470th MI Brigade Cases Colors

By Cpl. Bernadette Lanstrum

     The buildings that house the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade stand nearly empty, mirroring the physical reminders of the memoirs it will soon leave behind.

     The brigade cased its colors in a 9 a.m. inactivation ceremony on May 20 at Soldiers Field, Corazol, Panama. Looking back on a span of almost five decades, members of the 470th MI Brigade, past and present, show nothing but pride.

     The unit was born July 12, 1944, as the 470th Counterintelligence Corps Detachment. It was activated July 31 of that year at Quarry Heights, and became part of the regular Army Nov. 23, 1951. Since that time, it has undergone several redesignations and was awarded a battle streamer for Operation Just Cause.

     The 470th MI Brigade has a wide variety of intelligence collection assets on the ground, in the air and at sea. It uses these assets for counterinsurgency, counterdrug and force protection missions. Its area of operations includes all of Latin America south of Mexico. The 470th MI Brigade routinely conducts operations other than war such as disaster relief missions, support to Cuban Safe Haven migrant camps, participation in peace operations between Peru and Ecuador and monitoring the cease-fire in El Salvador. Soldiers were also deployed to Desert Storm, Somalia, Haiti and Korea.

     "I know of no other brigade of its equivalent in any other service which has received as much national recognition," said Maj. Gen. Lawson W. Magruder III, U.S. Army South commanding general. "We’re extremely proud of every soldier and civilian in this command."

     According to Col. Ron Burgess, brigade commander, the unit has chalked up many accomplishments since he assumed command in July of 1995. One of these was the fielding of the All Source Analysis system, which allows many types of intelligence to go into one computer system for correlation.

     The unit has tied itself into every U.S. Army South deployment, from medical readiness training exercises to overseas deployments for training.

     "We do the force protection piece on every one of those," said Burgess. "Before any soldier is committed in this theater to do an exercise downrange, whether it be in Central or South America, someone from this organization has already been there to check and make sure that we’ve done a risk assessment on what’s going on."

     Counterdrug operations are another area in which the unit takes pride in its efforts.

     "That has involved many people, many flying hours, and we have done that over a two-year period safely. We haven’t had anybody hurt, and we’ve contributed, which I’m proud of," Burgess said.

     The cooperative learning experiences fostered through military-to-military exchanges and sharing information have been key factors in the stabilization of several Latin American democracies. Showing other countries what the unit is capable of has been helpful in strengthening bonds between countries, according to Burgess.

     "We have a very big intelligence sharing program down here, which I think has contributed immensely to stabilization, because while they may not have the technological means to do something, we have those abilities ... and we pass that along to the governments, which allows them to deal with situations that may be coming up in their countries," he said.

     In addition to the work the brigade has done throughout the region, it also has done its best to help the U.S. Army South community. It sponsored events such as the 1997 Black History Month celebration and the Asian Pacific American Heritage program, the Ironman/woman competition and other events.

     "My hope would be that we would leave a good impression," Burgess said. "We have tried very hard as a tenant unit down here to be team players. We have tried to fully integrate ourselves into the life of the U.S. Army South because that’s the way it ought to be. Our boss says ‘one team, one mission,’ and we feel very much a part of that team and as a part of the team, we feel like we need to be contributing. Besides working and fighting together, we ought to be able to play together well, and we’ve tried to build that up a little bit."

     The teamwork displayed by the soldiers, family members and civilians here has made the transition easier on commanders throughout the brigade, Burgess said. This commitment makes everyone’s job easier and helps accomplish each mission.

     "The U.S. Army South community has been very good to the Griffin Brigade," he said. "We are blessed in this command with good leadership, we are blessed with people that are out trying to do a good job every day, and they understand that the only way we can get the job done ... is by getting along together. I call it ‘cooperate and graduate’."

     While the unit finishes turning in its excess equipment and more soldiers go to other units, the members who remain in the brigade have no shortage of work to do.

     "It’s an experience to be in a downsizing unit," said Spc. John Self, brigade awards clerk. "On the downsize, there’s a lot of work to be done. You get a lot of experience that you never even think of in a unit that’s full. It’s come along pretty good."

     Sgt. Nina DeMand, assistant supply sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 470th MI Brigade, is no stranger to downsizing units. Since she came to the brigade in October of 1994, she has been shuffled from one downsizing unit to another.

     First a member of the former 310th MI Battalion, DeMand worked in the supply section processing temporary duty paperwork, managing the battalion property book and supporting soldiers at the Safe Haven camps with computers, desks and other supplies.

     "It was busy," she said. "To me, that probably was a turning point for my career in the MOS (military occupational specialty) I’m in now because before, I had just done regular supply stuff ... it was a drastic change to come here and actually have to get in and do hands-on stuff ... I think it helped me out a lot and it wised me up a lot... That was the first assignment that brought me into the supply world and let me see how big it was."

     After that, DeMand went to the 310th’s headquarters company, then to Company B, and finally to the 470th MI Brigade. At each assignment, she stayed busy transferring equipment and managing equipment turn-ins as the battalion prepared to inactivate.

     "It was pretty hectic. It look a lot of time, a lot of hours and a lot of dedication, but I got it done and it happened," she said.

     From being a nuclear, biological and chemical noncommissioned officer to an arms room noncommissioned officer in charge to a brigade and U.S. Army South NCO of the quarter, DeMand said the support of Burgess and other superiors helped push her to the top.

     After the brigade has been officially inactivated in July, a small, forward-based detachment of 69 soldiers from the 202d MI Battalion, 513th MI Brigade headquartered at Fort Gordon, Ga., will assume the MI mission.

     Cpl. Bernadette Lanstrum is an editor at the U.S. Army South public affairs office in Panama.

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   Last Updated: July 02, 1997