FALLUJAH, Iraq (NNS) -- If Wedge Donovan's Seabee battalion had intelligence gathering specialists during the climatic battle at the end of the 1944 movie, "The Fighting Seabees," perhaps his combat construction team would have been better prepared for the unexpected second enemy column that eventually forced him to heroically ram his bulldozer into a petroleum storage tank. While he destroyed the enemy, it cost John Wayne's tough, no-nonsense character his life.
The idea may have come too late to save the fictional World War II era Donovan, but a new program that incorporates intelligence specialists into Seabee units deploying to Iraq may save some very real present day members of the Naval Construction Force (NCF).
For the first time since the creation of the Seabees in 1942, Naval intelligence specialists have been assigned directly to a Seabee unit, the 30th Naval Construction Regiment (30 NCR), according to Lt. Scott Norberg, 1st Naval Construction Division's (1NCD) intelligence officer.
"While 30 NCR is the first unit to receive specialized intelligence assets, more than 40 intelligence billets have been funded by the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) for the NCF," said Norberg, a Reserve intelligence officer who was recalled to active duty at 1NCD to assist in the formation of the new intelligence program. "Over the next two years, every battalion, regiment and the division will have organic intelligence personnel assigned."
Prior to sending out the organic intelligence team, the Seabees would utilize other members of their team to act as intelligence gatherers.
The mentality was that during peacetime there was an important need to conduct continuous training and have an officer whose sole responsibility would be to coordinate and track it. When deployed to a hostile environment, the mindset was that training was complete, and the training officer would become the intelligence officer, explained Cmdr. Stephen Cook, chief staff officer for 30 NCR.
"In reality, Seabees in a war zone need to both train and gather intelligence," said Cook, an 18-year Civil Engineer Corps officer. "Having someone manage an intelligence unit in a war zone as a second job is like owning a small business and having the receptionist manage your books. By adding trained intelligence specialists to the Seabee units, it's the same as taking the books away from that receptionist and hiring a certified public accountant."
Volunteer Reservists make up more than half of the Seabees currently serving in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. During the search for intelligence assets, the Seabees turned to Reserve individual augmentees for volunteers.
"The Reserves were tapped for this deployment due to a forcewide shortage of active duty intelligence specialists and the immediate need to support the Seabees," said Norberg, who started working on the program last year with the support of Cmdr. Michael Murray, NECC's assistant chief of staff for intelligence. "Active-duty enlisted intelligence specialist manning will continue to be a challenge, but NECC is working closely with us to ensure our forward-deployed troops, who are in harm's way, receive the manning necessary to execute our intelligence support mission."
Norberg explained that the force will need to utilize Reserve augmentation for the near future to ensure there is the correct level of support for deployed Seabees.
"We should start filling active component billets by December, and I expect to be at 60 percent manning by January," said Norberg, who explained that intelligence billets were being added to several units under NECC. "It will be a quick ramp up."
The intelligence team bestowed with the honor of being the first to deploy with the Seabees had to plan a way ahead before they could navigate uncharted waters. Led by Lt. Steven Husby, a team of five enlisted intelligence specialists were augmented to 30 NCR and needed to adjust to life as part of the NCF culture.
"It was a baptism by fire for most of my guys," explained Husby, who works as a computer and network systems engineer in his civilian career. "From new uniforms, to speaking a new language, my team had to immerse themselves into the Seabee world to be able to appropriately communicate the message and accomplish the mission. The senior leadership was amazing. They really took my team under their wing and helped make the transition easier."
The team is made up of a hodgepodge of unique and interesting civilian professions that includes chemistry, law, management, video game testing and insurance among others.
"It's critical building the right type of team for this job," said Chief Intelligence Specialist Duane Bruechert, leading chief petty officer for 30 NCR's Intelligence Department. "Our personalities are an extension of our capabilities. Some people are more technical while others are more creative. Together, with all of our individual experiences, we find different ways to utilize our training and expertise to help save lives. That idea alone gives us a great sense of responsibility and drive to be successful."
Once the team was assembled in Iraq, the proverbial intelligence superhighway needed to extend off-ramps to the battalions in the war-torn region. Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Carlos Ramirez was selected to serve as the intelligence liaison to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4.
