Training connects Arizona teachers and U.S. Army Reserve soldiers
February 3, 2012
BUCKEYE, Ariz. -- In a quiet, empty classroom of an elementary school nestled in the Phoenix suburb of Buckeye, a teacher and four U.S. Army Reserve soldiers sit down for a conversation on Jan. 20, 2012.
After all students were dismissed for the day, the long hallways echo footsteps of faculty as soldiers from Charlie Company from the 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion introduce themselves and begin a conversation with 5th grade teacher, Christy N. Sartiano at the West Park Elementary School.
Sartiano quips cheerfully to Spc. Thaddeus D. Gushwa's questions, questions like, "do you have any problems with water or sanitation?"
While the questions may seem odd to ask in a modern school, they are important questions to ask for these Civil Affairs soldiers. These soldiers have a unique mission; they help rebuild civil capacity and infrastructure in developing and war-torn areas. Rebuilding civil capacity varies greatly, but frequently it involves helping with access to drinkable water, basic sanitation, self-governance and education.
However, well before the soldiers came, a tremendous amount of coordination needed to happen first. That coordination started with Master Sgt. Jeffrey J. Rice, operations noncommissioned officer, 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion, based in Buckeye, Ariz.
Rice started coordination with the school's administration to make sure the training would not have an impact on the students or activities at the school. The school's administration welcomed the soldiers in for training after establishing the training would happen after school and with facility that volunteered their time, explained Rice.
"We wanted to get our people out in the field doing CA [Civil Affairs], practicing CA, the way they would downrange," said Rice.
It is important to get the soldiers out of the reserve center and into actual scenarios where they are dealing with civilians. Through this practice, the soldiers learn how to actually have conversations and learn about the needs of a civilian population. Though this training is with English-speaking civilians in a modern classroom, it still allows soldiers to practice that critical skill of listening and having a constructive conversation said Rice.
The school's Dean of Students, Nick Forgette, Sartiano and two other teachers volunteered to stay late on a Friday to help the soldiers to train.
Sartiano said that earlier in the week, she received an email from a school administrator asking for volunteers to role-play and had a list of questions that the soldiers planned to ask as part of the training.
"It wasn't even a question, I just said 'yes' right away," excitedly said Sartiano when asked if she would like to volunteer to help the soldiers train.
In the classroom, the conversation between Sartiano and Gushwa continued as Spc. Andrea M. Martin furiously took notes. Soon the conversation melted into a professional-to-professional dialog, rather than a rough, tennis-like exchange of role-playing, while the other two soldiers of the team kept quiet vigil as they provided notional security.
After concluding the conversation, Sartiano guided the soldiers to an information panel in the library that shows the school's power consumption and solar power use. Then she guided them outside to the multi-purpose room that serves as cafeteria and sports room. The conversation continued as the soldiers asked more questions born from the brief tour. After the tour, the soldiers thanked Sartiano and left the school having completed their assessment.
"Definitely, I thought it went well because everyone was able to participate," said Gushwa, "we were actually able to get out and do some live training rather than simulated [training]."
Rice declared the training successful, as it did exactly what he hoped. He wanted to see the soldiers having conversations with civilians, truly discovering what the needs were, so when called-upon, they can do this in a deployed environment.
"Talking to the teachers afterwards," said Rice, "they said the soldiers actually had a conversation with them instead of running down a checklist, which was the goal."