By Kathy Eastwood, Pointer View Staff WriterNovember 19, 2009
Lieutenant Col. Peter Kilner, assistant professor for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organization Learning, spent nearly two weeks, from Oct. 26 through Nov. 5, in Afghanistan interviewing 25 platoon leaders and junior company commanders about their experiences while conducting counterinsurgency operations.
During his assignment, Kilner saw how engaged the junior officers and Soldiers were with the Afghan Police and their Army.
"Our Soldiers and junior officers are living, eating, working, patrolling and sleeping with their Afghan counterparts," Kilner said.
General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan, redirected the focus of the ISAF in August by issuing the Combined Action Plan.
Now, the U.S. forces do more to protect Afghan civilians and show more respect toward the Afghans to gain the trust and support of the Afghan Army and police forces.
"American convoys don't go out alone. They always go out with their Afghan partners," Kilner said. "They do everything with their Afghan partners. Our role has gone from eliminating the Taliban to working with the Afghan National Security Forces and the police. We partner with them to help (continue to) eliminate the Taliban.
"We are always the supporting effort," Kilner added. "Afghan security forces are the main effort. This is different from what we are used to doing. One of the things that we as Army leaders need to get into our heads is we are there to support the government of Afghanistan and to help it develop and secure their country and their people--and to develop Afghan capacities."
Kilner said platoon leaders have to exercise tough decisions and judgments as to how they can acknowledge the differences in cultures and help the Afghans build their country without undermining American values.
"One expression heard a lot is 'Better the Afghans do it tolerably than we do it perfectly' because we will leave at some point," Kilner said. "We need the Afghans to get the job done."
The reason for interviewing Afghanistan platoon leaders is to pass on those experiences and share them with other junior officers across the Army and the cadets via CALDOL's Web sites at https://plattonleader.army.mil and Companycommand.army.mil.
"Leaders have always shared their experiences with friends," Kilner said. "What CALDOL does is create systems that enable peer-to-peer knowledge sharing to become more widespread and efficient. Today's cadets can tap into (the platoon leaders) experiences and see what today's platoon leaders are doing."
Kilner said the focus is to bring together current, past and future company commanders and platoon leaders so these two critical practices in the Army can be more effective. Cadets are preparing to become platoon leaders and they can learn first hand from experienced platoon leaders via the Web sites and forums.
"We develop products, such as books, video clips and professional forums for today's platoon leaders, which is very valuable with the (cadet's) course work here," Kilner explained. "Our products are used in the MX400, (which is a Corps capstone course of officership through the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic originated by retired Gen. Frederick Franks) that all seniors use, military science courses and other academic courses."
Kilner said that by tapping into the ongoing professional conversation of today's junior officer, CALDOL fosters lifelong learning, a living curriculum linking the field and the schoolhouse.
Currently, more than 18,000 Army officers and cadets are active members of CALDOL forums.