By Robert Bruce
“We take great pride in being the Army’s only Technical Intelligence battalion and the opportunities we have to operate in a Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational environment. Fulfilling our missions as a completely Army Reserve unit does come with challenges, most significantly is our status as an ‘Always Available’ unit. This requires we be ready at all times to deploy in support of Overseas Contingency Operations. Our Soldiers understand this challenge and this serves as a clear motivator for them to maintain their individual readiness as the unit’s leadership focuses on operational support and training opportunities that maintain our mission readiness.” Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Risner, Commander, 203D MI Battalion
Unique not only to the Army, there’s little else in the entire U.S. Armed Forces with the size, structure and mission of the 203D, and probably not anywhere else in the world. These “Technicians for Victory” are the go-to guys for critical intel on what our current and likely future adversaries are bringing to the battlefield.
“Technical intelligence is intelligence derived from the collection, processing, analysis, and exploitation of data and information pertaining to foreign equipment and materiel for the purposes of preventing technological surprise, assessing foreign scientific and technical capabilities, and developing countermeasures designed to neutralize an adversary’s technological advantages (JP 2-0). The role of TECHINT is to ensure Soldiers understand the threat’s full technological capabilities. With this understanding, U.S. forces can adopt appropriate countermeasures, operations, and tactics, techniques, and procedures.” Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 2-0, Intelligence
The basic concept of technical intelligence certainly dates back to the Stone Age when reports of the first use of sticks sharpened into spears reached a cave clan leader. If he was smart enough he had his Cro-Magnon minions sharpen their own and train with them in anticipation of the next fight over hunting grounds. Ever since then, timely warnings on developments in enemy weaponry have repeatedly given a decisive edge to battle commanders who would otherwise be blindsided by their adversaries’ unexpected or increasingly sophisticated innovations.
This, in a nutshell, is what the 203D is all about.
A Brief History and Recent Operations of the 203D Military Intelligence Battalion
While not actually dating back to the Stone Age, today’s 203D proudly traces its lineage to the Army’s spectacularly successful Ordnance Technical Intelligence Teams in WWII. GIs fighting worldwide against the German and Japanese Axis forces eagerly awaited regular issues of the well-illustrated and plainly-worded Intelligence Bulletins. These provided the latest rumor-busting facts along with practical advice on dealing with enemy weaponry of all types.
The concept was revived in the Korean War and again in time for the buildup to the Vietnam War when a Captured Materiel Exploitation Center was set up in country. This was formalized as Delta Company of the existing 519th Military Intelligence Battalion.
Their own tech intel bulletins were widely circulated among U.S. and allied units with particular interest in capabilities of the enemy’s newly-introduced RPG-7 and surprise appearance of Soviet PT-76 amphibious tanks.
After a postwar layover at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Delta was moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland in 1978, first becoming the 11th Military Intelligence Company, later ramped-up to Battalion status.
Addition of OPFOR (Opposing Forces) training missions came with its designation as the 203D Military Intelligence Battalion (Provisional) in 1982. The Army’s decidedly different TI troops had their own unique entity – a detachment operating Soviet armored vehicle look-alikes for large scale mock battles on the vast desert terrain of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.
In an odd series of back and forth re-designations that only matter to heraldry buffs and unit members at the time, the 203D became the Foreign Materiel Intelligence Battalion in 1986 and back to 203D MI BN (Provisional) in 1995.
A visit way back then to these (called “Wizards of War” at the time) astonished this author who encountered what were probably the most amazing motor pools, warehouses, armories, and ammo bunkers in the entire U.S. Armed Forces. Packed with examples of the world’s armored fighting vehicles, artillery, commo and chemical gear, as well as exotic weaponry and ammo from pen guns to city-block-destroying multiple rocket launchers, this inventory supported in-depth evaluations and volumes of essential Tech Intel Bulletins and fact-filled operators manuals.
Then, in 1998, the 203D became a strange hybrid of active and reserve component soldiers. The battalion commander, along with primary staff officers and two of its line companies were reservists. Headquarters and A company were active duty troops. We’re told that the concept was intended to support both day-to-day collection and analysis of materiel with the capability to somewhat quickly bring in and deploy additional assets as required by real world situations.
This changed radically in late 2011 when the battalion became fully a reserve component. The Army lost the 203D’s 96 hour deployment capability and dumped a host of “challenges” on its mostly part-time officers, warrants, NCOs, and soldiers.
Elements of the 203D have been involved in every major ground operation the Army has launched beginning with Grenada in 1983. Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and again for Operation Iraqi Freedom were major undertakings for the battalion as primary players in multi-service, multinational Combined Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Centers (CJCMEC). The latest overseas deployment came in 2011 with a WIT (Weapons Intelligence Team) sent to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
More recently, In May 2012, the battalion held the annual Combined Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Center (CJCMEC) exercise. The purpose of the exercise is to increase the ability of the 203D MI BN, DIA, ONI, NASIC, MCIA, NAVEODTECHDIV, and Allied Partners from South Korea, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom to effectively operate as a CJCMEC during Overseas Contingency Operations. The exercise consisted of over 180 participants with the notable presence of 28 representatives from the Republic of Korea.
