War on Terrorism

Friday, May 28, 2010

INTO THE WAR THEATER

An Inside Look at Special Training

05/28/10 - When Special Agent Rick M. deployed to Afghanistan for temporary duty in 2004, only a handful of FBI personnel were assigned to the war theater, and the Bureau had no formal training program to prepare them for the experience.

Today, much has changed. Hundreds of our agents, analysts, and support staff have volunteered for assignments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Agent M.—who has returned overseas several times since his first trip—is one of the people in charge of their pre-deployment training.

Utah.

Now, all FBI personnel going to Afghanistan and Iraq—with assignments ranging from four months to a year—attend an intensive two-week training program to prepare them for what the military calls the “non-permissive environment” they will encounter.

FBI.gov attended a recent training class in Utah, and over the next several weeks—with articles, pictures, and video—we will report on the training, the veteran instructors who administer it, and the “students” who will soon be using their new knowledge in-country to support a variety of FBI missions.

“We base the training in Utah—especially in the remote mountains around Salt Lake City—because the area is similar to conditions in Afghanistan,” Agent M. said. “The climate, elevation, and topography are in many ways the same.”

Run by our International Operations Division, the pre-deployment program consists of indoor classroom training—everything from administrative details about visas and passports to briefings on insurgency activity—as well as outdoor instruction in Utah’s harsh winter climate at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level.

Classes include hands-on weapons training, land navigation techniques, and emergency trauma medicine. “We go through a lot of fake blood,” said Agent M., one of the program’s four coordinators. He added that the 12 consecutive days of rigorous instruction is “like taking a drink from a fire hose,” but there is no other alternative.

“To try to train somebody overseas—when they’ve just traveled on an airplane for 30 hours, are sleep deprived, and are under real-world stress—is not really an option,” he explained. “What we strive for with pre-deployment training is that you shouldn’t see or hear anything in country that you haven’t already seen or heard here first.”

The program has expanded as our mission in the war theater has expanded. When Agent M. first went to Afghanistan, the few agents there mostly provided expertise to the military. But now, working through our legal attaché program in coordination with the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bureau is involved with just about every kind of investigation in the war theater that we carry out domestically, from public corruption and kidnapping cases to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction matters.

“We’ve given this training to agents, analysts, linguists, IT specialists—you name the discipline, they’ve come through the class,” he said.

Since the pre-deployment program was officially established at the end of 2004, hundreds of Bureau personnel have benefited from the instruction.

“For the FBI folks who raise their hand to go into a war zone,” Agent M. said, “we owe it to them to provide the most applicable and relevant training possible prior to their deployment.”

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