Photos to go with Embedded Team Mentors story
November 19, 2008
By Rachael Tolliver
U.S. Army Accessions Command G-7
Photos by Lt. Col. Butch Woolfolk
While many people prepared to celebrate the Christmas and New Year holidays 2007, a group of Soldiers tasked with a different type of mission deployed for something other than a holiday celebration.
They deployed to Camp Clark, in Khowst Afghanistan, as an Embedded Transition Team whose mission it is to serve as mentors to an Afghan National Army unit.
The goal, according to Lt. Col. Butch Woolfolk, the 1st Brigade, 203rd Corps ETT commander and, before this deployment, the deputy commander of the 16th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Knox, is to teach, coach and mentor an infantry brigade commander, his staff, and subordinate units to develop the skills and knowledge that will allow it to conduct independent operations.
Aca,!A"The ANA has largely adopted the U.S. ArmyAca,!a,,cs doctrine and organization structure and we are here to help them as they develop into a more capable force,Aca,!A? he explained. Aca,!A"Our class (at Fort Riley for pre-deployment training) was one of the first to enjoy the benefit of having Afghan National security forces participate in our training. Afghan army and police were brought to Fort Riley, integrated into our teams, and conducted missions with us that replicated the environment we would encounter in Afghanistan.Aca,!A?
The ETTAca,!"who are called the Aca,!A"RoughridersAca,!A?Aca,!"is made up of Soldiers with different military occupational specialties and experiences, so the instruction and mentorship the Afghan soldiers receive is from experts in each field.
For example, the teamAca,!a,,cs sergeant major is an infantry Soldier with three tours to Iraq under his beltAca,!"a perfect mentor for the Afghan Infantry brigade sergeant major. And its S1 mentor is an adjutant general officer who has served in different AG assignments during his career. He brings extensive knowledge in personnel administration and other AG duties from which his Afghan counterpart can learn.
Capt. Anthony Wilson, the S1 mentor and advisor in the ETT who was assigned to the Accessions Brigade at Fort Knox before this deployment, said his first impression of Afghanistan was that is was a sad and beautiful place but, Aca,!A"it has the potential to become a stable democracy if they keep leaning forward.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"This country has been run over so many times over the past 30 years by other countries with their own agendaAca,!a,,cs that I believe as a whole it is experiencing a country-wide identity crisis,Aca,!A? he explained. Aca,!A"Like when a 16 year is at that point where he is provided a drivers license, but still scared to take the car out. Ironically, as an analogy, we are the parents in the car with them.Aca,!A?
As part of helping to train the ANA, Roughrider members accompany the ANA on local security missions in the surrounding villages, on specific counterinsurgency missions in the Khowst Province, and on key activities with local leaders and elders.
Depending on the situation, they might accompany the ANA on short-notice cordon and search missions that the ANA conduct with the Afghan National PoliceAca,!"but ETT members do not enter Afghan citizen\'s homes or function as part of the outer or inner cordonAca,!"they only mentor and act as the ANA's conduit to Coalition Force assistance if it is needed.
In fact, Woolfolk explained, as part of their law even Afghan soldiers do not enter Afghan homes during search operations.
Aca,!A"The Afghan police are empowered to do the actual searching while the army provides security on the outside perimeter,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"That rule is violated from time to time as you would expect, but it is dealt with very swiftly by the leadership. IAca,!a,,cve observed a very healthy respect on the part of Afghan soldiers for Afghan citizens. They take their oath of enlistment very seriously, and in fact, they recite it with their hand on a copy of the Koran.Aca,!A?
On one successful operation in April local forces spearheaded their first ANA planned and led operation in Khowst which included engaging locals in villages throughout the three districts where they operated. They conducted searches, distributed over $30,000 in humanitarian assistance, and held three shurasAca,!"meetings or forumsAca,!"with local elders and Afghan government representatives. They were also able to gather intelligence on, and remove, several local Aca,!A"bad guys from the chessboard,Aca,!A? with no casualties.
Aca,!A"It was classic counterinsurgency operations and done very well,Aca,!A? Woolfolk said.
But ETT teams donAca,!a,,ct teach the ANA how to fightAca,!"no one can teach the Afghans how to fight Woolfolk said, pointing to AfghanistanAca,!a,,cs history with the British and Russians where Afghans routed both. He said what they need, and what the U.S. is providing, are systems and processes to make their efforts more effective and synchronized.
The first mission on which the EET unit went after arriving in Khowst was a convoy operation to an outlying forward operating base. The unitAca,!a,,cs job included advising the Afghans in convoy movements and security, but it also allowed the ETT team they were replacing to pull them up-to-speed on issues, training, and dangerous areas.
