DNWS night training advances incident response capabilities

  • Published
  • By Maj. Katrina Moon
  • Defense Nuclear Weapons School

In the event of a nuclear weapons accident or incident, the safety of our military and the public relies on the specially trained Incident Response Force to provide emergency assistance and establish safe command and control of the site.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Defense Nuclear Weapons School trains first responders in the Nuclear Emergency Team Operations (NETOPS) course. The 10-day course was developed decades ago, in response to lessons learned from nuclear accident responses, and is a class the schoolhouse staff strives to improve annually.

“We cannot keep doing the same old thing,” said Nicholas Martin, academic lead for nuclear response. “We must find more ways to challenge the students, because you simply do not learn without some aspect of struggle.”

Recently overhauled, NETOPS now includes more hands-on practice with equipment, more teamwork and opportunities to practice critical thinking, and the first-ever night exercise.

“We wanted more realistic training. ‘Well then, let’s do it at night,’” said Martin. “Emergencies don’t just happen from nine to three.”

Students are now instructed to ‘not’ report to the classroom for that day of instruction, and instead are placed on a one-hour recall status. When they receive the call in the middle of the night, they then hurry to assemble with the rest of their “Initial Response Force” classmates to respond to a simulated aircraft accident carrying nuclear materials.

Their job is to first, find and care for any casualties,” said Martin. “Second, they locate and identify any possible classified materials. Finally, the students map any and all areas of radiological contamination at the site.”

The supportive relationships between Kirtland AFB units enabled the preparation of the exercise site and execution of the training event. The New Mexico Air National Guard 210th RED HORSE Squadron also provided incomparable support preparing the night exercise site.

“This was an awesome opportunity to provide support and get a lot of people hands-on heavy equipment training,” said Master Sgt Juan Cordova, flight chief for the 210 RED HORSE Heavy Equipment Shop. “It was a win-win.”

The 58th Maintenance Group’s Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight has been supporting the exercise, providing on-call support personnel and a dozen floodlight illumination carts.

“The AGE flight always stands ready to perform our primary mission. However when a need exists anywhere on base, we are happy to help cover,” said Tech. Sgt. Stephen Klemko, 58th MXS AGE flight chief. “We will find a way.”

DNWS, with the support of base mission partners, provides unmatched training to Incident Response Forces.

“We are the only unit in the entire DoD that offers this training,” said Martin. “We have an obligation to continue to make it better and more challenging for our students.”

To enroll or for more information, call the NETOPS course manager at 505-853-2786.