By Staff Sgt. Noshoba Davis, Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs
PINEVILLE, La. – A team of five Louisiana National Guardsmen assigned to the 415th Military Intelligence Battalion (MI BN) and the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team took second place in the inaugural Interrogation Olympics, code named Lightning Storm, hosted at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Aug. 8-11.
A total of 13 teams participated in the competition. The Soldiers who represented the LANG were: Staff Sgt. Cody Gonzales, of Bridge City; Sgt. Taylor Slaughter, of West Monroe; Sgt. Julian Johnson, of Baton Rouge; Sgt. Joshua Gregg, of Monroe; and Staff Sgt. Michael Celestin, of New Orleans.
The Interrogation Olympics is a multi-component, multi-echelon event created to challenge intelligence Soldiers in leadership, tactical and technical tasks in a simulated large-scale combat operating (LSCO) environment while fostering cohesion and esprit de corps all while determining the Army’s best interrogation team.
“The creation of this competition was a collaborative effort between four organizations: the 525th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade (E-MIB), Army Interrogation Group (AIG), Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) and INSCOM Intelligence training Center (I2TC),” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chuck Damboise, Lightning Storm exercise director. “The 525th E-MIB worked closely for over a year planning and coordinating on a monthly basis to prepare for our hosting responsibilities.”
Units from all Army components containing interrogation collective tasks received an invitation to compete.
“The number of teams participating was generally driven by the amount of resources in personnel and equipment that the 525th E-MIB could provide. Over 300 personnel were required to conduct this event,” said Damboise. “Each unit was authorized to provide a team of five personnel that consisted of four human intelligence collectors and one all source analyst.”
The LANG’s team was selected by the company commanders, first sergeants and platoon sergeants of Soldiers that volunteered to compete.
“Team members were selected based on experience, prior performance at training exercises and how each one’s individual strengths would mesh and contribute to overall team success,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Clifford Evans, a Lake Village, Arkansas native, and advisor and action officer for the competing team.
The LANG’s team had approximately two months to prepare for the event.
“Information on what to expect during the competition was purposely kept from the competitors,” said Celestin, an intelligence analyst with the 415th. “We knew we would be in the field for three to four days and possibly conducting an unmounted patrol, so this is what we prepared ourselves for.”
Over the course of three days in an austere field environment, the Interrogation Olympics tested Soldiers’ human intelligence (HUMINT) collection skills on six separate lanes. These lanes tested Soldiers on HUMINT key training mission essential tasks: conduct intel interrogation planning and preparation, conduct screening, question sources for intel information, prepare intelligence/tech reports, conduct intel analysis in support of operations, conduct HUMINT operational planning, review reports and determine threat course of actions.
As a team leader and interrogator with the 415th, Gonzales had to ensure his team was prepared for any situation presented on the lanes.
“I had three primary responsibilities: receive the mission brief, employ the subsequent troop leading procedures and manage our time and resource allocation, which in this case meant ensuring everyone had enough time to prepare and submit all necessary reports,” said Gonzales. “Third, as the most senior intelligence collector, I was responsible for guiding my team through the technical aspects of our MOS.”
The first two days of the competition consisted of Soldiers incorporating numerous Soldier skills and intelligence collection techniques, as well as preparing for the final event on day three: a debrief to a VIP.
In addition to being able to screen detainees and plan an interrogation, interrogators must also be proficient in a language and maintain that proficiency. For some interrogators like Johnson, the competition provided an opportunity to use their chosen language.
“I am a Russian linguist, and during one interrogation, I found out my role player also natively spoke Russian, and I was able to conduct my first interrogation in a foreign language,” said Johnson. “It was a great opportunity to test my skills and motivate me to address my weaknesses in the language.”
Celestin, the only analyst on the team, was responsible for the final event.
“My role as an analyst relies heavily on being able to communicate with other organizations and research information,” said Celestin. “It helped me grow as an analyst by helping me find ways to gather and share critical intelligence information with limited to no digital connectivity. We had to get creative to share what we learned with decision makers on the battlefield.”
The competition concluded with an awards ceremony where the top three teams were presented with awards. The 519th Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Battalion from Fort Bragg, North Carolina placed first, the 415th placed second and the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion from Fort Gordon, Georgia placed third.
“I consider myself blessed to have been granted the opportunity to compete and represent the Louisiana National Guard,” said Slaughter, an interrogator with the 415th. “As for taking second place overall, I think we really surprised not only some of the upper leadership but the other branches as well, as to how professional and how useful we are in the overall concept of operations. I am overjoyed that we were able to properly represent the Louisiana National Guard.”
Damboise explained the competition is expected to rotate to different installations each year and that INSCOM has agreed to host the competition next year with the intent of the Interrogation Olympics becoming an annual event.
Active duty brigades and divisions represented in the competition included: the 525th E-MIB, headquartered at Fort Bragg; the 82nd Airborne Division, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and the 513th MI BN -Theater, headquartered at Fort Gordan, Georgia.
Army Reserve units represented included: the 826th MI BN, from Fort Devens, Massachusetts; the 338th MI BN, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas; the 314th MI BN, headquartered in San Diego, California; and the 372nd MI BN, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Army National Guard units represented included: the 415th MI BN, Louisiana National Guard; the 142nd MI BN, Utah National Guard; and the 260th MI BN, Florida National Guard.