Small Wars Journal

Building HUMINT Capacity Using Live Environment Training

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 12:11am

Building HUMINT Capacity Using Live Environment Training

Joshua Tompkins

The Work-Life of a 35M

Specialist (SPC) Smith wakes up earlier than normal and rushes to get ready for work, as this is the day that he has been waiting for. As he gets dressed, he reviews the plan in his head for at least the 93rd time. He then stands in front of the mirror and rehearses his pitch to his future audience. Satisfied he is as ready as he can be, SPC Smith grabs a bite and heads to work excited that he is finally going to get the opportunity to put all his military training to use and collect critical intelligence against a real-world threat. SPC Smith is a 35M (Human Intelligence [HUMINT] Collector), who is responsible for information collection operations. He has been trained on how to conduct screenings, debriefings, and interrogations while attending Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Huachuca, Arizona and he has attended countless training events after being assigned to his first regular army unit; 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. SPC Smith approaches each training event with an intense desire to hone his craft because he is driven to the best intelligence collector that he can be.  Although SPC Smith had great instructors at the school house and his Warrant Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) have worked tirelessly to prepare him and his fellow 35M’s for their first real-world mission, SPC Smith realizes you can only do so much in a controlled training environment. SPC Smith thinks back to his request to attend a Foundry Program course where he would have the opportunity to participate in Category Three Military Source Operations (MSO) as part of a Live Environment Training (LET) scenario. SPC Smith’s company commander denied the request because the dates conflicted with a Brigade change of command and his company commander knew he would need every available Soldier to fill the formation during the ceremony.

SPC Smith quickly pushes the frustration of the denied request out of his mind and silently scolds himself to focus on today and what he can control. As SPC Smith prepares for his meeting it suddenly dawns on him that today’s meeting represents the first time he will conduct his job outside of a training environment; the reality of the fact there is no safety net causes a knot in his stomach to appear. SPC Smith cannot help but think an opportunity to participate in a LET could have potentially allowed him an opportunity to make a smoother transition from a training environment to a real-world environment.


Unfortunately, the scenario outlined above is real and replicated every day across the Army. I have served as a S2X three times in my career and I have repeatedly witnessed an operational-immersive training gap in the Army Human Intelligence (HUMINT) community. This operational training gap manifests itself through junior HUMINT soldiers who cannot perform the fundamental elements of the 35M Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) to standard in a real-world environment. Initial entry HUMINT Soldiers are not routinely given the opportunity to hone their craft in Live Environment Training (LET) scenario’s because company commanders often elect to hold these Soldiers back from foundry training opportunities to perform administrative tasks (staff duty, motor pool maintenance etc) in garrison. Because these Soldiers are held back from participating in LET scenarios provided through Foundry, these Soldiers are often challenged in meeting a real-world mission requirement.  This operational gap exists because HUMINT does not have a proponent similar to other intelligence disciplines. The 470th Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade (BDE) is uniquely positioned to address this operational gap by leveraging the INSCOM Detention Training Facility (IDTF) to re-baseline Soldiers through refresher training and then pushing Soldiers through a series of existing ARSOUTH/470th MI BDE HUMINT LETs consisting of a debriefing LET, a friendly-forces debriefing LET, and a reports officer LET in what is referred to as an operational immersion path.

The Concept

The concept would require 35M Soldiers to come to the 470th MI BDE in temporary duty (TDY) en route to their next duty station. These Soldiers would first participate in training at the IDTF to refresh themselves on foundational elements of the 35M MOS. Secondly, participating Soldiers would be sent to one of several locations on the southwest border to actively participate in a long established overt debriefing LET where they will gain operational experience on debriefing, report writing, database management, source development and liaising with U.S. government personnel. Thirdly, participating Soldiers would participate in an established real-world friendly-force debriefing LET with mentorship from experienced HUMINT operators assigned to the 470th MI BDE in support of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH). Finally, participating Soldiers will serve as part of a technical oversight chain by serving through an established HUMINT reports officer LET within ARSOUTH or 470th MI BDE. Once all phases of the immersive operational training is complete the Soldiers would arrive to their new units prepared to conduct real-world missions immediately.

