By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: November 19, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
BLACKSTONE – Last Thursday was a milestone moment for Southside Virginia as a new state-of-the-art center specializing in foreign affairs training opened its doors at Fort Pickett after several years of development.
Officials from across the region and from Washington made their way to Blackstone and the Fort Pickett military installation for last week’s ribbon cutting of The U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, known as FASTC, for short. The facility sits on 1,350 acres of the 55,000-acre training complex at the base and aims to satisfy the unique challenges of securing diplomacy in an ever changing global environment by providing hard-skills security training to approximately 10,000 students annually, including Diplomatic Security Service special agents, other Department personnel, and the larger foreign affairs community.
The beginnings of this development dates back to 2008, when a detailed report to Congress found that there was a need for a consolidated foreign affairs training facility to improve training efficiency, decrease operating costs, and provide priority access to training venues that meet current facility standards. Following the publishing of that report, Congress allocated $70 million to the U.S. State Department to be used to find a permanent site for a consolidated training facility, which resulted in the multi-million dollar complex now completed in neighboring Nottoway County.
The campus 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. Training also includes land navigation, capstone exercises, and various scenarios that utilize a mock embassy compound. Some of the training courses offered include surveillance detection, emergency medical care, recognizing improvised explosive devices, firearms familiarization, and defensive and counterterrorism driving maneuvers.
With Fort Pickett serving as a neighbor to Dinwiddie’s west, the county joined military officials in heralding the opening of the new training facility, which stands to produce an economic footprint that will be felt beyond the center’s 1,300 acres.
Diplomatic Security Assistant Secretary Michael Evanoff (far left), U.S. Secret Service Director James Murray (next to A/S Evanoff) and other Diplomatic Security Service officials observe a Mobile Security Deployment team negotiate a tactical training evolution in the tactical maze at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, Sept. 6, 2019. (U.S. Department of State photo)
“Dinwiddie is fortunate to have Fort Pickett as our neighbor, and the Board of Supervisors is proud that the United States Government selected Pickett from among military bases across the Country to be the home of FASTC,” Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill remarked. “The importance of this facility is immeasurable; not just to this region but to our Nation. FASTC will provide lifesaving security training to Department of State personnel and members of the foreign affairs community. Such training improves security and safety for the protection of Department of State personnel working abroad.”
During the project’s development, officials with the State Department visited Dinwiddie County on a number of occasions, including late last year, where they provided an update on the facility’s construction and showed aerial drone footage of the facility rising from the grounds of Fort Pickett.
At that time, Massengill shared his belief that the Federal government made the right call in selecting Fort Pickett, given the level of support those living in and around Dinwiddie County have for the military.
“For that end of the county, Fort Pickett has been an asset,” he remarked. “When FASTC looked to locate here, we said to them that you would be right between Nottoway and Dinwiddie County, communities who support our military. We’re used to the noise that comes from the base and we have a lot of land here that could be utilized so we felt this was just a perfect fit for them.”
With 10,000 students expected to train at FASTC annually, the economic impacts can be significant as those studying at the center will likely visit and transact business in both Dinwiddie and Nottoway, and even further into Central Virginia. As Dinwiddie continues to see growth across all sectors, from home starts to businesses locating in the county, Massengill sees FASTC as an opportunity to extend those gains.
“During their training period, they will have shopping, dining, recreation, and worship needs,” he said. “Dinwiddie County already has quite a bit to offer in each of these areas. Further, we see this as a unique opportunity to attract ancillary businesses who are considering locating in the count as they support the United States military and the mission of FASTC. Dinwiddie County also offers excellent housing options for permanent employees of the FASTC. We look forward to serving our FASTC community.”
The county administrator elaborated further, calling FASTC potentially “transformative” for Dinwiddie’s west end.
A view of the Administration Building at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) where DSS and U.S. Secret Service officials begin their tour of the facility in Blackstone, Virginia, September 6, 2019. (U.S. Department of State photo)
“This was a sought-after facility among a lot of communities and they chose to come here,” the county administrator remarked. “I think this can be transformative for that end of the county as Fort Lee already has a major impact on us and now, on the other side, you have Fort Pickett with FASTC. Everyone stands to benefit, from gas stations to lodging. This is the type of employer you want to see, ones that support businesses and create job opportunities.”
He continued, praising Nottoway for their critical role in bringing FASTC to Fort Pickett, “It is rewarding to see the county showcase its assets. We are proud of our efforts in partnering with the United States military and the State Department. Nottoway also played a pivotal role as well because they had Pickett Park, so we all came together to pull this off.”
The attainment of the FASTC training facility serves as another example of regionalism, a concept that Dinwiddie has embraced over the last several years and resulted in a number of key economic wins, such as their partnership with Amelia County on a multi-million grant application to aid in the expansion of broadband, which resulted in the counties receiving funding to help deliver internet service to unserved and underserved populations in their communities.
As the county administrator, Massengill said cooperation between localities is something that is eyed by key decision makers when it comes to large-scale projects like FASTC.
“We know the decision makers want to see regional collaboration and that starts with relationships,” he said. “We try to be good neighbors and I think the board of supervisors has given us the freedom as a staff to maintain those relationships so, when opportunities come about, there isn’t much time to develop the different relationships because they already exist.”
To learn more about FASTC, visit the State Department’s website at https://state.gov/FASTC.
Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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