By Sgt. Michael J. MacLeodNovember 2, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Soldiers do two things: war and training for war. What war they will fight dictates what training they will do.
For the 82nd Airborne Division's "Devil Brigade," war has worn many faces since their first combat operation in North Africa during World War II: parachute assaults, beachhead defense, mountain warfare, jungle warfare, even riverine assault by oar-powered watercraft.
Late in the game of the decade-old war in Afghanistan, however, the 1st Brigade Combat Team is training for classical counterinsurgency operations, still as it was for American forces in the Philippines of the early 20th Century a case of winning the hearts and minds of the local populace.
Said Zekria Jamshidi, an Afghan native roleplaying a village elder in a mock village visited by 1BCT paratroopers, "As the village elder in this scenario, my priorities are local security, a school, a well and a medical clinic."
Unlike six years ago when Jamshidi began this work, U.S. troops are now less likely to canvass Afghan villagers for information about insurgents before addressing their basic needs first, and that is a good thing, he said.
Master Sgt. Jerry Tucker, an infantryman in charge of training at one of several mock villages used for the brigade's two-week field training exercise here in late October, urged paratroopers to pay strict attention to their posture when relating to Afghans.
"Don't be arrogant to locals just because, as Americans, we can get anything we want and they have nothing," Tucker counseled.
At his disposal, Tucker had a female role player, Pfc. Kristin Orendor, a communications specialist with the 307th Brigade Support Battalion. He appointed her as the village elder's daughter with simple orders: when the American patrol rolls in, stroll once around the house and return inside.
When she did, nine heads turned toward the only female the troops had seen all day. The village elder was outraged, because in the real world of Afghanistan, ogling a female is punishable by death, beginning with the death of the hapless daughter, said Tucker.
"It's important to make the soldiers understand our culture," said Sami Ahmad, another Afghan playing an Afghan National Army commander. "Our country has been at war for 30 years."
Visiting mentors from the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana also played a significant role in the training, helping to spin challenging scenarios that forced young commanders to manage the consequences of their actions: in spite of repeated threats to villagers, paratroopers increased the security enough to reopen the local market. That night, the Taliban assassinated the market owner. In the morning as the American captain met with the village elders to plot the way ahead, a suicide bomber detonated, killing more villagers. The rest wanted the Americans to leave.
"Always, they have much to learn when they begin," said Ahmad of the training soldiers. "When they leave, they are ready."