FORT POLK, La. — Leaders of the Afghan National Army and Afghan Uniform Police sat with U.S. military commanders as the two forces discussed security prior to provincial and district elections during a training scenario Sunday.
While the elections and the meeting aren’t real, the simulation allowed commanders to practice speaking with Afghan officials through an interpreter during 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division’s training at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
For nearly three weeks, about 3,200 brigade soldiers have been training at the center, which is about 100,000 acres of training grounds, known as “the box,” designed to simulate Afghanistan.
Soldiers will be back at Fort Hood by the end of the month and deploy to Afghanistan this summer to support the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the end of the war.
JRTC puts stress on the Army’s systems, soldiers and leaders, and Lt. Col. Jason Joose, commander of the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, said the training gives them an opportunity to test all of those things in a short period of time with resources not available at Fort Hood.
“This whole rotation is our last chance as a battalion to prepare ourselves for a very dangerous mission,” he said. “The biggest thing we’ve been able to learn is that our soldiers are very adaptable, very ready, and they’re very motivated to accomplish the mission. They’re ready to get the job done.”
Maj. David Escobar, battalion operations officer, helped organize the staged meeting between mock Afghan officials and real U.S. soldiers and said the atmosphere of it was crucial in promoting and facilitating true dialogue.
“The important meeting doesn’t happen during the meeting; it happens after the meeting (as Afghans and Americans socialize),” Escobar said. “It gives my commander and civil affairs team practice on essentially how to have a conversation.”
As the U.S. starts its withdrawal, Joose said it’s important for Afghans and Americans to work together toward a common goal, so if uncertainty arises in the future, both parties can be reassured they will be OK.
“If you have more trust and more confidence in your ability to get something done, it takes less time to make that happen,” he said. “If we have mutual trust with each other — if we need help or they need help — the time to get that help is reduced a lot.”
Joose said security is a main talking point between Afghan and U.S. officials.
“That’s what the American Army is very good at,” he said. “If there are other matters to discuss, we prefer to leave those matters of discussion to the experts that do that, from the Afghan government (to) the international community.”
Lt. Col. Robert Smith, commander of the brigade’s 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, said one technique to use when discussing local issues with Afghans is referring them to entities within their own province instead of having them come directly to the U.S. so they can become independent.
“It’s no different than what you do with your children,” Smith said. “If you continue to do for them, when they become an adult they’re not able to do for themselves. It’s more important to show them how to do (things) than it is to give it to them.”