"The regiment to battalion relationship is command and control," said Ramirez who includes weather and road conditions as part of his overall daily intelligence report. "The regiment intelligence staff conducts broad trend analysis studies that take into account the entire NCF operating area here in Iraq. Those reports are relayed to my office and the other battalion intelligence departments so we can help develop a good picture for our areas of operation. A relevant intelligence picture really helps the respective commanding officers determine the best course of action."
As the Intelligence Department head, Husby sees his team as being in a unique position to mold this process for future mobilizations.
"Having a full-time intelligence staff is the right thing for the Seabees in a wartime scenario," said Husby, who has served in the Navy for 15 years. "Prior to having full-time intelligence support, the Seabees filled the position as a collateral duty. They need people with specialized training; people who are trained to see the big picture and gather data in a way that will determine the greatest threat to personnel and operations."
The team's primary responsibility is to look for trends in enemy actions and attempt to determine potential future threats to Seabees in country, according to Bruechert.
"It's our job to sift through all available data near where our engineers may be working or traveling and try to determine what the possible threat could be to them," said Bruechert. "We can develop the threat potential for future construction sites, show areas of repeated attacks on our convoys or develop future attack locations that operations managers should take into consideration. For example, if we determine it is likely bridges will be attacked, the supply and operations [personnel] can make sure all of our assets to repair the facility are ready in advance."
Once the intelligence gathering team can paint a picture of an area, they brief convoy commanders and site assessment personnel on what they need to look for to stay safe while working off base or what is commonly referred to as "outside the wire."
"It makes me feel a lot better knowing what's going on in an area where I will be working," said Senior Chief Builder Richard Cousins, who is routinely responsible for conducting site assessments at various locations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. "I not only feel better knowing the threat level, but understanding the cultural aspects or political implications is invaluable to my returning safely."
Making people feel safer in dangerous situations is one benefit to having a specialized intelligence gathering staff, but the other benefit is tearing down misconceptions and building correct situational awareness.
"Without going into specifics, our combat engineers in the field developed perceptions about situations that could have caused them to either do harm or be in harms way," said Cook, who currently serves as second in command of 30 NCR in Iraq. "Our intelligence team was able to show them long-term trends that changed the truth of their perceptions. These truths now allow them to make more accurate and informed decisions, which ultimately ensure a better chance of completing a mission successfully and safely. Our team is really doing a tremendous job."
Being the first of anything brings a certain amount of responsibility. It means setting the tone for the future, building the foundation and principles for replacements and, perhaps most of all, simply being successful. Being wrong or not providing enough information could be the difference between life and death for someone "outside the wire."
"I was donating blood at the base surgical unit because Marines had been wounded in Fallujah," said Bruechert. "One of the Marines had been killed, and it was a huge dose of reality for me. It reminded me of the importance of getting the word out to my troops about potential threats. We always do our job to the best of our abilities, but I made a promise to myself that I would ensure I was doing as much as I could to keep people informed and safe."
The promise of keeping people safe and contributing to the success of the war is shared by more than one member of the 30 NCR intelligence team.
"The intelligence community gives me the opportunity to utilize my analytical skills in a way that I hoped would someday contribute to the war on terror," said Kesthely, who like many Americans felt a strong need to join after the World Trade Center buildings were attacked. "This deployment has allowed for that to happen. It's rewarding to know that the information I give convoys, battalions and the regiment helps keep our Seabees safer."
The reward of knowing there is a justification to the purpose is a rallying point for many people serving in Iraq.
"I tell my family that we are here to help save lives," explained Husby, who bears the responsibility that his team is getting the right information to those who need it most. "My family is like any other family and wants their Sailor or Marine to come home, but knowing they are proud of me and that they support what we are doing here makes all the difference."
According to Norberg, another team of intelligence specialists will deploy with the next wave of 30 NCR Seabees later this year which will take the new program further down the path of complete integration. There are nearly 1,300 Sailors and Marines supporting critical construction efforts in the Al Anbar province of Iraq as a part of 30 NCR.
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