Utah Guard Soldiers, mountains help prep 704th MI for Afghanistan
February 19, 2013
DRAPER, Utah (Feb. 19, 2013) -- In preparation for an upcoming deployment, Soldiers of Alpha Company, 742nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade, traveled to Camp Williams for several weeks of training in the mountains of Utah.
The Soldiers are members of the Mobile Multifunctional Signals Intelligence Team, or MMST, and will deploy to Afghanistan to support tactical units to provide mission critical intelligence.
"This is where SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) meets tactical forces," said Capt. Jessamyn Liu, commander of Alpha Company. "This team brings specialized SIGINT skills in to support ground forces. They act as a force multiplier."
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 31 Soldiers, along with some from the 743rd MI Battalion, 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 signal collector/analyst with Alpha Company, 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 trained not only on their equipment, but also in the operating environment. The terrain and elevation in the Utah training environment mirrors the environment the Soldiers will face in Afghanistan.
Camp Williams, a training site located 25 miles south of Salt Lake City and 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 will have downrange.
Spc. Albert Hatem, a signals intelligence analyst with Alpha Company, said the elevation was tough, but he acclimated quickly.
"I'm not built to be behind a desk," he said. "I volunteered for this deployment to experience the more tactical side of my job."
This will be the first deployment for both Sten and Hatem.
"It's a great opportunity, even the training alone is," Hatem said. "Very few Soldiers get to do this. It really sets us aside. It kind of makes us an elite group."
Sten said the training was tough and she enjoyed the opportunity for more in-depth learning on the equipment. Both Soldiers said they were given an overview of the equipment back at Fort Meade, Md., but the hands-on experience is even more important.
"It was more like the environment in Afghanistan, so it was better training than just walking around Fort Meade with a rucksack," Sten 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 was the freezing temperatures. During the two-week field portion of the training, temperatures fell below zero every day. One day, temperatures plunged to 13 degrees below zero.
The Soldiers were supposed to camp out for the entire two weeks, but because of the cold they were brought in each night. They stayed warm while climbing, but got cold quickly when they stopped moving.
Periodically, the group took turns taking a break to change into dry tops and socks to preserve body heat. They also slid into their sleeping bags during breaks.
"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."