For 4th Stryker Brigade commander, NTC rotation all about relationships
June 12, 2012
FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- Soldiers with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division aren't deploying to Afghanistan this fall to play soccer, but that's the analogy the brigade's commander is using to describe how he'll partner with local leaders once in country.
"We're all players on a soccer team, and we're going to move that ball forward, and that ball is security for the people of Afghanistan," said Col. Michael Getchell, brigade commander, after a key leader engagement exercise with role players at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., where the month of June has served as crunch time for the brigade to prep for its near-future tour.
While the majority of the more than 5,000 Soldiers with the brigade here are refining their common Soldier tasks in preparation for a combat zone, Getchell is putting his focus on the way he'll start building relationships with Afghan provincial leaders later this year.
"The dynamic in Afghanistan is changing," said Getchell, a Bridgewater, Mass., native who last deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. "We're pretty certain by the time we get there the Afghan Security Forces will really be in the lead, and so it's a different mission.
"It's about enabling them to remain in the lead, and the number one piece to that is relationships."
During a meeting June 11 with Afghan role players in a simulated Afghanistan province, seated between a smattering of small buildings that mirror a typical cityscape in the country, Getchell sat and talked security, safety and engineering projects -- things that will take center stage in the brigade's real-life deployment.
"When you boil it all down, it's the same wants and desires that any American would want," he said after the meeting -- just one of several planned for the rotation. "They want security; they want a better future for their kids -- the same that we would want."
Getchell said that during his last Afghanistan deployment, the mindset was different, and face time between U.S. military leaders and the local populace was scarce in comparison with today's mission.
"It was a very different mission back then," he said. "We had very little engagement with the population, almost no engagement with the Afghan army, and really no engagement with police."
Sitting at a t-shape of tables in a tiny trailer with his brigade deputy commander, a U.S. provincial reconstruction team leader and other staff from the brigade, Getchell listened intently, scribbled down concerns addressed by the provincial leaders and reassured them of his team's commitment to their needs.
As two small fans whirled in a desperate effort to cool down the cramped room, Getchell shared his soccer analogy. But the Afghans have their own way of looking at their partnership, even if, in this case, the bond is for training purposes.
"They call it a bundle of sticks," Getchell said, adding that he and his team are just a few sticks in that bundle.
Sharing such analogies, stories and poems helps draw them closer, he explained.
"I'll be able to have that more human contact and human dialogue with them," he said, looking ahead to his plans for engagement with real Afghan leaders.
To Getchell, the role players -- dressed in traditional Afghan hats and robes and speaking in their native tongue -- are every bit as real and reminiscent of the country as Fort Irwin's backdrop of high-desert mountains, its extreme heat and simulated villages.
And so is the benefit they offer.
"They're trying to equip us with an understanding of the people and the desires and the problems that are going on in Afghanistan," Getchell said. "If we make cultural mistakes here, we can learn from those mistakes without really paying a penalty."
"It helps us to see ourselves, and then figure out how we can make the most out of these types of engagements," said Lt. Col. Jody Miller, the brigade's deputy commander, who sat next to Getchell during the meeting. "We're not going to get much done by ourselves over there. It's a joint effort for us to continue moving the ball forward."
Standing outside the small trailer under the inescapable rays of sun in a cloudless Fort Irwin sky, where pretend mortars are heard and troops die -- in play but not real life -- Getchell made it clear that common weather and physical terrain aren't the only reason units train at NTC.
"That human terrain is invaluable, and we can't replicate that at Joint Base Lewis-McChord or any other installation."