Pfc. Jacob Gulack, a Clovis, Calif., native, now an intelligence analyst with 502nd Military Intelligence Company, 40th Engineer Battalion, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, stands by the company guidon at Camp Mike Spann, Afghanistan on Sept. 20, 2011. Gulack's work contributes to the analysis of the area. Photo by Army Spc. Nathan Goodall
| ||CAMP MIKE SPANN, Afghanistan (9/20/2011) - At the age of 21, Pfc. Jacob Gulack is learning secrets that he will never be able to tell his family or friends. Ever.|
Gulack works as an intelligence analyst, dissecting and putting together collected information alongside the rest of his team with 502nd Military Intelligence Company, 40th Engineer Battalion, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
The military intelligence world is teeming with classified material. The Department of Defense carefully screens soldiers like Gulack before granting them top secret security clearances needed to access and gather it.
His career field is shrouded in mystery, and for good reason. If the information used by military intelligence soldiers gets leaked, it could lead to the failure of any number of missions or result in the loss of countless lives.
That amount of power isn't normally placed in the hands of a 21-year-old American. In Clovis, Calif., Gulack's hometown, he isn't even old enough to rent a car. In Afghanistan, he's handling matters of national security.
Qualifying to be trusted with such secrets was a “mind-blowing” process. But after it was completed, Gulack said he understood how to handle sensitive material and what he could and could not do with it.
Like Gulack, other young soldiers in the company understand the nature of their work requires them to operate on a very mature and serious level, said 1st Sgt. John Devine, the company's first sergeant.
The intelligence soldiers mainly operate out of a fusion cell where bits of interconnected data, irrelevant when alone, are “fused” into a powerful mixture of intelligence.
“You can never get all the information yourself,” Gulack said.
Gulack described the process like putting together a puzzle. Each person contributes their data and when everyone puts their pieces together it forms a clearer picture of what's going on in an area.
This snapshot can be used to assess mission capabilities, track enemy movement, predict upcoming events and potentially save lives.
Everyone on the team specializes in some form of military intelligence. A human intelligence collector might gather information on a certain group of people and activity in an area, while an imagery analyst would identify types of structures and their locations.
Behind their vague job descriptions and top secret work, intelligence soldiers are still human beings. The amount of pressure put on them to provide accurate information is considerably high, Devine said.
Most soldiers handle the pressure by realizing the impact their work has on operations, even if no one outside the cell knows of their efforts, said Spc. Brice Bergen, a Friendly, Nev., native, now a human intelligence collector.
“This isn't the job for someone that's here if they want to get medals; this is the job for someone who legitimately just wants to help,” Bergen said.
A lot of information 502nd personnel gather is used to help soldiers they will never meet.
For soldiers like Spc. Jayci Brower, a Huntsville, Ala., native, now a Russian cryptologic linguist with the cell, putting a face to the strangers she helps is all too easy.
“I think about my buddy Luke a lot. He was a Marine that I went through the Defense Language Institute with that was in my Russian class,” Brower said.
The day that Brower deployed to Afghanistan, she received news that her friend Luke had been killed by an improvised explosive device. She said knowing her work can prevent the loss of soldiers' lives has kept her focused and devoted to giving her best every day.
“I just think about how many other Lukes there could be here in our own brigade that I'm trying to watch over and that I'm trying to make sure stay safe,” she said.
By Army Spc. Nathan Goodall, 70th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
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