Counterintelligence unit beefs up training for Afghanistan deployment

By Christie Vanover, USAG Benelux Public AffairsApril 6, 2009

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Mission readiness
2 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers remain alert after detaining four suspects during a warrior skills training exercise at Chièvres Air Base, in Belgium. Pictured left to right: Sgt. 1st Class Edward Mitchell, SHAPE Bn., US Army NATO; Pvt. John Olmstead, 39th Signal Bn.; Sgt.... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
A road to peace
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A road to peace
4 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Personnel stationed at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe train at the new Alliance Home Station Training Area on Chièvres Air Base in Belgium to prepare for deployments to Afghanistan. Role players are added to the exercise to allow perso... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Final ambush
5 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Before deploying to Afghanistan, members of the 650th Military Intelligence Group/Allied Command Counterintelligence exercise their mission readiness at the Alliance Home Station Training Area on Chièvres Air Base in Belgium. (Note: the license plate... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - As U.S. troops help build roads in Afghanistan to elevate the country's stabilizing regions, new roads have been paved at ChiAfA..vres Air Base to help NATO's Allied Command Operations teams to do the same.

The new Alliance Home Station Training Area in Belgium makes it possible for counterintelligence task forces from the 650th Military Intelligence Group/Allied Command Counterintelligence to exercise their mission readiness before going downrange.

The site was constructed in the Fall of 2008 to prepare the 650th Task Force that is currently in Afghanistan. Initially, it consisted of 30 buildings, an outdoor market and a single road, but in the past six months, the facility has continued to expand by adding access control points, forward operating bases, an additional village and more roads.

"The beauty of this training site is that it provides the realism and flexibility that is needed to properly prepare our folks heading downrange," said Col. James Drago, commander U.S. Army Garrison Benelux. "Here, our units can prepare for the asymmetric enemy, surrounded by unknown people, car accidents and explosions."

For the first time ever on ChiAfA..vres Air Base, counterintelligence forces cross-trained with U.S. personnel from four different units. According to Lt. Col. Matt Ingram, 650th MIG/ACCI operations officer, the training not only added complexity to his unit's mission readiness training, but it allowed the tenant units to sharpen their skills.

"We're getting training. They're getting training. Our training benefits them. Their training benefits us," he said.

While the 650th MIG/ACCI Soldiers, civilians and allied partners maneuvered through the mock villages to gather intelligence, personnel from the USAG Benelux, U.S. Army NATO SHAPE Battalion, 39th Signal Battalion and the Air Force Element conducted separate warrior skills tasks at various locations on site.

Each unit was charged with preparing its own battle scenario for its mission and scripting it into a master plan. Those scripts were prepared based on real incidents downrange.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Zitterich, a member of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe's Security Detail played a major role in scripting the scenario for the opposing force. The military police officer has been in the Army for eight years and has been deployed three times - once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq.

"Sgt. 1st Class Zitterich is very professional. He's able to accurately simulate what an enemy force would do against you," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Stearns, the exercise controller, "and they're not holding back."

One situation from the opposing force caused Spec. Justin Hill, of the 39th Signal Bn., to respond with a Quick Reaction Force. "We had people driving by stopping and taking photos of the base," he said. After being called to react he said, "They stopped the vehicle and ran from us. We shot warning shots and ended up detaining four people."

Although that scenario was intended to train Hill's unit, the information was reported back to the Tactical Operation Center and passed onto other units like the 650th MIG/ACCI. Counterintelligence teams would determine if that information was necessary to their mission, and if so, they could request to question the detainees, said Stearns.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Bridgeman, in addition to preparing scripts for the SHAPE Bn., had the role of tracking each unit's battle in the TOC to keep the overall scenario in tact.

The former infantry Soldier deployed to Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division, but was wounded in battle, and has since reclassified to human resources. He was grateful for the opportunity to serve as the TOC Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of this exercise.

"I still get a chance to tie in my infantry training and my new wealth of HR knowledge," he said. "Now, I know what I can provide to the Army."

Bridgeman said the 650th MIG/ACCI asked his unit to support the script writing so that everyone gets the greatest training possible.

"The Army has moved to a more modular force," he said. "The guys in your unit are not likely guys you'll go down range with. This teaches faith in the doctrine."

That mixture of coalition forces on-site added realism and complexity to the training, according to Maj. Brad Wenger, the 650th MIG/ACCI task force commander, who was preparing to deploy his unit.

He said seeing the mix of Soldiers is representative of a combat environment. "It builds up readiness," he added.

This is Wenger's second assignment with the 650th MIG/ACCI. He coincidentally took the very first 650th MIG/ACCI Task Force into Afghanistan, but admitted that they didn't have this type of training when they first went down. "It's easy to say we are much better prepared," he said.

"Some have been out of the box a year or more. This gives them the opportunity to re-hone their skills - moving through hostile environments, conducting counterintelligence in tactical arenas," he added

While Belgium is no Afghanistan, Wenger said, "Once you get into the scenario mindset, it's as real as it needs to be."

The 650th MIG/ACCI Task Force downrange, that conducted the first MRX training at ChiAfA..vres in October, agreed. Although the October exercise wasn't as complex, Stearns said the feedback has all been positive. "They said there is no substitute for it, and they felt better prepared then any team previously."

The Alliance Training Area, with the support of the USAG Benelux, 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command and tenant units like the 650th MIG/ACCI, will continue to see expansion as two new two-story buildings are constructed to increase the site's urban training capabilities.