Fostering rapport is key for ANA/adviser relationship
May 24, 2013
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The mission of Security Force Assistance Advisory Team 15 is to advise Afghan National Army soldiers on field artillery, reconnaissance, engineering and other operations at Forward Operating Base Naghlu High.
U.S. Army soldiers assigned to SFAAT 15 advise ANA soldiers of the 4th Kandak, (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps, during their missions as they conduct independent operations and prepare to assume responsibility for the security of their country.
"Working together every day, it's really rewarding to see them progress, and conduct independent operations," said U.S. Army Capt. Zhuoyi Gu, SFAAT 15 reconnaissance company adviser.
He and the rest of his team replaced French army reconnaissance advisers over six months ago. Gu is assigned to 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
In his opinion, the ANA's main challenges are dealing with maintenance and logistics issues. Gu said there is a logistics adviser assigned to SFAAT 15 and works with his ANA counterpart to deal with those issues.
"But as far as going out and being able to conduct independent operations, providing security in an area and being able to engage insurgent elements, they are very successful with that," said Gu.
The native of Gaithersburg, Md., said his advisory role has been a worthwhile experience.
"We interact with our ANA counterparts frequently," said Gu. "In Afghanistan, your word means a lot. Being able to build that close personal relationship and establish trust is really important.
When SFAAT 15 arrived at FOB Naghlu High, Gu said the French had a more direct role in training and supporting the ANA.
"Our strategy was more hands-off, and see where they are at," said Gu. "We advised them when necessary, allowing them to operate."
Gu said SFAAT 15 interjects to make improvements, if and when the ANA makes mistakes.
"Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the ANA can do what they need to do independently of advisers, and they do it all the time," said Gu.
In his opinion, the ANA noncommissioned officers are no different than U.S. NCOs. He has seen them take the initiative to train soldiers on primary weapons instruction and later that week, go to the firing range to familiarize the ANA soldiers on their weapon systems.
SFAAT 15 senior adviser, Maj. Demetrius Perry, is on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He has experience serving as an adviser with the special police transition team during one of his two deployments to Iraq. Perry serves with 1-9th Cav. Regt., 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
Perry said the ANA have their own way of conducting business. If U.S. forces come to Afghanistan and try to teach our way of thinking, the ANA forces will not listen.
He emphasized the importance of building a relationship with his ANA counterpart to the other advisers.
"If you don't have good rapport with them, they will keep all their knowledge a secret," said Perry. "They will listen to you offering advice and let you give classes, and when you are done they will tell you, 'Hey, I ran the Russians out of Afghanistan, you aren't teaching me anything new.'"
Perry said the best part of his advisory mission is the informal interactions he has with the kandak commander, ANA Col. Gul Aqa Shirzard. He said whenever they meet, they talk business but then they talk about other things. For example, over a cup of tea at the ANA base at FOB Naghlu Riverside, he gets to know the colonel by asking casual questions like what it was like growing up in Afghanistan.
The two leaders have developed such a close bond, Shirzard told the soldiers in his kandak, whenever he is out of town on business, Perry is in charge.
"I've learned a lot just from talking to the ANA leadership in a relaxed way," said Perry. "I've found out more by having those informal conversations than you will find in a class or in any book. It is those interactions that I will carry with me forever."
Perry acknowledged that being an adviser takes a special skill set, and even called the mission fun.
"The ANA is good; they are very capable of securing their country," said Perry. "They take care of soldiers and their families; they just don't do it exactly the way we do it. Once you understand that, your advisory mission will be very rewarding."
The native of Houston, Texas, said once that relationship and rapport is established the advisory mission will be something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Perry said he is still in contact with soldiers he worked with while working as an adviser in Iraq.
"There are guys that I met and worked with in Iraq that are now Facebook friends of mine," said Perry.