OST graduates
The most recent Nuclear Material Courier Basic Academy graduating class at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

Last month, a new class of federal agents graduated from NNSA’s Nuclear Material Courier Basic Academy, another example of how the agency’s Office of Secure Transportation (OST) has kept up its critical mission to securely transport government-owned special nuclear materials in the contiguous United States throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even during the height of the pandemic, OST successfully completed all its transportation missions. Maintaining that level of readiness requires ongoing recruitment and training of candidates to become the armed federal agents who provide security for classified shipments.

That effort is headquartered at the OST Transportation Safeguards Training Site at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where the Nuclear Material Courier Basic Academy is conducted. An 18 weeks long program, it includes training in a range of areas including tractor-trailer driving certification, firearms training and qualification, individual and team strategies, legal issues, communication systems, physical fitness, and law enforcement tactics.

For the past year, OST has continued this training while following the safety guidelines issued by the White House, Office of Management and Budget, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a result, OST’s training activities have all remained on schedule.

“I am proud of the men and women at Fort Chaffee who have committed to the OST mission during this challenging period,” said Vincent Fisher, Assistant Deputy Administrator for Secure Transportation. “Their dedication to the Nation shows each and every day.”

To accomplish this feat, officials at the training site developed a return-to-work plan in May 2020 that addressed pandemic protocols and staffing requirements. Fort Chaffee was the first OST site to return employees to the workplace and has operated continuously, with approximately 60 percent of its staff on-site each day, to meet the training demands of federal agent candidates. Flexibility is key. Leaders adjust daily staffing requirements and course schedules as needed, while maintaining appropriate protective measures.

The training center workforce ranges from instructors, logistics staff, and armorers to mechanics, facility maintenance workers, groundskeepers, and payroll employees. They have all worked through the schedule changes and employee quarantine periods associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the Nuclear Material Courier Basic Academy’s Class Coordinator has managed COVID-19 testing for more than 20 federal agency candidates. These testing protocols supported the successful advancement of two classes, the latest of which graduated in February.

Even during a pandemic, the Academy and its staff have found ways to not simply function, but excel. Thanks to their dedication and continuous efforts, OST remains a vital part of NNSA’s essential service to the Nation.