War on Terrorism

Friday, January 15, 2010

Indiana Guardsmen picked for special Afghanistan mission

By John Crosby
Indiana National Guard

(1/14/10) -- Top Indiana military officials at Joint Forces Headquarters have selected 18 of some of Indiana's most experienced and proficient Army National Guard Soldiers to deploy to Afghanistan and embed themselves with high-level commanders of the Afghan Army. "All the guys on the team were handpicked," said the team's Commander Col. Kenneth Ring. "Lucky for us [Indiana is] the fourth largest Guard state so we have a lot of talent to choose from."

The mission requires a variety of military expertise with representatives in several areas including logistics, operations, administrative and intelligence personnel.

"We worked very hard to get the right guy for each position," Ring said. "We couldn't be more proud of who we have on the team, the attitudes they have and the progress we've made."

Essentially, they are an embedded training team. Their mission is to join forces with the Afghan Army corps commander of Regional Command East. The region under their command accounts for about 25 percent of Afghan terrain and is home to about 12,000 Afghan Soldiers. The small Indiana unit will partner with the commander and act as a working staff as the Afghan National Army continues its transition to a self-sustained and independent force.

"The goal is that in a year or two that whole force won't need the United States Armed Forces to be embedded with them," said the training team's top non-commissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Brown. "They will be conducting reliable and consistent operations on their own."

Brown, previously the Indiana State command sergeant major, left his position to deploy with Regional Corps Training Team 2.

There have been advisors, mentors and partners assisting the Afghan people in Operation Enduring Freedom since 2002 so the concept is nothing new. However, over the past seven years, U.S. forces have become thoroughly integrated into the ANA. Small training teams attached to the ANA have now become a partnership at the foot soldier level.

"They're living, eating and patrolling beside each other," said Brown. "They're co-locating and orchestrating operations together."

This full-time bond allows the training team to focus higher up the chain of command: the corps level.

Brown said their focus will be aimed at several pronounced areas of improvement; personnel management, including recruiting and securing a more stable salary system, logistical planning and achieving the ability to function in sustained combat operations. "Units may engage the enemy and be successful but due to logistical needs they need to fall back to resupply," said Brown. "In the meantime, the enemy takes back the same ground and again becomes abusive to the people of that area for, say, giving up information on the Taliban."

By working together to create a better flow of supply, Brown said this problem can be eliminated.

They will also work to improve Afghan military schools and academies in order to promote professional development. With a more professionally, logistically and tactically proficient army and police force, stability will be easier to sustain.

Historically, the mission of training, mentoring and partnering with foreign armies was a task that fell upon Special Forces units. As combat evolves and the way wars are fought changes, the Army Guard has stepped up to fill this role.

"This allows the states to select high-ranking teams for the job," said Brown. "It provides flexibility for the Army to stay on their missions and relieves the Special Forces to go do what they need to do in their current relevancies."

Ring and Brown said they believe that success in operating in this role will come from the nature of the National Guard.

"After all these years of war we are all tactically proficient," said Ring. "We know our military jobs. We are confident in our military skills. The other thing we bring is our skills from outside the military."

"It's well suited for the National Guard," agreed Brown. "National Guard men and women are usually older and have more life experience. They are citizen-Soldiers which means they have a skill or a profession that can be used over there whether it be a doctor, an electrician, a mechanic, a plumber or a farmer. You're not gonna get that out of a platoon of 21-year-olds in the active Army because they just haven't had that life experience yet."

Ring said that in order to accomplish their mission his Soldiers need to be tactically proficient, culturally sensitive and have an understanding of the different culture. Ring said they also need to focus largely on understanding the language, despite having interpreters.

"We're not only working with the Afghans," said Ring. "We will be living with them on their base. We won't be living on a large American base. We will be living with them. We all understand that and are looking forward to that challenge."

Even though the training team will be working at a corps level with Afghan commanders, Brown states that it is every Soldier's job to be culturally aware of the Afghan National Army. He believes that everyone there makes a difference from the top, down to every new private.

"Each Soldier has his or her own role in making and molding the new Afghanistan in their actions," said Brown. "What every Soldier does and says affects the outcome of success in Afghanistan, not just the ETTs. Everyone over there has an influence on the growing sense of nationalism."

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