Aca,!A"It was like walking back into (a time warp)Aca,!"the infrastructure, weather, terrain, populaceAca,!"everything,Aca,!A? Wilson recalled. Aca,!A"But, personally, it served as an icebreaker for the rest of the missions we will and have already conducted.Aca,!A?
Another icebreaker for the EET unit was having local interpreters work with them. Some had never seen an American prior to Sept. 11.
Aca,!A"(The)first time that I saw an American was the beginning of 2004,Aca,!A? said Zack, an interpreter working with Wilson. Aca,!A"He was very friendly and I thought he was the (nicest) guy I ever met.Aca,!A?
Zack worked for the United Nations from 2003-2005 and then started working with the U.S Army as an interpreter in May 2006 because he wants to help them, Aca,!A"eliminate the enemies of world peace and stabilityAca,!"I really believe in what I am doing.Aca,!A?
Coming from an environment characterized by war and the type of governing techniques used the by Taliban and the Russians, Zack has a great deal of experience with what a lack of peace and stability is like due to such conflict.
Aca,!A"Mine and my countrymanAca,!a,,cs first concern is security,Aca,!A? he explained. Aca,!A"And my hope and prayer for my people (and my family) is peace and stability.
Aca,!A"The benefit of having these Soldiers in the area is thisAca,!"that they bring peace and security and theyAca,!a,,cre rebuilding our area and providing opportunities for the people to live in better conditions out of the influence of the enemies.Aca,!A?
The Roughriders said the Afghan people are curious, thoughtful, and are not strangers to hard workAca,!"Zack is but one example.
And if Zack could do one thing right now'
Aca,!A"I would pave the Gardez-Khowst road because it will positively affect the commerce and will solve the problem of the locals. And the important point that it will prevent enemies from doing their activitiesAca,!"such as planting mines and IEDs,Aca,!A? he explained.
Having local people come up with ideas like ZackAca,!a,,cs is what the Roughriders are striving forAca,!"teaching Afghans to do for themselves, for their own betterment.
The Roughriders said they try to limit the negative effects of having U.S. troops in the AfghanAca,!a,,cs back yard as much as possible. They try to put an Afghan Aca,!A"faceAca,!A? on everything because the people who live there donAca,!a,,ct need to see Americans all over, and see Americans doing things Afghans should be doing. Team members said it is important that the people see their own army and police force working for them especially since the military has always been a reflection of the society that it protects.
WoolfolkAca,!a,,cs counterpart, ANA Col. Mohammad Esrar, said he is also concerned about the safety and security of his country, and said his hope and prayer is that the ANA can provide the Afghan peopleAca,!"and his familyAca,!"with the security it needs to prosper.
Esrar comes from a family of military officers and has served in the Afghan Army, under different governments, since 1977. He is Tajik, one of the several ethnic groups that live in Afghanistan, and has six childrenAca,!"four sons and two daughters.
Aca,!A"I am concerned that many Afghans, because they are uneducated and have not had a lot of exposure to non-Afghans, will be vulnerable to enemy propaganda against the coalition and why coalition soldiers are here in Afghanistan,Aca,!A? he explained. Aca,!A"We need the peopleAca,!a,,cs support to defeat the terrorists but they have to be educated and informed so they understand that coalition soldiers are not here to destroy our culture.Aca,!A?
But Esrar likes the way the Americans he works with have handled themselves in his country.
Aca,!A"American Soldiers respect our culture and genuinely want to help Afghanistan,Aca,!A? Esrar explained. Aca,!A"The American mentors donAca,!a,,ct interfere in the workings of our armyAca,!"they make recommendations and support us in our decisions of what is best for Afghanistan.Aca,!A?
The Roughriders said they were proud of the way the ANA has started to improve its performance, and they said their time in-country has made them more appreciative of what they have in the U.S., in spite of the difficult moments.
Aca,!A"Everything moves very slowly here. Not the mission per se, but the Afghan mindset and culture,Aca,!A? Wilson explained. Aca,!A"Democracies thrive on capitalistic means and (they) emphasize equalityAca,!"not so here. Also, and this just hit me the other day while on a CONOP, the fact that you donAca,!a,,ct see woman has started to irritate me. ItAca,!a,,cs hard to describe, but only seeing half of a society is depressing.
Aca,!A"It has nothing to do with wanting to look at women, my wife is gorgeous and I have been happily married for 15 years. ItAca,!a,,cs the fact that oppression is so widely accepted here and if the other half of this society were allowed to assist in getting this country back on itAca,!a,,cs feet, our presence would, more than likely, not be needed as much in years to come.Aca,!A?
Roughriders said they do get to meet the people of AfghanistanAca,!"women includedAca,!"on those few occasions when they intermix with them, for example they will accompany their counterparts into the local community in a mentorship role and they might eat a meal with locals. But since ETT members try to keep an Afghan face on everything, they donAca,!a,,ct socialize as much as they would like with the locals.
