By Army Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 12, 2009 - Civilian employees representing various federal departments are being trained here alongside their military counterparts in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan. As part of a broader focus of operations in Afghanistan designed to include both military and civilian assets, more than 20 civilians from the State Department, the Agriculture Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development began an eight-day mission readiness exercise here June 8, designed to build better cohesion, coordination and increased safety among their military counterparts.
The civilians, along with about 1,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this summer as 12 provincial reconstruction teams. The teams will work to improve security, economic development, and stronger local governance.
"These civilians are an integral part of the operations in
Afghanistan," said Jim Hanley, the U.S. Agency for International Development's project manager for the civilian provincial reconstruction team training here.
"The idea behind these teams is to increase stabilization in Afghanistan beyond our military forces," he said. "In most of the places these civilians need to go to in Afghanistan, there's no security. They can't go out to these locations alone, but working and training with the military gives us the ability to go to these undeveloped places and work to improve the local populace."
The training being received by the federal employees is part of a three-week block of courses that all servicemembers receive prior to deployment. It includes classes such as combat lifesaving, cultural awareness, weapons and equipment familiarization and tactics training, to name a few of its topics.
The training culminates with an eight-day exercise designed to test the provincial reconstruction teams in Atterbury's immersive, realistic training environment, which includes multiple training scenarios that each team must accomplish before deploying.
Mark Philbrook, deputy training officer with the 189th Infantry Brigade, said embedding civilians with their military partners for training increases the chances of successful operations once they arrive in Afghanistan.
"The benefit of having these civilians train with the military is the fact that we're bringing continuity and relationships to bear," Philbrook explained. "The networking capabilities increase and allow a greater resource pool ... to draw from."
Philbrook added that the development of good relationships among multiple government agencies early on will filter out the possibility of weak cohesion once they are conducting operations overseas.
"It really allows us the advantage of not beginning from ground zero as future leaders filter in and out of theater," he said.
Although training civilians for provincial reconstruction team missions isn't new to the 189th, this is the first time the training is being conducted at Camp Atterbury, which is operated by the Indiana National Guard. Army Guard Col. Barry Richmond, deputy commander of the Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations, said Atterbury's multiple interagency and nongovernmental partnerships allow a wide range of facilities and training opportunities for the provincial reconstruction team mission.
"We have been designing our capabilities to support [provincial reconstruction team training], and the idea is that when you come here for training, you're receiving a greater depth than you would from just one installation," he said. "Rather, you're drawing from our strategic partnerships."
These partnerships include a consortium of other agencies, businesses, government departments and even higher-learning institutes such as Purdue University.
For members of the provincial reconstruction teams, training locations include Atterbury and the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, which are designed to create the most realistic training environment possible, Richmond said.
So far, the cooperative training has been both successful and relevant, said Navy Lt. James Bowen, an engineer with the provincial reconstruction team for Afghanistan's Ghazni province.
"The training has been going well, and everyone seems to be learning from one another," he said. "From the military side, it gives us a greater knowledge of our civilian partners' capabilities, how they can help with the mission, and how we can help them accomplish it. Personally, it's given me a greater understanding of our civilian counterparts, and we can work together to better achieve our desired goals of helping the Afghan government and people through our reconstruction efforts."
That sentiment is mutual with Eric Florimon, a U.S. Agency for International Development field manager with the Nangarhar provincial reconstruction team. Since this will be the first time Florimon will travel to Afghanistan with a team, he said, the training he is receiving here already is paying off.
"When partnering with the military, you need to understand their culture and meld it with your own," Florimon said. "Being out here [training with] them is key to understanding that, as well as learning that mutual respect that brings about a successful mission. It allows me to see all the details, so now I know all the nuts and bolts of what they are doing to protect us."
(Army Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III serves with the Indiana National Guard.)