U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Luis Badillo: Advisor and mentor to the Afghan National Police
January 8, 2012
- Training Afghan National Police
BAMYAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - When the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan command went searching last year for a volunteer to help advise the Afghan National Police, they didn't just find the right man for the job, they found Staff Sgt. Luis Badillo.
The 34-year old U.S. Army reservist from Schenectady, N.Y., is a 10-year veteran of the New York State Police, a combat veteran with a tour in Iraq, and a Dari speaker who enjoys joking around with Afghans in their native language. Currently assigned to the Bamyan Training Center in Bamyan Province, Badillo applies lessons he's learned as a police officer to mentor his Afghan instructors and recruit trainees. His job is critical.
According to a 2009 United States Institute of Peace report, the ANP has suffered three times as many casualties as the Afghan National Army, is rife with corruption, and is generally unable to protect Afghan citizens, control crime, or deal with the insurgency. As NATO and the Afghan government seek to expand and improve the ANP so it can meet the many security and governance challenges it faces, it will need skilled advisors like Badillo to step forward.
With His tour of duty about to end, Badillo recently sat down with U.S. Navy Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Bill Steele, 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, to reflect on his work with the ANP, his struggle to learn Dari, and the job that lies ahead for his graduates.
You volunteered for this mission. Why?
The big reason I volunteered for this is, when you're a police officer in the states, it doesn't matter how many arrests you make, it doesn't matter how many tickets you write, people are still going to speed, they're still going to do drugs, they're still going to disregard the law. People are just set in their ways. And I was going home a lot of days and thinking, 'What did I accomplish today?' I felt like I was spinning my tires. When I went to Iraq I was happy, I felt I was making a difference. So when this opportunity opened up, I couldn't put my hand up fast enough.
Tell us a bit about what you do here.
I'm the NCO-in-charge and senior police trainer for all police training, but my role is more of an advisor and a mentor and an enabler. Myself and Capt. [James] DeCann, who is the site commander, are the only Americans working here. We're focused on training and teaching what's put out in the program of instruction by the Afghan Ministry of the Interior.
What do you teach?
A lot of police plus paramilitary topics are covered. We cover rule of law, Afghan constitution, the use of force, open hand techniques, arrest techniques, handcuffing procedures, things that you would typically learn at a police academy in the United States. And then they get a lot of military topics, riot control formations, unexploded ordnance, I.E.D. [improvised explosive device] recognition, things of that nature. Plus the weapons training we give them is very much military oriented.
How many recruits are you graduating each month?
We graduate on average about 30 to 40 students a month. It's a small camp, there's only a 112-student capacity. We may not be producing the numbers that other sites produce but we definitely produce better quality here, I believe, because we focus on keeping the classroom sizes small and individual attention.
Can you give an example of individual attention?
During our most recent training class at the range, we had one student out of 53 who failed to qualify. We took him aside, myself and my range instructor, Sergeant Sayed, and we went through the four principles of rifle marksmanship, steady position, proper breathing, proper aiming, trigger control, and after spending about two hours with him he went back to the range the following day and qualified with his weapon. So now he stays. If he didn't qualify with his weapon he would have been kicked out.
I noticed this morning while you were out at the range you were teaching some students how to load a gun with one hand.
The reason for that is that I knew a police officer, a state trooper, in New York that got involved in a shootout, got shot in the arm--couldn't use his arm--and ran out of bullets. He didn't know how to reload his gun, the guys ran up to him and executed him. That's why I teach stuff like that.
Overall, how would you rate the capabilities of your graduates?
My graduates are capable, but I wouldn't say they are fully capable. When I graduated from the police academy in New York, I was capable. I knew the information. But applying it is completely different. I would say it's the same thing here. They know the subjects, they can pass their tests, they qualify with their weapon--they know the basics. But in order to really know what a police officer does, you have to have on-the-job training. And you have to apply continuous improvement and learning. In 10 years as a police officer, I haven't learned everything yet. When my students graduate here, I give them a speech before they leave and I tell them, 'Do not stop learning.' You need to continue to improve and you need to continue to learn and you need to continue building on the four pillars that I talk to them about at the start of the training course.
What are those?
First of all, you've got to be responsible. You've got to do the right thing when nobody is looking. The second is respect. Respecting not only yourself and your peers and your supervisors, but respecting the people in the community, because you are the servant of those people. If they have a complaint, you need to deal with their complaint as if it was your problem. Because to them that is their most important issue: 'My goat was stolen.' And they don't care about anything else in the world, that is their biggest crisis. That crisis needs to be your crisis. The third one is teamwork. You will never get anything done as a police officer if you think you can go as a lone star individual and get everything done on your own. Finally, you need to be educated. When you arrest somebody, you've got to prepare that paperwork to prosecute that person. You've got to prepare the evidence. And if you can't read and write, you're not going to be able to do any of that.
