Reporting to you from Ft. Bragg Army Base, North Carolina …
One year ago I returned to my duty station in East Lansing, Michigan, as a scientist with the USDA. I have not had an easy time of once again working in the civilian world. My honest assessment of this past year is largely based in the slow progress of decision-making and the extent of energy spent at making them. In Afghanistan, like other war zones, decisions are made differently, they are implemented differently, and they are measured with a different metric.
I write this because there might be, and this is a guess, something I need to do to complete the mission that for me began two years ago.
Specifically, as my assignment was nearing completion, my Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) S5 (Civil Affairs) and the administration team asked me if I could stay until their rotation ended. If so, I could fly back with them as they completed their Afghanistan deployment by cycling through Ft. Bragg. I would have done it in a heartbeat. However, my supervisor at the time reminded me I had made a firm commitment to return home and once again do my civilian job. I honored that and was at my desk on February 1, 2007.
I often think about how I might have mentally closed my assignment overseas if I could have ended it at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
Now I am here so this might be just the two weeks I need to help me with this wonder and question.
Let me write something about the assignment here in February of 2008. There are 13 PRT’s here, all preparing to depart for Afghanistan later this month. The PRT’s are comprised of two components, the security force E3-E8’s, and in this rotation most are from the Pennsylvania National Guard. The other components are field grade officers from the Army, Air Force and Navy. The basic S5 groups are generally captains and majors in the Army, and they comprise the civil affairs in what is known as Civil Affairs Teams.
My assignment here is providing insight from my experience working with two PRT’s: Bagram and Panjshir, which included an area of responsibility with three provinces. Specifically, some mock scenarios are built into the two-week period I am here, and as an observer, I am monitoring the progress of the PRTs to mesh together into a unit that works collectively and synergistically. We provide advice during mission planning, we are hands-off during the mission implementation, and then we evaluate the ability of team dynamics during the after-action review.
As a civilian observer my primary role is helping the military and civilians mesh together. The civilians come from the USDA, Departments of State (DOS) and the Agency for International Development (USAID). Not often, but some commanding officers will marginalize the civilian component. This model is flawed because the civilian in the unit cannot get outside the wire and do his or her work. In rare cases, someone in Washington, DC, moves a civilian to a different PRT. There are certain personalities that just cannot be overcome. Remember this is in a war zone, the unit, just like a platoon or brigade, must work together – otherwise people get killed. As the military states, there are many moving parts, and they must work together, hence the importance of the chain of command.
Our task this week is the training element for 4,000 troops heading to Afghanistan. Many in our training cadre are currently assigned in-country; just a handful of us have already completed our assignments.
Today, for instance, I am working with the 189th Infantry Brigade (82nd Airborne Division). We are evaluating four mock scenarios developed by the forward planners. Our role includes watching mission planning procedurally, then observing the mission implementation and finally evaluating the effectiveness of the after-action review.
The training exercise is centered at Patriot Forward Operating Base (FOB). The FOB is actually quite realistic. The maneuver portion of the exercise is off base, while the administration portion is conducted at four locations on the FOB. The ten-day exercise includes 14 mock scenarios. I am officially labeled an observer control trainer. The other team members include a commander in the Navy, two Army majors, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and two majors in the Air Force. Each day we begin at 7 a.m. at brigade headquarters and complete our tasks and evaluations at 8:30 p.m.
Finally, the overarching objective of our team is the creation of situational development. That is, knowing that complacency kills if anyone in the PRT focuses on a minor detail and forgets to look out the window. Specifically, knowing where you are in relationship to the location with a reference of where you have just been and where you are going. For all mission planning, thinking about the big picture is important. This takes focus and training.
As I write this, I sit in a tent at the FOB. Around me are civil affairs officers working away at mock mission planning. They are developing a team approach to the battle rhythm, except in this case the battlefield is non-kinetic.
Well, I could write much more about my work here, but the take-home message is this: the U.S. military is once again rotating our soldiers into a country that requires security followed by construction and reconstruction. The synergy of the military and civilian branches is manifest into the PRT model. A model that is extraordinary complicated with many moving parts. But in terms of metrics, the PRTs in both Afghanistan and Iraq will require the combined skills of warriors and civilians for the long haul.
Or as once was said to me, “It is very easy to bomb and destroy, but rebuilding is difficult, expensive and time-consuming.”
So we are doing our part, and I am grateful to be here as a call to service for my country. And perhaps bring closure for my own assignment. PD