INSCOM Detention Training Facility (IDTF)

The IDTF is the functional lead for interrogation training for the Army and is charged with enabling National Guard and Reserve units to train collective tasks in detention operations. The IDTF represents a niche capability not available anywhere else in the Army where Soldiers can attend an intermediate level of training. The IDTF is best situated to train 35M series Soldiers on collective capabilities. The IDTF is specifically designed to provide realistic scenarios where 35M Soldiers can re-baseline themselves on the fundamentals of the HUMINT functions prior to moving onto the additional three steps of the immersion path.

Debriefing LET

SPC Smith’s situation outlined in the introduction is not unique and illustrates the challenge HUMINT Soldiers face when making the transition from conducting training to executing real-world missions. The HUMINT discipline boils down to talking to a person, gathering data from that person needed to answer intelligence requirements, and writing that information down in a way it can be understood when fused with other intelligence disciplines to inform decision makers. The existing ARSOUTH/470th MI BDE debriefing LET represents a potential intermediate level bridge between the training environment and real-world missions. Soldiers participating in the LET are given the opportunity to hone their HUMINT skills by engaging people in a real-world environment under the watchful eye of experienced HUMINT non-commissioned officers (NCOs). The ARSOUTH/470th MI BDE debriefing LET represents a unique opportunity for initial entry 35M Soldiers to gather desperately needed experience in all aspects of the HUMINT discipline. Unfortunately, much like other LET’s the ARSOUTH/470th MI BDE is underutilized because units leaders are unwilling to allow a 35M Soldier attend the LET because of prioritization of garrison duties over tough and realistic training opportunities outside of the units control.

The intent of leveraging this particular LET is to allow initial entry Soldiers to put the skills they have been taught in school and at their unit to use in a real-world environment. This LET will allow these Soldiers to feel the pressure of sitting feet away from another person in a real-world environment where there are no scripts or school house answers. This LET would allow 35M Soldiers to transition from a training environment to a real-world operational environment in a controlled way while simultaneously allowing the gaining unit to receive a more proficient 35M. Once the 35M Soldiers had spent and adequate amount of time debriefing on the southwest border the Soldiers would transition to another existing but underutilized ARSOUTH/470th MI BDE LET focused on friendly force debriefings.

Friendly Force Debriefing LET

The 470th MI BDE is uniquely positioned to allow 35Ms an opportunity to participate in a long established friendly force debriefing program focusing on ARSOUTH and SOUTHCOM personnel who routinely travel into South America and liaison with U.S. partners. Liaison with local military, government, or civilian agencies provides an opportunity to collect information required by commanders, but that information must be captured in a thoughtful and methodical way to inform decisions. In many cases debriefing of friendly forces is seen by commanders and staff as a waste of time and by the Soldiers being debriefed as a hindrance. After a long patrol the last thing most Soldiers want to do is answer a bunch of questions, essentially re-living the previous mission. This is an example of how, in most cases, the Army allows Soldiers to rush to failure as these Soldiers likely have critical information gained during the patrol but they just do not realize it. Every member of the friendly force is a potential source for HUMINT collection as friendly forces routinely have contact with the threat, civilian population and the environment.   

This is where a trained and experienced 35M trained in the art of debriefing can step in and assist the patrol by asking detailed questions to draw out crucial information that may fill an intelligence gap the patrol may have unconsciously gathered.  However, a well trained and experienced debriefer is not grown overnight. Most people think anyone can debrief a patrol and assume that to debrief is simply asking random questions. Few people have experienced the amount of preparation in the form of research that goes into a friendly force debriefing, the time spent developing a methodical list of carefully crafted questions and the hours spent post debrief drafting intelligence reports detailing the information gained from the debrief. These are skills often taken for granted by commanders but that takes practice to perfect. The ARSOUTH/470th MI BDE friendly force debriefing LET is an opportunity for inexperienced 35Ms Soldiers to expose to the full spectrum intelligence cycle of debriefing. The skills developed participating in a friendly force-debriefing program at the 470th MI BDE would directly correlate to a tactical environment where the same methodologies could be used.