In September 2012, the 203D MI BN (TECHINT) hosted its annual TECHINT Day at its facilities on Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD. The event began with an introduction to the unit and an overview of traditional and contemporary TECHINT. Guests then witnessed a live, pyrotechnic infused; demonstration of a TECHINT Teams’ aerial insertion and exploitation in a battlefield scenario. The demonstration depicted a traditional TECHINT exploitation of a Russian 2S6, Sensitive Site Exploitation of a command post, exploitation of a foreign weapons cache and biometric data collection of two “insurgents.” Guests were broken into teams and rotated through each of those stations for deeper, more hands on training. The afternoon portion consisted of rides in a Russian T-72 and BMP armored carrier, as well as live fire familiarization training on AK-47, AK-74, RPK, FPK, SVD and PKM machine guns. Over 185 personnel from the Intelligence Community; Federal, State and Local Law Enforcement and various Active Reserve units attended the event. Attendees included MG James Young, USAR Chief of Staff (and former 203D MI BN Commander); BG William Duffy, MIRC CG; multiple representatives from the Intelligence Community; and ROTC Cadets from multiple universities.
Also, the 203D conducted two Foreign Weapons Mobile Training Teams during 2012. Over 80 sailors and soldiers were trained including members of the Navy SEAL Team 3 out of San Diego, CA and the Army’s 300th Military Police Battalion.
The MPs were heading off to Afghanistan to train the Afghan Police on law enforcement tactics including the proper use and operation of foreign weapons. The SEALs were heading off to an undisclosed location.
A similar Captured Materiel Exploitation Center (CMEC) exercise and a TECHINT demonstration for TECHINT professionals from the United Kingdom were conducted in 2013; as well as a specialized weapons training session for the FBI.
The unit’s leaders were tight-lipped when asked about more recently deploying specialized TI Teams in response to requests from high level entities in Department of Defense. Hold that thought and keep in mind that individuals, teams and whole units of Army Reserve Soldiers are subject to a call to active duty at any time.
For those with a desire to know more, an in-depth history of the 203D in Operation Iraqi Freedom was written by Second Lieutenant Daniel Arnold, who deployed with the 203D MI Battalion in OIF as a Sergeant in the CM&D Platoon. He is currently a civilian employee with the National Ground Intelligence Center. www.thefreelibrary.com/The+203D+MI+Battalion+(technical+intelligence)+in+operation+Iraqi…-a0137860163
This United States Army Reserve battalion is tasked with a formidable array of missions. Here’s its actual mission statement:
The 203D MI BN will maintain combat ready Soldiers, teams, and units capable of deploying and conducting Technical Intelligence (TECHINT) missions in support of worldwide Overseas Contingency Operations. On order, deploy and establish the Captured Materiel Exploitation Center (CMEC), which serves at the DOD directed infrastructure for the formation of the Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Center (JCMEC) providing near-real time intelligence derived from enemy materiel. Exercise Mission Command for battlefield collection, processing, exploitation, and evacuation of enemy weapons, equipment, and other materiel within the theater of operation. Train Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational elements on TECHINT Operations. Core Competencies include TECHINT, CJMEC operations and exercises, Site Exploitation (SE), Battlefield Forensics, and Weapons Technical Intelligence (WTI).
And while they’re at it, the “Big Green Machine” (Active Duty U.S. Army and all its Reserve and National Guard components) the 203D has some specifics spelled out in Field Manual 2-0 Intelligence. Not a few of which (note asterisks *) present significant challenges for this part-time battalion to maintain proficiency and perform acceptably:
– Establish and Operate the Captured Materiel Exploitation Center (CMEC)
– Conduct TECHINT collection and reporting in support of validated S&TI
*Act as the HQDA executive agent for foreign materiel used for training purposes
*Conduct TECHINT training for DoD and RC TECHINT personnel
*Support INSCOM’s FMA and FME operations as directed
*Analyze and exploit foreign
captured enemy documents (CEDs) equipment, weapon systems, and other war materiel.
– Report on the capabilities and limitations of enemy combat materiel
– Provide reports alerting the command to the tactical threat posed by technical advances in new or recently discovered foreign or enemy materiel
*Provide countermeasures to any enemy technical advantage
*Provide foreign or enemy equipment for troop familiarization and training
*Provide recommendations on the reuse of CEM
– Supervise the evacuation of TECHINT items
– Provide task organized battlefield TECHINT teams to support a subordinate command’s TECHINT effort
Well, that’s what the Army expects them to do. But are they provided with the necessary personnel and assets to do the job? Particularly in the choking grasp of politically-driven “sequester” budget cuts and what some see as a kind of benign neglect by higher-ups.
Organization of the 203D Military Intelligence Battalion
The 203D MI BN is a United States Army Reserve unit that maintains combat ready soldiers, teams and units capable of deploying in support of Worldwide Overseas Contingency Operations.
