Saturday, March 14, 2020

Afghanistan Training

I spent the last week at the Muscatatuck (pronounced "mus-CAT-a-tuck") Urban Training Center, helping to train another group of Defense Department civilians who are heading to Afghanistan for a year.  I'm doing this every month now.  For me, it's the unicorn of day jobs: it's an important mission, it's something that I can do pretty well, it's a helluva lot of fun, and I get to work with some wonderful people.

To answer your first question first, yes, we're still sending civilians to Afghanistan.  These are the people who run much of the day-to-day operations at the bases so that the soldiers can concentrate on doing their mission outside the wire.  These civilians do the financial management, manage contracts, run the dining facility, manage the gyms and physical training facilities, take care of personnel records, manage the local hires (yes, we hire a lot of Afghans), maintain the vehicles, keep the HVAC up and running, you name it.  Most of the civilians will interact with Afghans frequently, if not continuously.  The training we do at Muscatatuck gives them important insights into how to bridge the cultural differences so that they can accomplish their jobs from day 1.

Our training is immersive.  The students are effectively already working on a base in Afghanistan and they have to go outside the wire with their military security personnel and meet with various Afghans on a variety of issues.  And these are real Afghans, too.  Each of our training events builds on previous ones, so things get more complicated the further along they get. 

I had a great team of students.  I'm using the word "team" advisedly, because that's the way they operated: as a team.  Every one of them got to lead the team on a training event, but every one of them also needed help from the rest of the team as each of the events went on.  They would jump into a discussion whenever they had something to contribute, and on occasion they pulled their team leader back from the brink when he/she was about to go off in the wrong direction.  It was wonderful to see.

I've been doing this training for quite a few years now and have gotten to know our Afghans pretty well.  And the more I work with them, the more I see just how good they really are.  Most have been doing this training longer than I have - many were here when I came through the course in 2011.  They know the issues that need to be worked, and they know how to direct the conversation.  And they know how the events can go completely sideways, and when that happens, they know when to let it go and when to rein it in.  Every time we do this training, I see them showing more nuances and aspects that I hadn't seen before. We are very, very fortunate to have these men and women to train our people heading downrange.

The corona virus was turning into a Big Thing this week and we had a scare when three people got really sick.  Turned out they all had the flu, rather than Covid-19, but it was still serious.  Our training might get shut down for a couple of months if the scare continues.

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