Deputy Commander for Regional Support reflects on Afghan tour coming to end
November 23, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan -- He came, he saw, and he then he left.
For Brig. Gen. Tom Cosentino, the second and last Deputy Commander for Regional Support, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, his tour here has been truly rewarding.
"I have been blessed to work with the finest men and women that the United States and our allies can produce here in this hard mission in Afghanistan," said Cosentino, a 27-year Army veteran, in an interview on Veterans Day.
"Today, at the Veteran's Day ceremony, I saw the greatest generation of 37 nations gathered to remember their own and to honor each other's sacrifices. It struck me that this place and time is where the civilized world has drawn the line in the sand and said we will not buckle to a vicious enemy and we will help the people of Afghanistan realize their own destiny and to stand on their own feet."
It seems like yesterday, when on Feb. 2, 2011, Cosentino arrived and took the reins from Brig. Gen. John McGuiness. McGuiness stood up the command July 22, 2010, and set the command structure up for DCOM-RS. The command, headquartered at Camp Eggers, oversaw six Regional Support Commands or RSCs.
Under a soon-to-be reorganization, DCOM-RS will conclude its mission and be replaced by DCOM-Support Operations under the charge of the 13th Expeditionary Support Command deploying from Fort Hood, Texas. The reorganization announcement came after the change of command Nov. 5 that welcomed Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger as the new NTM-A/CSTC-A commanding general, replacing Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV who served for 22 months.
The DCOM-RS mission provided direct support to NTM-A by resourcing Afghan National Security Forces through constructing facilities, supporting institutional training programs, coordinating designated services, and issuing and sustaining major end items to meet enduring and operational requirements in accordance with the Regional Commands, which are part of ISAF -- International Security Assistance Force.
Additionally, DCOM-RS exercised command and control of NTM-A entities in all regions of Afghanistan to facilitate ANSF growth and capacity development to enable accountable Afghan-led security.
The six RSCs -- RSC-Capital, RSC-North, RSC-South, RSC-East, RSC-Southwest, and RSC-West -- will continue their operations.
Cosentino said the three biggest accomplishments during his tenure include building the capacity of the RSCs across the various functional areas delivering capabilities to the Afghan national security forces; completing most of the regional army and police training bases; and the introduction of the "right for Afghanistan" construction techniques that will make Afghan tactical and operational facilities more sustainable and affordable in the long run.
"The regional training centers have provided the Afghans with an increased capacity to regenerate their forces and to sustain themselves in the long term," he said.
The success stories were possible because of "recognition by the NTM-A leadership that we needed to send additional personnel focused on stewardship and sustainment down to the regional level," Cosentino explained. And, "a new sense of urgency by the Afghans that they need to step up and assume responsibility to support the transition process."
And finally, he said, thanks to the "continued dialogue with the Afghan regional leadership on just what they need, to be able to do their mission and endure in the battle space."
Those who dealt with Cosentino in his estimated 11,000 miles of travel throughout Afghanistan know that his down-to-earth style in human relations left one feeling upbeat and respected in their business with him. It didn't matter if you were a lower-enlisted Soldier, Coalition member, or an Afghan, Cosentino treated all with mutual respect. He said his parents raised him that way.
"I also think it comes from having served as an enlisted soldier before Officer Candidate school…when you have stood guard in the rain and snow it makes you think twice about the consequences of your decisions on individual Soldiers," Cosentino said.
While focusing on the mission of DCOM-RS, Cosentino also couldn't help but spend time thinking of his son, Dan, an Army first lieutenant who was serving in Iraq as the executive officer with Company D, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division of Fort Hood, Texas.
"My son Dan is safely home from a tour in Iraq. He got back November 1," Cosentino said. "I think having a child in combat is much harder than being in it yourself. I was always confident in his abilities and training but I am really glad he is safely home."
Like his son, Cosentino is no stranger to Iraq, have served there as chief of Plans and Strategy Cell, J-5, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, 2006-07.
Asked what the main difference in mission between the two countries, Cosentino said: "The biggest difference in my view is the challenge of illiteracy [in Afghanistan] which is a function of over 30 years of invasion, civil war, and insurgency. Building a literate force is an imposing challenge that could change the face of the nation," he said. "And the infrastructure makes this in many ways a challenge of construction vice reconstruction in Iraq."
During his tour, Cosentino went on a whirlwind media/institutional/civic engagements tour in the Washington, D.C., area in August. Wherever he went, he impressed audiences with his personal experiences of Afghanistan and in-depth knowledge and coalition success stories.
During two different periods -- at the beginning and end of the month -- Cosentino spoke in 16 different engagements that included the Atlantic Council, Georgetown University, United States Institute of Peace, interviews with the Washington Post and Army Times, and the Knights of Columbus in Potomac, Md., to name a few.
Before this deployment Cosentino served as the senior policy adviser to the Under Secretary of Defense (Policy) at the Pentagon.
He will soon be heading back to the nation's capital to be the deputy director for Political and Military Affairs (Middle East) J-5, the Joint Staff, Pentagon. Cosentino will be responsible for helping the chairman of the Joint Chiefs by providing the National Command Authority military advice related to the defense issues in the region.
"I will also serve as a conduit for the Central Command commander back to the Joint Staff in order to meet the regional goals set by the president of the United States," he said.
There are some things of Afghanistan Cosentino said he will never forget.
"I think the overwhelming majesty of the terrain of Afghanistan, where the canyons of the west, the mountains of the Hindu Kush, or the deserts of the southwest, shows how physically imposing the terrain is and how tough the people are, " he said. "I have also been amazed by the resiliency and positive attitude of the Afghan National Security Forces and their sense of nationhood."
Cosentino said all this and his entire tour will bring a new perspective to his next assignment.
"It has definitely filled out my professional understanding on how the Central Asian region links to the rest of the world and to our national interests," he said. "It has also provided me the perspective that one partner capacity-building mission is not the same as another and that we should have governing principles, but they need to be adaptable to the terrain, circumstances, and time that we find ourselves operating in."
So what does the future hold for Afghanistan?
"Afghans are remarkable people who love their families and their country and if we can help them develop security forces that are capable and responsible, then we can get out of the way of the Afghan people and the will very resourcefully make this country into one that any of us would be happy to say we are from."