By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 18, 2008 - In simulated villages on the honey-hued Midwest prairie here, U.S. troops are learning to serve as military advisors to Iraqi and Afghan forces. Since 2006, soldiers of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, based here, have trained 5,767 soldiers, 840 sailors and 1,172 airmen to take up duty with transition training teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Army Col. Jeffrey Ingram, the combat team's commander.
In addition to the U.S. trainers, about 30 Afghan National Army soldiers and Afghan contract employees are at Fort Riley assisting in the training. The Afghan troops have been a regular part of advisor-training cycles, Ingram said. There are no Iraqi troops, yet, among the training cadre.
Bringing Afghan soldiers to Fort Riley to teach U.S. advisors makes sense, Ingram noted.
"There's no better way" to learn about the culture of a country, than to meet with and talk to someone from that country, Ingram pointed out.
Each transition training team is composed of between 10 to 15 U.S. servicemembers who are embedded with Iraqi or Afghan security forces, Ingram explained. The U.S. advisors use their mentoring and coaching skills to improve the performance and capabilities of their Afghan and Iraqi counterparts.
The advisor training program is paying big dividends, said Ingram, who has managed the program for the past 18 months.
"I know it is saving lives," Ingram emphasized.
The training program teaches a variety of skills and techniques, ranging from how to interact with Afghan and Iraqi tribal, military and municipal officials to detecting and avoiding the deadly improvised explosive devices employed by both Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents.
"It's better for them to have experience in the field prior to their deployment to Afghanistan," said Afghan contract employee Omaid Azarakhsh, who works as an interpreter and Afghan language and cultural teacher for the U.S. advisor students.
Afghan Army Sgt. Safiullah Salek said he enjoys working with his U.S. counterparts at Fort Riley. And, with the continued help of the United States and its NATO allies, Salek predicted that Afghanistan "will be a stable country" in the not-too-distant future.
"We're sharing Afghan culture and customs, so that before they go to Afghanistan they get the proper training so that they can do effective work," Salek explained through an interpreter.
Afghan soldiers play themselves and Afghan contract employees and U.S. soldiers take the roles of insurgents or villagers. Scenarios play out in simulated Afghan or Iraqi villages constructed of plywood or metal shipping containers scattered across Fort Riley's 100,000 acres.
One key training point is the operation of checkpoints.
"The checkpoints are used widely throughout Afghanistan," said Army Capt. Gary McDonald, a member of the 1st Brigade's transition-team training cadre, who in January returned stateside after a tour-of-duty in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Afghan National Police usually run the checkpoints, he noted, but the Afghans have no standard operating procedure.
As a result, the police checkpoints are "different all across Afghanistan," McDonald said. "That is one thing we're trying to effect; to standardize the checkpoints to make them more efficient."
An important component of advisor training "is to interact with the Afghans," McDonald pointed out. "That's a big thing that they've improved here."
Sgt. 1st Class Micah S. Lyness, a National Guardsman from Buffalo, N.Y., stood watch in a faux Afghan village during yesterday's cordon-and-search training exercise.
"My role now is pulling security. I was on a gun truck out on the entrance way, then, they called us forward, because they felt they needed more security inside" the village, Lyness explained.
"I think we're getting good training here. The cultural training and the language training is going to help us when we get over to Afghanistan to help the ANA secure their country," he added.
Getting Iraqi and Afghan security forces onto their feet is mission one, said Army Lt. Col. David T. Seigel, part of the combat team's training cadre.
"Training advisors is about getting their armies ready to go, so that they can confidently protect their people and their governments," Seigel pointed out.
"The transition team training mission that is conducted here produces professional, well-trained teams of advisors," Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Durbin, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general, said yesterday at a redeployment ceremony for 37 advisors returning from duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I'm very proud of the quality of training that is conducted here," Durbin said.