News: Human Terrain Team: Regaining the human touch in the midst of war
Story by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – In a time when war brought countries together to fight in the Middle East, the human touch is one of the main threads that bind them together now.
Not even their cultural differences can keep the coalition countries away from the ties they've formed with Iraq. For the Vanguard Brigade, their success has relied in doing whatever it took to understand the cultural land they're now helping gain independence.
They did this with a little help from their Human Terrain Team.
The Human Terrain Team is actually a product of (continuous operations) specifically working on providing cultural knowledge ... to help the commander understand the operating environment for a better course of action," said Capt. Hilario Pascua, of Louisville, Ky., team leader for the HTT serving under 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
There are currently 15 such HTTs in Iraq working closely with coalition units to help bridge the cultural gap between them and their Iraqi counterparts. Each team is typically made up of a team leader, a research manager, a social scientist, a cultural anthropologist and a human terrain analyst. Generally, the team's analyst is also a native speaker, but for Pascua's team, the members use an interpreter to help fill that role.
"And the strength of this team is not the knowledge we bring, that we already have. None of us before we came here could be considered [Iraq] experts by any means," said Laurie Miller, of Bedford, Ind., one of two research managers for the team. "It's not so much what we already know, but what we're going to be able to find out for you and make sure it's good information that's going to correctly answer your question."
This team has been on the ground for three months, serving in the northern region of Babil province, but the human terrain system that established these teams has been in place for more than a year.
"The human terrain system was designed to assist the non-kinetic, non-lethal portion of this [counter insurgency] fight. It's very satisfying to be part of that effort," said Dr. Bud Cook, the team's social scientist and Vietnam War, veteran, which he said is the first war in which counter insurgency, or COIN, was started.
As Cook puts it, COIN is the effort of "reducing lethality but still being victorious in the fight." This is done by forming relationships with the people, finding out what their needs are, gaining their trust and winning over their support to fight off insurgency. All of which Cook has seen work with great success in Iraq.
"I think decreasing problems and increasing cooperation between the Army and the local populace ... means the likelihood of anyone getting hurt in the community or the Army is reduced, and it's very, very satisfying to be part of an effort which is winning a war but reducing the violence," said Cook, of Hilo, Hawaii.
Even more satisfying, the members said, is seeing the country being rebuilt before their eyes. Not only that, but they said they have enjoyed seeing this very growth thrust forward by officers and Soldiers in uniform who before deployment had no experience in governance or improving a local economy.
"This is the story I always tell my family," recalled Mark Dawson, of St. Petersburg, Fla., the team's cultural anthropologist. "One of the first things that hit me, which is so incredibly cool ... [was seeing] these young lieutenants and captains and they're tankers, these people are tankers, they're infantrymen, this is their job. And someone looked at them and said, 'Go build a city government. You! Go build a city government!'...And they did."
Dawson said he's seen with his own eyes local governments being built from scratch. Without experience, without previous training, young military leaders did what they were told, and did it well. The team was right there with them, every step of the way, to ensure Soldiers had a good cultural understanding to aid their efforts.
In their few months on the ground, the HTT has provided the Vanguard Brigade with cultural studies, research papers on the Iraqis' way of showing courtesy and gratitude, a study on the Sons of Iraq's attitude while transferring over to Iraqi security forces and another project looking at Tribal mapping in the region. Furthermore, the team has visited communities in eight cities to better understand the inner workings of the local economies and governance.
Yet, it's always the Soldiers on the ground that the team gives all the credit for getting the job done.
"To watch a young (non-commissioned officer) that probably couldn't get car insurance back in the U.S. because they're not old enough, and watch them pull off relationships with an Iraqi army unit that they're training to take over the battle space for them, and to do it in a respectful way, watching those NCOs and enlisted people pull off that job on the street when it's a 120 degrees, and you're wearing 60 pounds of body armor and sweating probably literally a gallon of water out of your body an hour, and to keep their humor, keep their focus, keep their respect in play, you can't see that and not be proud as an American," Cook said.
Admittedly, the HTT members have made their own share of sacrifices. They're not afraid to leave the wire to gain that interpersonal experience that goes way beyond the textbook knowledge of a culture and a nation. They have spent time with the people of Iraq, moved around with Soldiers in crammed humvees and mine-resistant vehicles, and slept their own share of days on cots at patrol bases and joint security stations.
As Dawson likes to put it, "We're not arm chair anthropologists."
Furthermore, the team will serve not only the Vanguard Brigade on the ground now, but also the unit that will come to north Babil to replace them. As the 4th BCT prepares to go home in the coming months, the next unit will need to know what relationships they've built; they'll need to know the progress that's been made. Usually this transition between units takes approximately two weeks. Two weeks are not enough to pick up 15 months worth of cultural learning.
"We're a cultural continuity book for the units," is how Miller put it.
And as far as partnership goes and by the way progress has been moving forward, continuity is a good thing in Iraq.