This unit’s 267 soldiers – officers, warrants, NCOs and enlisted – are organized into a headquarters company and four line companies. Most all of these soldiers report for duty one weekend a month to training assemblies and two weeks a year for more in-depth taskings. A dedicated cadre of some eighteen full time soldiers and a half dozen civilians provide day-to-day operational, logistical and administrative continuity.
The battalion occupies modern and spacious quarters at the Army’s Aberdeen proving Ground, Maryland, the traditional home of the Ordnance Corps and boasting Aberdeen Test Center’s enormous and versatile range complex. Fortuitously, it is co-located with the Foreign Materiel Operations Division of NGIC, the National Ground Intelligence Center.
The long time mission of this unit has been to conduct battlefield exploitation on enemy materiel in order to alert battlefield commanders of new enemy capabilities; thus preventing the element of technical surprise. In addition, the 203D MI BN is responsible for the evacuation of foreign materiel from the battlefield back to research and testing facilities in the United States or other Coalition countries, with the intent to accelerate the development of friendly countermeasures.
The battalion woks with NGIC to train soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines and civilians on technical intelligence and foreign weapons. The battalion also supports the Defense Intelligence Agency by planning and participating in Combined Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Center Exercises. The 203D MI BN provides a significant level of support to Army organizations, national level agencies and other military services to ensure TECHINT operations are conducted on the battlefield.
Battalion Headquarters: Conducts Mission Command and includes the S1, S2, S3, and S6 sections for support.
HHC: Provides and coordinates support for the battalion on all functions and other basic requirements to ensure the success of the unit.
A, B & C Companies: Conduct TECHINT Operations; foreign vehicle exploitation, foreign weapons exploitation, site exploitation, Weapons Technical Intelligence (WTI), IED identification, and Foreign System Familiarization.
D Company: Exploitation and Warehousing – Maintains accountability of captured materiel, creates Target Packages on Captured Exploitation Materiel (CEM) for TECHINT teams, analyzes and exploits CEM to determine new/special capabilities; receives, tracks and stores CEM for shipment to scientific exploitation centers; and supports exploitation efforts conducted by other organizations with subject matter experts. Their analytical cell provides battlefield intelligence analysis to TECHINT teams. Develops and prioritizes national level and combatant commanders TECHINT requirements.
Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and Training Sustainment Issues
The 203D MI BN (TECHINT) has 44 different military occupational specialties assigned to its organizational structure. The MOS requirements were developed in the 1980s to facilitate exploitation of foreign equipment; particularly Soviet built equipment. The Army does not at this time maintain a MOS specifically for the exploitation of foreign equipment and materiel.
When the 203D was an all active-component entity, these diverse MOS’ were filled mostly with NCOs with years of experience in their specialties. They applied these U.S. military skills to analyzing foreign materiel and providing useful intelligence about capabilities and countermeasures.
For example, let’s say that the latest export version of a particular foreign battle tank is recovered on the battle field. Team members whose MOS’ likely include 94 series Communications Repairer, 19 KILO Abrams Tank Crewman, 63 HOTEL Track Vehicle Repairer, 45 KILO Armament Repairer, 45 BRAVO Small Arms/Artillery Repairer, and others would apply their expertise to evaluating and sending resulting technical intelligence up through the chain-of-command for dissemination. That way, all friendly units in the area of operations and beyond can be provided with info of immediate tactical value should additional tanks of this type be encountered.
This analysis model has continued since transition to all-Reserve Component but this drastic change, implemented in late 2011, carries with it some particular challenges. Today’s 203D, while retaining many highly experienced mid and senior level NCOs, has a large percentage of enlisted soldiers who are very new to their MOS. As such, they can’t be expected to look at a given piece of enemy materiel with the same analytical abilities as more seasoned NCOs.
The solution, we’re told, is partly one of closer involvement of the more experienced unit members. This is discussed in Part 2 in our in-depth interview with Sergeant First Class Danial Stanley, a Platoon Sergeant in Company D.
“As the Army’s only TECHINT unit, the 203D has successfully mobilized for multiple deployments in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The unit’s structure, however, has not kept pace with the new and evolving definition of technical intelligence. Given that the technical requirements of today are more focused on IED analysis and the like, and that the U.S. will likely maintain its military technology edge over any potential adversary for many years. The 203D will be updated to focus on the emerging and current TECHINT and DOMEX needs of today.” (203D MI BN Command Briefing)
At the same time emphasizing their determination to perform at 110% despite creeping austerity and challenges coming down from the chain-of-command, unit leaders we talked with hold out hope that the Army will OK some needed changes in the near future.
The 203D’s Command Briefing addresses this with some specific challenges such as the not-incorrect perception of many in the Army that some of the battalion’s capabilities are reduced. Reasons for this include loss of the previously standard 96 hour response time for deployment, reduced funding for Mobile Training Teams, lack of opportunities for career progression, and reduced ability to perform in multiple deployments.
