News: Soldier teaches Afghan police 'LDRSHIP'
Story by Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins
FORT EUSTIS, Va. - There have been approximately 100,000 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan annually since 2010, with numbers steadily declining, according to the Department of Defense.
As American forces continue pulling out of the country, training Afghan security forces to successfully take control is more important than ever. U.S. Army 1st Lt. Alfredo Carino and his team, Stability Transition Team Six (STT-6), came together to help the Afghans make that transition by instituting the Army values of "LDRSHIP" into their training.
When the 510th Human Resources Company plans and operations officer deployed from Fort Eustis to Afghanistan as a human resources adviser to the Afghan National Civil Order Police in 2012, he saw his deployment as a chance to make a difference - but he underestimated the task ahead of him.
Carino joined a team of roughly 12 U.S. Army and Navy personnel, four embedded U.S. civilian police mentors and four Afghan interpreters at Forward Operating Base Airborne in Wardak province, Afghanistan.
Due to the previous unit redeploying back to the U.S. and leaving no replacements, the team drew down to five Army personnel four months later and was responsible for mentoring a battalion of 500 Afghan policemen. With little to no continuity, STT-6 had to rebuild an entire battalion with only the knowledge from their day-to-day work experiences.
"Before I got there, there was no human resource officer there mentoring the ANCOP, so I was the first," said Carino. "The working conditions were bad because we had no guidance, so we had to create our own goals for the Afghan police. We didn't know exactly what we were supposed to do."
Luckily for him, he knew what it took to become a top-notch soldier, being prior enlisted and deciding in 2008 as a sergeant first class to commission as an officer.
Carino, a native of Puerto Rico, started from scratch to rebuild an entire independent battalion - all in another language.
"It was challenging because of all the cultural differences, and it was always one-on-one," he said. "It all had to be in Dari and I needed a translator. I also had to observe for a minute, see what they required and come up with my own set of things that I could help them with."
The lieutenant saw the opportunity to incorporate the Army values in his mentoring sessions as a way to help the ANCOP understand what it meant to serve.
While introducing the values in his training, Carino and his team also knew in order to establish trust, they needed to lead by example.
The team's main priority was to create tools the ANCOP would need to grow as an independent unit. Determined to set the foundation, Carino dug in.
"The first thing I did was figure out what they were lacking," he said. "I was able to build my own classroom environment for their human resources [specialist]. He [picked up] quickly. Then I went from there and established an attack plan on how I could make the battalion better."
Carino's loyalty to the ANCOP was a mere reflection of his loyalty to the Army, to which he has been dedicated for more than 21 years.
Carino said he felt a responsibility to get the battalion where they needed to be, and do whatever it took to make them better.
"I kept finding things to do. If there was nothing else to do, I came up with something else," he said. "That's what I was always thinking about. I went there with the mentality that I wanted to leave that [place] better than it was when I took over."
U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Jones, Detachment 1 Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-151 Infantry Battalion fire support specialist and STT-6's noncommissioned officer in charge, also believed the ANCOP was first priority.
"I was determined to get the mission done," he said.
Although some days were long and tiresome, he said other days they were able to push on and do what they needed to provide the best tools for the ANCOP.
The first human resources tool Carino instituted was a leave system that allowed the ANCOP to take a break from work when they felt overwhelmed. According to Carino, fatigue was one of the main reasons unit morale was low.
"[The leave program] really reduced the amount of people who went [absent without leave] and eventually dropped from their roles in the policeman program," said Carino. "The leave program actually improved the rate of workers staying in the program."
With more policemen coming to work, the battalion was able to effectively begin carrying out its duties without interruption.
The second tool Carino and STT-6 established was an award system to recognize the Afghan policemen's dedication.
"I constantly stressed to the commander the importance of rewarding his people for what they did," he said. "After that, because of the all work we did with them, we began to gain the Afghans' respect."
Jones said he felt the new-found recognition gave STT-6 the ANCOP's seal of approval.
"I believe they really respected us and learned a lot from the information we gave them," said Jones. "I think we put forth an amazing effort to train them and they appreciated our commitment and devotion."
