Logistics key to Afghan success, DCOM-Regional Support CSM says
January 24, 2011
- School supplies requested by ANA, ANP training sites
- Logistics seen as key for success now, upcoming decades
CAMP SPANN, Afghanistan -- At every destination during his battlefield circulation, one functional area threaded all three sites near Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan - logistics.
For Command Sgt. Maj. David J. Vincent, this is the key to success for coalition forces in Afghanistan. Not just to meet the 2014 withdrawal date, but to ensure continuous success for decades to come.
Vincent is the command sergeant major for Deputy Commander-Regional Support headquartered in Kabul. He was on a three-day "battlefield circulation" Jan. 17-19 to see how progress is coming regarding the training and conditions for new Afghan National Security Force recruits, and a relatively new hospital built to care for these patriots and their family members.
The Regional Support-North is one of six Regional Support Commands throughout Afghanistan. The RSCs serve to facilitate contracting, training, and construction to support the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
He was assisted by Sgt. Maj. James Allen, of the Regional Support Command-North, who works at its headquarters at Camp Spann.
"Logistics is really new," to the Afghan people, Vincent said, in a post site-inspection interview. Vincent explained that logistics was one of the last things coalition forces did in Iraq, which was easier to implement because Iraq had an infrastructure. But in Afghanistan, it\'s a big challenge teaching logistics and implementing it because conditions are more austere.
The ability to sustain and keep the momentum moving forward is critical, Vincent said.
"Logistics is what is going to make this thing work," he said. "The skill set is the hard part. Those running it are very literate" but those needing more supplies and parts sometimes lack the level of literacy needed to fill out requisition paperwork.
The battle circulation tour started at the Shaheen Afghan National Police Training Sustainment Site, a German-led site where new recruits are learning the fundamentals of being a policeman through a six-week course. They also receive instruction on literacy, two hours daily.
The noncommissioned officers attend a 10-week course, which also includes literacy training.
It is estimated that better than 85 percent of ANSF recruits are illiterate, so it is critical they receive literacy training to function in a professional organization.
"Education is paramount in this country," Vincent said, hoping that a "duplicative effect" would take hold of the families of ANSF members. "The cities have a better literacy rate then the outlying areas. It's going to start simple" but should have an eventual effect, he said.
Vincent and Allen were met by the deputy commandant, Maj. Mohammed Zaheer Hashemi and a few of the American cadre such as Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Riccelli, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the school and Army 1st Lt. Theodore Stouch, who serves in an advisory role. Together they viewed classrooms, some held in tents, and other buildings that serve the same purpose.
They also inspected latrines, showers, and living barracks. It was there where they saw how recruits made their bed. Interestingly, these young Afghans take the sheets and use them as a cover over everything else. Not the norm, but it does present a neat appearance, which is a common core trait for any professional force.
Also a bit odd was the absence of tables and chairs in the dining facility. There were some tables, but no chairs.
The Afghans, the cadre said, prefer to sit on the mustard-colored floor, something that could be called customary in the Afghan culture.
This site can accommodate 208 students, and currently has 103 recruits and 95 noncommissioned officers in attendance, site officials said.
A big need here, said Stouch, was that the site needed more pocket notebooks, spiral-bound notebooks, and pens. Stouch added any "Care Packages" would be appreciated by the students.
Various construction continues at the site as Phase 2 is scheduled to begin. Phase 1 started two years ago, Riccelli said. Phase two will include classroom upgrades and a third floor conex to the guard towers. And, a Swedish team is coming to augment teaching.
At the second site, the Regional Military Training Center, the two sergeants major were greeted by Army 1st Sgt. Kurt Douglas. "The camp is pretty clean," he said at the onset.
Douglas made no excuses - there was no hot water, but hot water heaters have been ordered from Turkey. He also pointed out the current RMTC here is an interim site with a new facility planned sometime between fiscal 2011-12.
It is here where Afghan men from with varied backgrounds come together and learn how to gel as a fighting force. Hot water, let alone clean water, is something some have never known.
Besides the nine-week basic course in soldiering, there is a medic course, the Team Leader Course for junior noncommissioned officers, and, of course, literacy for all.
Vincent and Allen toured some living quarters that were heated by a wood stove that also served to heat water in a kettle so Afghans can make a blend of chai tea - a favorite beverage amongst the people.
Just like the police barracks before, the Army barracks were dress-right-dress and squared away as any U.S. Army barracks, Vincent said.
On-site latrines cannot accommodate the 1,400 basic training soldiers so Porta-Johns were brought in to augment, Douglas said.
Asked what he thought of serving as a first sergeant in charge of a basic training site in Afghanistan, Douglas said: "It's very interesting. ANA - talking to them - they're happy to be here."
Douglas explained that some have come back from Pakistan to help their country.
"It's pretty humbling," he said. Paraphrasing them, he said: "If you're (coalition members) willing to come over from your country, we're coming back."
While there, Vincent, Allen and Douglas were guests of Sgt. Maj. Mohammed Ehsun Safi, who served chai tea and other snacks during a meeting in his office.
"He's very intense and passionate about the training," Douglas said of Safi.
Safi used the opportunity to tell the Americans of his needs and concerns to run this center. The discussion was a laundry list that went on for 45 minutes. Some of the concerns included:
o Request for intelligence personnel to determine if there is any enemy in the ranks
o Request for computers and printers
o Request for an audio system so instructors don't have to shout in the classroom
o Request for a formation field o Request for better latrine facilities
o Request for fans and air conditioners in the barracks
"We don't have enough pens and notebooks," Safi said, echoing remarks from the ANP. "We need paper, pens and notebooks."
