By Staff Sgt. Brad Staggs, Muscatatuck UTC Public AffairsDecember 21, 2010
BUTLERVILLE, Ind. (Army News Service, Dec. 21, 2010) -- Afghan music amplified through the room. A sad song played on traditional instruments for the Day of Ashura, the tenth day of Muharrum as the Afghan governor welcomed the American military and civilian guests to his home.
Only in this case, home is in southern Indiana.
The Thursday evening Afghan dinner has become a tradition over the past 18 months of joint civilian-military training. After a full week of immersive, 24-hour-a-day field exercises which partners civilian government employees from federal agencies such as the departments of state and agriculture as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development with members of the U.S. military, the dinner serves as a time when the Americans can relax and share a meal with the Afghan role players they have come to know.
The war on terror is in a transitional phase and the training which takes place at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Ind., on a monthly basis has become more popular with commanders and Soldiers who will be deploying to Afghanistan soon. One of those Soldiers slated for deployment is Col. Geoffrey Slack, commander of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team out of New York State.
"This training is absolutely essential," Slack said during a rare break. "I can tell you that I'm honestly and sincerely impressed and proud of these folks that I have worked with here. It's inspiring to watch the level of intensity that they bring and the level of commitment to this program in Afghanistan."
"I went to the Brigade Commander's Course a year and a half ago when I was just coming on board as a brigade commander, and the topic of conversation often came to the whole issue of partnering with the civilian surge," Slack continued.
"I had no experience with that whatsoever. I would think that brigade commanders, if they chose to come to this course or send their senior people, they would have to look at it carefully to see what would work for them," he added. "But if they can get their key people and themselves out here, it's worth their time."
While training at MUTC, the Soldiers and civilians are split into teams from which they must operate day-to-day. Vignettes create realistic events which Soldiers may find themselves a part of in Afghanistan.
While everybody being trained learns valuable lessons from the vignettes, some such as Spc. Marya Wolffe with Wisconsin's 432nd Reserve Civil Affairs Battalion, are looking for specific things.
"While I was in the vignettes, I was looking for the 'beautiful' phrases, the Afghan phrases," Wolffe shared. "There were two that I'm walking away with that happened at separate vignettes, but I've put them together in my mind and they're beautiful. 'This is the truth and it cannot be denied.' I love that. Then the other one was 'This is no longer a time of war, this a time to build peace.'"
Wolffe came to the Army Reserve as an older recruit, already 40 by the time she went through basic training. She believes her age has helped her understand and empathize with the issues facing Afghan females.
"From the vignettes that I went to, especially in these women's engagements, they want education; they want the lives of their children improved. These are very brave women," Wolffe said. "I'm certainly military, I'm going to have my weapon, I know how to use it, but if I can be helping people, that's why I got into this job."
Since July of 2009, the joint training has been teaching civilians and military how to work together and with the Afghan people. The monthly training has helped to better prepare nearly 1,000 civilians for their time in Afghanistan.