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The Brains Behind The Brawn
by Army Spc. Nathan Goodall - November 12, 2011

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Spc. James G. Johnston, an Oak Ridge, Tenn., native, now a company intelligence support team analyst with A Battery, 1st Battalion, 84th Field Artillery Regiment, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, waits outside a meeting at an Afghan police station here May 23, 2011. Johnston goes on missions to collect information that A Battery’s COIST uses to put together intelligence reports. Photo by Army Spc. Nathan Goodall
Spc. James G. Johnston, an Oak Ridge, Tenn., native, now a company intelligence support team analyst with A Battery, 1st Battalion, 84th Field Artillery Regiment, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, waits outside a meeting at an Afghan police station here May 23, 2011. Johnston goes on missions to collect information that A Battery's COIST uses to put together intelligence reports. Photo by Army Spc. Nathan Goodall
 COMBAT OUTPOST QEYSAR, Afghanistan (11/6/2011) - When he was training to load and fire artillery rounds, U.S. Army Pfc. Cory S. Booth, a cannon crew member, didn't think he'd ever work in the world of military intelligence.

Nevertheless, Booth and several other field artillery soldiers with A Battery, 1st Battalion, 84th Field Artillery Regiment, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, became company intelligence support team members when they deployed here in February.

“At first, I wasn't sure about it. I joined to do field artillery,” said Booth, a Petaluma, Calif., native, now a company intelligence support team, or COIST, analyst. “But once I started learning about what COIST was, I dove headfirst and immersed myself in it.”

A COIST provides military intelligence at the unit level. The team receives and compiles information collected by platoons and sends it to analysts who construct assessments of the battlefield.

In addition, the team members get information from the battalion's military intelligence element and add it to their reports for line platoons to use, said Staff Sgt. David L. Gusst, a Philadelphia native, now a operations non-commissioned officer with A Battery.

Gusst, needed for COIST, served as a cannon crew member during two deployments. This is his first time working behind the scenes providing combat intelligence support.
Gusst and Booth realize the importance of their work. The intelligence reports they put together play a huge role on the battlefield.

“If we miss something on a report, like the location of an [improvised explosive device] where a platoon is going, they might run into it,” Booth said.

The serious nature of their duty position keeps the COIST soldiers working at their very best every hour of the day, Gusst said.

“We put through as much effort as possible to get as much information as we can so we can keep our guys safe when they're conducting their missions,” Gusst said.

The COIST soldiers serve dual roles by also manning the battery's command post. With the COIST being the brain of A Battery, the post serves as “the central nervous system of the outpost,” said Staff Sgt. Brian L. Clark, a Cleveland native, now a platoon sergeant with A Battery.

“Without the [command post], this battery wouldn't function on a day-to-day basis,” Clark said.

The command post staff maintains communication with higher headquarters, alerts the quick reaction force when they are needed, directs sleeping arrangements for outpost personnel and more, said Gusst.

One of the biggest responsibilities of soldiers working at the command post is calling up medevac requests for injured personnel.

At one point, injured Afghan policemen came to the outpost for medical aid. One needed transportation to a hospital for further treatment. After making the call, Gusst used a smoke grenade to signal the medevac helicopter.

“Knowing I helped with that made my day,” Gusst said. “It's something I'll never forget.”

Because COIST soldiers need significant amounts of information to put together reports and effectively run the command post, it helps to get a couple of them in the field to gain knowledge of the area. Spc. James G. Johnston, an Oak Ridge, Tenn., native, and Spc. Alexander P. Stransky, a Memphis, Tenn., native, both now COIST analysts with A Battery, go on missions for that reason.

“Getting a firsthand look at the people and environments the platoons go to helps you give a better description in your reports and debriefs,” Johnston said.

With everyone doing their part, A Battery's COIST is able to function as one machine. In Stransky's opinion, the secret to their effectiveness is teamwork.

“We have extraordinary leadership. Without them, I wouldn't be able to do what I do,” Stransky said.

Gusst expressed the same thoughts about the soldiers, saying, “I don't think we'd all work as good without each other.”

While each soldier with A Battery's COIST is field artillery, they have gained satisfaction from their new responsibilities, Gusst said.

“We can give our platoons a heads-up so they're aware of what's going on in our area of operations, versus them going in blindly and risking getting someone injured or hurt,” Gusst said. “It feels good doing that.”

More photos available in frame below

By Army Spc. Nathan Goodall
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2011

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