Solutions forwarded up the chain start with structural reorganization to a headquarters element and three identical line companies that are completely modular. These can be individually tasked to different locations and at different times to provide WTI qualified TECHINT teams in support of CMEC missions on company level.
This change also supports a full spectrum of operations from individual TI teams, to a company-sized CMEC (Captured Materiel Exploitation Center), to the whole battalion being activated to set up a “theater level” CJCMEC (Combined Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Center).
Personnel issues are addressed by a requested reduction of the current 44 Military Occupational Specialties to just 15 carefully selected skill sets. This not only streamlines the range of specialties, it also provides better retention of trained personnel because they have upward progression in rank.
Some of the specific numbers and plans are still being looked at by the Intelligence community and the Army as to what will be the best design for the 203D of the future.
Note from 203D’s commander after reviewing the story: “Army and Army Reserve leadership are analyzing the 203D’s mission and future structure. The above section is full of conjecture from people you interviewed who didn’t necessarily take into account the larger picture.” We report, you decide…
Need Technical Intelligence Training?
An important part of the 203D’s mission is to send out mobile training teams to conduct foreign weapons training for authorized units in DOD and other entities. Depending on available funding and other factors, this can be done at a location specified by the requestor, or at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. For details contact: Commander, 203D Military Intelligence Battalion, ATTN: S-3, 4247 Deer Creek Loop, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD 21005. Telephone (410) 278-7832. Email email@example.com
Foreign Weapons and More
While the battalion’s mission and capabilities go well beyond collection and identification of enemy materiel, the hook for us gun guys is, of course, the foreign weapons, ammo and related equipment. In Part 2 we’ll sit in on some concentrated foreign weapon training sessions in classrooms and then take our readers to the range for a day of live fire action.
Interview with Sergeant First Class Danial “Danny” Stanley, Foreign Weapons Lead Instructor, 203D’s Technical Intelligence Operator Course
This 45 year old native of West Virginia now makes his home in Harpers Ferry, WV, and commutes each workday to his regular job as a civilian employee for a defense contractor at Fort Meade, MD. He’s a for mer Navy Hospital Corpsman who went into the Army in 2000, and then the U.S. Army Reserve. Total service 26 years.
SAR: How did you make your way into the 203D?
Stanley: A USAR recruiter found a 45B position (small arms and artillery repairer) in 203D. When I found out we were tech intel dealing with foreign weapons I never left. Probably never will. I deployed with 203D to Operation Iraqi Freedom. My current duty position is Senior Technical Analyst and I’m a platoon sergeant in Delta Company.
SAR: Has your current assignment lived up to your expectations?
Stanley: More than. I really enjoy this place. I get the opportunity to keep current on FW technology and tell new soldiers. I feel like I’m passing knowledge on to the next generation and this is a good place to do that.
SAR: So many different specialties in 203D. Tell us about their appreciation for weapons technology.
Stanley: We do have more than forty different Military Occupational Specialties but I think the one that soldiers tend to like the most is whenever we get to work with small arms. I can show you a T72 tank all day and all the nifty features of it, but when we break out the FWs (foreign weapons), everybody wants to be there. It’s kind of our bread and butter. How does that work? Can I shoot it? Nobody gets to shoot the tank but everybody gets to shoot the guns.
SAR: Can you say you’ve brought people to an interest in small arms through the work that you do?
Stanley: I’d think yes. You’ve probably spoken to enough people in the military to know that previous generations owned guns, hunted for rabbits and deer. They knew how to use a gun before they came into the military so it’s not a big deal for them to get into the Army and shoot an M16. But we now get a lot of city kids and others who never even touched a gun until they joined the Army. They’ve seen the AK47 on some video game and now they get to shoot it. Pretty excited about that and I could probably go next door (to where the class is ongoing) and ask who has actually bought a gun since getting to the 203D. Quite a few who’ve said yes.
SAR: So, for all MOS’ in 203D one unifying thing is small arms?
Stanley: I think so, yes.
SAR: Are you personally interested in firearms and shooting?
Stanley: Oh yes. In my regular job I’m a gunsmith with a large defense contractor, fixing guns for the Army. Depot level maintenance, upgrades, etc., to their standard small arms. No FWs. I keep the guns running for the guys who go downrange.
SAR: How did you get into this job?
Stanley: Found it on Linked-in, searching for keywords ‘gunsmith, armorer.’ I’ve been there 3 1/2 years now. My Army training and knowledge got me in the door and my FW knowledge from 203D is what I think sealed the deal because they wanted someone who knew FWs. Since then I’ve gone to get certifications on a lot of different guns. Glock, SIG, Beretta, Remington, Colt, HK, Knight’s, and three from Long Mountain. The way contracting works is my employer pays me to go to the class then they bill the Army.
SAR: Back to personally interested in firearms and shooting.
