By Capt. Joseph Payton, 1st Brigade Combat Team PAOMarch 12, 2015
Editor's note: Following is the second part of a two-part series on 2nd Brigade Combat Team's live-fire training exercise at Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk. La.
FORT POLK, La. -- The Joint Readiness Training Center here is renowned for its capacity to train rotational training units for combat, humanitarian assistance and other contingency missions.
"Bottom line is that we're focused on the infantry brigade combat team and all the enablers we're able to bring to bear," said Lt. Col. Stephen Shrader, Brigade Mission Command senior observer-controller / trainer.
"Whether it's special operations, Ranger forces, Department of State, USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and all the interagency players -- folks that they don't have access to when they're training at home station -- JRTC provides that environment," he said.
Since 2013, the U.S. forces' role in Afghanistan has transitioned from direct combat to primarily advising and assisting the Afghanistan National Security Forces. Therefore, training consistent with JRTC's slogan "Realistic, Rigorous and Relevant" is expedient.
"The scenario needs to be designed in such a way that tests us so that we sharpen the skill sets that will actually be applicable while we're deployed," said Maj. Brad Miller, operations officer for 41st Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI).
Soldiers of 2nd BCT, who have their fair share of experience in the advise and assist role, deployed here to JRTC at the beginning of February to conduct a mission readiness exercise in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
"It starts off with the Security Force Assistance Academy that's run by the (3rd Battalion, 353rd Regiment)," Shrader said. "It's focused on addressing some of the cultural issues that they'll be exposed to, and it puts them in situations, as well with interpreters or with Afghans, where they'll have to work through dilemmas, whether it's a moral dilemma or it's a cultural faux pas."
There are several considerations that Soldiers serving as advisers must consider, including dealing with language barriers. While they are not required to become fluent in the language of the region in which they may deploy, they are expected to learn how to use an interpreter to effectively communicate.
"Getting exposed to that here in a training environment where at the end of the session they turn around and say, 'Hey this is what we did good. This is what we did bad,' and nobody's feelings are hurt," Shrader said. "Here, we can always turn it around, start it over and reset, but downrange, you only get one try at it."
Col. David S. Doyle, 2nd BCT commander, said he is grateful for the training opportunity, especially the quality and quantity of the engagements that his leaders have received at JRTC, because of the positive implications it has on possible future missions.
"You build confidence through repetitions, and the repetitions build trust. And then that trust means you can go in without any inhibitions and say what you need to say," Doyle said.
Because communicating using an interpreter can be rigorous, practice is necessary, even for those Soldiers, like Miller, who have experience using interpreters.
"It's a skill that has to be developed and has to be practiced," Miller said. "It is not just as simple as sitting down and speaking and the interpreter, through magic, translates the message."
Even when conversing with someone who speaks the same language, a miscommunication can easily occur for several reasons, so adding a third party only increases the complexity of the conversation.
"It makes it much more challenging because you're not speaking directly to the individual with whom you're engaging in conversation," Miller said. "It takes a little bit of finesse. You actually have to learn how to use that interpreter wisely."
Doyle suggests an intangible element is essential for effective use of an interpreter, and Miller concurs.
"You have to trust in them, because we're woefully trained in language skills," he said.
"You have to trust your interpreter and you have to know that he understands the context of the message that you're trying to convey. And that will help him to portray it accurately," Miller said.
To provide the most realistic training possible, JRTC provides role-players who are native to the regions where the units will potentially deploy.
This detail increases the realism and relevance of the training the Soldiers receive.
"All the guys that are being used as interpreters for the rotation are very similar to what you would find when you're downrange, whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever you happen to be," Shrader said. "It's a very realistic environment that you don't always get at home station, but you can certainly see when you're forward deployed."
The training experience here highlights that the advantage of an interpreter extends beyond verbal and written communications.
"Interpreter is almost a myopic term because they actually do far more than that," Miller said. "They are a de facto cultural adviser as well. They are a force multiplier."
Based upon his experience and his training at JRTC, Miller learned some lessons regarding what makes a "good" interpreter and the best techniques for employing one.
"Being a good interpreter is more than just being fluent and a highly proficient speaker in both languages. It's also the ability to very rapidly and accurately communicate the message from one language into the other," he said.
"It's very tricky. It's an art to know where that individual needs to be placed, the speed and the meter of your speech as you're talking, and how often you need to break in order to maintain the flow of the conversation without overwhelming the interpreter."
It is often said that the Army is a learning organization. For Doyle, the assessments of JRTC's trainers are a welcome contribution.
"I really appreciate all of the feedback," Doyle said. "You always want to have more and more available to you for your use in the next mission."
If Doyle's unit departs Fort Polk with experiences that enable them to succeed at future missions, then that is consistent with the No. 1 objective for JRTC.
"The goal for each rotation at JRTC is to provide the most realistic training capable for an infantry brigade combat team so that (U.S. Army Forces Command) has relevant, ready and trained forces," Shrader said.