10th Mountain Division begins effort on new front
January 30, 2012
Returning from his latest deployment to Afghanistan last fall, a general officer from the 10th Mountain Division, began work on his new front--communications and outreach.
Brig. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, assistant division commander for support of the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., traveled more than 300 miles to tell the 10th Mountain's story and connect the U.S. Army to the largest populated city in the country.
"We want to be better connected to you. We want the whole northeast part of the U.S. to feel like we're you're division," Dahl said.
Dahl spent two days meeting with executives in the financial district to bridge the military and civilian gap, discussing future issues surrounding the drawdown of two wars and transitioning thousands of veterans out of the military to civilian life.
"Know your Soldier; know your veteran. (Don't) do it at a distance. We want to make the connection," Dahl said.
Speaking on behalf of the most deployed division in the U.S. Army, Dahl said America's Soldiers always want to be connected to the nation it serves, but the operational tempo of repeated deployments and minimal dwell time has made it difficult.
"Frankly, we've been too busy to do this. We need to connect Americans to our Army. We need to do it; it's not that hard," Dahl said.
Jan. 25 and 26 Dahl went to Barclays Capital, the New York City Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs, Citi Group, Moelis Capital and Fort Hamilton to share his experiences from the 10th Mountain's deployment to Afghanistan from October 2010 to October 2011.
Col. Michael Gould, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton, was aligned with Dahl's field artillery unit years ago, and Gould connected with some of his contacts in the financial community to set up the engagements with Dahl as an expert on military, political, social and international affairs.
Connecting the 10th Mountain Division with New York City is the start, and if just 10 percent of New York City's population is familiar with the 10th Mountain Division, that is a huge number of people, Dahl said.
"We want it to be just the beginning. It's not our Army, it's your Army," Dahl said.
During his engagements Dahl shared that Afghanistan experienced transformational change in the time 10th Mountain Division was in Kandahar and southern region.
It was the first time there had been an active U.S. Army division headquarters in the region, and it allowed the units working there to have valuable translation of operational guidance and resources into tactical benefit, Dahl said.
"You've gotten a huge return on that investment. It really did turn things around," Dahl said.
Southern Afghanistan has a hugely illiterate population with no government tax system, which made conventional communication and governance a problem. The government doesn't have money for roads, schools, clean water or health care, Dahl said.
It's the worst place in the world for a woman to have a baby with 40 percent of children dying before age 5 of ailments such as diarrhea and other illnesses, Dahl said.
The people lived on the margins, and Dahl operated under a premise that improving Afghans' quality of life would be the catalyst to bring Afghanistan out of an environment of corruption and not allow the Taliban to set up training bases there, Dahl said.
"It's a really difficult place--that's the bottom line," Dahl said.
Southern Afghanistan had good produce, the best pomegranates, almonds, raisins and sweet melons in the world, Dahl said.
"They have great ingredients for trail mix," Dahl said.
Unfortunately the industry to process, package, export or distribute the produce doesn't exist there and would require generational change, Dahl said.
"When you're an Army division and you're there 12 months, you aren't going to realize that possibility," he said.
Afghan people weren't stupid by any means, but Dahl said he learned that sophisticated and complex solutions were not going to take hold there.
Now that the Army has withdrawn its combat forces from Iraq and is closing in on the end of combat forces' time in Afghanistan, the Army and the nation are readying for the next chapter.
Some have said that the military has become isolated from society and that gated, remote installations make the interaction between civilians and military even more difficult, Dahl said.
"Don't let us be aloof or isolated. We share the responsibility to prevent that from happening," Dahl said.
The nation's support of the Army will transform from sending care packages or writing cards and letters to service members to showing support by hearing their stories, offering them employment and knowing them personally now that they are returning to American communities.
In engagements with business and finance industry executives, the questions naturally turned to employing veterans or other ways to bridge the gap between active military, veterans, Reservists, and civilians.
Dahl explained that of the current 17- to 25-year-old population only 25 percent are qualified to serve in the U.S. military. The disqualifiers range from obesity, criminal activity, lack of high school education or severe behavioral health conditions.
"If you're an employer, we've pre-screened them for you. When you hire a veteran, it's a vet with the values we have in the military. We've added training, discipline, focus, leadership opportunities, maturity and capability--and they've served their country," Dahl said.
Dahl also pointed out that service members have learned to work in multi-national and multi-agency environments, which are increasingly common in private sector work.
"We have the best-trained, best-equipped, combat-tested Army ever," Dahl said.
Although the Army will have to draw down, Dahl said it will not go hollow like eras past where there were no structural changes but all of the elements were manned at 60 or 70 percent.
"There's a strong inclination to drawdown the number of brigades; we're not going to go hollow," Dahl said.
As the number of brigades dwindles, some elements may be shifted to make the remaining brigade combat teams larger, he said.
The Reserve component, special operations and special forces are not expected to be affected as much by the reductions, but one threat unlikely to change is the terrorism threat.
The Army after the drawdown may use conventional forces to augment special forces training host nation forces as a preventive measure for failed nations that could be vulnerable to becoming terrorist safe havens, Dahl said.
The engagements were well-received and Dahl expressed the desire to connect the 10th Mountain Division with the rest of the northeast.
"I left feeling extremely informed. The balanced and realistic view of what our service men and women face in Afghanistan provided by BG Dahl and the team was eye opening," said Freda Campbell-Brobbey, vice president and regional head, diversity and inclusion for Barclays Capital.
Of the 10 divisions in the active U.S. Army, the 10th Mountain Division is the only one in the northeast. The next closest is Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Communication and outreach from the 10th Mountain Division will grow to Philadelphia, Boston, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere in the northeast, according to Dahl.
"If I have any success after (this), you'll be talking about the 10th Mountain Division. The only reason we do what we do is for you. We want to build on this and have other opportunities," Dahl said.
To request U.S. Army interaction with American publics, contact your local public affairs office.