Once the team established respect, they began building a lasting relationship with the battalion. A few months into the deployment, the ANCOP's mission changed, and so did STT-6's mission.
In addition to providing security within Wardak province, which Carino said is arguably the most dangerous province in Afghanistan, the ANCOP was tasked to establish 13 checkpoints on Highway One, the main road that connects Wardak to the rest of Afghanistan.
"We did more than 150 combat patrols out there, [going] out at least three times a week to inspect their checkpoints," said Carino. "We took indirect, small arms and rocket fire all the time. That helped build a good relationship between us [and the ANCOP] because it showed we were not scared to go out there and actually be with them when things were going on."
The team's selfless service allowed for drastic improvements within the ANCOP, but for Carino, the unit's progression ran deeper than sticking with them in the fight.
According to Carino, the most important value to him is honor, "because an honorable person will always do the right thing and they will be loyal," he said.
"It kind of puts all the Army values together, and it's important to have those values in place," he continued. "Any time I'm going to make a decision that involves any of those values, it enables me to make better decisions."
Establishing morale systems to improve the ANCOP's performance was one of STT-6's more effective decisions, which according to Carino, boosted their confidence.
Providing weekly guidance on how well their checkpoints and security were set up was vital to their success, said Carino. They interacted with the policemen to gauge morale, and ensured the policemen received leave and proper pay.
"Their improvement was 180 degrees," he said.
Along with making sure the unit was taken care of, Carino also worked closely with the ANCOP's logistics adviser. According to Carino, because of the corruption in Afghanistan, working in logistics is a very sought-out position. Carino decided to do one-on-one sessions to help the logistics adviser understand the Army values in order to steer him in the right direction.
"I was trying to instill our values in the logistics [adviser] to [teach] him to not steal without actually saying it," said Carino. "I think his work performance improved quite a bit after that. We always did the right thing and we always took care of business, no matter how long it took."
While dealing with correcting issues with the ANCOP, Carino also had challenges of his own to overcome.
Approximately three weeks after he arrived in Afghanistan, Carino witnessed a rocket attack that landed less than 50 feet from where he was standing.
"It didn't [affect] me right away, but later in the day I [thought], 'Oh my God that was close,'" he said. "It was the first time I'd ever taken indirect fire that close. It was shocking. The adrenaline goes up, so you're always paying attention to your surroundings."
Coupled with the attacks on his FOB, Carino also struggled with being away from his wife and two sons for a second deployment.
"I went through some mental troubles and tribulations. I would say 'I can't believe I'm going through this,' but at the end of the day it turned out okay," he said. "I just got engaged with my work and tried to keep myself busy all the time getting things done. I went to the gym and worked out a lot. Staying engaged actually got me through."
Through the difficulties, Carino felt the efforts of STT-6 allowed them to keep pushing.
"They say adversity brings people together," said Carino. "Our small team had to work harder, but we got more accomplished. We went through some adversity with only five of us, but I believe our team of five accomplished more than a team of 13, and in less time."
Jones shared the same beliefs.
"When we dropped down to a five-man team and everyone's work load doubled, there was a lot of work to be done," he said. "Just like any deployment, we had our ups and downs, but we worked very well and were very productive. I relied on [my team] to get through."
Reflecting on the experience, Carino believes STT-6's dedication is the reason the ANCOP became a better battalion.
"It was a team effort. We worked together, we did it well and everyone fulfilled their role," he said. "It felt so good; it was like a victory. I believe all the guys on our team cared. We legitimately cared about our people."
While building a better battalion was the goal, Jones said he also wanted what was best for the unit.
"I take pride in my work and I always try to do my absolute best in everything that I take on," he said. "I can only hope that I left a great impression on the unit and that they will remember me."
Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage are all more than a set of words created to provide discipline in Soldiers. "LDRSHIP" is a way of life Carino and STT-6 proved is not only a way to become better U.S. soldiers, but it is a standard of living that taught 500 members of an Afghan battalion the importance of helping to rebuild a nation.