Not all that long ago, military intelligence Soldiers learned the basics of their chosen profession through advanced individual training and then picked up additional skills and knowledge whenever possible through on-the-job training.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that wasn't exactly the most effective way to ensure the U.S. Army's intelligence professionals were always trained and mission ready.

With that in mind, the Army chief of staff challenged the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command in 2003 to improve upon how they conduct business, which is how the Foundry program came into existence.

The innovative program is designed to train military intelligence professionals in their respective fields, and when it comes to counterintelligence, the 902nd Military Intelligence Group leads the charge.

"Our primary focus is to get these Soldiers trained up to meet the mission requirements of force protection and military counterintelligence collection in support of U.S. forces in Afghanistan," said Scott Gay, a counterintelligence Foundry instructor with the 902nd MI Group.

In order to accomplish this mission, the 902nd MI Group coordinates with tactical units to provide training on various counterintelligence-related subjects covering a majority of the CI critical tasks. Utilizing a combination of classroom lessons and practical exercises that center on real-world scenarios, the 902nd MI Group trains all counterintelligence teams prior to deployment.

"When I was a Soldier, there was no Foundry training. There was no place to go to have scenario-based training with subject-matter experts involved," said Gay. "If the Foundry program didn't exist, I don't know where today's intelligence Soldiers would get this type of in-depth training."

The classroom portion is heavily based on current tactics, techniques and procedures, which prevents Soldiers from "cold start deployments."

"We're training Soldiers so they know exactly what they'll encounter the minute they hit the ground and not wasting three to six months in country trying to figure out what it is that they're supposed to be doing during a deployment," said Jerry Johnson, counterintelligence Foundry program administrator for the 902nd MI Group.

According to those who run the program, emphasis is placed on performance-oriented training through classroom instruction coupled with role player intensive practical exercises that replicate current real world missions, to include Insider Threat, identification, exploitation and neutralization.

"We start by going over core counterintelligence tasks," Gay said. "And then, the Soldiers take that knowledge and employ it in a series of practical exercises where they conduct hands-on, performance-oriented training to complete scenarios which encompass everything they've learned."

Since inception, Foundry training has continued to change and evolve with the times. What Soldiers see today is a hybrid of previous incarnations and a much more streamlined block of instructions that focuses on the essentials of what military intelligence Soldiers typically experience during deployment.

Additionally, the Foundry team is able to provide refresher and/or advanced instruction to Soldiers and units assigned CI missions, depending upon the level of experience of the participating unit.

"The content we're going over is vital," said Sgt. Rodney Warr, counterintelligence agent with the Company D, 141st MI Battalion. "There are definitely areas of the job you can get rusty on if you don't practice them on a regular basis. But with this training you get back in the right mindset and, if you make a mistake in this environment, it's okay. You learn from it and you keep working on it until the job becomes like muscle memory."

No two Foundry classes are exactly the same. That's because the subject matter is tailored to meet each unit's specific requirements during a given deployment and those involved are constantly seeking ways to enhance the training.

"One of the benefits of being at the 902nd MI Group is that we have the opportunity to interview folks when they return from deployment to get feedback on what we got right and possible areas where we can improve the training," Johnson said. "We make adjustment to the program based on that feedback."

As an example of a typical challenge faced during Foundry training, imagine a room full of CI professionals. At the start of the exercise, the class is broken down into two-person teams and given a list of 100 local nationals.

Realistically, it's impossible for two individuals to thoroughly interview 100 people in just 48 hours, so the groups must figure out a way to whittle the number down to something more manageable.

Dealing with limited time and resources is a way of life for intelligence professionals. That's why the Soldiers who learn to cope with these challenges and who successfully navigate their way through the training feel much more confident when they arrive in country.

"What we offer is extremely valuable because our scenarios are based on live events that have happened during previous deployments and we really engage critical thinking," said Gay. "The focus of this training is on helping these Soldiers master their tasks. They're in an environment where they can perfect their craft and make their mistakes here, as opposed to during a deployment."

Not only are the scenarios updated regularly, but they also involve an added level of realism. For example, if an intelligence professional struggles while conducting an interview with a role player or later discovers they need additional information from that source, there is no "do over."

When a Soldier must conduct a follow-up interview, it is treated as such and the role player's attitude may differ if they're being asked to return too often.

"That's just another way we try to bring realism into this training," Gay said. "If they conducted an interview with someone, sat down to do their analysis and then realized they were missing information, they need to be able to go back and re-engage with that person to fill in their gaps."

With this level of detail involved throughout the entire process, it's no wonder MI Soldiers walk away from Foundry training feeling more confident and prepared for their impending deployment.

"I think it's really important that we get this type of training," said Staff Sgt. Samuel Tuttle, counterintelligence agent with the Company B, 141st MI Battalion. "It's great because -- especially in a National Guard unit -- you don't always get the chance to stay up on your skills. When you've got someone who is this dedicated to helping Soldiers learn and keeping their skills sharp, you couldn't ask for anything better.

"It's an awesome feeling knowing you've got so much support in your corner before, during and after your deployment," Tuttle added.