By Matt SmithNovember 21, 2008
By Matt Smith
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - When the 201st Military Intelligence Brigade was redesignated in July as the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, it was clear changes were afoot for the intelligence gatherers.
Under the command of Col. Robert Whalen, the brigade is in the process of developing a type of unit not widely used since the Vietnam Conflict - a long range surveillance company.
LRS units, then known as long range reconnaissance patrols, were developed in the 1950s as the need arose to keep tabs on an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union and its Third World surrogates.
LRRPs were eventually folded into the 75th Ranger Regiment, but were recently reborn as LRS units.
Until recently, the Army had only one LRS unit, but with the coming together of 201st's 38th LRS Company, there are now three active LRS units.
That is, there will be three fully operational LRS units once the 38th reaches its 143-Soldier strength, for which it is currently taking applications.
Because of the types of missions assigned to a LRS unit, company commander, Capt. Zach Corke, said his ideal candidates are airborne and Ranger qualified or are willing to attend both schools.
One of the unique things about a LRS company, said Corke, is its ability to be self-sufficient as there are a number of MOSs that fill the 143 slots.
According to company 1st Sgt. John Wear, "There is no other MTOE in the Army that looks like a LRS company. We have got infantrymen, communications specialists. We've got truck drivers, 88M truck drivers, standard complement of NBC and supply. We've got a medical platoon. We've got forward observers. We've got snipers. We've got a little bit of everything. It's a very diverse MTOE."
The unit conducted its second round of assessments last week for those wanting to move on to a more high-speed unit, and plans to have several more tryouts in coming months.
Corke said a LRS unit's basic missions include reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, battle damage assessment and personnel recovery.
"In addition to that, we have to be prepared to conduct full-spectrum operations," he said. "Just like everybody else, we're going to do convoys (and) urban operations."
"I like to say we are the action arm of the intelligence battlefield operating system," Wear said. "We confirm or deny what the analysts are seeing back from the rear."
Getting wet on Day 1
The five days of assessment began with a Ranger physical-fitness test, written land navigation test and a combat water survival test on Day 1.
Of the Day 1 events, it seemed the CWST provided the greatest challenge for most involved.
Soldiers participating in the CWST first had to complete a 15-meter swim wearing ACUs and boots while keeping the muzzles of their rifles above water. After completing the swim, it was on to the "Ditch and Don" event where Soldiers had to put on some gear, hold a rifle, jump into the swimming pool and ditch the gear while under water.
Soldiers then had to be blindfolded and shoved off a 3-meter high tower, while maintaining control of their weapons.
The water portion of the assessment was then completed after finishing a 5-minute water tread.
"The 15-meter swim was the toughest part. I've never swam in ACUs in my life," said Pfc. Christopher Pecor, who, despite already being assigned to the company, had to complete the assessment. "It was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be. If you just stick to the basics, it makes it pretty easy. It's when you panic is when things go a little crazy."
Pecor said being shoved off the tower didn't bother him so much as waiting for it to happen.
"It's a little (nerve wracking)," he said. "But once you hit the water, you're fine. It's worse to stand up there and have the anticipation than it is to actually get pushed."
From darkness into the light
Day 2 began with a Land Navigation Practical on a star course that covered a total of 14 kilometers. Soldiers had five hours to complete the five-point course using only a map and a compass while under early morning darkness for the first two hours.
Soldiers were dropped off at different points and given their initial points to reach. As they reached each point, Soldiers were given their next goals.
The first group of Soldiers to go through this phase of assessment didn't fare very well as the majority of them failed to reach all five points in the allotted time.
This group, however, fared much better as most of the 18 Soldiers found all their points. Corke and Wear both attributed this group's high success rate to a crash course in land navigation given to them the night before, something the first group did not receive.
"It's kind of wet, but it's not bad," said Spc. Frank Sandoval, who re-enlisted after leaving the Army in 1992, midway through the land nav assessment. "It's kind of chilly, but it's not hindering my performance at all."
Having a Ranger background helped Pfc. Steven Cross negotiate his way through the woods, but he said he was used to using more technical instruments and that the compass and map technique was more "old school" - something LRS Soldiers will become used to.
"This job is a lot more traditional. Infantry and Ranger battalions are more high-tech now," he said. "This is more like old school, digging ditches and going long distances with rucks and all that. This is the kind of stuff we're going to do in real missions. It's good to train on something you're actually going to use when you go on missions."
Because this is a LRS company trying to get off the ground and reach full strength as soon as possible, many Soldiers currently assigned to the company, including Cross, Pecor and Sandoval, were just that - assigned to the company.
Other Soldiers, three of the 18 to be exact, were truly going through a tryout. And for Spc. Patrick Lime, who was one of the three, his week of LRS Company assessments was a shot at redemption and a chance to resurrect an Army career he said looked like it was going nowhere.
"Out of AIT I had to prove myself and show them who I was, and they sent me to Airborne school and they were like, 'Let's hook this guy up with Ranger (School),' said the 402nd Brigade Support Battalion medic. "I got kicked out of Airborne school, so that kind of ruined it for me there. But ever since then, I've been in a (dead-end) for my career."
Lime said he saw a poster for the LRS company at a dining facility, and attended the briefing. He wanted to take part in the first round of assessments, but couldn't get his first sergeant to sign-off on it. When sign ups came around for this second round of assessments, Lime was able to convince his first sergeant to let him go and is now hoping to take advantage of the opportunity.
"This is something I really want to be a part of," he said. "It seems like everyone cares about one another."
Day 2 training finished off with KIMs games, which are designed to test long-term memory, and a collection and reporting test. The latter test had the Soldiers identify as many of 20 objects placed in a tree line as they could find.
Marching, evals and selection
The final three days of the assessment were marked by a 12-mile road march, a thorough psychological evaluation for NCOs, evaluation boards and, finally, the selecting of those deemed good enough.
Despite all the struggles and challenges Corke has to face while building the Army's newest LRS company from scratch, he is thankful for having commanders who understand the importance of having a LRS unit.
"The important thing is that the commanding general and the brigade commander see the importance of having this intelligence-gathering asset," said Corke, who has served in every officer position in a LRS unit. "That's what we are. Yes, we are infantrymen, but we are an intelligence-gathering asset, and we will be employed in such a way no matter where we go."
Matt Smith is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.