BAUMHOLDER, Germany — When the soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division deploy for Iraq in the coming weeks they will depart with a tool absent from their previous two tours.

Since November, Baumholder’s Iron Brigade has been working with a Human Terrain Team, which is part of an experimental Pentagon program that pairs units with cultural advisers. The teams are set up to provide commanders with information ranging from the potential ripple effects of large-scale public works initiatives to lessons in basic regional etiquette.

Adam Silverman, a social scientist deploying with the 2nd Brigade, said the objective is to arm commanders with “open source” information that will help them avoid creating additional tribal conflicts.

“Our job is to do context. Our job is to explain to them that if you’re going to deal with this tribal sheik or that tribal leader one way you’ll need to deal with the other ones this way,” said Silverman, who holds a PhD in political science and criminology along with degrees in comparative religion, international studies/security and Middle Eastern studies.

The arrival of the 2nd Brigade in Iraq will bring the total number of Human Terrain Teams there to six. In September, the Pentagon authorized a $40 million expansion of the program, which will eventually result in 22 teams in Iraq and four in Afghanistan.

“The HTT brings a completely different perspective to the staff and can in most cases provide options that may help mitigate the results of [combat] operations, or make recommendations to execute a series of [noncombat] operations that would achieve the same results,” said Col. Robert P. White, 2nd Brigade commander.

Maj. Gary Calese, executive officer of the 40th Engineer Battalion, added: “They inform your decision making process. They take it down to a deeper level and they understand the back story of the people.”

There have been signs of some success with the program, which embedded its first unit in early 2007. The 82nd Airborne Division reported a significant reduction in combat activity roughly eight months after starting work with social scientists in Afghanistan. The unit’s commander, Col. Martin Schweitzer, told the New York Times in October that his unit’s combat operations had been reduced by 60 percent since the advisers arrived on the scene in February 2007.

While it is unclear what metrics were used by that commander, Silverman described how the terrain teams can have an impact. In the case of a large public works project, for instance, leaders need to know who the players are in the local economy, he said.

“Make sure they understand if you do water treatment facility, you need to talk to the local water guys and roll them in,” Silverman said.

Otherwise, potential partners could turn into enemies.

“You’ve built this great thing that’s providing services. But you’ve just taken a whole bunch of people that were employed in the informal economy and pulled them out of the formal economy. They’re pissed,” Silverman said.

In other cases, the tips are rather simple. For instance, the team recently came up with a strategy to make a better impression when entering Iraqi homes to talk with residents. While it is considered bad manners to trudge through a house with shoes on, soldiers dressed in battle gear and operating in an uncertain environment aren’t in a position to take off their boots, Silverman said.

A possible remedy: “Use scuff covers that surgeons use,” said Silverman, acknowledging that such a step could illicit a few laughs from Iraqis.

The Iron Brigade’s terrain team is a seven-member unit comprised of civilians, retired military and current military.

While the military pushes forward with the human terrain project, some in the academic community have questioned the initiative. The Network of Concerned Anthropologists is circulating a petition in which signers pledge not to assist the military in counterinsurgency efforts.

Silverman, however, says such groups misunderstand the mission.

“I would not do this if I thought it would get more people killed. We have the potential to protect Iraqi and coalition lives,” Silverman said. “I’ve got the skills and abilities, and so do my teammates and colleagues in the program, to try to make this a little bit better and hopefully end it a little sooner. Or hopefully a lot sooner. If we don’t do it what does it say about us?”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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