Stanley: My first gun was one my dad got me; a single shot .410 (shotgun) when I was twelve. My first personally purchased gun was a (Ruger) 10/22. The first deer rifle I bought got me curious about how they work and why this is not considered an ‘assault weapon’ but that one is. I went to the gun store and told the man I’d like to buy an inexpensive deer rifle and he sold me an SKS. I asked what that little nub on the muzzle end was and he said that’s a bayonet lug. I said, ‘that’s cool, I think I’ll put a bayonet on there.’ He said, ‘Oh no, you’ll be in violation of the crime bill of 1994 by having a bayonet.’ That turned on the curiosity bulb and I’ve been buying guns and fixing guns, trading and building. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve got in my cabinet since then.
Stanley: For the most part I really like my AR. Mostly because it’s such a modular gun. I built my own starting with a Rock River lower. By going to gun shows and saying ‘here’s a part I need to complete it. Well, I’m not happy with that,’ and changed it out. I’ve changed fore ends, pistol grips, butt stocks, so many times. It’s currently being remodeled again with a railed fore end, floating system. Flat top upper with M4 feed ramps, Colt heavy barrel. Heavy barrel was great for shooting targets but running up and down range and trying to shoot around barricades the barrel gets hot and heavy pretty quick. I’m probably going to build myself a short upper with a just long enough flash hider to keep it legal. Semi-auto, of course.
Stanley: My daily carry is an HK P2000 SK in .40 S&W. It’s compact, fits good in my hand, put it in my waist without an issue. I like the reliability of the HK. I like .45 cal., but if I’m going to get one the only logical choice is a classic 1911. But a little too big to carry on a daily basis. So the HK in .40. More powerful than 9 millimeter and we’ve known for a hundred years that the 9 mil sucks but we keep using it. Kind of a happy medium between a 9 mil and a .45. I work in the ‘Peoples Republic of Maryland’ (restrictive gun laws) so I can’t carry when I’m going to and from work. But when off duty and home in West Virginia, I carry all the time.
SAR: What formal schools and subsequent training have you received for your duties?
Stanley: Factory schools for Glock, SIG, Beretta, Remington, Colt, HK, Knight’s, and three from Long Mountain Outfitters. LMO’s Matt Babb’s a great instructor. I’ve picked up a lot of good points from him. Also, Dr. Phil Dater’s silencer technology class there. He‘s a great teacher, shed a lot of light on the inner workings of suppressors. Not just a tube with baffles – here’s how it works. I’m about to go to a fourth one next month; LMO’s week long FW operator/armorer course.
SAR: LMO’s FW course because you haven’t had enough of that at 203D?
Stanley: Well, you can teach yourself only so much. Even though I might have worked with them enough and taught myself everything I think there could possibly be to learn on my own; and I‘m not by far anywhere near that level. I could have a self-taught PhD in firearms but without a certificate no one wants to hire you based just on the knowledge you might have in your head without some paperwork to back it up. I’m getting the certificates for liability purposes.
And now I’m almost done with an online Associate Degree in firearms technology through Sonoran Desert Institute – fully paid for by the Army’s tuition assistance program. It’s mostly theory, but they also send me things to work on. I got a stock with a checkering kit, punch and hammer set, bore site, Dremel tool, etc. I don‘t have time to take off two years to attend a formal, in-house gunsmithing school.
SAR: Briefly comment on key weapons that are featured in the course and why these in particular.
Stanley: For the most part the course focuses on the most common on the battlefield; the AK, G3, SKS. Basic families and variants. Those are the ones we’ll most likely encounter. Our goal is to learn about new technologies and see if they have practical advantages. We can’t know if anything is new, we can’t know the unknown until we know the known. If we know all the variants of the AK, and we know all the variants of the G3 family of firearms, and the FAL, then, if we see something that kinda looks like a FAL and kinda looks like a G3 – a Frankenstein thing – then we know something new has come out.
The two days of FW training in the course gives you a taste. I think the only way to get good at is it to learn more of it yourself. Everybody in this unit probably ought to get themselves a copy of Jane’s Guns Recognition Guide or subscribe to Small Arms Review. Or at least get some back copies. Jane’s is a great reference but it’s still the same as the edition I bought twelve years ago. If you could thumb through some back issues of SAR you’ll probably catch some emerging technology from that. A good reference library.
SAR: Within the weapons specialty at 203D, there must be much more emphasis on what’s newest and best. How is that addressed in the command and specifically in your position?
Stanley: We share the building with NGIC – the National Ground Intelligence Center. They have a foreign weapons reference collection across the hall from where we work. They get new and old guns from time to time. We’ve got a pretty decent relationship with them and when something really neat comes in they’ll call and Chief Warrant Officer Grogan and I will go over and take a look.
For instance, makeshift firearms. There’s not much more to a gun than a tube to make the bullet go downrange, something to hit the firing pin, and a trigger. Sometimes that’s what we’ll find; just enough parts to make it go ‘boom!’ And if it can hit a vehicle and take it out, that’s all that really matters ’cause now everybody’s gotta get out of the vehicle. I’ve seen those. That’s technical intelligence: Who built this, where did the parts come from? You find some makeshift firearm and the pistol grip came from a Black and Decker drill, firing pin is a welding rod, the barrel is a spare from an M2 .50 cal. dropped along the roadside. They put it all together and the next thing you know they’ve got a makeshift .50 caliber sniper rifle.
