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Airmen add 'information armor' to Iraq convoys

by Maj. Amber L. Cargile
Air Intelligence Agency Public Affairs

12/9/2004 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN)  -- When a convoy heads out on the roads of Iraq, it can be a life or death mission. Faced with violent threats from insurgents, the troops are armed and ready. But in this hostile environment, a "protective posture" requires more than mere Kevlar.

Airmen of the 90th Information Operations Squadron here help the troops roll through the red zone with another layer of armor -- information.

The information operators are adding another element to the Basic Combat Convoy Course, a 17-day program held at nearby Camp Bullis. The course, which is run by Airmen of the 342nd Training Squadron here, was formed earlier this year to give transportation Airmen critical training in tactics, techniques and procedures before they deploy on convoy-escort duty.

Airmen form the 90th IOS provide students with threat assessments for the bases where they are deploying as well as tailored information on the weapons and tactics used by insurgents in each location, officials said.

The squadron's Airmen first became involved in the program after 1st Lt. Mark Hoff, a 90th IOS watch officer, was approached by the course's creator, Master Sgt. Phil Coolberth.

"I was previously a security forces troop, and (Sergeant) Coolberth is one of my former technical school instructors," he said. "He knew I had cross-trained into intelligence and was assigned to the 90th IOS. He called to see if we might be able to offer some help."

Squadron officials said that it was an excellent opportunity to provide direct support to the warfighter. They formed a team to provide deploying Airmen with the information tools they need to safely and effectively navigate Iraqi highways.

"The information we provide is both current and realistic," said Maj. Mark Laneman, 90th IOS current operations chief. "We take this very seriously. Most of these troops will immediately deploy after their training at Camp Bullis. They could find themselves with a supply convoy in the Sunni Triangle, under ambush or attack by insurgents. They've got to hit the ground armed with current information."

"In the threat and (tactics) portion of the brief, we get very specific," Major Laneman said. "We provide photos of real improvised explosive devices in Iraq. We provide photos of mortars and ambushes, of bomb craters and trucks that have been hit, so that the troops can understand how to handle certain (situations).

"Every encounter with insurgents provides lessons-learned," he said. "Those lessons help the coalition modify tactics and equipment to save lives. But the insurgents are very crafty and flexible, so it's a constant evolution of tactics. We try to provide our students with the very latest and best information out there."

The 90th IOS Airmen also provide students information on Iraqi culture and customs so that they have a better understanding of how to recognize potential threats and interact appropriately with Iraqi civilians.

"We also try to be as blunt as possible about stressing the importance of wearing protective gear," said Senior Airman Simon Mace, an intelligence research analyst. "For example, in one incident, an incendiary device exploded near a GI's face and the goggles he was wearing saved his eyes. We show the students a photo of those goggles with shrapnel in them so they can fully appreciate the importance of their gear."

If it sounds like a lot of information, it is.

"We knew we were handing them a lot of information in the course, so we coordinated with the Marine Corps to get copies of IED smart cards and Iraq culture cards," Lieutenant Hoff said. "The cards provide the Air Force troops a quick reference capability."

Lieutenant Hoff said that after the initial briefings, the instructors requested that the information team add some "special effects" to the exercise portion of the course to increase realism.

"We expanded beyond the intel briefings and classified network familiarization," he said. "Our folks now role play as ... 'insurgents'. We get out there during the field exercise and use simulated weapons to create ambushes and other scenarios for the students."

"This is a premiere example of excellence through teamwork," Sergeant Coolberth said. "They understand the ground threat, and they understand that providing knowledge of the enemy will ultimately lead to victory in combat. Without a doubt, their efforts will result in saving our Airmen's lives."

It is sober duty for these information operators.

"We were rushing to get the IED smart cards delivered to the Airmen just before they were heading to their (aircraft)," Lieutenant Hoff said. "It was a moment of clear realization that we were arming these men and women for battle with information, just as if we were handing them a physical weapon or a suit of armor."

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