THE role of U.S. Forces in Iraq continued to evolve with the launch of Operation New Dawn in September, and the majority of efforts now focus on the responsible transfer of authority to Iraqi security forces.
The Human Terrain Team, a specially trained group of Soldiers and civilians with expertise in cultural awareness, plays a pivotal role in helping both the U.S. and Iraqi governments realize their goals for a stable and prosperous Iraq.
Soldiers of 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment rotated through the U.S. Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in late May to prepare for a fall deployment to Iraq. Joined by HTT members, they trained in simulated towns and provinces with Arabic-speaking actors.
HTT personnel interview local populations in their natural environments and create a better system of communication between the U.S. military, Iraqi civilians, and local, provincial, and national governments.
"The goal of the human terrain team is to provide knowledge of the local population and their way of life to the U.S. military commanders," said Col. Edward Vaughn, who has served more than 32 years in the active Army, National Guard and Army Reserve. Vaughn volunteered to be a part of an HTT.
"(We are there) to help them better understand the people and make better decisions," he said, explaining that there have been misunderstandings in the past, when accomplishing combat missions were the priority.
"For a long time, we followed the principle that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line, but now we need to stop and get to the know people and develop that bond, that trust," said Vaughn.
At press time, there were already about 15 HTTs operating in Iraq. Once in country, HTT members work with provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs and large command groups to help facilitate an effective transition.
"The people of Iraq have been through decades of turmoil and are in need of assistance," said Dr. James Forsythe, a social scientist with the HTT training at the NTC. "They're building their own country back, and we want to help them in any way possible."
Forsythe, who has a doctorate in medical anthropology and served in the Navy Reserve, became interested in the Army's HTT project because of a desire to make a positive and lasting impression in Iraq. He said the key to success lies in the development of cultural awareness.
"The role of the command group is increasingly focused on facilitating a transition," said Forsythe. "HTT has the ability, to coin an African proverb, 'to find a path to a clearing.' We are helping to build that path to that clearing and the clearing is an open space where Iraq can flourish."
This is especially true as the Army continues to adapt its doctrines and methods to achieve victory, using counterinsurgency techniques that were not part of the traditional, large-scale battles of previous wars.
"It's not a force-on-force battlefield anymore," said Col. Christie Nixon, a former Reserve brigade commander and current HTT member. "It's a people battlefield."
Nixon, a firefighter with more than 27 years of service, said the HTT is one of the most exciting Army initiatives in years and she volunteered to become part of it.
"The types of activities that the Army is going to be involved in for the short- and long-term future are culturally oriented, and we have to consider the people that we are going to impact," said Nixon. "The Army carries the standard of the United States all across the world.
Forsythe added that if the HTTs are used properly, they could help prevent future conflicts and diminish local unrest before it manifests into violence.
"HTT is the Army's light touch with a heavy impact," said Forsythe.
Pfc. Jennifer Spradlin is assigned to the 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Fort Bliss, Texas.