FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- The 10th Mountain Division (LI) conducted a Best Security Force Advise and Assist Team Competition between 1st Brigade Combat Team and 2nd Brigade Combat Team on Dec. 11 and 12.

With the shift of leadership transitioning from the U.S. military to Afghanistan Security Forces in the foreseeable future, the implementation of Security Force Advise and Assist Teams, or SFAATs, is designed to help smooth the process.

During the past year, the 10th Mountain Division (LI) has been training its brigade combat teams to adapt to the SFAAT style of deployment. After joint training operations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., the Mountain Peak exercise at Fort Drum, and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., last week's competition was about putting the year's worth of training to the test.

"A year ago we began by planning to support (SFAATs) as a battlespace-owning combat team," said Col. Dennis Sullivan, 2nd Brigade Combat Team commander. "Our rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center in conjunction with 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division taught us many lessons regarding what support SFAATs need to perform their mission effectively."

During the joint training, units used the same assets they would have while deployed. This would ensure that before Soldiers were to deploy they would have a realistic understanding on how they would operate as an SFAAT.

"I and the Warrior Brigade count it an honor to be executing this (Afghanistan) mission on our nation's behalf," said Col. Stephen L. Michael, 1st Brigade Combat Team commander. "Here at Fort Drum, we have completed our culminating event, the division's SFAAT competition. Our teams are trained and ready to deploy and win, causing the Afghan Security Forces to stand up and take charge of their own security."

The SFAATs were designed to have highly trained officers and noncommissioned officers who will advise and assist Afghan army and police units as they conduct security operations in their country. SFAATs have a robust capability to defend themselves, but their primary role is to help the Afghan units to achieve levels of proficiency where they can lead and conduct independent security operations.

"The planning took approximately four to five weeks to develop our concept (and) resource our lanes with the best instructors and training aids available," said Lt. Col. Patrick Kaune, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (LI). "We applied the 10-step training model to make sure we had a product that would challenge our SFAAT teams."

Fort Drum held a Best SFAAT Competition to see which team would perform to the highest standards during the event. The competition was broken down into different stages, to include medical, counter-improvised explosive devices, communications, language and cultural awareness, ruck march and live-fire.

"We certified the instructor lane (officers in charge) based on Army standards and theater tactics, techniques and procedures. We made sure our instructors knew their business and selected our cadre based on experience and technical expertise," Kaune said. "Furthermore, we appreciated the senior NCOs from 3rd BCT Spartans assisting as additional (observer-controllers) to check not only the trainees but also to assist with improving the lanes."
Events focused on skills the teams had learned and how they would implement those skills in a deployed environment. Teams were graded on time of completion and execution of their knowledge of the events.

At the medical lane, Soldiers were briefed on the situation and how they would be graded. The skills used would consist of securing the area, assessing and treating the casualties, and getting them evacuated to a medical transportation site.

After completing the first event, teams would move to the counter-improvised explosive device station. Once a team arrived at the site, Soldiers were informed they had 20 minutes to tactically move up the lane and safely identify as many threats as they could, without endangering anyone on their team.

During the third event, SFAATs were graded on how quickly they could set up and establish communications with several different Army systems. The teams would be graded on correctly following setup procedures, transmitting and receiving data, and overall timeliness of the completed objective.

Once the SFAATs had completed the communications event, they would move to the language and cultural awareness station. Teams at the station were given a written and verbal test to see what skills they had retained during their past training. At this station, Soldiers relied on previous training as a key to the overall success in their grade.

After the teams completed the communications station, then it was time for a four-mile ruck march to the live-fire exercise. During the ruck march, teams would be graded on overall time until reaching the live-fire range.

Once they arrived at the range, instructors again briefed teams on how they would be graded during this part of the exercise. During the live-fire, grades were given to the teams for weapons assembly and performing a weapons systems check upon completion. Four weapons -- the M-9, M-240, M-4, and M-249 -- were dismantled and given to the teams to reassemble.
The overall winning team was Team Grey 1 from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, led by Maj. Brian Roeder. Taking second place was team Lucky 13 from 1st Brigade Combat Team, led by Lt. Col. John Sherwood.

The goal of the Best SFAAT Competition was to have the teams leave with increased confidence in their abilities and to identify areas to improve before their upcoming deployments.

"We have to ensure our SFAATs are able to survive and fight on the battlefield they are entering," Kaune said. "Soldiers truly have to be a master of several trades in dealing with the civilian populace we are supporting in Afghanistan."