JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Oct. 23, 2015) -- Five Soldiers camouflaged under thick vegetation crawl on their bellies through the woods, dragging weapons and heavy backpacks with them until they are within sight of a small compound of buildings.
The Soldiers pause near the wood line and begin pulling high-tech computers and surveillance equipment from their bags, which they quickly set up and cover with vegetation to avoid detection. The Soldiers are a mix of infantry, intelligence and offensive cyber specialties coming together for an integrative cyber validation exercise on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, or JBLM, Washington, Oct. 20-21.
The exercise, which brings together Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry, or 2-2 ID, and the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, or EMIB, out of JBLM, and the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade out of Fort Meade, Maryland, is the first of its kind for 2-2 ID as they prepare to face a new cyber enemy at the National Training Center, or NTC, on Fort Irwin, California, early next year.
Col. William J. Hartman, commander of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade, is spearheading the cyber training initiative for the Army and providing integrated cyber assets for the brigade as they train this month in preparation for NTC.
"We're here working with 2-2 Stryker Brigade and the 201st EMIB here on a cyber pilot that we've been working on for about a year now," Hartman said. "The goal of the pilot is to analyze how we integrate a cyberspace operational capability at the corps level and below. For this particular iteration, we're focusing on how we integrate a capability with a brigade combat team at the National Training Center."
But the need for integrated cyber capabilities extend far beyond the training environment and into the modern battlefield.
"If we look at what's going on in the world, whether it's what's going on in Southwest Asia with ISIL or what's going on in EUCOM [U.S. European Command] with the crisis in Ukraine, we've seen that our peer competitors or adversaries are very aggressively using cyberspace to support their operations," Hartman said. "As an Army, we have to understand that environment."
The integrated training at JBLM is a major launching point for ground units beginning to integrate cyber capabilities into their training and operations. It's also a way for Soldiers at the most practical level to understand the importance of the cyber domain and how it can augment their missions.
For the training exercise, 1st Lt. Kenneth Medina, a platoon leader in C Company, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2-2 ID (SBCT), is commanding the ground troops whose mission is to isolate and capture a high-value target, a known enemy combatant holed up somewhere in a multi-building compound filled with people. Ordinarily, he would rely on pre-gathered intelligence information, which varies in reliability and accuracy from mission to mission, to locate his target.
However, during this mission, Medina has a new weapon providing him real time intelligence - offensive cyber teams.
"The cyber element was able to provide intelligence to myself on the ground that enhanced [intelligence] information that made the picture of the battlefield much more clear," Medina said. "When you incorporate cyber into that you gain a much higher degree of accuracy on the target and you can paint a much clearer picture of the objective area."
While patrolling through the village, cyber and intelligence teams hidden in the wood line across from the compound and teams within the patrol provide him with up-to-the-minute information, which allows his men to quickly isolate the enemy target and remove him from the village.
"The cyber element was able to monitor some of the digital traffic that was moving through the village and the compound. They were able to relay that information to me via radio, and I was able to take action on that intelligence that they gave me in the village in real time," Medina said.
He emphasizes the importance of this capability in situations, where Soldiers may have a difficult time distinguishing non-combatants from hostile personnel, such as an urban area of Afghanistan, where the Taliban live amongst civilians and don't necessarily carry weapons.
"It definitely increased our accuracy, which is a true challenge on the maneuver side going through such a small village with friendly, enemy and non-combatant forces. So being able to improve our accuracy increased our efficiency," Medina said.
Capt. Larry, Harris, commander of C Company, 4-23 Infantry, 2-2 ID (SBCT), is Medina's commander and shares his enthusiasm for what the cyber teams bring to the fight, but also sees his own Soldiers' importance in integrating the capabilities.
"This is a relationship where we help them help us. We're providing a security platform and mobility for them to use their assets the best they can," Harris said. "For our Soldiers to be able to see these assets and know they're available is a huge win for us."