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  • Grant Ashley
  • Executive Assistant Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Opening of FBI Hazardous Devices School Redstone Arsenal
  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • September 13, 2004

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here to open this brand new, state-of-the-art hazardous devices training facility. On behalf of Director Mueller, I want to thank everyone who helped make this new facility possible and who has contributed to the success of the Hazardous Devices School over the years: Congressman Bud Kramer, Senator Richard Shelby, Mayor Loretta Spencer and Mayor Jan Wells, as well as Dr. Dwight Adams, who heads up the FBI Lab. I also want to thank Locke McKnight, owner of GSC Construction of Waynesboro, Georgia, which did all the work on the facility.

I want to particularly thank the U.S. Army. The school is operated in partnership with the U.S. Army Ordnance Munitions and Electronic Maintenance School, and the Army provided more than 400 acres of land for the facility and ranges. The entire project was managed by the Mobile District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. My particular thanks go out to Brigadier General Vincent Boles, Colonel Joyce Napier, Colonel Michael Walsh, and Installation Commander Robert Devlin

The new Hazardous Devices School facility is specifically designed to accommodate training on today’s state-of-the-art bomb equipment, including robots and other tools. There are only two bomb training facilities of this caliber in the world — the other is in the United Kingdom. Here in the United States, this is the only facility authorized to accredit and train civilian public safety bomb squads. The modern classroom buildings and practical exercise training villages will allow us to better meet the needs of the more than 450 accredited bomb squads around the United States.

Three years ago last Saturday, two graduates of this school—FBI Special Agent Lenny Hatton and New York Police Detective Danny Richards—were killed in the line of duty. They and approximately 3,000 others—emergency responders, innocent civilians, and military personnel—became victims of a new kind of explosive device. Something no one had imagined. Passenger planes turned into bombs.

After the September 11 th attacks, counterterrorism became the FBI’s number one priority, and this school is at the core of our terrorism response. We rely on its graduates to guard against and to respond to terrorist bomb threats around the country and overseas. HDS graduates were stationed at the Olympic games in Athens and at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions here at home. They have been detailed to Iraq and other hotspots throughout the world. And every three years they come back here to be brought up-to-date on the latest tools and techniques for dealing with suicide bombers, large vehicle bombs, weapons of mass destruction, and other threats.

Since its opening in 1971, the Hazardous Devices School has trained thousands of bomb squad technicians and managers. More than 1100 students pass through these doors each year for certification, recertification, or additional training. Since September 11, 2001, the school has accredited more than 50 new bomb squads.

In addition to training and accreditation, the FBI also provides equipment. The Florence bomb squad right here in Alabama received its national accreditation and thousands of dollars in equipment after two of its officers attended training here last year, including a portable X-ray machine and a mobile radiation detector. Most of the equipment was provided on permanent loan, and the rest was provided until the department could buy its own. In all, the FBI has bought gear for more than 400 agencies, and all of it is standardized. This means that a bomb tech from Alabama should have no problem operating equipment in Texas, New York, or anywhere else in the United States.

Our nation’s police and fire departments are the front line of defense against terrorists and criminals. Providing them with equipment and training is key to our counterterrorism mission. But the Hazardous Devices School provides an even more important benefit; it helps to build strong networks and relationships among first responders around the country. Neither the FBI nor even the U.S. Army can protect our country alone. We need the expertise and support of our partners in state and local law enforcement. And I want to thank all of the law enforcement officers and bomb squad technicians that are here with us today for their commitment to protecting and serving our country.

There is a popular t-shirt out there that reads, “I am a bomb squad technician. If you see me running, try to keep up.” But the reality is that bomb techs are the ones running in when everyone else is running out. Lenny Hatton, Danny Richards, and the other HDS graduates who have lost their lives in the line of duty are a testament to that fact. It’s our job here to train bomb techs to be as safe and effective as possible. And then it’s their job to go out and protect everyone else.

On behalf of the entire FBI, I want to thank all of you who have supported the Hazardous Devices School, its dedicated graduates, and this new facility. With your help, we can continue to help save lives. Thank you and God bless.

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