Civilians in surge to Afghanistan get training at Atterbury
March 12, 2010
By John Crosby
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. (March 9, 2010) -- In addition to the troop surge in Afghanistan, there's a civilian surge to supplement the military with teams of subject-matter experts in a variety of fields such as security, agribusiness and logistics.
These civilian teams require a crash course to teach them the rules in theater, the culture, language differences and security risks and that training is being provided at the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Center.
The teams come from several U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State and the Department of Defense. The team members will perform an array of specialty missions such as theater-wide maintenance of equipment, rebuilding infrastructure and setting up systems for maintaining stability.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in December during a speech about the civilian surge that, "We've also required all of our civilians to train at Camp Atterbury in Indiana, where our military [reconstruction team] members train, so that we can, from the very beginning, start integrating our civilian-military forces."
Several trial programs are now underway at the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center to prepare these civilians for employment in a combat zone. The trial programs are geared to shift focus from preparing Soldiers for combat, to creating a mobilization process aimed at civilians, giving them the most comprehensive, relevant and cost-and-time efficient training course possible.
More than 70,000 personnel have been trained for deployment at Camp Atterbury since 2003. Experience gained in conducting these trial courses could eventually lead to Camp Atterbury developing into a National Deployment Center for civilians in addition to a military personnel mobilization hub, officials there said.
"Not only can we train you, but based on our knowledge and skills from seven years of mobilizing Soldiers, we can push you into the right theater, fully equipped and fully trained to do your mission," said the deputy commander of the Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations, Col. Barry Richmond.
Creating a system aimed at civilian entities presents several challenges, as the military has set procedures, means of communicating and techniques that differ from each civilian governmental department. Programs need to be tailored to specific units, their missions and for where the unit is deploying.
The civilian mobilization-training program will have some consistencies with the required training provided to a Soldier as well as some differences, Atterbury officials said. For example, a non-combatant civilian will not require the same classes and field training as a combat Soldier. A civilian does not have the same medical and dental benefits systems, legal preparation or financial pay systems in place for deployment as a Soldier.
Camp Atterbury officials, along with third party contracting agencies such as McKeller Corporation, are working together through trial and error to smooth out a format to organize and implement a streamlined system for deploying civilians, said Project Officer Lt. Col. Bill Welcher.
"It's learning all of these differences and putting it in the right sequence so that it runs as smoothly as our military deployment process does," Welcher said, adding that they can prepare Soldiers for deployment in no time.
"Basically, we are trying to put a process together that will allow us to do the same thing for a civilian," Welcher said. "It has been quite a learning experience."
Essentially, the trainers are, in turn, being trained by the hands-on experience in working with each of the trial mobilizations of deploying civilian units, he said.
One such unit, mechanics with the Army Material Command, completed training at Camp Atterbury last week and deployed to Iraq last Friday. The unit, composed of DoD civilians from Army depots in Tobyhana, Pa.; Red River, Texas; and Anniston, Ala., will cover down on a brigade combat team in Iraq and work as a maintenance section.
"I've never seen a better place that is more willing to take and tailor things and change for somebody else," said Army Material Command Operations Officer and DoD Civilian James Deloach. "My first impression of the military was the attitude that they already had a system in place and weren't willing to make any changes. You know, that attitude of 'This is our process, this is how we do it here in the military, this is how things are going to stay.'"
Deloach said the difference in his perception of the military and the relationship with his new military partners were like day and night.
"I am so totally pleased with the [Camp Atterbury staff]. Their mindset was, 'What do we need to do, let's figure this out, let's make it work.' That has been their attitude since day one."
The measure of the success of these programs will determine the future of Camp Atterbury and its development into a National Deployment Center, Deloach said. He estimated that current programs in place may produce as many as 17,000 civilians next year.
"We are trying to create a training environment that has the benefit of a military partner, without being dumped into the military training machine," said Richmond. "We are creating a neutral environment where civilian personnel can come and feel comfortable about training."