fort Pickett as the headquarters for FASTC.
“We train with a lot of partners in this area,” Bashnan said. “As you can imagine, we’re near Quantico, we’re near our brothers and sisters within the U.S. Marine Corps. other locations, and we wanted to be near Washington.”
In the past training was spread out at 11 different facilities across the country, but as of Thursday everything is now consolidated in Nottoway County.
It’s also expected to breathe new life into the area.
“These are patriots that are training the men and women that are going to come here,” said Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn. “Over time they’re going to discover that Nottoway County and Blackstone is a great place to live.”
“We’re proud to call you neighbors,” Bulatao said. “You’ve been generous, you’ve been patient with us, and we hope that having the facility here will be a catalyst for future develop and vitality.”
However, Coleburn is a bit hesitant about that development actually happening.
“Years ago, hotels were built at Fort Lee and then the Army built housing, so there’s a lot of anxiety,” he said. “I think once the developers see the numbers are really happening, these trainees are coming through, the market will respond, and they will build something.”
The staff of more than 500 also includes dozens of people from the surrounding area.
“We have hired mechanics, administrative support staff, we’ve hired fire instructors, driver training instructors…” Bashnan said. “The idea is to be part of one community and we're proud to say we're one of the largest employers in this county," Bashnan said.
Approximately 10,000 students are expected to train at the $431 million facility on an annual basis.
“It was at a bargain price, which I know is hard to imagine, but when you look at what we were having to do at 11 different facilities and still not meet the need we have, this is the tax payers’ money being used wisely,” Bashnan said.
Smaller groups have already undergone training at the facility, but full training is expected to kick off in December.
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