News: Civil affairs Soldiers bring diverse skills to Laghman PRT
Story by Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
FORWARD OPERATING BASE MEHTAR LAM, Afghanistan – The Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team’s civil affairs element includes a social worker, a police officer, a trauma nurse and an expert on public health policy – an array of backgrounds suited for the diverse mission in Afghanistan.
Like most civil affairs personnel, Laghman’s CA team is made up entirely of Reservists, which makes them uniquely suited for a PRT, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Possehl of Newnan, Ga., Laghman PRT commander.
“Our civil affairs team has been an excellent force multiplier for us,” he said. “They bring unique skill sets to the team, and we are able to leverage their civilian expertise and talents and apply them to our civilian-military mission.”
U.S. Army 1st Lt. David Moore of Barrington, N.J., Laghman PRT civil affairs officer, is the CA team’s expert on public health policy and education. At home in New Jersey, Moore works operations for public health policy for Medicare, the health insurance program administered by the U.S. government. A self-described “bureaucrat,” with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in international relations, he said he has been able to draw on his civilian background as the CA team helps stand up Laghman province’s fledgling government.
Moore has been elected president of his local school board twice; an experience that has proven useful for his work here mentoring the provincial line director for education, he said.
Another Laghman PRT civil affairs officer, U.S. Army Capt. Chadwick Lester of Campti, La., is an emergency room nurse in his civilian job. He has spent most of his deployment at Combat Outpost Najil, which is responsible for a remote area in the northern part of Laghman province.
At COP Najil, Lester worked with Afghan leaders at the village and district level to support the PRT’s mission in the province, regularly meeting with mullahs and village elders. Among other things, he worked with local schools, provided villagers with newspapers and radios, as well as a radio station in their local dialect of Pashai, and trained Afghan National Army soldiers in civil affairs. His efforts yielded tangible results: In five months, the number of villages in the area deemed friendly to coalition forces increased fivefold.
“The 102nd [the U.S. infantry unit at the COP] really supported our mission,” Lester said. “We worked hand-in-hand with them. They believed in the PRT mission, and the PRT had a big influence in that area.”
In addition to tactical CA work, Lester was the senior medical officer on the COP and had many opportunities to put his medical skills to use, he said, treating fellow U.S. troops as well as Afghan civilians.
As a civilian, U.S. Army Sgt. Sherrita Hall of Tinton Falls, N.J., is an investigator for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services. As a CA soldier, she specializes in women’s issues and is currently working on a project to procure computers for the Mastoori Girls High School in nearby Mehtar Lam.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mario Clarke of Irvington, N.J., Laghman PRT civil affairs non-commissioned officer in charge, is a police officer in New Jersey whose law enforcement skills have been put to good use in the province. Early in the deployment, the FOB was attacked with indirect fire, and Clarke was part of the consequence management team that responded, a traditional CA function. When the patrol arrived, local police were recovering the body of one of the attackers. As a trained police officer, Clarke gathered forensic evidence at the scene, which he turned over to law enforcement personnel on the base.
“Although his objective was simply to assist with the key leader engagement in the village, he was able to fall back on his civilian skill set and materially contribute to the overall mission,” said Moore, citing it as an example of how Reservists’ unique skill sets often prove valuable.
In addition to overseeing projects and mentoring provincial line directors, other key CA functions include hosting shuras, coordinating with non-governmental organizations and managing linguists. The team also regularly conducts “Good Neighbor” visits to nearby villages.
“Because this society is so personality- and relationship-driven, we try to develop and maintain good relationships with the elders and maliks [tribal leaders] in villages near the FOB,” Moore said. “Once we develop a rapport with them, they are more likely to stop people from attacking the FOB, contact the Afghan National Police if they know of an attack, or just let us know if there are people moving through their village they don’t recognize.”
The program is also valuable, he said, because it gives the PRT insight into patterns of life in the nearby villages. “You don’t know about what’s going on in the community unless you’re out there,” he said.
U.S. Army Maj. Carlos Martinez of Walla Walla, Wash., the Laghman PRT operations officer and a Civil Affairs-branched Foreign Area Officer by trade, said CA is critical to keeping the PRT connected to the population.
“The reason I think they’re important is because civil affairs is the one entity that ties the civilian population to the commander,” Martinez said. “They are our cultural experts and our liaison with the population; they facilitate the perspective we need as a reconstruction team, and that is critical to our mission.”
Still engaged in CA activities, Martinez sometimes accompanies CA personnel on Good Neighbor visits and has met with the provincial governor and religious affairs line director on behalf of the PRT commander.
“It’s been a rewarding experience getting to know the governor,” Martinez said. Having recently returned from his mid-tour leave in Mexico, he brought the governor a gift as a sign of their friendship; an enormous sombrero in Afghanistan’s national colors.
“Our CA personnel all possess valuable skills for this environment,” said Possehl. “Their unique training and skill sets really enable our mission to build governance through development and security in the province.”