By 2nd Lieutenant Eric ErmerOctober 6, 2018
When the 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment deployed to Gardez Province, Afghanistan, leaders in the organization expected they would be supporting the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) in its mission to advise Afghan forces. What they didn't know was that they would shortly find themselves in an advisory role as well. In addition to their regular responsibilities as members of the Squadron staff, seven Officers and NCOs also serve on the Task Force-Southeast (TF-SE) Police Advisory Team (PAT). Although the task was unexpected, Soldiers embraced the challenge with the willing spirit and creative problem-solving skills of true Cavalrymen. "I didn't know I was going to be a part of the PAT until we were on the ground" explained MAJ Daniel Bell, Squadron Operations Officer. "Presented with the opportunity, I was very happy to be part of an advisory role, as it gives me the opportunity to assist Afghan capabilities."
Although the other members of the PAT share MAJ Bell's can-do attitude, the task is not without its challenges. As 1LT James Pesola stated, "To put it in perspective, it took over 100 years to professionalize and legitimize police in the United States; we have been trying to do this in Afghanistan in less than two decades now." 1LT Pesola serves as both the Squadron Assistant Operations Officer and a member of the PAT. Like his colleagues, he had no formal training as an advisor prior to deployment, but brings a wealth of abilities as a leader in the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team's premier reconnaissance organization. "Despite the fact that I'm not a Scout Platoon Leader anymore, being an advisor can carry a lot of the same parallels. You have to think about the people of Afghanistan the way you care about your Soldiers, because in the end what you are doing is making the lives of all the Afghan people better."
The mission to advise and improve the Afghan National Police (ANP) is a vital component of the overall strategy for Afghan success. With a presence on the streets, the ANP can serve as a bridge uniting citizens with government and military efforts to create security and stability. "These people are still fighting a war, have rough living conditions, and there is a separation from larger populations and smaller villages. Economically they are trying to sustain families and livelihood. Once you can get security you can help foster additional programs that can be pushed to local communities. Police are the key to the security in this country. Without that, the Army will never be successful. The Police and the Afghan Army are tied together just like we are tied together in the United States," stated one of the PAT civilian advisors.
2-1 Soldiers serving as PAT advisors stress the necessity of constant and consistent contact with their ANP counterparts. A normal day for the team involves multiple phone calls to maintain relationships with a high frequency of touch points. The team plans advising missions for face-to-face contact at least twice a week to reinforce trust and familiarity, including trips to more remote locations to establish new contacts. "We try to plan new places we haven't seen before to build new relationships" said 1LT Pesola. And their efforts are being met with enthusiasm on the part of their ANP allies. "They are extremely happy and very willing to work with the PAT," continued 1LT Pesola. "They work hard to reach the objectives that they are given."
Team initiatives include helping the ANP to win hearts and minds in the community. One such project involved arranging backpack distribution to school children. Not only is this an act of kindness and goodwill to citizens, it serves educational and security purposes as well since each backpack contains instructions for what to do should children encounter any improvised explosive device (IED). This serves a dual purpose of not only keeping the community safer through information about hazards, but also helps the ANP legitimize their presence by inspiring confidence in their intentions and abilities. "We are getting ready for a Coats for Kids program," explained 1LT Pesola, "[by] helping the ANP to work with organizations in the United States that will donate jackets. Once it starts to cool down the ANP will hand them out to kids to enforce a positive presence and build those valuable relationships."
As members of various Squadron staff sections with diverse skillsets, 2-1 Soldiers bring a multitude of viewpoints, ideas, and capabilities to the PAT. In addition to MAJ Bell and 1LT Pesola, other team members include CPT Matt Kisker (Logistics), CW2 Lee Heard (Maintenance), and 2LT Joel Galvan (Intelligence). Their experience on the Squadron staff allows them to support ANP efforts to be administratively sound and organizationally effective. "A lot of the issues that arise are individuals or problems not getting the attention they deserve," said 1LT Pesola. "A lot of what we do, especially on a daily basis is helping the ANP focus their attention on where it can best be utilized," a skill the Squadron was forced to develop while planning and executing extensive training under challenging circumstances. Collectively, 2-1 leaders help the PAT think outside the box and find solutions to complex problems facing the ANP and US efforts to support Afghan security.