A higher ground
July 31, 2013
In preparation for an upcoming deployment, Soldiers of Company A, 742nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th MI Brigade, traveled to Camp Williams for several weeks of training in the mountains of Draper, Utah.
The Soldiers are members of a mobile multifunctional signals intelligence team that is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan to provide mission critical intelligence in support of tactical units.
"This is where SIGINT meets tactical forces," said Capt. Jessamyn Liu, the commander of Company A. "This team brings specialized SIGINT skills in to support ground forces. They act as a force multiplier."
The signals intelligence training focused on the Low Level Voice Intercept used to provide early warnings against possible enemy forces.
"The MMST Soldiers are carrying not only everything the ground troops carry, but they are also carrying their own specialized equipment," Liu said. "Their rucksacks can weigh up to 90 pounds while they're out there climbing mountains."
Liu traveled to Camp Williams to observe her Soldiers in their training, which consisted of classroom time followed by hands-on training. The team of more than 30 Soldiers, along with some from the 743rd MI Battalion, 704th MI Brigade, split into groups and worked with members of the Utah National Guard, who acted as the opposing force during real-life scenarios.
Having grown up in Utah, Spc. Megan Sten, a signals collector/analyst with Company A, knew how challenging it would be to train in the higher altitude.
"I've always been an active, athletic person and I like the more tactical side of my job, so this was fun for me," she said. "I did acclimate faster than the others because I grew up in the area."
Though mostly focused on learning the new equipment, Sten also had the opportunity to see her family who lives nearby.
Liu said the Soldiers were training not only on their equipment, but also in the operating environment. The terrain and elevation in the Utah training environment mirrors the conditions the Soldiers face in Afghanistan.
Camp Williams, a training site operated by the Utah National Guard, offers specialized training environments such as desert, winter and mountain training, as well as an Afghan village to simulate the experiences Soldiers have downrange.
Spc. Albert Hatem, a signals intelligence analyst with Company A, said the elevation was tough, but he acclimated pretty quickly.
"I'm not built to be behind a desk, I volunteered for this deployment to experience the more tactical side of my job," he said.
This will be the first deployment for both Soldiers, and Hatem said he's already looking forward to it.
"This training was a great opportunity," he said. "Very few Soldiers get to do this, it really sets us apart. It kind of makes us an elite group."
Sten thought the training was tough and enjoyed the opportunity for more in-depth learning on the equipment. The Soldiers said they both received an overview of the equipment back at Fort George G. Meade, Md., but the hands-on experience is more important.
"It was more like the environment in Afghanistan, so it was better training than just walking around Fort Meade with a rucksack," she said. "It's a lot different when you throw in the mountains, altitude and snow. It was exciting and a good experience."
An additional challenge these Soldiers faced during the training was the freezing cold temperatures. During the two-week field portion of the training, temperatures were routinely below zero and one day, dropped all the way to 13 degrees below zero.
"When your ruck weighs 80 to 90 pounds and you add 15 inches of snow and high altitudes, a hill that would normally take 30 minutes to climb takes an hour," Hatem said. "But training in the worst of conditions can give us the upper hand."