By Capt. Neil PenttilaNovember 13, 2011
FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- An Afghan flag flutters in the wind above a town silhouetted by minarets. American Soldiers sweep into the town, swiftly positioning to guard the opening of an "Afghan" road. It's just another day of training in Southern California for the "Lancer" Brigade.
The 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, coordinated a mock opening of the Sorkh Kotal Mezre Pass at the National Training Center Nov. 12, in an exercise built to prepare civil affairs, military information support operations, community relations and the personal security detachment for a potential deployment to Afghanistan.
With the evolving situation in Afghanistan, the brigade looks to sharpen both its abilities to engage the enemy while isolating them from the local population. Events such as the pass opening teach the brigade to positively exploit friendly successes and strengthen partnerships within the local government.
"A man with seven sons, gave seven sticks to his sons and told them to break them. They broke them," said Col. Barry F. Huggins, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, commander, "He gave his sons another stick and said, 'bind them together and they will never be broken, as today we stand together, we will not be broken."'
Looks of genuine surprise and admiration shot through the crowd of role-players at the NTC as the "Lancer" Brigade commander incorporated Dari and Afghan Proverbs into his speech, marking the opening of the Sorkh Kotal Mezre Pass.
Every bit of his 30 years leading Soldiers was on display as he handed bundles of sticks to local officials to reinforce his point.
The brigade coordinated with the role-players representing the Afghan security forces, provincial government and representatives of the U.S. State Department in order to plan all aspects of the ribbon cutting ceremony. Great measures were made to ensure the U.S. and Afghan partnership was clearly displayed to the role-players representing Afghan locals and media. The fact that humanitarian assistance from the U.S. was the first traffic to travel on the road was no coincidence.
"This training is very close to real life events," said Maj. Joseph B. Mason, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, information officer, "It shows you the struggles you have while working with an emerging government. This is a great training opportunity for the Brigade."
In the scenario, the U.S. Military and State Department provided funds to refurbish an unusable Afghan road. The road traverses a critical pass used for commerce. The opening of the pass should bring a boost to the local economy and support the efforts of the provincial government. Success for the brigade is not measured by the project itself but how the "Lancers" sell that success to the Afghan people.
The "Lancer" Brigade has sought throughout their rotation at the NTC to exercise both its kinetic and non-kinetic weapons, as it seeks to prepare for a potential deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"We're taught not to be aggressive to the people, we're taught to be friendly to the people," said Sgt. Clayton J. Green, personal security detachment, "It's important to show we aren't bullies; we're here to protect them."
After a series of speeches from local officials, the provincial governor and a representative of the U.S. State Department the ribbon, to the pass was cut amongst cheers from the local population. Culturally appropriate good-byes were exchanged and the Soldiers headed back to their Strykers. The 2nd Brigade found mission success without firing a shot.
As for the Soldiers of 2nd Brigade, morale remains high after completing the majority of their rotation in the Mojave Desert.