An FBI official gave a rundown at Thursday’s Redstone Update on the agency’s evolution at Redstone Arsenal, from a single facility in the early ‘70s to building out two distinct campuses.
“It is amazing to see how much we’ve accomplished in such a short amount of time,” Wendell “Drew” Watts, deputy assistant director for facilities with the FBI’s Finance and Facilities Division, said after a video presentation showing the transformation over the years.
“This is not a dream. This is actually taking place, so this is pretty amazing.”
The Redstone Update, hosted by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, was held at the Von Braun Center’s East Hall.
FBI has had a presence on Redstone Arsenal for more than 50 years, with the opening of the Hazardous Devices School, which Watts said has greatly enhanced the training capacity for state, local and federal bomb technicians.
“This ensures all bomb techs operate via the same playbook and have the same tools they need” when they encounter complex improvised explosive devices, he said.
In 2015, the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, or TEDAC, moved from Quantico, Virginia, to Redstone. Watts described TEDAC as “a central command center for major bombing investigations linking terrorists to IEDs from all over the world.”
The next development came when the Ballistic Research Facility moved “out of a trailer in Quantico” in 2019 to a facility at the installation that provides “the gold standard for firearms testing from around the world,” Watts said. “You’d be amazed at how many people travel to Redstone Arsenal to take advantage of the technology that we have now at the BRF.”
The FBI committed in 2016 to realign personnel outside the National Capital Region, as part of a new 21st Century Workforce Strategy.
“Strategic realignment is in full force,” said Watts, who is responsible for all FBI facilities and real property, including firearms ranges, and leads the FBI’s facilities acquisition, construction, operations and maintenance functions.
“We currently have 1,508 personnel on the ground and are presently on track to reach roughly 2,000 total personnel here by next summer. We’re very excited about our staff relocating to this area.”
Watts’ presentation on the FBI Redstone population shows full-time capacity of 5,000 employees by 2028.
The most recent developments are Operations Building 1, which opened in June, as “the cornerstone” of the north campus. “It is currently home to approximately 1,300 personnel,” he said. Technology Building 1, which opened in March, conducts 24/7 monitoring of FBI networks.
“Already, FBI employees at Redstone can be found conducting forensic analysis in a lab environment, sorting through data for critical investigations or protecting networks from cyber attacks,” Watts said.
The Innovation Center is scheduled to open in spring 2024. “This center is going to be magnificent,” Watts said. “We’re going to have a kinetic cyber range and a virtual reality classroom for cyber agents.”
The Redstone expansion also includes building out the agency’s more than 900-acre south campus near the Hazardous Devices School.
“The vision of the south campus is to provide a comprehensive, state-of-the-art training facility for FBI agents and technicians which will build upon the initial training provided at the FBI Academy” in Virginia, Watts said. “The south campus will create a real-world training environment in a controlled training setting.”
Watts, an Alabama native, said the Huntsville area provides “an amazing location to recruit the nation’s best and brightest talent, both talent already here in the Tennessee Valley as well as talent eager to move here. In return, the FBI also hopes to bring great talent with us who can equally contribute to this great community.”
He referred anyone interested in seeking employment to FBIjobs.gov.
“We’re hiring for data analysts, computer scientists, forensic examiners, cyber security analysts, network engineers and so much more,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of positions that are going to be opening and we’ve got a lot of positions that are open now, and those are the skill sets that we’re looking for.
“Right now, we’re at roughly a 10% take rate on these moves, which means about 10% of the affected FBI employees choose to move here, which is a really low percentage, I know,”
Ambrosia Patterson, FBI Huntsville Transition and Change Program manager, said, responding to a question, “When I came (to Redstone), I was one of four from my group of 36 who came.”
Patterson said the focus to attracting current employees is two-fold.
“One is try to win the hearts and minds of the existing employees,” she said. “It’s going to be a huge knowledge loss if we can’t get them to come down here. So that’s a big part of my focus.”
Patterson also wants to get information about the community to those employees.
“This is an amazing community,” she said. “This was the best thing that ever happened to me as a person, and I’m trying to pass that along to our affected workforce.”
Civic, Redstone and chamber leaders have “made it easy for the FBI to call Huntsville home,” Watts said. “I moved here two years ago, and it has been an awesome, awesome thing to be here, be a part of the growth that’s taking place in this environment.”
He thanked Gen. Ed Daly, commander of the Army Materiel Command; Lt. Gen. Chris Mohan, AMC’s new deputy commander and Redstone senior commander; and Garrison Commander Col. Brian Cozine for their “unwavering support of our construction efforts, which has been vital to our success. We’re very excited and honored to be a part of Team Redstone.”