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Linguists at the crossroads of strategic operations

JBLM soldiers headed to Utah

Army Warrant Officer Marcia briefing PFC Mendoza on upcoming training. Photo credit: Christina Butcher

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Imagine carrying an 80-pound rucksack up the side of a mountain, only to reach the peak and realize your mission hasn't even begun. Now imagine it's raining, you haven't eaten in hours, and the lives of your fellow servicemembers depend on your ability to execute the mission despite your exhaustion. For many servicemembers, this is a common scenario, although few get to experience it from the perspective of someone working at the crossroads of tactical and strategic missions. This summer, cryptologic linguists and analysts from JBLM's 2-2 Lancer Brigade, 14th Brigade Engineering Battalion, will stand at that crossroad as they attend a tactical signals intelligence (SIGINT) training course at Camp Williams, Utah.

The linguist and analyst military occupational specialties (MOS) have become the 2-2 Lancer Brigade's newest answer to an old question: How can we successfully integrate military intelligence into tactical missions? The specialized SIGINT training at Camp Williams is a two-week course designed to help linguists overcome the challenges they face when employing technical skills in tactical environments.

"I want my soldiers to realize that they can do the job," said Mr. Garcia, the brigade traffic analysis technician responsible for all Lancer Brigade SIGINT training. "Provided they show the right amount of effort and motivation, they can accomplish some cool stuff."

The two-week training course Garcia spoke about is a highly sought after opportunity that few linguists or analysts receive in their Army career. It's hosted by the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade at Camp Williams, which provides linguist and military intelligence support training to SIGINT companies throughout the Army. Because the SIGINT course is tactical in nature, rather than strategic, the primary qualifier for acceptance into the course is a soldier's physical fitness.

"We selected people based on physical ability because the training is actually quite rigorous," Garcia explained. "It has nothing to do with anything but their ability to keep up. If they're not ready now, we'll get them physically ready. That's the way ahead for our brigade: having everybody train the same way so we can be more versatile."

Garcia only selected a handful of soldiers from the battalion to attend the SIGINT training this summer. While he couldn't disclose the exact number, he noted that an equal number of linguists and analysts will attend the course. He explained why he chose to send servicemembers of two different MOS to the same training, rather than sticking to the Army's tradition of only sending linguists. "It increases the brigade's ability to carry out operations."

Garcia spoke at length about the importance of MOS cross-training such as this. "A lot of the tactical SIGINT training is lost in today's Army, but the brigade is trying to rekindle that. For the soldiers, it provides them with the idea that in this type of environment, there's no delineation between two MOS: 35P (linguist) and 35N (analyst). They can both accomplish the mission the same way; they can do similar operations. They can support each other much better if they know what the other does. The brigade is trying to make soldiers more versatile, to feel more integrated instead of compartmentalized."

Maj. Wamsley, 2-2 Lancer Brigade public affairs officer, commented on the brigade's recent push to develop more versatile servicemembers. "Like Colonel Turner always says, ‘we're trying to solve old problems in new ways.' Cross-training the analysts and linguists so they can support each other is going to benefit us as we answer the call to serve anywhere in the Pacific."

PFC Miguel Mendoza, one of the analysts selected to attend the tactical SIGINT course, explained how being selected to go to Camp Williams changed his mind set on being in the Army. "Having this opportunity to do something I never expected to do motivates me to stay in. When I first joined, I wasn't sure if I was going to stay in ... but now I find myself thinking that if these are the kind of opportunities I'll be given, then this (job) is something I'm going to continue to do."

Garcia commented on the impact specialized training can have on servicemembers in the military intelligence field. "I want them to have the same experiences as me. The reason I stayed in the Army so long is that people put me in training like this, which motivated me to stay in longer."

With summer on the horizon, Garcia will soon put the linguists and analysts he selected to the test. Their performance in the field, especially after receiving specialized SIGINT training, could very well change the game.

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