SAR: Is it correct to say that a lot of what’s at NGIC was collected by the 203D?
Stanley: Yes. I’ve been with the battalion for quite some time and we went over in 2003 to Iraq and we collected a lot of stuff for the Priority Intelligence Requirements List. Essentially a shopping list that says ‘these are things the Coalition Forces would like to have.’ For example, NGIC would say we want to have the following guns and five of each. So we sent home planeloads of guns to the U.S., and to whoever put out their wish list.
Interestingly, Australia said we want five Makarov pistols. Nothing unusual, just standard 9x18mm. So we found and shipped ’em.
SAR: Any unusual weapons?
Stanley: I didn’t see a lot of unusual stuff. When we were over there it actually got kind of tedious. As much as I’m into firearms, I’ll tell you that after staring at CONEX box (large steel ocean shipping containers) after CONEX box of AKs – surplus East German AKs that were outfitting Sadaam’s army.
I saw in a warehouse an M1 Garand rifle that was presented to Sadaam Hussein by Richard Nixon. It had a plaque on it. I thought that was kind of neat – here we are going after the guy who used to be on friendly relations. It stayed there because it had no technical intel value. Who knows what happened to it.
I saw a couple of 12 or 14 foot long “punt guns,” shotguns with a two inch bore. I thought that was kind of funny.
We sent home a couple of crates of brand new in the box Al Kadish sniper rifles. Iraqi version of the SVD but kind of like a Frankenstein cross between the SVD and the PSL. The SVD is milled but the Iraqis decided to make a stamped version, kinda hokey. But they all had red plates on the bottom of the pistol grip with lettering in Arabic. None of us knew why but we were curious and we took them apart. Every one had a hole drilled through the barrel just beyond the chamber. So the second you pulled the trigger the bullet would go about three eighths of an inch and blast out the sides of the hand guards. There are a lot of theories about why they appeared to be sabotaged or who knows what. Some believed that Sadaam would give these to people as “gifts” because he was a twisted dude hoping the people would shoot ‘em and blow a thumb off.
We found them in an infantry training facility and I feel like it was homework. They were sniper rifles in a loose sense of the term and my theory was the trainers would have the students practice their trigger pull with these guns. A lot foreign militaries have a high desertion rate and when they do, a lot of times they take their guns with ‘em.
Somebody finally told me that the translation (for the lettering on the red plates) was “training.”
SAR: Can you tell us about some of the interesting weapons that you have seen at NGIC?
Stanley: I can’t tell you. There’s some pretty neat stuff over there but… I’ve mentioned that I’ve gone to some training at Long Mountain and I’ve seen Dan Shea’s collection. It’s pretty neat. And I’ve seen some guns that he has that I have seen in other places and I’ve been told, ‘Hey that’s classified.’ It’s not so much that the technology is classified but the fact that the U.S. Army has something like that is classified. If we told the world that the 203D and NGIC have this latest, greatest evolution in Russian firearms technology then they’d say, ‘well that cat’s out of the bag. Let’s work on something new.’ It’s ok that you (Dan) have it but the U.S. Army is not supposed to acknowledge that they have it. However you have to rephrase that (laughs).
SAR: Unusual ammunition?
Stanley: We went to a warehouse in Iraq and found cases of wooden rounds. Fluted cases and wooden bullets. (Old style 8mm Mauser type training blanks?) We brought back to our collection point thousands of tons of ammo. If it was questionable it would go to EOD for destruction but a lot was sent to Aberdeen to be used for testing. If some company says they’ve got a new bulletproof vest that will stop those Russian AK rounds, then someone takes it down from the shelf for testing. Standard ammunition but it got used for tests that save soldiers’ lives. New body armor, new vehicles. We’d gather up several crates of RPG7 rounds and they come here to Aberdeen and do penetration tests to see if BAE’s truck will actually stop it.
SAR: We understand there’s some difficulty lately in 203D getting 7.62 x 39mm ammo for the course’s live fire component and to conduct MTTs.
Stanley: With restructuring and trying to save some money here and there, somebody at a higher level is trying to figure out which of these missions is critical and who should be doing it. I think that MTT (Mobile Training Team) mission is kind of getting squabbled over right now as to whether the 203D or Special Forces to be teaching it. Might cost us all our ammo.
We sent a MTT out to Utah a few months ago. We just brought guns and they supplied all the ammo. A lot of ammo.
SAR: Do you have any particular favorite from the foreign weapons that are part of the course? If so, why?
Stanley: I think my favorite is the AK. It’s probably cliché for me to like the AK but it’s just a reliable gun. The tank of firearms. I wouldn’t say it’s indestructible but you can’t beat ’em. The AK 47 and the M1911. I mean, what could go wrong with them? I don’t think there is any way to improve it. Can’t beat it. Simple. You can teach a monkey to use it. I think I saw that video on YouTube. I’ve seen some newer versions. The Polish version is great.