Safi also expressed that there was too much overload on the training system, that after graduation, some soldiers remain up to 15 days before they can be transported to their duty assignment because of problems in transportation.
"We spend our vacation here with him (the soldier)," Safi Eshun said.
Vincent acknowledged the requests as good ideas and agreed they would enhance the training.
Vincent and Douglas then assured Safi these requests would be addressed at appropriate levels and proper organizations. Likewise, Vincent told Safi that he needed to run these concerns up his chain of command up to the RMTC Kabul sergeant major too, thereby producing a consolidated effort to remedy these issues.
Safi said he understood and that some concerns would take time to resolve.
"Thank you so much for coming. You make me very happy. Together we can solve the problems."
"I think these guys are doing great for what they do have," Vincent later said. "The training is great."
Vincent said Safi was doing a great job considering his wish list.
"That reflects a lot of pride in that guy," he said. "They're meeting their goals," however, "at some point they're going to need more training" as in more personnel and those who know how to efficiently order supplies.
While the coalition force says it needs about 700 more trainers, one essential solution to this is the "Train the trainer" concept, which is part of a NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan level strategy.
Essentially, instructors keep an eye out for the best and brightest students to recommend retention at the site to complement the existing instructors, Vincent said.
Vincent added that the esprit de corps around the site was quite evident.
"It was apparent the pride the instructors have in teaching," he said, citing extremely clean classrooms and barracks. "The soldiers are very much into it. They're proud of what they do."
This pride goes both ways, Vincent said. "It's a two-way street. It helps us too. It builds a lot of pride in our guys. They can say: 'I helped build an army, a police force.' "
The last area visited was the ANA Regional Medical Hospital, Mazar-e Sharif or MeS.
This 50-bed hospital was built in 2007 and resembles inside one that could be found in the Western world. It has a potential 20,000-customer base.
There to greet Vincent and Allen was Dr. (Col.) Qodos Tlash, deputy commander, assisted by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Louise Anderson, who serves as an adviser to the staff, and other hospital personnel.
The one-level facility offers services such as an emergency room, X-ray, laboratory, post-op, general surgery ward, orthopedic ward, patient ward, women and pediatric ward, pharmacy, orthopedic, surgery exam room, ultra-sound exam room, dental and a laundry room.
There are 20 doctors at the hospital that mostly come from Kabul, Tlash said. Ideally, it would be better if more doctors were recruited from the local area but bureaucratic red tape slows the process, he said.
Tlash added that a doctor/recruiter was supposed to arrive today, but the weather delayed his trip.
This day there were ANSF men in several rooms recovering from various treatments. The rooms were very peaceful -- the way it should be -- for anyone trying to recover, especially in a war zone.
Tlash said up to 10 percent of their patients are battle-related. The day before, the hospital treated 160 outpatients for a variety of medical issues.
Tlash also complimented Anderson for initiating the first stages of a patient evacuation coordination center.
Issues like obtaining radios, ambulances, aircraft to medevac for specialized care, aircraft parts, and e-mail capability are all things that have been in the works this past year, Anderson said. Even with acquiring radios, Anderson is working to get German radios to talk to Afghan radios.
"They need something set up to move critical patients around," Vincent said, and to move soldiers wounded on the battlefield. Perhaps, one solution is to have the ANSF Air Force provide some helicopter support, he said.
Vincent empathized with the difficulty of hiring local doctors. The local doctors may not meet the requirements needed at this hospital, he said.
"It's hard to get doctors at these far remote places. The United States has the same problem. People don't want to move to the far reaches."
MeS is located about 35 miles south of the Ubekistan border.
Like the other two locations, logistics is an important factor especially when trying to order medical supplies.
"We submit requests to Kabul," Tlash said. "Sometimes we have a problem in our supply system. The last three months are good," he said, explaining they have enough supplies and equipment.
However, in the laboratory, orders were made four months ago, but still haven't come in, he said.
"Right now, logistics is the key to making this whole thing work," Vincent said. The warehouses need to be "stocked to the gills," adding that insurgents pilfer and destroy supplies coming in through Pakistan. Resupplying is a "long drawn out process," he said.
"Any lab at any hospital is the key function to making it a success in providing the care needed," Vincent said.
Despite this, the level of care was topnotch, Vincent said.
Pride was certainly evident, the settings were immaculate, very organized and functional, and comparable to hospitals back in the States, he said. And he complimented the coalition and Afghan medical personnel working together.
"I think they have a great rapport with each other which is very beneficial," he said. They are all "working to make this program work.
"I was impressed with the level of care for the soldiers and their family members. This is great service for these guys. There's nothing more demoralizing to an army that doesn't have a medical system."
(Note: Those wishing to send "Care Packages" of school supplies to the Shaheen Afghan National Police Training Sustainment Site stated in the article should mail to: SSG Riccelli, Bravo 2-44 ADA, Camp Mike Spann, APO AE 09368. Likewise, those wishing to send school supplies to the ANA's RMTC stated in this article should mail to: Kurt L. Douglas, 1SG USA, First Sergeant, RSC N (C 1-17 FAR), NTM-A, Camp Mike Spann, APO AE 09368.)