June 13, 2014, CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah – The California National Guard’s 223rd Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion is hosting more than 600 Guard, reserve and active component soldiers from across 20 states and Canada who have converged on Camp Williams, Utah, to kick off Panther Strike 2014.
The annual training exercise will span the month of June and simulate full-spectrum intelligence-gathering operations within a deployed combined joint task force.
“This is not your average [annual training event]. Over the years, Panther Strike has really made a name for itself. It’s by far the most robust and organized intelligence [exercise] that I’ve been a part of,” said Lt. Col. Dave Church, commander of the San Francisco-based 223rd MI Battalion and this year’s Panther Strike 2014 Task Force commander. “Our staff has put a tremendous amount of time, toil, and effort…with the guidance and support of the [300th MI Brigade], into making this a dynamic experience for operators from across the various intelligence disciplines and other low-density specialties… and it’s rewarding to see it all come together.”
Panther Strike traces its origins to 2003, when the first exercise of its kind gathered human intelligence Soldiers from across the Florida Army National Guard on Camp Blanding Joint Forces Training Center, Fla., to perfect their craft in a team-centric training evolution. Now, 11 years later, this animal has evolved into a large-scale collective intelligence venue, displaying the interdependency and interconnectivity of the different intelligence specialties.
This year’s exercise will leverage the synergized efforts of military intelligence Soldiers from across the human, counter, signals, imagery, geo-spatial and all-source intelligence fields to capture or eliminate cells of Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents in a simulated valley of Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
“For the current conflicts we’re involved in, Utah provides some critical elements of realism. Salt Lake [City] is at the same elevation as Bagram Airfield there in Afghanistan, and many Soldiers comment on the similarities in the terrain,” said Utah National Guard member Col. Derek Tolman, commander of the 300th MI Brigade, which is headquartered in Draper, Utah and serves as the higher headquarters for many of the units that rotationally host Panther Strike. “The exercise also tends to gravitate here because there is a lot of command support, and investments have been made to have all the necessary infrastructure in place.”
The talent pool Panther Strike draws from expands with each iteration. This year’s events include increased participation from Canadian forces, and observers from both Australian and British forces. Next year, foreign participation is expected to increase from other partner nations.
The first week of the exercise is devoted to training Soldiers for their specific role in the scenario, which is slated to unfold in week two. More than 75 VIPs, including elected officials and military leadership from across the country, are expected to be on the ground to observe this year’s training evolution.