By Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 24, 2008 - Humvees rolled along a gravel road cut through the center of the small village made up of nondescript, cinder block buildings, stones crunching under their large tires. After a security check, the Humvees' occupants headed toward a building where a planning meeting between U.S. military personnel and local village and tribal leaders would ensure fairness in upcoming elections in a land fraught with turmoil. Peace could prevail.
Though the flag of Afghanistan hung inside the building, Old Glory ruled this village, a mockup located in North Carolina.
The village and the scenario were all part of a training mission for members of a provincial reconstruction team who have been preparing here for their deployment to Afghanistan's Khowst province at the end of the month.
A PRT is a multi-agency unit designed to provide security while assisting with reconstruction efforts in unstable nations, and the teams are a big part of coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is clearly building a team of teams," said Army Brig. Gen. J. Michael Bednarek, commander of 1st Army Division East, which is in charge of training PRTs and other deploying units. "The great 189th Infantry Brigade here... has been masterful in putting together the most realistic environment that these provincial reconstruction teams will see, and it prepares them for when they deploy and arrive in Afghanistan."
The training focuses on economic stability as well as traditional military tactics, the general said.
Illinois Army National Guard's B Company, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment based in Kankakee, Ill., has been tasked to be the security force for PRT Khowst. For some in the unit, it's a nice change from previous deployments.
"Oh, it's a lot different," said Army Sgt. John Farrar, an infantryman assigned to B Company, who deployed to Iraq from December 2004 to July 2006. "Before, I was kicking in doors and arresting people. I was on a sniper team for our platoon, and we'd be sent in by ourselves for three days at a time in the dirt, dug in underneath a bush. So that was a pretty rotten experience, just being out there waiting for someone to place [a roadside bomb]."
Along with military forces like the Illinois Guard's 178th ID, the PRT also comprises specialists from agencies such as the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"What is the economic engine for that particular provincial reconstruction team?" Bednarek asked, posing one of the questions that face PRTs as they deploy. "Clearly, the vast majority of their economic engine is agriculturally related, so you've got to focus on that to assist in developing that as part of the economy. That will then help provide job programs and opportunities for work.
"All of that provides an engine, if you will, to spur the economy," he continued, "which will then drive governmental programs for overall governance for the government of Afghanistan."
As the PRTs move through their training, their performance is evaluated not only by military training cadre, but also by members of the State Department and other government organizations. And since the military portion of the PRT is a joint unit composed of servicemembers from nearly all branches, the training may include new concepts for some.
"It's been quite a learning experience for all of us," said Navy Cmdr. John Bennett, commander of PRT Khowst. "Most of us, like the Navy men and women, our experiences are at sea, ships and submarines, etc., so this is quite a different environment for us."
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jerry Moore, an engineer who normally works with diesel engines, is assigned to the PRT as part of a personal security detachment.
"On board the ship, we're down in the engine room, and we maintain the engine room spaces and machinery - diesel engines and generators primarily," Moore said. But, he said, being a member of a PSD isn't entirely different from his Navy duties.
"We all do a little bit of [pulling security duty]," he said. "Even in the Navy, I'll have to stand gate guard or some sort of overwatch."
But varied backgrounds and experiences is also part of what brought the team together.
"I think in a roundabout way it absolutely does [help us]," Bennett said. "What happens is by coming together from such different backgrounds, it kind of forces this bonding process rather quickly, and we've actually grown quite close and come to know each other very, very well."
PRT Khowst is scheduled to finish training tomorrow and will deploy to Afghanistan shortly after.
(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy serves at the National Guard Bureau.)