SAR: What advice do you have for students preparing for this course?
Stanley: What we teach here only scratches the surface and we can’t possibly teach you everything you need to know in just two weeks. It’s important that everybody who takes this course does a little homework on their own. The reason we have so many MOS’ (Military Occupational Specialties) here is you’re supposed to be good at your MOS and use that knowledge of American equipment within that MOS to learn about and exploit foreign equipment. If you’re a commo technician you should know American radios really well and be able to look at a foreign radio and figure out what it does. I know American weapons and I know foreign weapons. If I look at foreign weapons I should be able to tell, ‘hey, there’s something new.’ Learn more about it. You can’t possibly learn this one weekend a month or on a two week span one time a year. So if your MOS is fixing guns, go buy a Jane’s manual on guns. Radios, go buy one on foreign radios and learn about it. Our medics – their primary duty here is not to be a medic. It’s to exploit foreign medical materiel. Look at their first aid kit and compare it to ours. Are they prepared to treat battle wounds or not. If we see some dead guy on the field with no visible signs of trauma. Do some kind of a quick necropsy and find out how he died. My advice is to study and learn more on your own. Develop a passion for MOS and your foreign counterpart’s MOS. Prepare yourself for the day when someone asks you, ‘what does that tan box do?’
As a Platoon Sergeant I really enjoy getting with a new soldier who just got out of initial entry training and comes to the unit and asks, ‘why am I here and what do I do?’ It’s gratifying to see them progress through their days of ‘just got out of school, doesn’t know what’s going on,’ to seeing them teaching someone else what I just taught them. When I see a soldier doing what I told him and the way I told him to do it, knowing he’s going to tell someone else what I told him and the way I told him to do it, I feel like I have done my job. They’re going to succeed me, and someone is going to succeed them and there’s continuity.
SAR: So everybody who comes into the battalion – officer and enlisted – has to go through the TIO course?
Stanley: Yes, that’s a recent development. I’m glad to see that happening. I’ve seen people here for two or three years struggling. Asking ‘why the hell am I here?’ Now they go through the course and the light goes on. They realize they actually do have a purpose.
SAR: Is it a challenge to keep these soldiers motivated when they think they might never deploy to do the TI mission in real conflict?
Stanley: It is sometimes frustrating to think you’re training for something that might never happen.
(At this point we were joined by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nathan “Nate” Grogan, the 203D’s Armament Systems Warrant Officer)
SAR: Rather than specific questions, tell us about your portion of the 203D. What you do and how you do it.
Grogan: My biggest focus right now is trying to continually refine and improve the foreign weapons training program. Not just on small arms, but anything that has to do with weapons in general. From pistols up to artillery. My MOS is a 913 Alpha, Armament Systems Warrant Officer, assigned to the S-3 Operations section. A good position to be in for what I’m trying to do.
SAR: Do small groups or teams get deployed these days?
Grogan: Not currently, but we’re actually trying to change that.
Stanley: Trying to get restructured so we can get deployed. Intelligence is global. Look at the news and see that there’s stuff brewing all over the place. It’s just a matter of time before someone says, ‘Hey 203D, you’re needed in North Korea.’
SAR: The question then is how to keep these young soldiers who are coming into a reserve battalion motivated? From what you’re telling us, the TIO course is a good part of that. It shows them the bigger picture, how they fit in, what happens when they would be deployed, what they would do, why it’s important when all the info goes back to be shared throughout the intelligence community. Right?
Stanley: Yes. And when a solider finishes his class we don’t really consider him an actual subject matter expert (SME) at that point. This isn‘t official jargon but I‘d consider them a junior SME or SME in training or development. When they go back to their companies (in the battalion) we start assigning them classes; ‘I want you to teach Module 12 from the course.’ We have better access to the foreign small arms than the vehicles. We can’t just go over there on a Saturday afternoon and say, “Would you mind if we check out the ‘zoo?” (Soviet ZSU-23-4 ). We have to make arrangements ahead of time for (NGIC’s) contractors to move it out from that side of the fence. But we can tell Specialist Brown to go teach a foreign weapons class on how to field strip an AK47. We get the armorer to sign out a couple of AK47s for the day.
(Grogan explains challenge of this RC unit’s yearly training plan that often gets changed along the way and that creates challenges in access to vehicles and equipment. Talks about the desirability of changing 1 weekend a month to a week a quarter so soldiers are training when full-timers are at work. Both Grogan and Stanley agree that the unit’s 2 week annual training period works reasonably well in this regard.)
SAR: The purpose of this article in SAR is to explain the 203D’s mission, capabilities and what the battalion has to work with as a reserve component entity that is unique to the entire Army. There is no active duty Army counterpart. You guys are it. With that in mind, we want to know how you accomplish the mission based on the realities of what you have to work with. It’s not to pick you apart. It’s to say ‘this was an active duty command that was transitioned to RC. The only one the Army has. This is what they do, how they do it, and this is what they have to do it with.’ As with any unit, even the best-equipped, funded and staffed active duty unit, there are still things they’d like to have. The focus of what SAR is here to do is not, ‘this is where they’re missing the mark,’ it’s ‘this is what they’re faced with.’