Reports Officer LET

Once Soldiers have been baselined at the IDTF, participated in the debriefing LET, and friendly forces debriefing LET, they would then serve within the oversight control chain to gain experience providing technical oversight of HUMINT operations. Through this, LET Soldiers will be exposed to providing technical control of operational activity, collection focus, quality control processes, and single discipline analysis. Additionally, Soldiers will work to integrate HUMINT teams directly into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance planning.

While many would argue this portion of the immersion path is the least important a case can be made this portion is actually the most important. Writing clear, concise, and timely intelligence reports is a challenge across the Army HUMINT community and this existing ARSOUTH/470th MI BDE allows inexperienced 35M soldiers to get a better understanding of the how the entire intelligence process works. At this point in the immersion path the Soldiers have been exposed to baseline training, debriefing, screenings, source management, and report writing. This portion of the path should provide the collector with a better understanding of how an individual collector fits in the grand scheme of multi-intelligence discipline collection.

The Counterargument

One could argue the immersion path concept is an example of the 470th M BDE taking on a requirement that belongs to the Intelligence school house as teaching HUMINT fundamentals is a school house function rather than a 470th MI BDE function. According to this argument the immersion path is an attempt to address an issue that is better addressed by changing the curriculum of the 35M10 level courses to strengthen 35M skills prior to the 35M Soldier arriving to a unit. This line of argument would stress Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has the mission to “design, acquire, and build the future Army, and to constantly improve it” and therefore any operational-immersion gap should be addressed through TRADOC and the Intelligence Center of Excellence located at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.  

Additionally, some might argue the previously discussed operational-immersion gap is a local leader requirement. Company Commanders and 1st Sergeants are responsible for the training and welfare of their Soldiers and the intelligence community would be better served by focusing on providing those leaders with the needed resources to train their Soldiers rather than developing concepts similar to the immersion path.  This argument places the emphasis on company level training capabilities and holding leaders accountable for the performance of their training plans.


The arguments above would be wrong because they fail to address the real problem: an operational gap created by initial entry Soldier who lack real-world operational experience. A training environment cannot replicate the stress and unanticipated challenges of real-world operations. However, the incorporation of an immersion path concept has the potential to create an intermediate level HUMINT training platform leveraging existing resources. The result of such a platform would create HUMINT referents in tactical units that could be used as train the trainers to increase HUMINT readiness across the force.

The 470th MI BDE is uniquely positioned to implement an immersion training platform using the IDTF and its one of kind HUMINT training capabilities; (1) a debriefing LET on the southeast border, (2) a friendly force debriefing LET, and (3) a reports officer LET. The HUMINT training capabilities of the IDTF and the real-world operational opportunities of the ARSOUTH/470th MI BDE LETs are not replicated under a single organization anywhere else in the Army. Leveraging the training capabilities of the IDTF in conjunction with the operational opportunities of the ARSOUTH/470th LETs has the potential to address a readiness challenge in the initial entry HUMINT population. The immersion path concept would expose initial entry Soldiers to the rigor and challenge of real-world operations. These Soldiers would then carry these experiences to their next unit confident if called upon they can meet the standard on all HUMINT foundational requirements.   


SPC Smith’s experience is not unique and the best way to address the challenge illustrated by this vignette is not to modify TRADOCs curriculum or to ask Commanders and 1st Sergeants to somehow design more real-world training events. Instead, a better approach is to be creative in the use of available resources. The IDTF and the LETs required to implement an immersion path concept exist today. These assets are currently being used as single resource rather than as a collective chess set to target a common enemy. The immersion path concept would require the support of senior leaders and will without a doubt face an uphill battle due to naysayers who are comfortable doing business the same way they were fifteen years ago. However, the immersion path concept has merit and should seriously be explored by the HUMINT community as a possible solution to bridge the gap between the training environment and real-world operational environment.

About the Author(s)

MAJ Joshua Tompkins is currently the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade S3-X.  He has previously served as the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division S2-X, while deployed to Baghdad in 2010 and as the JTF ODIN S2-X while deployed to Afghanistan in 2015.