Training mission for Fort Polk's 162nd Inf Bde alters to accommodate Army's new objectives
February 24, 2012
FORT POLK, La. ---- The mission of American forces in Afghanistan is changing as troop drawdown efforts continue. What was once a battle against terrorism now becomes a battle against its resurgence, and one way to keep the bad guys at bay is to continue educating Afghanistan's army and police forces.
Combat advisors are trained to teach and mentor host nation security forces (army, police) to be effective, independent entities capable of self-regulation and growth while protecting the civilian population of their country. The 162nd Infantry Brigade, whose home station is Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center, is the lead training resource for deploying combat advisors.
Emphasis has been placed on counter insurgency operations, as "unfriendlies" (the Taliban) are the primary culprits that undermine Afghanistan's reach for an improved economy and infrastructure as well as democracy and autonomy.
But the focus has now shifted.
"We are still training combat advisors, but the focus now is to train (American) security force assistance teams, or SFATS, and to transition combat operations from U.S. forces to Afghan forces," said Maj. Michael Milas, training officer-in-charge for the 162nd Inf Bde. "We're going from a (counter insurgency) role to an advisory role."
That shift means changes have to be made in how the Army trains and utilizes personnel in Afghanistan.
Before the drawdown, many modular Army brigades included a group called the STT, or Security Transition Team. The STT took care of training and mentoring host nation security forces for that particular brigade's area of operations. Now that the role of teacher/mentor has come to the forefront of Army operations in Afghanistan, these small teams are turning into entire units that will pair up with Afghan units.
These SFAT units are comprised of sergeants first class and above only. This is done because training has to begin with leadership and ranks should be partnered for effective training (you can't partner an Army specialist with an Afghan colonel).
"Our advisors will be training senior-ranking Afghan personnel, so we need to compliment that with senior-ranking officers and (NCOs)," said Milas. "To ensure we have credibility in Afghanistan, we have to provide training from our most experienced people from the officer and NCO corps."
Female officers and NCOs are not restricted from joining SFATs but cultural sensitivities will be taken into account on a case-by-case basis.
Currently, the JRTC is experiencing a training surge, as the Forces Command requirement for SFATs has to be met quickly. This means 1,300-1,800 Soldiers need to get trained up within the fiscal year. There are 47 teams (eight to 12 Soldiers per team) training for this mission at the JRTC through Feb. 26. Some 120 teams are expected to attend training per rotation.
The skills learned at JRTC are based on the most up-to-date and relevant intelligence from theater, according to Milas. Most of the instructors have just returned from downrange and they share their experiences so that students can hear the "latest and greatest" information "from the horse's mouth."
Milas said the JRTC's role in predepolyment training remains relatively unchanged save for the number of roleplayers needed per rotation.
"There are a lot more augmentees that are roleplaying, as well as host nation forces roleplayers to facilitate realistic training. There will be more personnel involved than with other rotations because we have so many small teams going through the rotations instead of large units," said Milas. The use of training areas, opposing forces and non-roleplaying support personnel and equipment continues as for any other rotation.
This revamping of the Army's role in Afghanistan boils down to one goal: Help the country govern and protect its own people.
"This is a shift of thinking within theater. We are conducting this mission to facilitate President (Barack) Obama's plan of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan," said Milas. "(Central Command) has decided that this is how we are going to meet the intent for the president. We are there to train their personnel to lead from the front so that once we leave Afghanistan, they'll have trained forces ready to continue the progress there."