CHICAGO, IL (03/11/2011)(readMedia)-- Imagine being a member of an Illinois Army National Guard unit that is so unique among the thousands of units that exist in the U. S. Army. A military unit of which there are only 11 similar units across the Army National Guard, Army Reserves and Active Duty forces and in total, numbers less than 300 Soldiers. That unit is Illinois Army National Guard's 244th Army Liaison Team (ALT) in Chicago.
The 244th ALT has been part of the Illinois Army National Guard since 2000. Although the 20-Soldier team is small, it is a highly visible unit with an important mission.
"Our mission is to provide liaison capability to the Army Forces/Joint Task Force commander with major subordinate commands, Allied Coalition Force Commands Joint Task Force and other U.S. services," said Col. Troy Phillips of Philo, ALT team chief.
Meeting with foreign officials, being the eyes and ears of the coalition commander on the ground, and ensuring that Soldiers from different cultures are on the same page to reach a common goal could seem like an impossible task, but these tasks are part of everyday life for the men and women of the 244th ALT.
This Chicago-based unit, in many ways, is like most every other Army unit. However, it has a colonel who serves as the team chief rather than a commander, a lieutenant colonel, several majors and captains, as well as senior enlisted Soldiers. The unit also has one full-time Soldier that assists with daily operations.
The major difference is the 244th does not have all the Soldiers beneath them to do the work.
"It has an operations section, intelligence section and logistics section, as well as vehicle mechanics and medical personnel, said Maj. Jorge Fonseca of Bolingbrook, who until recently served as the unit's intelligence officer. "The command staff is used in time of war to coordinate and facilitate the synchronization of information relating to current and future plans and operations with subordinate, lateral, and superior units and the multi-national force commander."
During its most recent deployment to Iraq in 2006, Soldiers from the 244th were assigned to various agencies within the Iraq government. Members of the unit were liaison officers inside of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, Iraqi National Joint Operations Center and the Prime Minister's Situation Room. Their job was to ensure the Strategic Operations Center of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq Headquarters, commanded by Gen. George Casey, had the same information and intelligence that was being passed on to the newly elected Iraqi government.
"Success on the battlefield requires accurate information in a timely manner," Phillips said. "In Iraq, the 244th ALT worked to improve the unity of effort among our Iraqi partners while ensuring the coalition received timely reports in order to monitor the synchronization between the ministries and various Iraqi security forces."
It is these highly skilled officers and noncommissioned officers from the various ALTs working behind the scenes that have helped ease the tension and understanding of cultural differences between the young Iraqi government and Multi-National Forces-Iraq, adding to the successful completion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As of Sept. 1, operations in Iraq now fall under the name Operation New Dawn, which signifies a new chapter in Iraqi history as the U.S. begins to withdraw troops and recognize a new Iraq government.
The 244th has also worked with many foreign armies to conduct multi-national exercises. Members of the unit are usually involved in all aspects of the exercise development.
"The exercises conducted with foreign troops allow the 244th to practice its primary mission, and present many unique challenges, such as language barriers and cultural differences," Phillips said. "The exercises assist in reducing the barriers, and develop esprit de corps between the Soldiers, regardless of nationality."
The 244th has been involved with numerous missions over the last few years on foreign soil.
In June 2010, the 244th ALT participated in Exercise Cooperative Resolve 10, peace enforcement stability and support operations based exercise held in Ankara, Turkey. In March 2009, the 244th participated in the Bagram Five in Poland with the Polish Army. The exercise was to validate the Polish 6th Air Assault Brigade before its deployment to Afghanistan. In 2007 the unit participated in a joint command post exercise (TORGAU 07) held in Germany with members of the Russian military.
The exercises build strong bonds with foreign militaries and governments, ensuring both armies are able to operate and work together in a combat zone.
"These exercises are invaluable to our training and development of our junior officers and non commissioned officers, who will likely see more U.S. involvement in coalition warfare during their careers," Phillips said.
While the unit is made up of senior enlisted Soldiers and officers, the unit will be undergoing some restructuring in the future and the number of Soldiers will greatly expand.
"The ALTs will become Digital Liaison Detachments with an additional fire support team as well as an air missile defense team," Fonseca said. "The additional personnel will greatly improve the interoperability of the 244th as they plan for the next mission."
The 244th ALT continues to train in preparation for its next mission. The unit is expected to deploy in early 2012 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Story by Sgt. Dan Stinson, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.