FASTC officially opens doors at Fort Pickett

Officials from the U.S. Department of State and the General Services Administration formally open the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 14, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Officials from the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service and the General Services Administration formally opened the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 14, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. 

Senior leaders from state government, the Virginia National Guard and Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett attended the event, including Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins and Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. VNG Soldiers from the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided ceremonial music for the ribbon-cutting.

FASTC is now the nation’s largest training facility dedicated to overseas safety and security, and will train about 10,000 personnel from the U.S. foreign affairs community annually, including DSS special agents, security engineers, technicians and couriers, according to a release from the U.S. Department of State. 

VNG Soldiers from the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided ceremonial music for the event. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

The facility consolidates training previously completed at 11 different facilities across the country into one 1,350-acre training complex. The training site includes three different high-speed driving tracks, an off-road driving obstacle course, two smokehouses designed to train agents in “fire as a weapon” response, a mock embassy and mock urban training facility. Trainees will also have a live-fire shoot house, tactical maze and rappel tower on which to train. Those assets will provide critical, important and realistic training to Diplomatic Security personnel. 

“As a former DS special agent myself, I know first-hand of the importance of training and of this facility,” said Michael T. Evanoff, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. “FASTC is designed to meet the department’s growing and unique training needs, to help us face the threats that we deal with in our assignments overseas.”

Brian J. Bulatao, the Under Secretary of State for Management, agreed with the importance of the training FASTC will provide. 

“Someone asked me once what our greatest asset is for protecting and preparing our people. It’s one answer: it’s giving them the best realistic training we can,” said Bulatao. “The more hard work we do here, the more we sweat in Blackstone, the less we bleed down range. That’s why I’m excited we have this facility here.”

FASTC is located on 1,350 acres near Blackstone, making it the nation’s largest training facility dedicated to overseas safety and security. The facility will train about 10,000 personnel from the U.S. foreign affairs community annually. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

Emily W. Murphy, administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, spoke about the hard work and partnerships needed to make FASTC a reality for Blackstone and Fort Pickett. 

“GSA worked to find the right site,” said Murphy. “We purchased this land in Blackstone, Virginia, we secured the land use agreements in 2015, began construction in 2016, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results you see here today. I’d like to thank Maj. Gen. Timothy Williams and his staff for their invaluable support.”

Bulatao also thanked Hopkins and Williams both for their support.  

“You and your staff have been indispensable partners to providing access to Fort Pickett’s ranges, air field facilities and other resources,” said Bulatao. “We’re thrilled that this location gives us the opportunity to train with our DOD colleagues, who play a key role in providing security to our teams in the field.”

Col. Paul Gravely, garrison commander of MTC Fort Pickett, explained how having FASTC’s new training facility will benefit the units the MTC hosts throughout the year. 

“It provides unique opportunities for the joint force to have a training location that can partner with the State Department,” said Gravely. “We host all manner of Marine Corps training exercises, including Marines who are assigned to State Department functions. Having the State Department here to partner with those folks creates a unique synergy you normally would not have.” 

The State Department considered 70 other locations for FASTC before settling on the Fort Pickett location. That selections benefits Nottoway County and the town of Blackstone as well, creating potential jobs and economic opportunities. 

“We hope that having the facility here will be a catalyst for future development and vitality,” said Bulatao. 

Training at FASTC has already started in a limited capacity, and the center is expected to be operating at 100% capacity beginning in December 2019. 

In addition to its law enforcement duties of investigating passport and visa fraud and related crimes, DSS enables a safe environment for the conduct of U.S. diplomacy – protecting people, property and information at U.S. missions throughout the world. More than 2,500 DSS special agents, security engineers, technicians and diplomatic couriers serve in 29 domestic offices around the United States and 275 U.S. embassies and consulates in 170 foreign countries.