(Grogan points to the Battalion Commander’s statement regarding challenges:
“We take great pride in being the Army’s only Technical Intelligence battalion and the opportunities we have to operate in a Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational environment. Fulfilling our missions as a completely Army Reserve unit does come with challenges, most significantly is our status as an “Always Available” unit. This requires we be ready at all times to deploy in support of Overseas Contingency Operations. Our Soldiers understand this challenge and this serves as a clear motivator for them to maintain their individual readiness as the unit’s leadership focuses on operational support and training opportunities that maintain our mission readiness.”)
Grogan: Twenty years ago this was a full active duty unit. Soldiers would come in already knowing their MOS. Their full U.S. Army job. Usually pretty good at it and had advanced to E5 or E6 (Sgt. or Staff Sgt.). They’d get assigned to the 203D and be in training status for about a full year to learn their full-blown TECHINT MOS.
Stanley: Even down to the level of getting foreign vehicle operators licenses.
Grogan: I know this because some of the civilians who work at NGIC right now and some of the people I worked with at ATC (Aberdeen Test Center) are 203D alumni. That’s how it used to be. The challenge is now with it being Reserves, you bring in a soldier who has never done his job on active duty full time. He comes straight out of Basic and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) so the only training he’s had is at the schoolhouse.
Stanley: Also, one of our bigger challenges comes in addition to doing our unique mission; we still have to stay trained on the Army’s mission: Shoot, move, communicate. We have to take the soldiers out to the range twice a year to get qualified on their M16s, remind them this is how to work the radio, maintain proficiency in standard soldier skills. Also physical and medical readiness so once a year somebody comes to conduct screening and that’s one month’s drill weekend shot. PT test takes another. And mandatory briefings. With at least half the year taken up doing U.S. Army stuff we hardly have time to do our foreign materiel training. In between there we try to throw in what the Army calls ‘hip pocket training.’ Out of random nowhere we say ‘let’s discuss this.’ Grab a book and get an AK from the armorer and teach a spontaneous class here and there. We try to put these classes on the schedule but – generally someone higher than the battalion level – will come and say ‘this is what you need to do this month. Sensitivity training or you‘ve got to remind people to not commit suicide.’
SAR: Part of this line of questioning is our misconception that there are still small TI teams being brought on to active duty for a period and sent to Afghanistan or Horn of Africa or wherever. We’ve learned that’s not happening. So that’s removed from the challenge but there are other challenges or difficulties the battalion faces.
Grogan: We’re trying to change that; to put together a team based on intelligence requirements. Get a quick call and get boots on the ground and then run back. A strong possibility. They’re looking at different alternatives for different types of small teams TI stuff.
SAR: What part(s) of the course do students find the most difficult?
Stanley: I asked a couple of students. The one thing that seems to be most difficult is ‘separating wheat from the chaff.’ When we do the practical exercise for site exploitation there’s a lot of stuff in the room. What in that room is important? What do we want to take with us? What to leave behind?
SAR: How are these difficulties overcome?
Stanley: The way to overcome it is just to practice.
SAR: Is the availability of ammunition and range time adequate? We note there is adequate 5.45×39 and 7.62x54R for the other weapons tomorrow, but no 7.62x39mm.
Grogan: The ammunition thing. The transition from a multi-component unit to a pure reserve unit has been extremely rough. The biggest problem we’ve had is the foreign ammunition piece. (But the battalion has all it needs for their organic U.S. weapons). All of the ‘red calibers’ are a big headache because in the ‘Big Army’ scope of things they’ll only let you draw ammo for the weapons that are assigned to you. When we were ‘multi-component’ – part active duty, part Reserve – all those foreign weapons we trained with and took to the range were actually signed out on a long term hand receipt from the big NGIC arms room. When something would break or when we needed to train on something else we’d do a swap-over real quick and continue training. So all that ammo was technically assigned to NGIC. The ammunition was there but then it turned into ‘things don’t match up in the system what are you doing?’ And then it goes back to ‘Wait a minute, you’re an MI unit. Why do you need 7.62×39?’ We’d say, ‘We’re technical intelligence,’ and we‘d have to explain that to them.
SAR: What recommendations would you like to make to the chain-of-command that would improve the course? (More time, ammunition, training aids, graphics, other weapons not currently included, etc.). One thing we’ve learned is that the two days of foreign weapons are sort of an add-on at the end of the course. That proficiency is not tested when determining if a student will pass the course.
Stanley: More variety of weapons.
Grogan: For somebody who’s already a small arms guru like Sergeant Stanley and myself… The weapons we cover are probably the most prolific ones like the AK. They have to be. You’ve got to tailor the training to the soldiers. He may be infantry but he grew up in a city and never handled any kind of firearm until he joined the Army and touched his first M16 in basic training. So, getting his hands on an AK47 and AK74, an Uzi or an MP5 is really great training to him.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V18N3 (June 2014)|