Monday, June 20, 2016

Afghanistan Training

This past week, I was up at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in southeastern Indiana.  I was part of the team providing training to a bunch of Defense Department civilians who are headed to Afghanistan.  They're going over there to support the US effort by doing things like managing base operations, carrying out logistics support, providing oversight of various projects, maintaining base infrastructure, and coordinating with the Afghans.  These are all critical jobs that have to be done, and they're better done by civilians than by military.

Muscatatuck is a really cool place.  I wrote about it in a blog post back in 2013, when I first went there as a trainer.  Read the blog post for a more detailed description of it and to see some photos, or you can go to the Wikipedia page for a lot more.  The short story is that it is an old campus-like facility that has been turned into a training center for all kinds of operations.  The military uses it for urban combat training, FEMA and other agencies use it for disaster training, and my group uses it to train people heading to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Lord knows who else uses the place, but locals are used to helicopters, all kinds of emergency vehicles, and loud noises at all hours of the day and night.  Fortunately, it's pretty remote, so the noise doesn't bother too many people.

My role this time was to be the mentor for a team of eight students.  They went through several days of intense, immersive role-playing, in which they had to work with their military escorts (themselves undergoing training), plan for meetings with various Afghan officials, carry out the meetings, work through an interpreter, respond to changing circumstances, figure out what's going on both overtly and behind the scenes, and perform as if they were really on the ground in Afghanistan.  They had all been through a couple weeks of classroom training and this was their time to put it all into play.

I've been blessed to have a bunch of really sharp people during all my training sessions and this time was no different.  There weren't any egos in my group.  One individual was a very senior guy who had run large organizations.  Another was an executive secretary who was pretty junior.  The rest fell somewhere in between.  Yet all of them were active participants in the planning.  The secretary's input was just as respected as the senior guy's.  And they pulled together as a team: when somebody tripped up or went blank, others jumped in to fill the gap.  It was great to see.

That's not to say they didn't make mistakes - of course they did.  But that's almost by design.  This training exposes them to the thousand shades of gray that comes with real operations, and so we discussed all their decisions and actions in quite some depth so that they could understand some of the second and third-order implications of their actions.  This is where it gets real.  Americans in general are problem solvers: we identify an issue, make a decision, implement it, and move on to the next one.  Except it's not that simple, and the decision or the implementation may have consequences that were not expected.  Our goal was to get them to think of that.

As a mentor, my job was to guide them along by asking them how they would prepare for a meeting with, say, a district governor, what kind of things they should know, where they might go to find things out, asking what they learned after meetings, asking how their lessons learned tied in with their greater mission, and so on.  I never gave them the answer, just raised the questions.  And this team always - ALWAYS - took the ball and ran with it.

It was great.

So I'm happy to be a part of the training team again.  This is so much fun and so rewarding for me.  I really get a kick out of helping people learn new stuff, particularly when it's this important.  I'm looking forward to doing it again!

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