August 30, 2010
THREE MONTHS DOWN
Name: CAPT Marc Rassler
Posting date: 8/30/10
Deployed to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back
I have been "boots on ground in Afghanistan" for around three months now. We flew into Kyrgyzstan, then the following day flew into Marmal. After following around and learning from the unit that we replaced, we were handed the keys to our new mission.
One thing that is always funny about Changes of Command and hand-over of mission authority is the differences between the units. The outgoing unit will often leave with the opinion that the guys they are being replaced with don't know crap and are going to screw up things up. The new guys can hardly wait till the old group gets out of the area, because they didn't know what they we were doing and we will do much better.
From my previous two deployments, and the start of this one, I saw thoughts expressed that way by both sides. Part of the problem is that the old unit has been doing their mission for so long that they are just like kids in high school with a week left before summer break. They are burnt out and ready to go home, they know their job, but they probably don't have the same zeal for it that they once did.
The real challenge for the new unit is to not listen too much to the "Good Idea Fairy" that will come around trying to sprinkle good ideas about how things can be changed. The old unit, right or wrong, had a system or method that worked for them and their mission; there often is really no need to go changing things other than the fact that you want to change things. Our unit really didn't make all that many changes when we finally did take over the mission, aside from a couple of changes in how we have our Afghans run their meetings.
From my experiences in my previous two deployments, and in discussion with others, I have heard it said that it takes two or three months to learn your job when you come into theatre. If you are a truck driver, you already know how to drive a truck. It takes a couple months though to figure out where everything is on the base, and who the people are that affect you and your mission. It will take a while to get a system figured out and rhythm down to a good comfort level. My first month here I was often staying in the office late each day, and working hard to get things figured out. After about a month and half I noticed that my comfort level had greatly increased, and I no longer had to work as hard to get the same amount of work accomplished. I could knock off and head back to my room earlier in the day if I wanted.
My typical day involves enjoying a quick breakfast around 0800, then walking to gate 2 of our base to meet our terps before our walk down. It's about a mile from the gate to where the offices of our Afghan Kandak are located. We often joke about it, but in reality one of the most dangerous parts of job is the walk to and from the Kandak. The streets are designed kind of like a warehouse district area, with the blocks a bit longer than the average U.S. street. The Afghans have a variety of vehicles (Hummers, Ford Rangers, International straight trucks) most of which were almost certainly purchased by the U.S. taxpayer. It seems like many of the Afghan drivers have never been taught what a speed limit sign is, so they only know two speeds -- Fast and Stop. So during our walks we are constantly jumping out of the way of fast-moving vehicles.
Most normal weeks we like to have a BUB (Battle Update Brief) on Monday and Thursday. This is basically a staff meeting in which we can compare notes, accomplishments, and any possible issues we may have. The first month it was guaranteed that each meeting would take a good hour to complete. We all have improved since our first weeks here, but each meeting still takes at least a half hour or more to get all the information.
Generally the issues for each section and company are very similar, a variation of "I tried to teach my section something, however the people I needed to teach this to were gone." Additionally almost weekly someone brings up that their Afghans are asking that we, the mentors, provide or purchase them such things as an air conditioner, fans, GPS, bottled water, fuel, and an assortment of small knick-knacks. The BUB does give good opportunities for everyone on the team to try and focus their mentoring for the next few days. Several times I have asked the company mentors to try and work with their sections on turning in a daily personnel report, which gives them a chance to focus on an area that will help my section.
I have come to the conclusion that I am probably the luckiest of the mentors. The guys in my S1 shop seem to have their stuff down pretty well. The main thing that guys in the Afghan Army care about is getting paid, and getting paid on time. Since I have been here I have not seen any issues regarding pay from the guys that I work with. In fact my main frustration is that perhaps my guys work too many hours each day. Almost every morning I will ask them what time the reports from the day before were turned in and how late they worked. It is not uncommon for them to reply that the reports came in around 9pm, and they worked till 10pm or later.
Since we have been here in Afghanistan we have done three overnight missions, one to Samagon, and a couple to Pol-e-Khomri as we have soldiers from our Kandak currently stationed and working there. Fortunately in the times that we have visited there were no incidents of hostile fire or other issues that would have increased our danger because we were there. It is anybody's guess if we will leave Afghanistan without being engaged.
About a week after Ramadan ends are some new elections, and our Kandak will likely be tasked to secure polling places. As a result we will probably go out to further mentor and assist our soldiers. Enemies of the Government of Afghanistan may try to do disrupt the attempts at a peaceful election. So it is anyone’s guess what will happen. Our Kandak has soldiers stationed and working west of Mazar-e-Sharif which will probably make an effort to visit in the future.
When we are not out visiting our soldiers at distant FOBs, the challenge is to keep our motivation and spirits up when we are working with our soldiers. Almost every day that we go to visit the soldiers that we are mentoring the same issues are present and it seems like there is little to no progress. It is frustrating, as we are not here to make them do our system of Army, but rather to force them to make their system work no matter how good or bad it may be. If we can keep our motivation to mentor up over the next six months, like we did the first month, this will have been a successful deployment.