The ETT members live in small hutsAca,!"six men to a hut -- and they said there isnAca,!a,,ct a lot of personal space. But no one was complaining. They eat in a Kellogg Brown and Root run dining facility, although they do regularly share meals with their Afghan counterparts, and they get Aca,!A"tons of mailAca,!"much of it from American citizens and organizations who have adopted us.Aca,!A?
They also share with each other the good and bad in their professional and personal livesAca,!"and for Soldiers stationed so far from family and friends, the personal usually involves something from home.
Wilson said his worst moment came during a phone call home.
Aca,!A"I heard my two-year old son, Aiden, say his first sentence to me on the phone, Aca,!EoeMISS YOU DADEEEE,Aca,!a,,cAca,!A? he recalled. Aca,!A"My wife and family in general are incredible. My dad tapes every one of the boysAca,!a,,c ball games and sends them. ItAca,!a,,cs a strange feelingAca,!"joy and pain all wrapped up into the same emotion. And (to feel) that same emotion while talking on the phoneAca,!"it is difficult to hear about your life going on without you.Aca,!A?
But like the rest of the team, Wilson said he has some Aca,!A"best momentsAca,!A? too.
Aca,!A"Maj. Naqibulla (the ANA 1/203rd G1) brought his son to visit Matun Hill (where the unit was working). I had a baseball with me and played catch with him,Aca,!A? Wilson recalled. Aca,!A"Neither Maj. N or his son had ever heard of baseball. I gave him the ball and you would have thought it was a $1,000. (Since then I had) my wife send me five gloves and five baseballsAca,!"Maj. N. has five sons under the age of tenAca,!"and I plan on giving them to him. I have three sons of my own ages 11, eight, and two. They have played basketball and baseball since they could walk and they were pretty excited about shopping for the gloves.Aca,!A?
Woolfolk said the Afghan government is trying very hard to create a peaceful environment for its citizens, and he said that ETT teams such as his help reinforce a determination on the part of the ANA to do their best for the Afghan people.
Aca,!A"(Some of the more unpleasant parts of this mission are) seeing kids living in pretty precarious situations and in poverty AmericanAca,!a,,cs can only guess about,Aca,!A? Woolfolk recalled. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs certainly not universal, but there are areas of poverty that defy description. ItAca,!a,,cs hard to see anyone, especially children, in those circumstances.
Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs sometimes hard to see progress when youAca,!a,,cre involved in day-to-day activities, especially when the conventional wisdom in our country seems to be that the Afghan Aca,!A"situationAca,!A? is deteriorating,Aca,!A? he added. Aca,!A"I just wish more Americans would really educate themselves on whatAca,!a,,cs happening here.Aca,!A?
Team members said they feel that, beside their mentoring mission, there is a real need for them to be in Afghanistan to help show Afghans how to fix their system, in whatever way they chose to do it, without the influences of organizations like the Taliban. They said it is important to support a government and a people who have made a clear, unambiguous choice for something better.
Aca,!A"It may not be democracy as we know it or practice it, but itAca,!a,,cs a darn sight better than what they had or could expect to have under the Taliban,Aca,!A? Woolfolk said. Aca,!A"I think our country, particularly, owes the Afghan people our support after we largely abandoned them (when) the Russians went back over the mountain. And we all know the sad history of Afghanistan after that.Aca,!A?
The team is due back in time for the upcoming holiday season.
U.S. service members who have the opportunity to observe an oath of enlistment ceremony will watch newly trained recruits place their hands on the Koran and recited their oath of enlistment. According to Roughrider members, the soldiers take the oath very seriously and seem genuinely proud to be doing it.
The oath of enlistment is personalized and weaves their faith into it similarly to an U.S. oath of enlistment.
Afghan Army Oath of Enlistment
"I swear that I will be the honest son for the people of Afghanistan in the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. I swear in the name of Allah that I will be a loyal soldier, obey all rules and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and dedicate myself to the purpose of defending our country, its integrity and national independence. I accept my commanders' and officers' guidance and orders in every condition, time and place even though I may sacrifice myself in doing so. If I act against the above enlistment may a heavy punishment from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan conform on me."
The harder parts of this mission for me, besides being away from my family, has been the times when IAca,!a,,cve had to unplug myself from the typical hard-wired type of personality that most Soldiers are equipped with. I try to remind myself that this mission is all about Afghan solutions to Afghan problems, with help from the coalition. A QUOTE FROM T.E. LAWRENCE COOMES TO MIND: Aca,!A"Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better they do it tolerably well than you do it perfectly. It is their war and you are here to help them, not win it for themAca,!A|It is their country and your time is short.Aca,!A?
Lt. Col. Butch Woolfolk, the 1st Brigade, 203rd Corps ETT commander