News: Conference marks first garrison command in Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake
PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – “We’re making history right now,” Michael Hartman, the deputy garrison commander for Bagram Airfield, said as he discussed the chain of events that led to the first-ever Base Operations Support and Integration Quarterly Conference held on BAF and the first garrison change of command ceremony in Afghanistan.
Running BAF as a garrison started as an idea between Maj. Gen. Timothy McHale, retired, and Maj. Gen. John MacDonald, retired, who wanted to standardize base operations in a combat environment. Essentially the intent was to use Installation Management Command’s 10-year history of providing standardized services to its 78 garrisons around the globe.
“The idea was to see if it made sense to apply IMCOM’s best business practices in a tactical environment and if by doing so, we could improve customer care of servicemembers and civilians alike,” said Hartman. “We sought to be more efficient in the process of running a base like Bagram, while reducing the force manning level due to the impending drawdown.”
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan picked two bases in Afghanistan, BAF and Camp Leatherneck, in Helmand Province. They sent two command teams comprised of a colonel, command sergeant major and 10 civilians. In reality they only got nine of the original 12 requested.
To prepare for the arrival of the command team, IMCOM sent a mobile training team for a 90-day period to find out what was needed to make BOS-I work in a deployed environment. They arrived October 2011 45 days prior to the arrival of the command team.
The Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Jayhawk, was running the garrison at the time.
The theory behind running a BOS-I garrison environment was to preserve continuity.
“Previously, BOS-I was run by a new team about every year, so each new team had to learn their job at the same time and there was no expertise left over to give them advice,” Hartman said. “They had a very steep learning curve and by the time they had mastered their roles, they were already out the door and going home.”
With the garrison model, when a change of command occurs, a new commander and command sergeant major rotate in, but their staff comes and goes individually on their own schedule. This way they arrive in a staggered fashion, so that all of the expertise is not lost in a single day when the outgoing team leaves.
“This way you get overlap and long-term continuity,” said Hartman. “You need this stability because we’re here to provide customer service to our servicemembers and civilians on post.
Another advantage to this BOS-I model is that if there are any issues, the garrison command can ask IMCOM headquarters for a solution.
“IMCOM HQ is our technical reach back,” Hartman added. “When I have problems that I can’t figure out here, I have a full-time staff back in the states that can send me solutions in a significantly shorter span of time than before.”
The idea behind holding this conference at BAF, was to bring together this garrison command team, and others like it throughout Afghanistan, to trouble-shoot issues that have arisen regarding running a garrison in a combat environment.
“We wanted to get forward operating base commanders together to network and cross-talk in order to create an in-theater reachback,” Hartman said. “We wanted to share ideas and conduct long-range planning.”
“This conference is very pertinent because this is the first time the BOS-I function has been implemented in Afghanistan, and this command staff is graduating if you will,” said U.S. Army Col. Timothy Walters, chief of the Expeditionary Command Team, IMCOM HQ, San Antonio. “We wanted to bring everyone’s ideas together and come to some conclusions as to what the future will hold in regards to this program and the future of Afghanistan.”
The current command team went through a rigorous one-week training regimen, and their expertise will be used to train the next group coming in.
“We want to get people prepared at IMCOM with material provided by subject matter experts here who’ve had experience downrange,” said Walters. “They can then train the next command team so that everything comes full circle.”
DoD civilians and contractors fill the majority of the command staff slots on BAF.
“IMCOM was originally designed to put the trigger pullers back into war fighting and let everything else be handled by civilians,” said Hartman.
The garrison model has had its share of success but there is still need for improvement.
U.S. Army Command Sgt. Major Gerald Knight, the outgoing garrison command sergeant major for BAF, believes the garrison on Bagram, under IMCOM’s supervision and guidance, has been successful. He attributes this to the professionalism of the command team that was sent over by IMCOM HQ. However, he wants to see improvements in billeting and mass transit.
“We need to accelerate the construction of the hard structures so that we can start moving servicemembers and civilians into better housing,” said Knight. “We also need to reduce our vehicle footprint by improving our mass transit system by adding more buses. This will support the safety goal as well as free our military police to perform their other duties.”
U.S. Army Col. Gary Kamauoha, outgoing garrison commander for BAF, sees the implementation of BOS-I in Afghanistan as crucial to mission support.
“We have a core group of IMCOM professionals who live and breath installation command,” Kamauoha said. “This is their life and they know it very well.”
“It is the best way to help our war fighters,” he added. “When they come back from a mission, BAF is their home away from home. We are here to support them and to keep this infrastructure in place. If we didn’t have a BOS-I infrastructure, this would all fall to apart.”
He also sees the need to improve the safety of not only BAF but other forward operating bases as well.
“We need to do more safety inspections at some of the outlying FOBs to audit their safety procedures and compliance,” Kamauoha said. “To do this, I’ve planned a senior-leader conference to go over our expectations so that we have continuity with everyone in the regional command.”
U.S. Army Col. Steve Campfield, the incoming garrison commander of BAF, had nothing but good things to say regarding the staff he is replacing.
“In the last couple weeks I’ve been on BAF, I’ve seen an incredible amount of progress on the part of the command staff here,” he said. “I have a significant amount of work ahead of me to take care of the residents here. I’ll accomplish this by getting the right people on my team to get the job done.”
Campfield plans to take the appropriate steps to facilitate the drawdown of troops and supplies by shipping equipment and the empty storage containers that have gathered on BAF, back to the U.S. He also understands the need to support the outgoing units that will begin to trickle into Bagram as FOBs and combat outposts shutdown or get turned over to the Afghans.
Transition was a major topic at the BOS-I quarterly conference. On the first day, commanders shared their thoughts on current garrison issues such as contractors and infrastructure development. The second day was primarily a brainstorming session that focused on future plans for the eventual drawdown of coalition forces and the handover to the Afghan Nation Army.
In order to give the Afghans the training they need to maintain a military base, commanders are planning to use NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, a multinational military organization tasked with training the Afghans in leadership and infrastructure sustainability.
“I feel confident that with the right training they (the Afghans) will be able to take over what we have left behind,” said Campfield.
At the garrison change of command and responsibility ceremony, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Reuben Jones, the deputy commanding general of operations for IMCOM, reflected back on what he saw here 18 months ago, when he came to Afghanistan on a leader’s recon to get this “proof of principle” started. He praised his command team who successfully implemented his vision of garrison command in Afghanistan. However, he still sees work ahead.
“We need to focus on building partnerships, getting the support we need from our mission partners and sharing best-practices among leadership in order to make BOS-I work here and other places throughout Afghanistan,” Jones said.
Looking into the future of BAF as a garrison command, Jones is confident that the citizens of BAF will be in good hands.
“I’ve seen bad and I’ve seen good, and these guys are really, really good,” Jones said.