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News | April 27, 2023

DoD Leaders Observe 'Nearly Invisible' CWMD Training Mission

By Daniel Gaffney Defense Threat Reduction Agency

FORT STORY, Virginia – A highly specialized team from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) trained Special Operations Forces during a countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) scenario with an almost-impossible task: to operate completely in the open in a busy civilian setting – while being completely unnoticed by everyone around them.

A DTRA Technical Support Group (TSG) trained, exercised and operated with specialized U.S. military units on how to detect, locate and identify (and possibly take control of) WMD or related chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) materials that an adversary might possess as part of a joint “Nimble Elder” training evolution on Fort Story, Virginia. DTRA Director Rebecca Hersman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Policy and Programs Erin Logan, and other senior DoD leaders were on hand to witness both the near-invisibility of the frontline operators, as well as the intense, behind-the-scenes control center that seemed right out of a Hollywood action movie.

“When we say that DTRA is a Combat Support Agency, most people just nod their heads without really understanding what that means. This demonstrates what front-line Combat Support looks like in action,” said Hersman. “We’re not just a bunch of faceless people 3,000 miles away; we are on-the-ground civilians and uniformed troops, prepared to operate with the soldiers and sailors on the front line. These are dangerous, life-or-death missions, and our DTRA teams are right in the middle of it.” Hersman stressed how realistic and probable the training scenario was. “This situation could happen anywhere on the planet, which is why we have these specialized teams assigned to each of the Geographic Combatant Commands (COCOMs). If a worst-case scenario like this happens somewhere, there is no time to figure things out; we are either ready to go or we are not. This shows that we’re ready.”

Designated as both a Defense Agency and a Combat Support Agency, DTRA has a wide variety of tasks, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and authorities to lead or support counter WMD activities. The Nimble Elder training ensures DTRA, and the highly specialized U.S. military units they work with, are prepared to handle almost any WMD crisis.

Several directorates within DTRA train, equip, and support realistic exercises with U.S. military units around the world in specialized tasks dealing with countering WMD, including missions to prevent the use or acquisition of CBRN materials, as well as missions to react to the use of CBRN materials. The director of Contingency Operations, U.S. Army Col. Marc LaRoche, said there TSGs aligned to the geographic COCOMs and help them maintain a level of readiness to deal with a number of contingencies, including a WMD event. “The Nimble Elder training is something that has been directed by Special Operations Command for designated units. DTRA helps the COCOMs maintain a level of readiness for contingencies like a WMD event. Our support to the COCOMs is not just in training and exercising,” said LaRoche. “Our TSGs will be there during a crisis; some will support from the rear, some could be on the tip of the spear with the special operations units.  One of DTRA’s key initiatives is to prepare for WMD crisis events, and that’s exactly what our Technical Support Groups do.”

Once the training kicked off, leadership got a chance to track the action in the command center watching icons move around the map and seeing the action captured on a number of strategically placed security cameras. But to get a full sense of how the TSG and the units being supported carried out a vital mission with extreme discretion, they went outside, looked across the street, and observed the seemingly normal routines of a busy small commercial shop. Only the movement of icons on their handheld tablets showed the intense game of cat and mouse unfolding before them – to everyone else, it was just a bunch of guys taking care of their boring, routine, seemingly innocent day-to-day business.

 “It’s incredible to see this team in action,” said Hersman as she watched the action unfold, first from the command center, then across the street. “We all know what our TSG does, and what they do to go after loose WMD. But seeing HOW they do it, in real-time, makes me amazed at what they do, and proud of this organization. This is “Deter. Prevent. Prevail.” up close and personal, and a testament to our role as a Combat Support Agency.”
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OUR MISSION: DTRA provides cross-cutting solutions to enable the DoD, the United States Government, and international partners to DETER strategic attack against the United States and its allies; PREVENT, reduce, and counter Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and emerging threats; and PREVAIL against WMD-armed adversaries in crisis and conflict.


DTRA provides cross-cutting solutions to enable the Department of Defense, the United States Government, and international partners to deter strategic attack against the United States and its allies; prevent, reduce, and counter WMD and emerging threats; and prevail against WMD-armed adversaries in crisis and conflict.  

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