PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Air Force and civilian members of the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan Public Affairs Advisory Team, recently began training members of the Operation Coordination Center Regional-East at Forward Operating Base Lightning.
Afghan national security force members at OCCR-E synchronize the operations of a host of Afghan agencies in response to national emergencies. Public affairs trained personnel within the OCCR will increase the center’s ability to communicate with the public during times of crisis.
“We are an OCCR ... we work in the region to coordinate operations,” said U.S. Army Maj. Jason Cole, OCCR logistics officer of Virginia Beach, Va. “Trained public affairs officers are critical to our mission. The local populace must be aware of the operations we conduct in their behalf.”
The PAAT-E has been busy training security agencies like the OCCR to communicate with the public. In addition to training, they are also revamping training plans and advising Afghan security agencies throughout the region.
"If training and mentoring is, in fact, the cornerstone of NATO policy, then the near future looks bright for Afghan national security forces,” said Paul McKellips, PAAT-E officer in charge and Department of Defense civilian of Neenah, Wis.
McKellips found a receptive audience within the Afghan security forces.
“Their desire and thirst to learn more and apply it is very heart warming,” said McKellips. “The Afghans are generous and warm. A little hand holding now will pay huge dividends later for both Afghanistan and the rest of the world."
McKellips is a film maker by trade. He hopes to teach public affairs to Afghan security forces in a manner that allows them to “tell the story of Afghanistan.”
“Stories are the backbone of every emerging society. Our mission is to train, mentor and empower public affairs officers equipped to tell the stories of the Afghan National Army, police and border police with integrity and professionalism,” said McKellips. “Well-trained PAOs are front-line advocates in building strong community relations."
The mission of the PAAT-E differs from other public affairs units in Afghanistan because they focus solely on the training mission - freeing other units to conduct operational public affairs.
"We are delivering a PAO immersion course that's 50 percent training and 50 percent mentoring,” said McKellips. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our new friends in this NTM-A mission, but more often we stand amazed ... amazed as stories of peace, freedom, national pride and hope emerge in front of our eyes."
McKellips said the efforts he’s seen from the students is impressive.
“I've been absolutely amazed by both the eagerness of the Afghans to learn PAO duties as well as the dedication and passion of these non-commissioned officers from the Army and the Air Force to teach,” said McKellips. “When the ANSF PAOs start to tell their stories and connect with the people, the population will have confidence and assurance that they're safety and security is guaranteed by the Army, police and border patrol."