The Fort Lewis unit assigned the job of providing an array of intelligence for American military units across Iraq has begun its work at almost 40 sites across the country.
The arrival of the 1,000 soldiers of the 201st Battlefield Support Battalion represents the last major deployment for a Fort Lewis unit this year. Two Stryker brigades, a fires brigade and I Corps deployed earlier this year.
The 201st will coordinate spying from human sources, intercept cell phone and other electronic messages, do counterintelligence work, manage Arabic linguists, and monitor and target enemy positions, among other specialized tasks.
Its soldiers are scattered to 38 sites throughout Iraq, with staffing ranging from three to 300 soldiers. The brigade headquarters, located at Contingency Operating Base Adder outside Tallil, will provide strategic intelligence to I Corps, deployed to run daily military operations under the banner of Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
Brigade commander Col. Robert Whalen said much of this work in the coming months will be dedicated to supporting national elections in January.
And many members of the 201st will partner with Iraqi security forces to train them in collecting intelligence – one of the fields where Baghdad still relies heavily on the American military.
“Success will be a patient accumulation of things,” Whalen said in a release. “It will be seen in the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces as we pass on special skills to them, especially those from the long-range surveillance company. When we leave, the Iraqis won’t miss a beat.”
The unit is the successor of the 201st Military Intelligence Brigade, a mix of active-duty, Reserve and National Guard soldiers who had been stationed at Fort Lewis since 1987. On July 3, 2008, the old 201st was deactivated and replaced by an all-active-duty version.
The brigade had less than a year to prepare for the deployment, Whalen said. Its soldiers trained among retired Central Intelligence Agency officers and Joint Special Operations Command service members. Whalen spent time in Morocco learning Arabic.
During a ceremony last week that marked the 201st Brigade’s official assumption of responsibilities from the Fort Hood, Texas-based 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Whalen said his predecessor’s work means his unit should enjoy a smooth transition.
“They did an extraordinary job preparing us to take over operations here. They developed relationships, which is an important part of Iraqi society,” he said. “Because of that, we are able to plunge right in from Day 1.”