If you don't have one of those four basic pillars, then all the other stuff we're teaching you here is just going to implode on itself and you're not going to be a good police officer.
In terms of the education piece, how are you dealing with that?
For initial police training students, everyone is required to attend literacy training. Well, I thought, if this is such a big push, I'm going to attend to make sure it happens. And while I'm in there maybe I could pick up a thing or two. At first it was like, 'This is impossible, I'm never going to learn this.' But I tried to tell myself, this is Dari 101, first-grade level. I should be able to pick this up. It's like learning French when you were in the 6th grade. Once you get over that mental block, that's half the battle. I went to all the classes. The instructor gave me a first grade book, I started to do the things right along with the other students, and I learned fast. And it had that side effect of showing the students, 'If this guy can learn this stuff, I should be able to learn this stuff.' So it kind of motivated them. My motivation was really to better position myself to do my job more effectively, to have that extra tool in your bag that you can use to directly get your point across without having a translator. That really got them to trust me a lot.
And it shows you respect their culture, too.
How are the instructors performing?
The instructors have been excellent. I've been more than surprised. I came here with the twisted notion that the Afghan police are no good, they're undisciplined, they don't know what they're doing, they have a gang mentality, they work for tribal leaders. It couldn't be anything further from the truth. The Afghan commander preaches Afghan unity, that we're all one country, one people--doesn't matter if you're Hazara or Pashtun--and it really reflects throughout his organization. And he is very, very strict with the instructors. If I catch instructors not doing things properly and I tell him about it, he lights them up. He tells them you either do this right or you can go back to Kabul. And nobody wants to go back to Kabul.
So, do you think the Afghans are ready to fully take over the training here?
Training, yes. This is an Afghan-led effort and I'm completely confident that they will conduct the training 100 percent to the best of their ability. What's hampering the process right now is contracts. At the upper levels you need the structure to support and sustain what we've built. A big error we've made here is, we've been in such a big rush to build security forces, but for every infantryman you have on the front line there's three support guys behind him. They haven't done that here in Afghanistan. Now we've got this huge organization, all these little foot soldiers, and the logistical support, the sustainment part of it, doesn't exist and they're just now starting to build it. It's a huge challenge. Because I've got all these people here, and it's like, you need to start ordering your stuff from MOI. When I first got here it was like, 'The Americans will get it for us.' No, no, no. This is your show. You transition. I'm just here to assist you and mentor. I'm not here to get you another printer. And I'm not here to buy you more trucks. This is your job now. This is your country. You've transitioned. Get it. Figure it out.
What do you hope to see happen after you leave here?
It's my hope that they transition the [program of instruction] curriculum more from paramilitary type activities to more civilian policing, conducting crime scene investigations, conducting traffic stops and enforcing traffic laws and things of that nature.
In the future, in order to continue developing the police, they have to get involved in the community. They have to be involved in policing and what policemen really do. Which isn't doing the paramilitary stuff--guarding checkpoints, guarding banks, government buildings, things of that nature--it's going out and doing the interdiction. Those are things that they need to get into here in a safer province like Bamyan because right now you've got 250 people sitting over at Police Provincial Headquarters doing nothing other than guarding the HQ and the governor's compound when they could be out in town patrolling, talking, the community can see them, it gives them the perception that the Afghan government is moving forward and bettering itself.
Looking back, what do you think you have learned from this experience?
Definitely don't take anything for granted. These people here have nothing. And just the basic things that you take for granted, you come here you're just like wow, you just really appreciate what you have compared to what the rest of the world has. I've also learned a lot from my Afghans friends. I've learned a lot about basic customs, traditions. They're very old fashioned. It's very refreshing I think to be able to go to lunch, go to dinner, spend time with them and actually be able to have a conversation without the extraneous distractions of my phone's ringing, someone's texting me, or something like that, and just going back to the basics of customs, manners and things of that nature that, for us, we've kind of gotten away from as a society in the United States. We come to a place like Afghanistan where they're still very much traditional, they're very much about their customs and their manners, and they're very proper people, and it's very refreshing. I think that's the big thing that I'll take back with me.
So what do you plan to do when you go home?
I own an airplane and I love to fly. I'm probably going to take the wife and the three kids, put them in the plane, and fly down to Florida. I've always wanted to fly down the coast from New York to Florida. Other than that, I'd like to get my helicopter training done so I can join the State Police aviation unit in New York. My goal is to get dual rated on fixed wing and rotary aircraft.
Do you think this deployment has changed you?
No. Not particularly. I live by the motto of excellence is its own reward. For me it's the self-satisfaction of knowing that I assisted in helping them get a little bit better, to get a little closer to their end goal. That's all it is for me.